Before we dive into this sensitive topic, let’s get one thing straight: dogs can’t actually be racist. As much as we endow our beloved dogs with lots of human traits, they don’t have hatred in their hearts for specific human races, nor do they enact any systemic power imbalances. It is completely understandable to be stressed out about your dog seeming to be racist, but you can rest assured that your dog is not actually operating in that mindset. So no, you are not petting, feeding, and loving a little hateful creature.
Dogs do, however, have issues with generalization. Dogs get to know us over time, but they do tend to make generalizations to get through the world. Yes, these function similarly to stereotypes, which can be used to prop up racist assumptions, but they’re not used in this way in dogs. If your dog has had a previous bad experience with a specific kind of person, they may be wary of anyone who fits this description. We see this most with dogs who are bad with men because they were once abused by a man. This can also happen with other distinguishing elements, including race. This doesn’t necessarily mean that your dog would even show fear or aggression towards all people of colour, or even people of a specific race, but rather that they might have a higher incidence of reacting poorly.
A dog may also have internalized positive feelings only about people like those who raised them, leading to a fear of anyone who doesn’t look like the only humans he knows. If your dog hasn’t been socialized with people of many races, it may have a negative reaction to anyone outside of your appearance. This is at least somewhat subjective, depending largely on how the dog behaves with new and different things in general.
There is also a theory that certain breeds of dogs may act out around people with darker skin tones because they can’t always see that well and may not be able to see them clearly until they’re close up, which can take them by surprise. It’s unknown how scientifically accurate this is because it hasn’t been studied too closely, but it’s a decent hypothesis for dogs whose issues with people of color don’t have another logical explanation.
What can you do about your dog’s perceived racism? It’s hard to say exactly. Proactively socializing your puppy or young dog with friends and neighbors who look and live differently in all sorts of ways is a good thing, but if you’re adopting a rescue with trauma or at least fairly limited socialization, you have to do the work of undoing that. Do the work of training your dog to obey you, maintain proper recall, and treat them only if they’ve diverted their attention from bad behavior to completing a new, positive behavior. You don’t want to be bringing your dog out into the world to run into unsuspecting people before you’re sure you know how to redirect their energy and stop any unwanted behavior.
It’s embarrassing to think that your dog is poorly behaved, especially when it’s regarding such a serious issue in our society, but by understanding the fundamental difference between dogs and humans regarding race, you’ll be able to refocus your energy on addressing the problem.