Monday, March 12, 2012

There's a Racist in My House

I think my dog is a racist. Seriously. I think she is an ugly bigot. She obviously and outwardly does not like black people. I love my dog, but I am struggling with this newly discovered personality flaw.

I live in a pretty diverse south Minneapolis neighborhood. We have neighbors of every color, race, and creed. For the most part, my beloved Stella is fairly friendly. As a matter of fact, she is often friendly to a fault. She thinks everyone—human and canine alike—wants to play with her. When we are out walking, she will approach joggers with near hysterical excitement. She will whine and cry to get off her leash and play “chase.” She will jump on other dogs as if they are her very best friends in the entire world and want nothing more than to wrestle doggie style with her—much to the chagrin of some of the prissier neighborhood pups. Just yesterday, I was walking her past a chain-link fence a few blocks over when this little Pomeranian came bounding off the porch growling and barking and drooling and baring its ridiculously tiny little teeth at Stella. Stella sniffed at the fence and wagged her stubby tail as if this Pomeranian—who was being a total bitch (both figuratively and literally)—was her long-lost BFF whom she hadn’t seen in years. She’s just like that. A people- and pooch-loving ball of wiggle-butted boxer.

At least….she is like that most of the time. She is like that with all dogs, regardless of size or breed. She is like that with all children, regardless of size or breed. She is like that with a lot a women. She is weary of men initially, but does eventually come around and can be happy and playful with them. The exception to the rule is black people. She doesn’t like them. She doesn’t try to play with them. Regardless of how much the tiny little old hunched-over black woman down the street fawns all over Stella, she wants nothing to do with her. She isn’t outwardly aggressive, but obviously mistrustful and openly disdainful.

The absolute worst is when she comes in contact with a black man. It’s really quite ridiculous. Last week when we got some snow, a black young man—he looked to be 16 or 17—came to my door and asked if he could shovel our sidewalks for a fee. An entirely typical and acceptable way for a young Minnesotan to make a few extra bucks. Stella, however, was suspect of his offer from the minute he knocked on our door. She tends to be a bit of a guard dog. She’s not shy about barking when strangers come to the door—a trait I admit to not necessarily discouraging since we are two women with small children living alone. There’s some security and peace of mind in having a “guard” dog. And no matter how much of a couch-potato pillow pet Stella is, she is a boxer. She can look downright scary when she wants to. Last week, however, I was mortified by her behavior. She bared her teeth and growled and barked. She jumped up on the door. She acted as if she were some wild, rabid animal. I had her by the collar trying to hold her back. She was downright ridiculous. The poor kid at the door was obviously pretty certain he was going to meet his untimely demise at the hands of my deranged dog. His eyes were as wide as saucers. Eventually, I was able to decline his offer and he happily—and quickly—went on his way.

Stella is a rescue dog. She was a stray in North Carolina when she was picked up. Her history is sketchy, at best. We have no idea what she’s been through. She does have a few scars on her body that look questionable. She could very well have been mistreated at some point in her life by a black man. I hate that for her. And just as importantly, I hate that for the perfectly nice people of color we encounter when we are out and about in our neighborhood.

What do I do with a racist dog? Aside from moving back down south, buying a trailer, investing in a new wardrobe of assorted wife-beater t-shirts, and hanging up a Confederate flag, how do handle a bigoted pooch? It’s ugly and entirely unbecoming of a liberal, Obama-voting, lesbian household.

Oy vey.


Wiley said...

I've noticed that dogs with "prejudices" can be mostly socialized out of them with a two-pronged approach:

1. LOTS of socialization with the kind of person they're afraid of/don't like. For example, do you have a black lady friend who could come over a few days a week and just sit in the same room as Stella while you fed Stella treats for being calm? Start small. First Stella should get a treat for just not lunging. Then she should get a treat for approaching or sniffing the person in a friendly or neutral way. Then petting. Etc...

2. You've probably (completely understandably since her behavior is unpredictable) started tensing up when you see a person of color because you're anticipating how Stella would react. Try taking deep breaths and other calming techniques on yourself if you walk by a person of color. The less tense you are, the less tense Stella will be.

Good luck!

Jessica said...

Call in the Dog Whisperer! ;)

Anonymous said...

This is so sad. My neighbors rescue dog cries when the trash truck goes up or down the street. She shakes and is petrified. Cars also and any sound of movement of trash cans. Obviously, her past was involved with trash cans maybe being hurled at her. So sad. They have to literally give her baby prozac now to calm her down. She is so friendly. Hopefully, some of the suggestions will work. Sadly, I am sure a lot of mail carriers have this issue regardless of their ethnicity. When I worked for pediatricians kids would cry when their car pulled into the driveway of our building or when they walked into the waiting room. Learned behavior of a trauma. Let us know what you decide to do.

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