Why are some black people afraid of my dog?
February 25, 2008 1:34 PM   Subscribe

Why are some black people afraid of my dog?

Today Matilda and I went downtown for lunch. We were sitting at a table outside on the sidewalk, she was on a leash. She had her tongue lolling out, panting, with her customary goofy friendly look on her face. 4 black teenagers came walking down the sidewalk and froze with petrified expressions on their faces. "Does that dog bite?" one of them asked. "No, she's very friendly" I answered. They moved as far away from her as possible while still staying on the sidewalk and walked cautiously past, never taking their eyes off the dog. I've noticed this happening before with black people but I always wonder why. She is a 65 pound dog, but obviously friendly and non-threatening. She has a pink collar with flowers on it. Several other people stopped to pet her without bothering to ask me if she is friendly, it's that obvious that she is friendly. Does anyone know what the deal is?
posted by Daddy-O to Pets & Animals (111 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
There is no such thing as "obviously" friendly dog, nor should there be- it is never wise to approach a dog you don't know. I have a really cute looking chihuahua who hates strangers, and it never fails to surprise me that people get up in her face.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:37 PM on February 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Well, the first thought that comes to mind is confirmation bias. Has anyone else ever asked you whether the dog bit? How many people? How many of them were black?
posted by grouse at 1:37 PM on February 25, 2008 [3 favorites]

I thought confirmation bias as well, but running has taught me to be pretty wary of any dog I come across no matter how friendly it looks.
posted by PFL at 1:40 PM on February 25, 2008

You totally omitted what type of dog she is which I would assume has something to do with the answer to your question which, to me, is really "why are some people afraid of my dog?". My experiences is that some people are afraid of dogs, ANY dog. Whether this is due to a bad experience in th past (with a similar breed or a similar sized dog) or just some sort of fear due to media hype about dangerous breeds is really an open question. In my experience, there is no racial component to fear of dogs, even in a stereotypical way. I think the best answer to your question would have been the result of you asking them.
posted by jessamyn at 1:40 PM on February 25, 2008

She's obviously friendly and non-threatening *to you*, but some people are wary of dogs, and are warier the larger the dog gets. Lots of people do not know how to read a dog's body language. 65 pounds is not a small dog. You don't mention Matilda's breed, but that might have a lot to do with it. I know some ridiculously friendly and affectionate pit mixes, but that doesn't mean that strangers don't judge them by their breed more than their body language.

And I'm going to posit that it isn't only black people who are afraid of your dog, but you've noticed it in the past, and now you have a little confirmation bias thing going on.
posted by ambrosia at 1:41 PM on February 25, 2008

What breed of dog is she? Those kids might come from a neighborhood in which pit bulls are raised to be mean.
posted by ignignokt at 1:42 PM on February 25, 2008

I find the breed being absent to be kind of strange. Why didn't you mention your dog's appearance at all besides the weight?

Unless you noticed that black people overwhelmingly respond negatively to your dog compared to other racial groups, I'd have to agree with the confirmation bias diagnosis.
posted by agregoli at 1:43 PM on February 25, 2008

Is she a pit bull? Look like one? Did the kids come from an environment where pit bulls were raised?
posted by sourwookie at 1:44 PM on February 25, 2008

What's "obvious" to you, the dog's owner, might not be "obvious" to everyone. And I'm nthing confirmation bias.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 1:51 PM on February 25, 2008

I don't think there's a racial component to this. I'm a white girl and I'm wary of any strange dog over about 30 pounds. I agree that there's no such thing as an "obviously friendly" dog, no matter how girly the collar around its neck. I can't "read" dogs at all, and unless they're trotting docilely up to me with their tail wagging and their tongue hanging out, I can't tell whether they'll lick me or bite me. Doggy Asperger's, if you will.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:52 PM on February 25, 2008

Daddy-O is from Austin, TX, and most of y'all are from the Northeast. Hopefully some of my fellow Southern Mefites can chime in here as well, but there is a real trend around here of black people being very leery around dogs. I don't know if this has to do with the increased incidence of dogfighting among blacks or if it's something else, but it really is a cultural difference that splits among racial lines down here.

I have a golden retriever mix who's very friendly and I have seen the same thing.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 1:53 PM on February 25, 2008

Having noticed this myself, I am not convinced it's confirmation bias.

I have noticed this a lot in my neighbourhood with my 45lb boxer. My thought is that in my area, most black people are 1st generation immigrants from African countries where dogs as pets may just not be as widespread as they are where I grew up and where I live now.

If you've not really grown up with dogs, you're left with the stereotype dog - which, if it isn't dragging a roll of toilet paper around behind its puppy ass on TV, is aggressive and prone to biting.

In the US, it may also be a case of lack of familiarity. I have wondered, since I noticed this, if black families are less statistically likely to own dogs, and therefore if the kids you met today are likely to have had less exposure to the goofy, friendly dogs that my experience lead me to see as the norm for canines.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:57 PM on February 25, 2008

Is it a race thing, or a socio-economic thing? In my neck of the woods, poor neighbourhoods have a lot of aggressive dogs, whether from neglect or encouragement.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:58 PM on February 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think it is pretty likely there's confirmation bias here, given that you're only referencing this one incident with these four kids.

However, I don't think it would be a huge step to say kids from poor urban neighborhoods are more likely to see dogs as "Creatures trained to bite and attack people and other creatures" than "Friendly, lovable pet who wants to give you kisses", given the greater prevalence of dog fighting/guard dog training in those areas. It's a different culture with a different attitude towards animals and what constitutes a pet. When I have worked in those areas, people living there are more apt to describe dogs (like the dog down the street, or their neighbor's dog, or their uncle's dog) as mean or dangerous than happy and playful. This is all purely anecdotal evidence.

Also, it feels like the dog-as-family-pet is nearly ubiquitous among middle-to-upper-class households, and not so much among poorer areas. People who are not familiar with raising dogs or playing with dogs aren't going to see a cute sweet thing, they're going to see lots of teeth, powerful jaws, and the potential for Cujo.
posted by Anonymous at 1:58 PM on February 25, 2008

If there really is an increased tendency, I imagine it's a poor/rich thing rather than a black/white thing. People from poor neighborhoods will have more experience with vicious and mistreated dogs.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:58 PM on February 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94: Exactly, which is why I said "cultural difference that happens to split among racial lines" in the area in question. Dogfighting, especially.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 2:03 PM on February 25, 2008

I live in the Dallas, Tx area, and have noticed similar reactions. The difference is my dogs are both tiny. A pug/chihuahua mix and min-pin/chihuahua mix, about 10 and 15 inches tall at the shoulder, respectively.

Specifically, my wife and I took our dogs to the park recently, and a group of 6 or so boys came around, playing. The white kids walked past nonchalantly, even stopping to pet(after asking), but the black kids looked terrified and didn't want to come near, even after asking if the dogs are nice. Completely anecdotal, but it jibes with what some others are saying.

As to why? I honestly don't know.
posted by owtytrof at 2:05 PM on February 25, 2008

Just a note that many of the questions here on Metafilter that reference "why do black people do/think/feel X," should really be why "do certain classes do/think/feel X." I recall at least one question about black people and grape soda that left me scratching my head. I've been black all my life and I think I had grape soda once at my grandmother's church in North Carolina. It was gross.
Now, this dog thing. I also don't think it's a Yankee or Southerner issue...Maybe it's simply the increased prevalance of dog-fighting/aggressive dogs in a particular socioeconomic class but the memo I get from my fellow dog-loving black folk is that this is not about race. That being said, in general (I do NOT speak for the entire African diaspora), white people's relationship with their dogs is very different from black people. I know several friends growing up who had dogs who were never allowed outside the confines of either the backyard or an adjacent room, such as the kitchen or a basement...certainly never a living room or bedroom.

I happen to be an unabashed dog lover, grew up with several pets and I've been known to get out of my car and pet dogs I see walking with their owners. But that's just me...Just one little black girl.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 2:06 PM on February 25, 2008 [4 favorites]

I don't think it's confirmation bias, either. My dog is only 7-1/2 pounds and gets tons of attention wherever she goes because she's exceptionally pretty, she prances like a pony, and she always has a hilarious smile on her face. Literally almost every person who sees her smiles, most squeal or laugh, and many go absolutely apeshit over her. Unless they're black. There have definitely been two or three black people who have just loved her, but all the rest have been indifferent to hostile toward her. This reaction is so rare and in marked contrast to the rest of the population that I can't help but notice it. I can't imagine that they're afraid of her, so I have to think that they're just not into dogs for some reason. DarlingBri's hypothesis about being less likely to have them as pets makes sense to me.
posted by Enroute at 2:09 PM on February 25, 2008

okay, i can't believe you are asking this because last summer i was out walking with my dog (70lb weimaraner)—i live in portland, oregon—with a new friend of mine and he made a comment about how black people were afraid of dogs (he used to have one as well). at first i thought he was making some weird racial comment and called him out on it. he said he was being serious and that he didn't have any prejudices but that whenever he was with his dog before it died (he used to live in baltimore), he'd notice black people would almost cross the street rather than pass by him and his dog. and then after that, i noticed that there were several occasions on which i'd pass some black people and they would either back away or literally cross the street!
posted by violetk at 2:10 PM on February 25, 2008

Wait...There may also be some genetic historic memory going on. Dogs have been used to hunt and attack black people from slavery to the civil rights protests ... Just a thought...although again I think this is confirmation bias.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 2:13 PM on February 25, 2008

Am I the only one familiar with the racist stereotype that black people, in general, are afraid of dogs? I mean, c'mon, even Family Guy has worked this into plot lines. I mean, check the first Google result for black people dogs. Of course, there can be all sorts of dicussion about why, but Daddy-O certainly isn't the first person to notice this.
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:15 PM on February 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

mrmoonpie–i certainly had never heard of this stereotype. i didn't even know it was a stereotype until i read this askme. i thought my friend was just being a dork about it.
posted by violetk at 2:16 PM on February 25, 2008

From the other side of the coin: my family lived in a predominately white suburban neighbourhood with our lab/rottweiler mutt, who spent a lot of time looking out the window watching pedestrians. He would bark and howl and go generally nuts every time a dark-skinned person walked by.

Did anyone else have a seemingly racist dog?
posted by avocet at 2:18 PM on February 25, 2008

I thinks its more of a economic thing, as Schroedinger said in poorer neighborhoods dogs are used for different reasons, guard/fighting, or machismo. Also the alley dogs ain't too friendly generally.

I knew someone, race withheld, who was deathly afraid of cats because all he had ever encountered were feral alley cats, with unfortunate results for him as a child.

He would actually jump away from my house cat if it got too close.
posted by Max Power at 2:19 PM on February 25, 2008

My aunt's German shepherd hated the mailman...the only white person who showed up regularly at her door.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 2:19 PM on February 25, 2008

I've noticed this too, but I don't think it's as much "Why are black people afraid of my dog" as "Why are the people who approach me and my dog so often black?" It's been my observation that black kids are just often more outgoing for some reason.

The question "Does it bite?" is a pretty standard and very practical translation of "Is it okay if I pet your dog?" It's not fear so much as courtesy with a side of caution.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:22 PM on February 25, 2008

Daddy-O is from Austin, TX, and most of y'all are from the Northeast.

This is another example of confirmation bias. Let's look at it scientifically, since we actually have some data here. At the time you posted that, nine MeFites had comments in the thread. Eight of them have location information in their username page. Of those, exactly two (ThePinkSuperhero and jessamyn) are from the northeast. The others have locations in the midwest, west, and south. There's also one from the UK (me).

Somehow you got the idea that most MeFites are from the northeast. Whenever you see evidence of MeFites in the northeast, you confirm your idea that most MeFites are from the northeast. You don't pay attention when you see MeFites who aren't from the northeast, or you wouldn't have that idea anymore.

Of course, people may not actually be "from" the place in their location field. In fact, I grew up in, of all places, Austin, Texas. But it's the best data we have, much better than people's gut feeling about it.

Hopefully some of my fellow Southern Mefites can chime in here as well, but there is a real trend around here of black people being very leery around dogs.

I lived in Austin for fourteen years, had a dog for many of those, and never noticed such a thing.
posted by grouse at 2:25 PM on February 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Avocet: See here
posted by rmless at 2:28 PM on February 25, 2008

I knew one black person (the daughter of immigrants from Africa) who was absolutely terrified of dogs and cats. Her mother had taught her to fear animals "because you never know what they'll do". She wouldn't come near the sleeping fuzzball on my lap because she was convinced it would turn on her.

As a counterpoint, I've known plenty other black people who adored my pets and brought them treats. Although one lady did comment that my cats were the friendliest she'd ever met because, in her words, "black people's cats are mean".
posted by Soliloquy at 2:31 PM on February 25, 2008

My parents lived in Africa in the 1960s. My mom once told me that some wealthy white people would hire black people to throw stones at their guard dogs, teaching the dogs that black people were dangerous and should be barked at.

I might be misremembering and she actually told me it about wealthy white people in Jamaica (where we lived in the 1980s). I throw it out there as a somewhat relevant, possibly factual anecdote.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:37 PM on February 25, 2008

My family had a seemingly racist dog.

Her thing was black men in uniform. It's bizarre that it would be so specific (and damned inconvenient, when your dog tries to attack a cop), but those were the only people she'd go after. None of our other dogs had any kind of hangup like that. She was a bloodhound we rescued from the pound, so I can only speculate as to how she had been brought up and trained.
posted by adamrice at 2:40 PM on February 25, 2008

do you watch Family Guy? there's this episode where Brian starts barking uncontrollably at a black guy
posted by matteo at 2:45 PM on February 25, 2008

all the comments about "racist dogs"—c'mon.

dogs need to be conditioned to as much as possible while they are puppies—which is why trainers always recommend that you do that, so they don't end up getting spooked or frightened or barking at things they haven't been exposed to, whether that's the mailman, the garbage truck, the vacuum cleaner, or someone wearing a giant hat. and by conditioning, that means introducing the dog to the unfamiliar person or object, let them check it out, sniff it out, see that it's not going to harm them. if your dog has never been around a black person before and he sees one, there's a good chance he'll bark because he has no idea what a black person is. a black person obviously has different color skin as a white person. the more a dog is familiarized with many different types of people as a puppy, the less likely they'll just bark at every new person who comes along. but dogs don't generalize. they don't look at everyone and lump them all under "people." every thing is a different thing to them.
posted by violetk at 2:50 PM on February 25, 2008

This is a very fascinating thread. Has anyone seen Samuel Fuller's White Dog? It was the first thing that came to my mind. And there was also an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm that also had the premise of racist dogs.
posted by cazoo at 2:51 PM on February 25, 2008

avocet: I think I know a racist dog. I frequent a rehearsal space in a largely black area of Detroit (I'm white), and the guys (also white) living next door to this space have a fenced-in yard with a German Shepherd in it. The dog goes crazy whenever a black person walking down the street passes in front of its yard, but I and my white associates can get as close to the fence as we want, and the dog ignores us or sometimes even approaches us in a friendly manner. Our theory is that the dog is racist (and maybe trained by its owners to be that way). An alternate explanation would be that the dog only feels threatened by people approaching its yard from the street-side, and not the next-door-neighbor side.
posted by Burns Ave. at 2:54 PM on February 25, 2008

We had a dog who barked quite loudly but was the sweetest creature. A black deliveryman was very apprehensive towards her, even going so far as to say I sic'd her on him (she ran out the door as I opened it). He refused to deliver unless he knew the dog was inside. From that day on, I equated black people with fearing dogs. No, not really. I think the real answer lies in socio-economic situations, more so on those who grew up around dogs as pets or not. I had friends (of different races) who were reticent about approaching the dog I grew up with or other dogs, because they simply weren't comfortable being around animals in general.

P.S. Southern born and raised.
posted by Atreides at 3:01 PM on February 25, 2008

MrMoonPie, I've heard this stereotype for years as well. I figured that the asker has heard it too and thus--as others have suggested--it's confirmation bias.

Anecdotally: I did live in the South (and had friends/family with pretty big dogs) and on a half-dozen occasions observed black people respond in what could only be described as an overly cautious (and once downright terrified) way while I was walking with one of these dogs.

Most of this time I was a college student so I lived in crappy parts of town. Folks who live in bad parts of town have dogs for different reasons than folks who live in good parts of town. I thought that might be why people responded the way they did--or that it might be my own confirmation bias.

Here's some more science-y rationale I found in this social work journal study (on LexisNexis):
Social Work

July 1, 2006

The animal--human bond and ethnic diversity.

BYLINE: Risley-Curtiss, Christina; Holley, Lynn C.; Wolf, Shapard

SECTION: Pg. 257(12) Vol. 51 No. 3 ISSN: 0037-8046

As described earlier, there is a dearth of literature on the effect of ethnic and cultural diversity on the animal--human bond in the United States. The 2002 edition of the U.S. Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook, published by the American Veterinary Medical Association, does not include ethnicity in its companion animal owner demographics. ....Some ethnic differences have been found in companion animal ownership and attachment. Marx and colleagues (1988) examined demographics of companion animal ownership among U.S. adults ages 21 to 64 and found that white people were statistically more likely than people of color to have companion animals. Nonetheless, although race was identified as a significant factor, there was no discussion or examination of this finding. ....White adolescents were most likely to have companion animals in their homes, followed by Latinos/Latinas and those of Asian descent. African Americans were least likely to have such animals in their homes. [emphasis mine]

Anyhow, it's almost 10,000 words and not all that interesting, but the roundabout point I'm trying to make is that if you grow up in a household without dogs, then you're more likely to be frightened of them.
posted by cowboy_sally at 3:04 PM on February 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Speaking of racist dogs, Larry David had one on Curb Your Enthusiasm.
posted by Atreides at 3:04 PM on February 25, 2008

This can be a culturally Southern thing, not just confirmation bias.
posted by konolia at 3:04 PM on February 25, 2008

Response by poster: Matilda has a brindle coat, which is often associated with pits. Her head is shaped like a labrador's, it isn't bony/blocky like a pit. Her ears are floppy, not clipped, and she still has her tail. I thought of confirmation bias as well, but this has happened too many times. These kids weren't just cautious, they stopped dead in their tracks and started backing up a little. This is Matilda before she got her pink collar. Matilda has had cautious reactions from a Filipina once and a Central American once, but highly apprehensive reactions from black people several times. I can't say what the 4 black kids economic status is. She has gotten many more friendly reactions from people since she got her pink collar.
posted by Daddy-O at 3:12 PM on February 25, 2008

Crossposted from MeTa (because I wasn't paying attention):

My friend has a very fluffy black dog (about the size of an average lab.) We would take this dog on walks through downtown and on campus, and the only ethnic group that showed absolute and total fear was Asians. This is over years and probably hundreds of such walks and without fail, groups or individual Asians would freeze, slowly back up, and then cross the street to avoid this dog...

No other groups of any ethnicity showed fear of this dog, but I always thought that it must have been culturally motivated.

My first reaction to the post was, 'Hmm, this could have been worded more clearly...' Racist? I'm not so sure.
posted by schyler523 at 3:14 PM on February 25, 2008

Thank you for this comment, grouse. Incidentally, if it's at all relevant, I was raised in North Carolina, and though the Chicago neighborhoods I've lived in skew a little trixie, they're a far cry from, say, Greenwich, Connecticut. I've never heard of this phenomenon outside of it being mentioned as a bizarre stereotype, but then again, I've never walked a dog in a densely populated area.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:14 PM on February 25, 2008

My late grandma - who was as white as all-get-out - was both fearful of and disliked pet dogs and cats. (Which kind of made it hard for her when she visited our pet-loving household!) The explanation was that she never had pets growing up, was raised to believe that it was "filthy" to have animals in the house, and so what she knew best were junkyard dogs, guard dogs and feral cats (she was city born and bred).

It strikes me that well-socialized-and-trained, spayed or neutered, friendly companion animals are by and large a middle-class and above thing. A lot of poor people, especially those who live in cities, don't have those cultural references, and the only dogs (and cats) they meet are ill-tempered, stray or feral or guard/fighting animals, not Lassie and Morris.

One more thing - Notjustfoxybrown points out that, historically, dogs were used against black people (to track down slaves, attack civil rights protesters, etc.). And, I've known plenty of black people who keep dogs (and cats) as loved pets.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 3:28 PM on February 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Daddy-O: I'm a white dog-ignoramus. I would think your dog was pitlike enough to be cautious around. (She's very cute, but she does trigger my automatic "that might be a mean dog, wait and watch for a while before approaching" response.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:29 PM on February 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

"Hopefully some of my fellow Southern Mefites can chime in here as well, but there is a real trend around here of black people being very leery around dogs. I don't know if this has to do with the increased incidence of dogfighting among blacks or if it's something else, but it really is a cultural difference that splits among racial lines down here."

n'thing Mr. Gunn based on my decades living in the South (Alabama, North Carolina, New Orleans). The poor neighborhoods/dogfighting explanation sounds reasonable, but that's just my guess.
posted by mccxxiii at 3:31 PM on February 25, 2008

This is Matilda before she got her pink collar.

Oh yeah, all sorts of people who don't have much (positive) experience with dogs could easily think she was a fighting breed at first glance. Our dogs don't look to strangers as they look to us.

(As someone with a Mathilda + 4 other large mongrels, I think Matilda's adorable).
posted by FelliniBlank at 3:32 PM on February 25, 2008

re: people's reaction to your dog: a little confirmation bias, a little class reaction, as others have noted.

re: "racist" dogs -- my dog also barked at black people. But she didn't see that many, and that was probably her version of "Look how dark that man is" which is the kind of thing my son used to say as well. Of course he was a hardcore racist three year old skinhead. Serious, it's totally understandable given the dog's previous (lack of) experience with black people.

In many other cases, my dog would bark at people who were obviously afraid of her, which I thought was just a shame (why can't they see how lovable she is?) until the time she barked at a guy who clearly was looking askance at her, and he opened up his jacket and showed me some kind of weapon-club. Bad guy. Deserved a good barking-to.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 3:36 PM on February 25, 2008

I know it sounds like confirmation bias, but in this case I think there's some truth to the observation. Most black people I know (and I know quite a lot) aren't dog people. In the Caribbean (which is the cultural genesis of most of the black people in my social circle), dogs are generally seen as guard animals and often are kept out of the house entirely, and played with sparingly, if at all. Letting a guard dog into the family home would be weird, like letting your horse inside. This means that the dogs tend to be kind of undersocialized and a little wild, which confirms to their owners that they're useful but untrustworthy. And in the Caribbean, any dog that's not a guard dog is probably a stray, which means it's basically a giant rat which you'd never think to play with. It's just the culture. The number of people in the Caribbean who'd let a dog sleep in their kid's bed and share their ice cream cone- not a large number.

If that was your experience of dogs, you wouldn't get accustomed to their body language, so they'd seem unpredictable and dangerous. If you've not been around dogs much, you don't see a friendly face and wagging tail, you just see "teeth". So I think it's an unfamiliarity thing.

I can also personally confirm that some white people's dogs are weirdly racist, and have a noticeably and consistently bad reaction to dark-skinned strangers. So you have a nervous human approaching a nervous dog, recipe for weirdness. And it only takes one snarl from one dog to confirm to the human that dogs are scary and best avoided.

I also notice that most Asians I know are okay with lap dogs (every Korean family I've ever personally known has had a yappy chihuahua or shitzu at some point) but are uneasy around big dogs, which again, I'd attribute to unfamiliarity.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:37 PM on February 25, 2008

I have heard of this stereotype from other people over the years. I have never seen anything to confirm it, but I have heard it spoken of.
posted by everichon at 3:41 PM on February 25, 2008

This definitely is part of what might be called the extended stereotype of black people, and not just among whites. I've had at least half a dozen 8-10 yr. old black kids in Seattle inform me that black people are more afraid of dogs-- and mostly in a tone of 'don't you know anything?'
posted by jamjam at 3:43 PM on February 25, 2008

Yep. Matilda could certainly strike one as "pit-esque"
posted by sourwookie at 3:45 PM on February 25, 2008

As an additional data point: my ten-pound rescue Pomeranian mix and I lived two doors down from a social service agency in a sorta Southern city for two years, until this past October. The majority - between half and three quarters - of black kids/clients going there were either outright afraid or very apprehensive around my little mutt. We never, ever saw that reaction from a white kid/client. Some of the bolder black kids were able to bring themselves to come up to pet the dog, but they were usually with friends who kind of dared them to do it, and were very jumpy (and then pleased with themselves).

There were Hispanic kids around, but oddly, they didn't go to that particular service, so their circumstances may not have matched up exactly with the black and white kids that did, but there were no signs of fear from them, either, except for one two-year old child (whose mother comforted her and coaxed her to pet the dog).

One of my cousins was afraid of dogs when he was little, four or five years old at most, and all of us cousins (little hillbillies, all of us) mocked him quite a bit for it - it was considered downright shameful.
posted by dilettante at 3:45 PM on February 25, 2008

Daddy-O: Yeah, I'm sure Matilda is a sweetie, but I would feel cautious around her, too.
posted by Enroute at 3:47 PM on February 25, 2008

Answering to the people citing "Family Guy" and adding to what cazoo said, I always took that little vignette from Family Guy as referencing Samuel Fuller's movie NOT as a commentary on the stereotype that black people are afraid of dogs. That particular film seems to be a pretty well-known/infamous movie among people who are into weird/random cultural references, and considering that Seth McFarlane seems to dabble in cultural references both common and obscure I wouldn't be too quick as to attribute that reference to wholly him talking about this stereotype, it could be, but that definitely was not my impression watching the show. In fact, it seems to be part of the general characterization of Brian.

To me it seemed more like a joke poking fun at the fact that Brian is a white dog so therefore he's "white" with the accompanying racial baggage. The show uses the many facets and implications of Brian the educated human-like dog a lot to make a statement/poke fun at social statements. He's a dog, but he's also semi-college educated. He seems to have his own income so he has issues with being treated as a kept dog (which interestingly in that episode, his identity was couched in terms of the black Civil Rights movement) etc. In the particular episode people are citing, after barking at the black person uncontrollably he says "Sorry, I must've gotten that from my father" in a really apologetic way so it seems to be more of a tongue in cheek joke about white guilt because even though he seems really well-educated and level-headed, his upbringing comes out without his meaning to in a really awkward way. So I think that's more of social commentary through Brian's general character rather than McFarlane addressing the particular stereotype cited by the OP.
posted by kkokkodalk at 3:51 PM on February 25, 2008

Regarding "racist" dogs: Dogs will bark in alarm at anything out of the ordinary. They need to be exposed as puppies to all different kinds of people--white, black, in wheelchairs, with walkers, with canes, etc. Also, they don't really have a concept of "removable parts" and can be freaked by hats, sunglasses, backpacks, masks, and so forth. Again, socialization during the first three months is key.
posted by Enroute at 3:57 PM on February 25, 2008

Yeah, instead of "from the northeast" I should have said "not from the South" but I didn't think someone would care enough to call me out on it. Anyways, it's definitely real. I've asked black people about this, and "we were raised around dogs trained to guard/fight" is what they told me.

It's things like this(and the weak-ass MeTa callout) that make me think that people in the South are less racist in many ways.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 4:04 PM on February 25, 2008

In the south, especially in the country, black people are stereotyped as being afraid of dogs. I have only occasionally seen confirmation of this stereotype in real life. I thought it had do do with (1) black people thinking that white people trained their dogs to bite black people and (2) black people being more likely to be from a neighborhood where a dog meant a pit bull and not a Pomeranian or golden retriever.
posted by charlesv at 4:05 PM on February 25, 2008

I have a dog who barks at people whenever he sees signs of fear (never actually attacks, thank god, but raises hell. We're working on conditioning him out of it.). He doesn't seem to discriminate at all. He's barked at toddlers, latina women, old white men, and he's passed by plenty of black people without any problem whatever. But if you're nervous, he'll go off.

I'd say he's barked at black people more often by a ratio of around three-to-one. It may very well be that there are more black people walking around our neighborhood than not, but I wouldn't think it's that high. There could also be some confirmation bias in my memory of the episodes, but again, not that much. They are pretty notable and distinct events for me.

One day he started barking at a black guy coming out of an African restaurant. We were of course apologizing profusely and getting the dog away from him as quickly as possible, and the guy was saying "Oh man, you gotta get that dog out of here. I'm from Africa. We don't dig dogs".

We didn't ask why, but I think there's definitely a case to be made that this isn't just a matter of confirmation bias. If you're raised to see dogs as companions, you're less likely to be afraid of them. If you're raised in a culture that thinks of dogs as guard animals or threatening in some way, you're more likely to be afraid of them. I would never say "black people are afraid of dogs", but if black people are less likely to have good interactions with dogs growing up because they culturally don't keep them as pets as often, then it seems reasonable to me that black people would be more likely to be afraid of dogs in general.
posted by team lowkey at 4:09 PM on February 25, 2008

I always thought the stereotype was that only white folks are stupid enough (that type of sheltered stupid) not to be afraid of strange dogs.
posted by aswego at 4:16 PM on February 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Dude, the brindle coat *totally* makes your dog look like a pit. And her head, judging from the pics you posted, isn't as far from a pit's head as you seem to think it is.

I was friends for a while with a pit who loved going to large crowd gatherings. The reactions to her in those settings from black folks was decidedly mixed: half gave her a wide berth, and half went, "Great dog!"

With white people, it was maybe 60/40. Maybe.
posted by mediareport at 4:24 PM on February 25, 2008

Actually, I should say most folks ignored her, regardless of race. Of those who reacted, it was usually 50/50.
posted by mediareport at 4:27 PM on February 25, 2008

Anecdotal evidence point # 635: I live in an wonderfully racially mixed neighborhood of LA (but upper-middle class). I've encountered people who are afraid of my dog (including some delivery people), some people who go out of their way to greet my dog (including some smart delivery people). I have seen no racial grouping in one or the other. There is a hispanic woman who crosses the street to avoid my dog, there is a hispanic man who crosses the street to pet my dog. There is a black woman who is afraid of my dog, there is a black man who likes to pet my dog. No asians on my block seem afraid of my dog. No caucasians on my block seem afraid of my dog. Many more white people than people of color on my block have dogs.

My dog looks/sounds very aggressive when someone comes to the door. I think everyone backs away (except a couple of very savvy hispanic UPS delivery guys, and my female black mail-carrier, all of who must be used to getting friendly with the neighborhood dogs as part of their job).

I am aware of the stereotype (grew up in midwest), but have not been able to demonstrate it. My dog doesn't like men very much, but more women are afraid of him (60lb lab/chow mix).
posted by johngumbo at 4:39 PM on February 25, 2008

Not black but Indian: Mr "Robinson" in Goodness Gracious Me was also scared of dogs. They made several gags about it across multiple episodes, and not many of them referred to dogs being seen as unclean -- in one sketch when the "Coopers" had bought a Yorkshire terrier he jumped away in fright when he saw it.
posted by genghis at 4:45 PM on February 25, 2008

Sorry, that wasn't very clear: "lots of Indians are scared of dogs" was the very obvious cultural reference being made.
posted by genghis at 4:47 PM on February 25, 2008

Shit, I would be cautious of Matilda. My immediate thought is that she is a bull terrier mixture and highly likely to be aggressive. Sorry dude, but that head says "mean dog".
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:54 PM on February 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

(I mean, LOOKS aggressive. I'm sure she's lovely.)
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:55 PM on February 25, 2008

Just another data point toward the existence of the stereotype:

I'm white, middle-aged, female, from Texas. Spent time with family in all the economic ranges. Had never heard or observed anything growing up, relating to race wrt dogs.

Cut to my first office job; all the [female, Texan, various ages] admin assistants are standing around the coffee machine.

Admin 1: So, how's the patio remodel going?
Admin 2: (blah, bitch, moan), workers having to cut my brand new door--
Admin 3: Why, for a pet door?
Admin 2 (who is black): Girl, you know black people don't have pets!
Me: Wait, they don't? Why not?
Admin 2: Because dogs don't like black people, and black people don't like cats.

I was too uncomfortable to inquire further. I've heard the dog thing here and there since (although I never heard anything again about cats, but have always wondered the rationale behind her comment and wish I'd asked).

It seems to me that this is indeed a case of, not race, but economic class. I get frustrated when I hear the "black people don't tip" chestnut for the same reason: because, of course, black people poor people of any color who didn't grow up eating in sit-down restaurants don't were never taught how to tip.
posted by pineapple at 5:00 PM on February 25, 2008

This is Matilda

Do you know what breed she is at all? If I had to guess I'd say Staffy-cross, mostly due to her brindle color and her forehead and ears, but I'm not getting any real sense of her size from the photos, either. Great Danes are sometimes that brindle color. :)

To me, she does look like the kind of dog that people who are afraid of dogs, would be afraid of. That's not as tautological as it sounds; what I mean is, she looks like a dog who might be taught to guard, or bite. Perhaps a dog that someone who might want to keep people away, or out, would buy. I could imagine her behind a battered picket fence with barbed wire strung over it; I can't imagine her with a bow on, trotting along behind a socialite.

So, considering the cultural factors of not keeping dogs as pets (expense, difficulty of renting with a pet especially in apartments, incompatibility with long hours of work or shift work), added to the cultural factors of dogs that look like her being kept and abused for guarding (or worse things), your observation seems reasonable.

That's not her fault, yours, or theirs, of course.

aswego I always thought the stereotype was that only white folks are stupid enough (that type of sheltered stupid) not to be afraid of strange dogs.

Same error the other way. If the overwhelming majority of dogs you've ever encountered are the beloved pets of people with the time to train them well and the money to feed and look after them, then that's how you'll think of dogs generally.

It's best to think of them as individuals, and approach with cautious friendliness. Expect deviation from the stereotype, whatever it is. The same applies to interacting with dogs.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:00 PM on February 25, 2008

From the South here. I have a Chow, and I live in a mostly Black neighborhood. In my local experience, and from talking to Black friends, dogs are more likely to be outside dogs in Black families and inside dogs in White families. And yes, that could be economics, not race - but I've had a conversation with a Black man that it's a status thing - animals live in the yard, not the house - we're People, not caged - animals live outside - that kind of sentiment.

Yes, most dogs around here are guard dogs. The Black kids in my neighborhood ask me the same questions - "does he bite?", but I can feel an undercurrent of curiosity about the dog being walked - they really want to pet the dog. She's pretty and fluffy, and they aren't used to seeing dogs being walked. Unfortunately, this isn't the best choice and I have to say no, even though she's done fine when impetuously petted by strange children, etc. She does do the thing of barking at people on bicycles, holding fishing poles, people walking with canes, or carrying a child on their shoulders. Or tall men. Which feels just awful when the tall man is Black. I just want to crawl in a hole because I assume they assume it's because they are Black, not because they are tall.

I would go along with the guess that the teen-agers in question assumed your dog was an aggressive breed and steered clear, as their parents tought them to do.

One of my (Black) neighbors has a mom who has a Chow. A crew of teenagers were doing yard work one day and my dog was barking like crazy by the fence. I went out to apologize, and they were very nice about it - "She's just doing her job."

I realize this is totally anectodtal, but passed down through the culture (as mentioned above), I think Black kids are taught more of a healthy respect for dogs. With my dog, I'd rather have that than a toddler yelling "doggie" and advancing on her.

The only Neighbors who have a problem with my dog are Grumpy Old White People who think (wrongly) that the dog is soiling their lawns. Everybody else does steer clear, but that doesn't stop them from saying a friendly hello to me. And my Black neighbor who had a terrifying chained up Rottweiler for years really seems to like talking to me about the dog, but he doesn't pet her. She'd be fine - she'd be like "Oh, that's That Guy" - but he gives her compliments like how alert she is, how engaged - because of her stance towards him while he talks to me. He doesn't say "aggresive" but that's what's implied.

I don't know. I think it's a stereotype that has at least some basis in fact, and not an unreasonable question to ask.

Or, what team lowkey said.
posted by rainbaby at 5:02 PM on February 25, 2008

I'm White, for the record.
posted by rainbaby at 5:03 PM on February 25, 2008

She could pass as our office-Staffy's sister, and I love that dog, but that's because I know she's cool. Because I asked. I would not approach Ticket if I didn't know her, and she's a well behaved, ridiculously friendly, sweet dog. Maybe white people where you live are just not so cautious, but I was raised around hunting dogs, and I never assume any dog, especially one that looks like an aggressive or working dog, is gonna like me til I've asked about it.

She is cute though.

And I'm white. For those of you counting at home.
posted by Medieval Maven at 5:24 PM on February 25, 2008

Having grown up in a predominantly poor black neighborhood and having had several dogs during that time, I gotta say "Whatchu talkin' 'bout, Willis?"

Asian people? Specifically recent immigrants? They're freaked out by the dogs. Black people? Nope.

I have, however, had racist dogs.
posted by klangklangston at 5:30 PM on February 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I live in the South and as many other Southern readers have pointed out, the preponderance of black people in my area are very afraid of dogs. It doesn't seem to matter what kind of dog -- my 40 lb mutt, my neighbor's chihuahua, my friend's long-hair goofy terrier: doesn't matter what kind of dog -- many, many black people around here are just plain afraid of them.
posted by _Mona_ at 5:43 PM on February 25, 2008

I've lived in Texas all my life and I've heard of black people being afraid of ghosts (but then who isn't) and swimming, but not dogs.
posted by tamitang at 5:45 PM on February 25, 2008

rainbaby seems to be going in the right direction. It's slightly a cultural thing, but not pervasive enough to say "Black People are afraid of dogs" If you did a wide enough sampling in different regions urban and rural, I'm guessing that the percentages would mostly even out.

Also there's a high dose of confirmation bias in the equation.

Also you can't discount the idea that it's not just dogs, but "white people with dogs" that might influence the interaction as well.

But there's also another way of looking at it, in that a lot of cultures find American dog culture and behavior to be baffling. For example I've never seen a non-white person let a dog lick them on the mouth, or lick their dishes clean after dinner. I know this doesn't mean all white people engage in this behavior, just more indicators as to possible cultural differences. I know people from rural farm upbringings who feel that having a dog over a certain size in an apartment, or keeping dogs on leashes is ridiculous, and cruel. Or that spoiling dogs with expensive food and grooming,and clothes and whatnot is the height of lunacy.

You also have to take into accountthat people who own dogs tend to be oblivious as to the danfgers of dog/stranger interaction. Your dog may be a cuddly lovey dovey sweetheart to you. But to assume that relationship extends to anyone the dog doesn't live with is wrong, irresponsible and dangerous. My roommates dog will meet 99% of strangers with exuberant tail wagging, and rolling over for the belly rub she feels the entire world owes her. The other 1% get raised hackles, growling and lunging. Not really sure how she makes that distinction.

To everyone who thinks that dogs are capable of being racist, there's a good chance the dog is following the lead of the owner. Which isn't to say that the owner is racist. But if you're reacting to a certan group differently, your dog will react differently,even if the differences are subtle and/or not things that people would associate with being "negative".

My roommate has unintentionally taught his dogs to react kids in this same way. He's so afraid that his dog might hurt a kid, that he's never allowed the dog to be around children without it being a tense situation. Now whenever the dog sees kids, it barks at them, confirming his belief that the dog dislikes kids, and causing him to be more tense when kids are around...rinse and repeat.
posted by billyfleetwood at 5:58 PM on February 25, 2008

They're afraid of your dog because they're smart. In poor urban neighborhoods dogs are bred both to fight and protect territory. Aggressive animals that were either abused, poorly raised and/or persistently neglected are legion in the ghetto. It's advisable for the kids who live there to be wary. A lot of kids have experienced, witnessed or been told of traumatic incidents involving dog attacks, and they have pretty good reason to generalize.

For example, last year a twelve year old boy who was nextdoor neighbors with one of my clients was mauled by the pitbull that belonged to the crackhouse proprietor across the street. The dog locked onto his elbow and shattered his arm beyond repair. There's a good chance that he and the rest of the kids on the block who witnessed the attack (it happened on a hot summer Sunday afternoon and the street was packed) are going to be a little skittish around dogs from here on out.

In the months since that attack two dog fighting rings were busted within a two block radius of the incident and the neighborhood is teeming with feral animals. Hell, I'm scared shitless of the dogs in this neighborhood and I'm a grown man. Theirs is a different world than yours.
posted by The Straightener at 6:03 PM on February 25, 2008

Australian here; I heard it as "Aboriginal people are afraid of dogs" when I moved out of home (years ago), though haven't had any experience to confirm or deny it.

So it's not just a US-centric thing.
posted by 5MeoCMP at 6:10 PM on February 25, 2008

What the Straightener said, plus this for some, plus your scary ass looking dog.

Frankly, given all the maulings, attacks and flat out disbehavior of dogs to their owners commands, people should be wary.

Throw in films like this which I saw years ago, and the desire of some white property owners to use their dogs against black people, and it all should add up.

Another stereotype is that a lot of white people kiss and lick their dogs all in their mouths while a lot of black people think that is the most disgusting shit ever. This is the complementary angle, so to speak, of that, I think.

There's a more substantive way to get an answer that involves a more thorough analysis of property owners, racism, culture and such, but really I think some of this stuff is what has already been said.
posted by cashman at 6:13 PM on February 25, 2008

Attitudes about dogs vary from culture to culture. In some cultures dogs are members of the family, in other cultures dogs are working animals or security devices, and in some cultures dogs can even be food.

I don't know how much variation there is on this issue amongst the ethnic/racial subcultures in the US, but the satirical (?) blog Stuff That White People Like has an entry for dogs as being especially loved/indulged by white people. In my (albeit limited) international travels I have not encountered any other cultures that love dogs as much as white Anglo-Americans -- everywhere else I've been, dogs were either guards or nuisances.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:27 PM on February 25, 2008

Confirming notjustfoxybrown and the corpse in the library. It's not just genetic historic memory, it's current day reality. I traveled recently in the Caribbean (Bahamas, Bermuda) and on my walks met two house keepers whose employers had trained the property dogs to be aggressive only with local/black/poor people. I don't know how often that happens in Austin, TX, but the practice is a norm in other parts of the world (or rather, in upper-class, fear-based minds everywhere).
posted by cocoagirl at 6:28 PM on February 25, 2008

Jacqueline: I have not encountered any other cultures that love dogs as much as white Anglo-Americans

The Belgians might give Americans a run for their money.
posted by cocoagirl at 6:34 PM on February 25, 2008

could it be that whites used dogs to threaten blacks in the south for centuries? Who among us hasn't seen, heard or read in popular culture the escaped slave chased by the master's hounds? Whites have never been the focus of animal-oriented cruelty. African Americans have for centuries.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:47 PM on February 25, 2008

If I were a black person in the south (instead of a black person in Connecticut), I'd be cautious of white people with dogs as well. I mean, it would be stupid of me not to be. No offense to Southern whites, of course.

I grew up in a city and had quite a few pets, including parakeets, a cat, and yes, dogs. The two dogs that we had for 10+ years were both pretty small, one a chihuahua, the other a chihuahua mix, and they both lived in the house as pets. In fact, one of the dogs, Queenie, would only sleep in a bed with a human. It's possible that we were some uber-weird Black/Hispanic family, and while I'm sure that can be argued, I don't think it would be relevant to this particular discussion. I've had neighbors, of the black/hispanic/white variety, who also had dogs as pets. I've had other neighbors, again, of every variety, who've kept their dogs outside. Different people treat their pets differently.

Is it a socio-economic thing? Maybe, but I would wager that a white kid from the suburbs who grew up in a neighborhood with a mean dog or in a neighborhood with no dogs, would grow up to be a white suburban adult wary of dogs. Are there more mean dogs in poorer neighborhoods or less dogs in poorer neighborhoods? No clue. I've lived all over, and in all sorts of neighborhoods and the ratio of dog owners to non dog owners always seems to be about the same no matter the racial makeup of the neighborhood. Same goes for the ratio of mean dogs to nice dogs. People (and I suppose dogs, as well) are big bundles of all sorts of internal and external influences, and race alone, or socio-economic status alone can't possibly explain why one specific person is afraid of one specific dog.

Personally, big dogs sometimes scare me. I don't cross the street to avoid them, or want to run and hide, but "dangerous breeds" are called that for a reason. You should probably be careful around them, too. Plus, a really big dog bit my [black] ass when I was like 10 for no reason and it seriously hurt.

Lastly, I actually have "racist dogs" as an interest on my online journal, because I've actually had this same conversation with a white friend of mine who is also convinced that black people are afraid of dogs AND that his dog may be racist. I thought it was such a funny/weird thing to think (and that this funny/weird thought of his seriously reeked of projection). Besides, if black people can't be racist, because they hold no power, obviously the same would be true for dogs. Obviously.
posted by eunoia at 6:47 PM on February 25, 2008

What is *your* behavior like when you pass people on the street with your dog? Dogs pick up cues from their walkers and passer-bys must quickly pick up cues from both. If somebody is scared of dogs* in general or your dog in particular and YOU put them at ease by switching your dog to the other side, a dog might react positively or negatively to that. If the dog gets subtly tenser in this situation, that in turn might make the passer-by even more scared (seeing you move your dog can possibly signal to them to watch out because your dog is tough). Then again, the flipside is true. Not moving your dog over can signal to the passer-by that YOU are not to be messed with or are scared, and that your dog will kindly stay between you two.

My point is, it's a very contexual situation and you may not be aware of the message you're sending to the people you're passing by or the message you're sending to your dog, which will effect the people passing by.

*Also works if somebody isn't scared of dogs in general, or your dog in particular, but is exercising caution in the given situation, for whatever reason.
posted by iamkimiam at 6:57 PM on February 25, 2008

I'm white and I live in Chicago. A few years ago I was dog sitting for my brother and took his big golden lab out for a walk. This is one of the friendliest, most enthusiastically people-loving dogs you'll ever see. I rounded a corner and saw a black woman in her fifties with two young kids. I pulled in Stanley's leash since as he was missing his family and so happy to be out, he was likely to jump up an slobber on anyone he met. The woman saw me doing this and asked if it would be okay if the kids pet the dog. I told her he was really friendly and used to being around a lot of kids. She said she wanted to be sure because some dogs were trained to attack black people. I'd heard this from black kids growing up but had never heard it from an adult. I didn't really know what to say but luckily the kids were giggling by that point.
posted by hydrophonic at 6:58 PM on February 25, 2008

Confirming notjustfoxybrown and the corpse in the library. It's not just genetic historic memory, it's current day reality. I traveled recently in the Caribbean (Bahamas, Bermuda) and on my walks met two house keepers whose employers had trained the property dogs to be aggressive only with local/black/poor people. I don't know how often that happens in Austin, TX, but the practice is a norm in other parts of the world (or rather, in upper-class, fear-based minds everywhere).

Yes, training dogs to be racist is really, really common in many parts of the world. It's not just an upper-class thing, either -- it's a really normal thing to do by quite broad cross-sections of populations.

I grew up in some poor neighborhoods and learned to be terrified of dogs because all the local dogs were vicious brutes that frequently bit kids and even adults. They were untrained, allowed to roam loose, and woe betide you if they cornered you and you weren't smart enough to grab rocks to throw at them or a big-ass stick to club them in the face. Now I've retrained myself to like dogs a lot (except when they are untrained and bark too much), but it took a lot of time with nice dogs to start to change my mind about the species -- honestly, it took a few years to go from looking for a rock to throw to rubbing their cute little doggy tummies.

People are quick learners -- all it takes is a few encounters with bad dogs, and you are soured on them for a long time, if not for good.
posted by Forktine at 7:01 PM on February 25, 2008

i'm asian. i've never heard of asian people being afraid of dogs. just eating them.

kidding. but yeah, my whole family (my fam and the extended fam) have all had dogs at one time or other. but i do agree that most asians seem to prefer small dogs. my mom has a little yappy dog and wants another one. and as i mentioned before, a 70lb wiemaraner and in my mom's mind, he's like the size of a bear. every time i talk to her, she asks if he's gotten bigger.
posted by violetk at 7:32 PM on February 25, 2008

You don't need to train dogs to be "racist". You just have to have the pup among a homogenous appearing group of humans during the critical few weeks that it learns what "normal" is. If a dog never saw ethnic group X, a bicycle, or a kid before adolescence, it will act fearfully or aggressively towards Xs, bicycles and kids. Any society where distinctive groups don't mix will have "racist dogs" unless the owners take active steps to introduce them.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:35 PM on February 25, 2008

forgot to add that it does seem to make sense tho. if you think about the dog breeds which were developed in asia, they're all pretty small, mostly lapdog sized dogs (pekignese, lhasa apso, sharpei, chinese crested, etc).

also, i think asians aren't really much for cats. i didn't know any who had one (except for me and i'm much more a dog person than a cat person).
posted by violetk at 7:35 PM on February 25, 2008

... to introduce them to all the kinds of people they might encounter.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:35 PM on February 25, 2008

Any society where distinctive groups don't mix will have "racist dogs" unless the owners take active steps to introduce them.

In Chile, where we don't have so much distinct races as a highly segregated continuum from lily white at the top to dark brown at the bottom of the income/social scale, dogs are very class/racist, generally barking at anyone significantly darker or lighter than their owners.
posted by signal at 8:00 PM on February 25, 2008

Asian dog breeds also include Tibetan mastiffs (guardians), Tosa Inu (fighting dogs), and Akitas (bear hunters), all of which are pretty freaking huge. Akitas especially have the reputation of loyalty to their owners, and aloofness if not outright aggressiveness toward everyone else. I don't think "lapdogs" quite applies.
posted by casarkos at 8:04 PM on February 25, 2008

Mod note: few comments removed. this question is already in metatalk, please save your snark for there, it is not helpful here, thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:28 PM on February 25, 2008

i'm going to have to agree with a friend of mine when he said: "it's a ghetto thing; not a race thing." he lives in LA, in a neighborhood with a lot of mexican immigrants and he says his mexi neighbors are all afraid of his dogs when he's out walking them. my cousins are mexican but they all have dogs. then again, they are middle class mexis so there you go.
posted by violetk at 9:56 PM on February 25, 2008

Yeah when I went to DC I saw a lot of vicious looking dogs being led around by black people. I didn't see that many cutsie dogs like terriers. These were big fellas.

Of course, this was a kinda not-safe neighborhood, apparently. You know, where my brother lives. He and I got jumped half a block from his apartment. Two hooligans in their late teens come from behind, start chatting us up for cash, we say no, and we each get clocked in the face. My lips were messed up for, like, 4-5 days. So I can see why people might walk around with big scary dogs.

I was afraid of big dogs as a child. I'm white now, and I was white then. I'm no longer afraid of most big dogs. I vote confirmation bias. The correlation was being kids, not being black.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:10 PM on February 25, 2008

Another Australian perspective... I have two hounds. One is wolfhound/mastiff/staffie and the other one is wolfhound/deerhound/mastiff. The smaller of the two is about the size of a ridgeback, the larger of the two is gifuckingnormous. The smaller is shaggy and brindle, the larger is shaggy and golden brown. Even though the smaller one is definitely friendlier and more gentle, she can clear a street. I mean people diving into shops, running to cross the road - that sort of thing. Call it confirmation bias or not, but I reckon brindle dogs give a lot of people the willies. Having said that, Mathilda looks like a cutie to me.
posted by tim_in_oz at 10:19 PM on February 25, 2008

I don't think it is a skin color issue as much as it is the different smell of the non-owner's diet.

Hear me out on this please, I worked for a vet in high school. He had a small animal clinic as well as treating the race horses at the track. He would give the race track people discounts for their pets when they brought them to the clinic.

Many times we would have Black, White and Hispanic pet owners in the waiting room. There were times that the dogs would react to the different races. Some Black owner's dogs didn't like the White or Hispanic people, etc. It was very noticeable. The vet's theory was it was more that the dog was reacting to a human that didn't smell similar to his owner, whatever race they may be. Different races have different diets, use different spices, thus, smell different. Dogs that were around different races on a regular basis didn't display this behavior.
posted by JujuB at 11:08 PM on February 25, 2008

Yeah when I went to DC I saw a lot of vicious looking dogs being led around by black people. I didn't see that many cutsie dogs like terriers...

"The terrier is a group of dog breeds initially bred for hunting and killing vermin. While usually small, these dogs are brave and tough with a lively, energetic, and almost hyperactive personality."

I'm guessing you didn't grow up with dogs.

These were big fellas. I was afraid of big dogs as a child. I'm white now, and I was white then. I'm no longer afraid of most big dogs. The correlation was being kids, not being black.

Perhaps the dogs recognize that you are no longer afraid and your correlation might be the more obvious one considering the social nature of dogs.

Hardly anyone thinks that though.

posted by vapidave at 12:50 AM on February 26, 2008

Yep, I see this in reverse when my roomate's 70lb black lab sees my very ebony African neighbor. This usually timid, submissive dog freaks the f*ick out. We chalk it up to the fact that we live in a very white college town, and that the dumbass lab never saw darker skin as a puppy. YMMV
posted by limited slip at 3:22 AM on February 26, 2008

Even if you aren’t a white cop, even if your dog is the friendliest in the world, this sort of image is still a very real memory for people in the South, and these teenagers may have learned this fear from their parents or grandparents. “Don’t touch that dog! That’s whitey’s dog!” Believe it or not, these are the literal words that came from a young child in a Southern town.
posted by breaks the guidelines? at 5:47 AM on February 26, 2008

To me, she looks like a pit bull. Many people are afraid of pit bulls. I think that's all that's happening here.
posted by agregoli at 6:37 AM on February 26, 2008

The National Forum on People's Differences had a similar discussion on its yforum back in 2002. It was as inconclusive as this one.

For the record, I'm a bit scared of big dogs, and I had no idea there was such a thing as an 'obviously friendly' dog. A pink collar don't mean nothing when there's a mouth full of sharp teeth and an animal instinct in there. I've always assumed that doggy 'smiles' were not in fact expressions of happiness like human smiles, but just happened to be an upward pointing mouth.
posted by penguin pie at 7:11 AM on February 26, 2008

limited slip: "Yep, I see this in reverse when my roomate's 70lb black lab sees my very ebony African neighbor. This usually timid, submissive dog freaks the f*ick out. We chalk it up to the fact that we live in a very white college town, and that the dumbass lab never saw darker skin as a puppy. YMMV"

And I bet that is part of what feeds myths such as:

breaks the guidelines?: "Even if you aren’t a white cop, even if your dog is the friendliest in the world, this sort of image is still a very real memory for people in the South, and these teenagers may have learned this fear from their parents or grandparents. “Don’t touch that dog! That’s whitey’s dog!” Believe it or not, these are the literal words that came from a young child in a Southern town."

The dog is barking at a strange smelling or looking person, and they interpret it as the dog being trained to attack people like them. The impression I'm getting is that it's a little bit cultural (more Southern) and a little bit racial (dogs being the racists).
posted by Mr. Gunn at 11:27 AM on February 26, 2008

Data point: I thought it was a well known sterotype that African-American folks are generally scared of dogs. I live in Atlanta and have always heard and seen this reaction. If am I going through a drive thru and the young lady behind the window is African-American and the dogs are in the car they are very wary of handing the food over, I've never seen another ethnic group react the same way. My boyfriend asked an older black friend of ours why this was one time and he said he didn't know why young people were afraid of dogs but that his generation was afraid of dogs because the police and members of the public were apt to turn the dogs on you.
posted by stormygrey at 11:30 AM on February 26, 2008

I only encountered the "black people are afraid of dogs" thing last year, via this article in The Skanner, Portland's black-oriented paper. See the 2nd to last paragraph, in which the sociologist expresses his concern that the pets tied up in front of coffee shops are scaring (black) people away from Alberta Street. Though he was doing research on minority opinions about the gentrification of the neighborhood, he doesn't cite any data in which his respondents actually complained about there being a dog problem. Weirdly, it would appear that he's just regurgitating the meme.

And yet, that he's so matter-of-fact about it struck me from out of left field, to the extent that I had to get all Whitey McHardyBoys about it and ask a black friend if this was a universal truth that I'd just never encountered. His response was essentially, "well, I'm fine with dogs, but you know... The Man did used to set the hounds on us, and not so long ago. Is it surprising that the grandparents of kids these days didn't raise their children in dog-owning homes, and those kids, in turn, didn't raise their children in dog-owning homes, etc?"

Kinda sucks, because Portland is a dog-loving town. You find dogs tied up in front of pretty much every pub, coffeeshop, café, bistro, grocery store, library... I don't think that's going to change any time soon.
posted by mumkin at 4:11 PM on February 26, 2008

I've lived in Dallas, San Antonio, and Alabama and Louisiana. I was taught as a child not to approach strange dogs and to especially avoid the larger ones, even if they were with their owners. But I have to say that everything people are saying about "black people and dogs" really sounds much more like the stereotypes that my older southern relatives would toss around about things like "black people and swimming" and "Irish people and alcohol." But then I think people of all races have stereotypes that they hold about other groups. Sadly.

Frankly I think that most people are smart to stay away from people with large dogs that seem to be acting aggressively - barking may sound friendly to you if you're aquainted with the dog - but it's easily mistaken for aggression. People who are avoiding you might just be a bit more street smart. What race they are probably just has more to do with who happens to pass by you at the time - random chance.
posted by batgrlHG at 7:39 PM on February 27, 2008

I'd noticed this in Chicago as well - no confirmation bias either, I had never heard of the stereotype before getting a dog. And besides observed reactions on the street, our friends are also about 70% white / 30% black and quite a few of the blacks are scared of the dog (who I should mention is super friendly to everyone), but almost none of the whites.

This came up in discussion with them on a few occasions, and the best we've come up with is this. As others have mentioned, it's not race-related, it is more of a cultural thing. Because blacks were a forced underclass until relatively recently in history, our black friends who are afraid of our dog generally learned two things about dogs from their family:

1) Grandparents: Dogs are often trained to attack black people, stay the hell away from them.
2) Parents: Dogs are for guarding your property, not companionship. If one gets outside their yard, you never know who they'll go off on.

Given recent history that's not too surprising. And if they're scared of dogs, they'll probably pass that fear onto their kids - these things take a few generations to fade.
posted by chundo at 11:46 PM on February 27, 2008

It's probably a mistake to view this on solely racial or socio-economic lines; it's almost certainly a mix of factors.

We have a 90# black lab, who is almost unmistakably a lab (except the head, which shows off the Irish Setter part...). He's extremely friendly to just about everyone, unless you're a strange man approaching my fiancée when I'm not around. He's especially friendly with small children.

In our neighborhood, and the significantly sketchier neighborhood a couple blocks over, a large number of the black people we come across are very afraid of him. It seems also that a lot of people don't know very much about dogs; more than once we've been asked if he is a pit bull, which it's pretty obvious to someone who knows about dogs he's not.

In the more affluent neighborhoods of Pittsburgh, people are less terrified, but I've still had black people---especially mothers with their children---go out of their way to avoid us. The only group of white people I've seen avoid him on a regular basis are very old women, over 60 or so.

My fiancée actually kept a log for a couple days last summer, and did a T-test on the data. She can't recall the exact p-value or the means, but it was definitely significant at p<>.

What has struck me as especially bizarre is the reaction I've gotten from black children---pre-teens and teens. On several occasions---one even after they specifically asked if he was friendly---groups of kids have barked, loudly and aggressively, at my dog. I was amazed at the lack of reaction it caused in the dog. (The groups, for what it's worth, were made up entirely of boys, aged 12--14 in one case, and 16 or so in another.)

posted by FlyingMonkey at 3:59 PM on March 3, 2008

sigh. That should have read p < .01, and obviously the last paragraph shouldn't have been italic.
posted by FlyingMonkey at 4:00 PM on March 3, 2008

when black slaves used to get loose, the masters would sic dogs on them, that wasn't that long ago! Why are a lot of white people afraid of blacks?

this stuff just has to do with folklore, culture, things that are passed on, and I think a mix of that and probably some class issues. I live in a lower class predominantly black neighborhood and most of the dogs around here are bred to be scary protectors, NOT to be petted! and the dogs some of the drug dealers have are REALLY scary, and for good reason!
posted by Salvatorparadise at 4:59 PM on March 12, 2008

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