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Can Animals Be Racist?

Humans are racist.

Walls and Aryan babies aside, people are biologically programmed to behave differently with people who look or act differently than us. While this could be a self-defence technique in the most evolutionary sense, for the most part, racism stems from our misconceptions and preconceived notions.

When people talk of racism, they only refer to people.  I mean, nobody talks about a racist Guinea pig. But does this mean racism is an inherently human experience? Can animals be racist? Do they possess the intellect to process complex thoughts, like discrimination, hate and disgust?

Let’s find out.

Your dog may be a racist and you may not know it!

I don’t know about other animals, but there is definitive proof that dogs do discriminate between people. Whether you call this behaviour “racism” or not, depends on you.

Research by the Laboratory of Cognitive Psychology at the National Center for Scientific Research at Aix-Marseille University in Marseille (France) proved that dogs pick up discriminatory tendencies from their owners.

In the study, 72 pet parents were asked to bring their dogs to meet a complete stranger. Upon meeting the stranger, the groups of participants were asked to display specific behaviours.

  • A third of the dog owners were asked to walk three steps forward, towards the stranger.
  • Another group was asked to stand stock-still and display no physical cues during the meeting.
  • The final group was asked to take three steps away from the stranger.

The participants were told not to speak, make any noise or indicate any sign that alarmed their dogs in any way. Next, the dogs’ reaction to the meetings were observed and what the researchers saw astounded them!

 

Dog

 

In groups where owners approached the stranger, the dogs were relatively calm and didn’t display any signs of aggression or fear.

But, in the groups where the owners stood motionless or walked away from the stranger, many dogs were observed looking sharper, taking in their surroundings carefully and watching the stranger for any reaction. Why? Because the stranger initiated an abnormal physical and emotional response in their owners – their behaviour was suddenly very different.  

These dogs were recorded looking at their owners for a sign – an approval, a confirmation – to tell them what they needed to do. They were observed standing much closer to their owners, some in slightly defensive positions.

This proved what the scientists were trying to establish – dogs modify their behaviours and actions based on social cues given by their owners.

In scientific circles, this is called “social referencing” and this is something humans do a lot. For example, there’s a large snail in your garden and your baby is really intrigued by it. She wants to go near it. She looks at you to see if that’s okay. Your frown and your expression of disgust tell her that she probably shouldn’t be going anywhere near the thing; maybe there’s something wrong with it. This is social referencing. In adults, especially in terms of racism, children learn racist tendencies by observing their parents indulge in racist behaviours. If a parent says something mean and hurtful to a coloured person, his child may do the same too because he perceives the response to be a socially-accepted one.

The racism connect

Dogs’ ability to socially reference behaviours makes them indulge in behaviours that resemble racism.

For example, if a pet owner is bigoted against a particular race or colour, he may display certain physical signs like a frown, a look of disgust, a clenching of his jaws, physically moving away from the person of his discomfort etc. His dog may observe these behaviours and over a period of time, may associate the other individual, with danger. This can make the dog behave defensive and aggressive towards this person. If the dog isn’t too aggressive, to begin with, he too may display signs of fear, when he encounters an individual or an object that reminds him of the person his owner doesn’t like. These physical cues by the owner need not be conscious either. They can be done unconsciously or subconsciously and the dog will still pick them up and react off them. 

But despite this, scientists don’t consider dogs to be racists and we shouldn’t either. The reason is that dogs have not been recorded consciously holding prejudices that give rise to bigotry and hate. Dogs feed-off the behaviours exhibited by their humans and reflect similar conduct. This makes them (at least according to our current understanding) incapable of conscious racism. 

 

 

 

-NISHA PRAKASH

 

 

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5 Fun Facts About African Wild Dogs

  1. Each African wild dog has a unique spotting/marking on its fur. These markings serve the same purpose as human fingerprints and help researchers and gamekeepers keep track of individual pack members.
  2. Unlike in other animal groups where males leave and females stay behind; male wild dogs stay in their birth pack for life, while females leave and join other packs after reaching sexual maturity. This ensures there is no inbreeding.
  3. African wild dogs follow a community-based rearing of their young. Every adult member of the pack is responsible for the safety & upbringing of the pups and both males and females share babysitting duties.
  4. Wild dogs packs are extremely loving and caring, often taking care of the injured members of their packs for years. Healthy, adult dogs give feeding priority to pups and injured pack members, even before feeding themselves.
  5. Wild dogs are extremely intelligent and plan hunts well in advance. In fact, it’s this intelligence, coupled with team work and endurance that makes them successful in 80% of all attempted hunts. In comparison, lions are successful only 17%-19% of the time.

 

Bonus

Humans have tried to domesticate wild dogs like they did other canids, but have remained unsuccessful. Why? Wild dogs have an inherent suspicion towards any animal apart from their own pack-members and they have an intense dislike towards being touched. All domesticated dog species on the other hand, were very friendly and liked being petted, even when wild. 

 

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Wild dog pups, just weeks old

 

Wild dog 1
Wild dog pack in the midst of a hunt 

 

Wild dog 3
Every adult wild dog in the pack is responsible to teach pups the ways of the wild

 

Wild dog 2
Wild dogs are very curious about their environment

 

 

-NISHA PRAKASH

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5 Fun Facts About Puppies

  1. What do French bulldogs, Scottish terriers, Clumber spaniels, German wirehaired pointers, Mastiffs and Pekingese have in common? 80% of their species are born via C-section!
  2. Puppies are born blind and deaf at birth and only get their eyesight and hearing around the 7 week mark. They get their sense of smell at 3 weeks.
  3. Puppy dog face is a real phenomenon. Research shows puppies deliberately make puppy eyes and cutesy expressions when they’re being watched by owners. This is a tactic to get attention, hugs and treats.
  4. There are instances of identical twin pups, although they’re very rare. In 2016, an Irish wolfhound in South Africa delivered twin pups who shared the same placenta.
  5. Puppies learn important lessons from other dogs and humans before 7 weeks of age. They must be introduced to humans and other animals by this age or they’ll never get over their fear of other creatures and become anti-social.

Bonus

The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston is training a Weimaraner pup named Riley to find and hunt pests that may damage irreplaceable artwork.

Here’s a cute video on puppy behaviour:

 

Pup 1

 

Pup 2

 

 

-NISHA PRAKASH