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Expert Says Dogs May Jump To Judgments

Expert Says Dogs May Jump To JudgmentsTufts animal behaviorist Nicholas Dodman says it’s possible that dogs may like or dislike people based on the way they look.

No. Grafton, Mass. [10.12.05] Does your dog judge people based on the way they look? As absurd as it sounds, that just may be the case, according to Tufts' veterinarian Nicholas Dodman.

"Certain dogs may only be aggressive with certain types of people," Dodman, who directs the animal behavior clinic at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, recently told the Detroit News. "Some dogs don't like fat people, people with funny hats or men with beards. And some dogs...are racist."

According to the newspaper, the question of whether or not dogs can be racist is a popular one, with a host of chat rooms existing on the web where people debate this very issue.

But, according to Dodman, who has studied animal behavior for 15 years, there is no debate; dogs have been known to treat people differently based on the way they look.

The problem can occur, he explained to the newspaper, when dogs aren't introduced to different types of people during the beginning stages of their lives.

"Whatever a dog is exposed to in that early period is expected and processed as the norm," Dodman said to the Detroit News. "That's the period where trust is also built. After about six months, a dog can develop neophobia, or a fear of anything new. What or whoever that new thing or person is can be viewed with mistrust."

But dogs can also react to certain types of people differently based on past experiences they have had with someone of a similar appearance, according to the report.

"If a man with a beard abuses a dog as a pup, that pup will grow up to dislike men with beards," Dodman said. "The dog figures this man was bad, so all men who look like this are bad. That association can and does happen with race."

While negative experiences from the past can influence dogs' feelings towards people, so, too, can training from their owners.

According to the newspaper, owners can teach their dogs to dislike certain types of people. Some historical examples, the publication pointed out, include Dobermans being trained to attack Jewish people during the Holocaust and German shepherds being encouraged to attack African Americans during civil rights marches.

But, according to Dodman, even if they are not trained to dislike certain people, dogs can pick up on their owners' feelings. This, too, can lead to an animal preferring some groups of people over others.

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