In season 5 of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry adopts a dog that barks at black people. Wanda Sykes accuses the dog of being racist. Given that the dog was adopted by, and not raised by, the current owner, the discriminatory instinct of the dog probably can’t be attributed to Larry. But that made me wonder–should you blame an owner if his pet seems to be racist?

I have not done extensive research into animal behavior, but I would assume that animals have no racial preferences (towards humans) by nature. A dog should not care who raises it, as long as it’s given a good home. What animals do seem to pick up on however, is their owners’ reactions towards other people. If a type of person has a negative effect on the owner, the pet probably reflects the owner’s personality and preferences. If you train your dog to bark at minorities, that’s surely a bad reflection on you. But the pets often pick up on more subtle cues that non-self-realized racists may by unconsciously leaving.

People are pretty quick to blame owners for their pets’ bad behavior, including racism. But does that also count animals short in their free will? Can an owner be completely free of bigotry and still have a racist pet? Some friendly people have very bitchy cats (though I’d argue that all cats are bitchy to some extent). Some timid individuals might have loud and aggressive dogs. Pets have their own personalities to a certain extent, rather than exact mirror images of their owners. Maybe it’s not fair to blame the owners if the animal indeed barks more often at black people. Perhaps it’s because people don’t think that animals are so deficient in reasoning that any kind of learned behavior must be human-driven.

What do you think? Should we blame owners for racist pets?

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