Can Dogs Tell Skin Color?

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Introduction

By now, you have probably heard that dogs see more than just black and white. This means that dogs are more capable of telling the difference between different skin tones than was previously believed. However, do dogs really know the difference between two different skin colors? Can dogs tell that a person has an olive complexion or fair skin?

Some people believe that dogs can tell skin color well enough to be racist. Is it possible that dogs can dislike people based on the color of their skin? Wag! is here to help you find out.

Signs Dogs Can Tell Skin Color

We now know a lot more about how dogs see the world than we did 10 years ago. Science has made it possible for humans to better understand what dogs can and can’t see. We have learned that dogs can better see color than previously expected, and many people now wonder if dogs can tell the difference between skin colors.

Many dog owners have reported that their dog only acts aggressively around people of one particular race or skin color, which has led to comments about racist dogs. Generally, if a dog sees someone with a skin color that is vastly different than their owner's and they have never been exposed to someone who looks like that before, they will act aloof at best. But, just because a dog seems to be aggressive, that doesn’t mean that they are angry.

In many cases, these dogs are displaying fear-based aggression. This is generally a reaction if a dog has had a traumatic incident involving a person with that skin color or they have never been socialized around people with a particular skin color.

Just because there is an explanation doesn’t mean that your dog can’t learn to love people of all different backgrounds despite how they are feeling right now. Read on to learn more about how you can help your dog move past their fears.

Body Language

When your dog is frightened, you may witness the following body language signals:
  • Growling
  • Barking
  • Back hair on edge
  • Tail tucking
  • Ears back
  • Exposed teeth

Other Signs

Other signs your dog may be uncomfortable include:
  • Hiding
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Running away

History of Dogs Seeing Skin Color

The history of racism in America is well-documented, but dogs don’t try to categorize people into races the way some humans do. For this reason, it is impossible for dogs to be racist. However, dogs do see people with different skin tones... differently. 

A lot of this has to do with exposure, as a dog who has seen people of all varying skin tones will likely respond the same to everyone. But a dog who has been brought up in a home or area with only one skin color may not understand what the variation of color is all about. And, it can make reading facial cues a different experience - which could throw your pooch off.

In some cases, your dog might have had a bad experience with people of a certain race. In these cases, your dog may associate the color of someone’s skin with a traumatic experience and therefore have a hard time being near people with that skin color.

Also, if you tend to feel nervous, anxious, or tense around people of other cultures, your dog probably picks up on that. Even if you do it subconsciously, your dog will pick up on that body language and react accordingly. To combat this, you will need to work out your own feelings about those of different background and show your dog that you feel more comfortable.

Science Behind Dogs Seeing Skin Color

In some regards, dogs have fairly poor eyesight. They don’t have the ability to see all of the colors that humans can, so it can be difficult for dogs to distinguish between shades of different colors, which also can affect how much detail they see. While your dog doesn’t mean to appear "racist", they might have a hard time recognizing facial details of people with darker skin - that is, only if they haven't already learned to do so. It isn’t about race at all, as it's simply about the way your dog sees colors.

Fortunately, there are ways that you can help your dog cope with their fear of people of different skin colors.

Training Your Dog Not to Fear People of Different Skin Colors

When dogs have never experienced something, it can seem very scary to them. If your dog has never been around someone of a certain skin color, they might be afraid of all people of that skin color. You can change your pet’s perception, however.

The best thing you can do for a dog is to expose them to people of all skin colors (and animals of all types as well) to properly socialize them when they are still puppies. When dogs are allowed to interact with a variety of people and other animals, they become less fearful of the things around them. 

If you get a pet that is older, socialization is much more difficult. The key is to start slowly and help build their confidence in unfamiliar places and situations with unfamiliar people, but you don’t want to throw them in the deep end. You want to start with baby steps. 

First, maybe invite a new person into your home and introduce them to your dog or go on a walk in a new place. Don’t do both at the same time. This means keeping people away from your dog while on your unfamiliar walk. You need to also have the confidence to explain your situation to strangers to prevent creating a bad experience for your pet.

Remember that dogs are more prone to aggression when they are frightened, which means that you could be putting other people at risk, so you need to proceed with extreme caution. Working with a pet trainer can help you help your dog in the most positive ways for your pooch.

Safety Tips for Socializing Scared Dogs:

  • Keep your dog on a leash.
  • If your dog is prone to aggression, consider a muzzle.
  • Start socialization slowly.