A to Z Challenge: X is for Xenophobia

To call our dog xenophobic sounds really bad. But I’m referring to the term distilled down to the basic meaning. (Also, I’m kinda desperate. I can’t think of any topic that starts with X).

The full definition of Xenophobia is “fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign”. And the first thing that came to my mind when I came across this word when searching for inspiration for X day is, “That reminds me of QQ.”

I’ve talked about QQ’s leash reactivity and how he barks and lunges at strange dogs. Trainers I’ve spoke with told me that this behavior is stemmed in fear, fear of the unknown, fear of the strange dog. The gist of their explanation is that dogs tend to not like anything unfamiliar to them. And when they haven’t been socialized enough, their fear render them unable to remain calm when faced with the strange. They bark and lunge on leash because they do not have the ability to run away from the unknown so their only option is to lash out.

QQ is the calmest and best behaved dog when there isn’t anything around that triggers his anxiety. He can do down stays for hours at the same spot, remaining at the spot even if I go off and take a shower. When we come home from a walk, I can drop the leash at the door, tell him sit, go and unpack all my groceries, and come back to the door and find him still sitting there waiting for me to wipe his paws before entering the door.  We visited a garden recently and a girl observed us taking photos of QQ posing against some flowers, and remarked to her father, “We should take our dog here sometime.” Her father answered, “Their dog listens. Our dog doesn’t.” That might be the proudest moment in my life. At the same time, I’m so thankful that they didn’t actually bring their dog. Because then the father would know that our dog listens only when there isn’t another dog around.

There is also another element of QQ’s reactivity that brings the term “Xenophobia” to mind. QQ isn’t reactive to ALL dogs. For some reason, he is usually more accepting of small, white dogs. In other words, dogs that look like him.

We first realized this in daycare. On the first day of daycare, when we picked him up, we asked if he played with any of the other dogs there. The answer was yes, and they pointed out two dogs that QQ played with the most. Both of them were fluffy white dogs. We remarked on their similarity with QQ. There were maybe ten dogs in the same enclosure and QQ chose the two that looked the most like him to play with.

The people at the daycare said they do see this quite often – dogs tend to play with dogs that look like themselves. It’s something familiar in a strange environment.

We see this occasionally too at dog parks.

I arranged a play date once with a colleague at a dog park. It was a somewhat hot afternoon, and other than QQ and my colleague’s dog, there was only a German Shepherd puppy there. For some reason, QQ and my colleague’s dog will only play with each other. Each time the GSD puppy came up and tried to join them, they will join forces and turn onto him and bark incessantly at him to chase him off. It was in actuality quite embarrassing and we (the owners) felt quite awful. My colleague’s husband actually even tried to play fetch with the puppy to distract him and make him feel better.

Yep, my colleague has a scruffy white dog.

Recently I took QQ to another dog park and an owner came in with her two dogs, one black, the other had some markings on it, but was mostly white.

QQ quickly took to the white one and played with it non-stop. They chased each other and play wrestled and had a lot of fun. Naturally, the black dog wanted to join in. But each time he tried, QQ will turn on him and bark at him. He wasn’t really aggressive, but he did not want to play with the black dog at all. After a few times, the owner said the black dog wasn’t getting QQ’s “back off” signals, and took the black dog away to the other corner of the dog park, leaving the white dog to play with QQ. She actually apologized to me, saying  that her two dogs are best friends, which was why the black dog really wanted to join in. I felt quite awful for the black dog.

QQ doesn’t always behave like this. He does play with other dogs. He usually plays best with dogs of the same age and energy level. I’ve seen him play with corgis, basset hounds, shiba inus that are of different colorings and markings. He also runs around with bigger dogs at the beach.

However, we witnessed on more than a few occasions how he tends towards white fluffy dogs and I am not sure how to explain it. The only explanation I can think of is that he sees dogs with similar features to him as familiar, and dogs that are of a different size and coloring as strange and foreign.

We’ve tried to discourage this behavior, but it feels like there’s nothing much we can do except to take QQ away. But all QQ wants is to play with the dogs he want to play with, and not play with dogs he doesn’t want to play with. He only barks at those dogs to make them back off, he wasn’t being aggressive. Someone at the dog park told me that we can’t force our dogs to play when they don’t want to. It’s like forcing a human being to hang out and make conversation with people we don’t like. Telling a dog “go play” at a dog park is pretty similar to pushing a person into a bar and telling him “go mingle”. Some dogs are naturally sociable and have no problems making a million friends. Some dogs only want to talk to people with similar interests, and if they can’t find that person, they would rather not talk. Some dogs are naturally introverted and would rather sit at the bar and nurse a drink by himself. Or in the case of Chyler, she prefers to sit on a bench.

In a way, I should be happy that at the very least, QQ doesn’t discriminate between purebred dogs and mixed dogs, right? None of that pureblood and muggle stuff!

Did anyone observe anything similar in their dogs? Or can anyone offer any explanation for this behavior? I would greatly appreciate any inputs!

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