How to Increase Diversity in the Dog World

As an African American, I’ve discovered these previous few months tough. I’ve been analyzing completely different features of my private {and professional} life and reflecting on the varied journeys that introduced me to the place I’m at present. 

I’m a canine coach – an expert in an business with few Black colleagues. This isn’t the primary time I’ve puzzled why there are so few individuals of colour in my career, however it’s probably essentially the most impactful time to debate it, in hopes of accelerating the range of what has lengthy been a particularly white occupation within the U.S.


In 1985, I walked into my first canine obedience class with Casey, my new Irish Setter pet. The class was run by the native kennel membership and held at a group heart in Jacksonville, North Carolina, the place my U.S. Marine husband was stationed. 

As the one African American within the class, I stood out, however this didn’t concern me. As a toddler, I attended predominantly white faculties and lived in lots of white-majority neighborhoods; I used to be used to being one of many few Black individuals in lots of conditions! Besides, I loved what I discovered at school a lot that, after only some classes, I made a decision that I wished to earn obedience titles with Casey and turn out to be an obedience teacher myself.

Recognizing my enthusiasm and knack for coaching, the seasoned and far older women of the kennel membership took me below their wings, mentored me, and welcomed me into their internal circle. I’ve been completely immersed on the earth of canine coaching and habits ever since.


I used to be extremely fortunate to have a lot assist from my fellow canine trainers, particularly since I’ve usually been the one African American wherever I went within the canine world, whether or not I used to be competing at native conformation canine reveals or obedience or agility trials. I see extra individuals of colour within the canine world at present, however at most native occasions, out of the handfuls in attendance, you’d have the ability to depend Black individuals on one or perhaps two fingers. 

I’m assured when competing with my canine towards anybody in a canine present. But in all these years, I’ve felt most uncomfortable amongst my dog-trainer friends at skilled dog-training conferences, workshops, and seminars. Why is that this? I’ve considered it lots. 

For one factor, I stand out much more at these academic conferences than at canine reveals. The dog-training career is strikingly white and largely comprised of white, middle- and higher middle-class girls. This is particularly true of the subset of trainers who use constructive reinforcement and science-based coaching. 

But it’s extra than simply being a minority. Through the years I’ve attended many dog-training conferences and occasions. While I can’t say I skilled any overt racism or bigotry, I usually felt discounted and downright invisible. Worse, every now and then I used to be mistaken as “the help” on the convention inns the place the occasions have been being held.

I don’t know how you can clarify this, besides to say that canine trainers are usually not at all times perceived as essentially the most inclusive individuals, welcoming and open to completely different factors of view and views. There is a joke about canine trainers that goes, “If you put two dog trainers in a room, what’s the only thing they would agree on? That the third dog trainer is wrong!” The career is rife with contrasting faculties of thought and methodologies, full with unique cliques and really sturdy traces drawn within the sand. 

Most individuals who know me know that I stroll to the beat of my very own drummer and I’m typically unbothered by the opinions of others. But I have to admit that stepping out of the consolation zone of my very own little coaching group into the massive one at massive was typically daunting even for me, a middle-class, suburban Black lady raised and educated amongst white individuals. Think of how tough it may be for newcomers to interrupt into the dog-training career, particularly once they don’t see anybody else who appears like them on the desk.

Laurie and her altese, Andrew, on “Greatest American Dog”

It wasn’t till I grew to become a minor superstar from showing on the truth tv present “Greatest American Dog” in 2008 that different trainers began noticing and acknowledging me and chatting with me at occasions. At that time, canine coaching hadn’t ever been the middle of a prime-time broadcast tv present, and most trainers had seen not less than one episode; it appeared just like the present was a secure subject as an entry level to dialog. I met and made buddies with many extra fellow trainers after the present ended.


Historically, the connection between Black Americans and canine is sort of completely different than that of white Americans. Our relationship with canine has been difficult and tainted and affected by violence, worry, and intimidation. 

Laurie and her Dalmatian, Eliis, at a “Fast Cat Trial” (a type of lure coursing) the place Ellis earned his FCAT title.

As a really younger little one within the 1960s, I repeatedly noticed pictures on the nightly information of Black individuals being knocked down with fireplace hoses and police wielding batons, accompanied by teeth-bared and lunging German Shepherd Dogs – canine who have been typically even let free to terrorize and assault civil rights protestors. Those pictures hang-out me to today.

However, we will go even additional again than that. Dogs have been an integral device within the implementation and administration of the establishment of slavery on this nation, from their presence and utilization on slave ships through the center passage, to the shores and plantations the place canine have been used as instruments of intimidation and bred and educated to trace, assault, and even kill runaway slaves. 

These experiences have undoubtedly led to a multigenerational worry and avoidance of canine in lots of Black households. Even inside my family, I’ve relations with such an actual and current worry of canine that they refuse to go to my residence (I’ve by no means had fewer than two canine, and at present I’ve 5: two Dalmatians, a Pharaoh Hound, a long-haired Chihuahua and a Yorkie). 

In poor neighborhoods in lots of cities, canine usually play a task as a family’s safety towards  crime. In neighborhoods the place canine like this are widespread, kids are uniformly warned towards approaching canine – any canine. 

Given all this, it is smart that it has been a little bit of an extended and more durable highway for canine to be welcomed and regarded as viable and shut members of African American households. 

Race and Pet Ownership within the U.S.

Statistics range in line with their supply, however each survey or research we have been capable of finding confirmed one factor: Black Americans are far much less more likely to be canine house owners than Americans of different races. 

In 2006, the Pew Research Center printed a research that requested individuals of assorted races whether or not they owned pets, and in that case, what type? Of the white households that owned pets, 45% reported proudly owning a canine. Of the Black households that owned pets, solely 20% reported proudly owning a canine. 

It’s a lot simpler to seek out statistics concerning “pet” possession than “dog” possession.  A 2018 ballot performed by Branded Research, Inc., requested 14,755 contributors about “pet” possession.  The majority – 66% – reported proudly owning a pet of some type. About 70% of Caucasian contributors stated they owned not less than one pet; solely 44% of Black contributors stated they have been pet house owners. 

The 2017-2018 American Veterinary Medical Association’s “Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook” reveals comparable numbers: “Pet ownership differs among racial and ethnic groups. The highest rate of pet ownership overall in 2016 was seen among white households (64.7%), with Latino/Hispanic (61.4%) households next. The lowest rate was found among Black/African-American households (36.9%).”


I usually ask different trainers how they acquired into canine coaching. For many, it wasn’t till they attended a dog-training class with their very own canine (as in my very own expertise) or had the chance to rent an expert canine coach to assist them with their canine, that they thought of getting into the career. 

Laurie and her Dalmatian, William, working towards a “coach dog” title.

This is why I’d wish to recommend that the extra trainers there are who’re individuals of colour, the extra individuals of colour might see that canine coaching may be a great profession selection for them! Also, I think that many extra Black and brown individuals would interact the providers of an expert canine coach if there have been extra Black and brown canine trainers!

As a canine coach, what can I do to assist make my career extra inclusive and various? I’ve a couple of concepts:

1. Extra effort have to be made to usher in newcomers from various populations. That means searching for and recruiting shoppers, employees, interns, and dealing college students from completely different races, cultures, and nationalities. 

2. We have to create and foster an setting that’s nurturing and welcoming to everybody. Learning about cultural variations so we will higher acquire an understanding of and talk with racial and cultural minorities is an efficient begin.

3. I encourage all trainers to look at their very own coaching packages, searching for attainable boundaries to range inside our advertising and marketing and outreach, employees, communication type, and academic supplies. This contains acknowledging attainable biases and/or lack of sensitivities inside ourselves and others round us and taking steps, irrespective of how small, to do higher. To change, you will need to need to change.

4. Trainers ought to apply the identical rules and be simply as outspoken about our dedication to the humane, honest, and compassionate remedy of our fellow human beings as we’re for canine. 

5. Let or not it’s identified that you just fervently get up towards racism, discrimination, and bigotry, each inside our business and society at massive. Our group mirrors society at massive and isn’t exempt. 


My hat will at all times be off to these “ladies of the club,” who helped draw me into canine coaching some 35 years in the past. Honestly, they have been a gruff previous bunch of heavy-handed girls (with canine and folks), tough across the edges, and positively entrenched in old school dog-training strategies. 

In regard to inclusivity, nevertheless, these girls have been method forward of their time. They welcomed me with open arms once they didn’t should. If it weren’t for them, I might need missed out on one among my biggest passions in life. Let’s work collectively to ensure different canine fanatics who appear like me don’t miss out on theirs. 

Canine training specialist, canine habits counselor, and coach Laurie C. Williams is the proprietor of Pup ‘N Iron Canine Fitness & Learning Center in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

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