Young actress Julie Sawyer (Kristy McNichol) accidentally runs over a stray white German Shepherd dog one night. After the dog is treated by a vet, Julie takes him home while trying to find its owners. A rapist breaks into her house and tries to attack her, but the dog protects her so she decides to adopt him, against her boyfriend's (Jameson Parker) wishes. Unbeknownst to her, the dog was trained by a white racist to attack any and all black people on sight. It sneaks out of the house one night and kills a black trashman in an attack. Later, when Julie takes the dog to work with her, it attacks a black actress on the set.
Realizing something is not right with the dog, Julie takes him to a dog trainer, Carruthers (Burl Ives), who tells her to kill the dog. Another dog trainer named Keys (Paul Winfield), who is black himself, undertakes re-educating the dog as a personal challenge. He dons protective gear and keeps the dog in a large enclosure, taking him out on a chain and exposing himself to the dog each day and making sure he is the only one to feed or care for the dog.
The dog manages to escape, and kills an elderly black man in a church, after which Keys manages to recover him, and opts not to turn the dog in to the authorities, but to continue the training, over Julie's protests. He warns her that the training has reached a critical point, where the dog might be cured or go insane. He believes that curing the dog will discourage white racists from training dogs like this, though there is no indication in the story that this is any kind of national problem (the film is set well after the civil rights era the original novel was set in).
After a lengthy time, it seems as if the dog is cured, in that he is now friendly towards Keys. Julie confronts the dog's original owner, who has come to claim him, and who presumably trained him to attack black people. She angrily tells him the dog has been cured by a black man in front of his grandchildren, who only know the dog as a loving family pet.
As Julie and Keys celebrate their victory, the dog brutally attacks Carruthers, who is white, and whom the dog had not previously shown aggression towards--no explanation for this is given, but the implication is that the dog's programming has somehow been reversed, though that was never Keys' intention. To save his employer's life, Keys is forced to shoot the dog, and the film ends with the image of his body lying in the center of the training enclosure.
Read more about this topic: White Dog
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