Surgical alterations on dogs for cosmetic purposes have been deemed illegal in many states and provinces. However, “breed standards” set by organizations like the American Kennel Club refuse to exclude these procedures. Not only do cropping and docking cause unnecessary harm to dogs, but they change the way the general public perceives the animal.
We live in a superficial society, that preaches “don’t judge a book by its cover,” but remains unforgivably judgemental towards physical appearances. The general public is, in fact, programmed to judge individuals based on their own appearance, and the appearance of their family, peers, and even their dogs.
Researchers of the Animal Welfare Program at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver conducted a study to investigate the effects that cosmetic alterations have on people’s perception of a dog’s nature and personality. They wanted to see if cropping and docking not only made a dog look “tough,” but also caused the general public to believe the dog was less friendly than unaltered dogs.
The team conducted several internet-based surveys, using photos which displayed breeds of dogs with cropped and docked tails compared to dogs who had not been altered cosmetically. The four breeds they chose as examples were dogs commonly known to undergo cosmetic surgeries, such as the boxer, doberman pinscher, schnauzer, and Brussels griffon. Boxers and dobermans are well-known large breed dogs that fall under breed standards of cropped ears and docked tails. Schnauzers and Brussels griffons are less commonly thought of when considering cosmetic alterations, but are both small breed dogs with similar breed standards.
The study displayed two pictures of each breed of dog; one with cropped ears and docked tail, and the other without any modifications. Both dogs were oriented on the same background.
In one survey, 392 United States residents served as test subjects. They were told that the purpose of the study was to see if a dog’s personality could be accurately predicted based on photographs alone. The test subjects were shown four images – one of each breed, either surgically modified or unaltered – and asked to rate each dog on a set of personality traits.
The results proved to be conclusive with the researcher’s hypothesis – that dogs with cosmetic alterations evoked stereotypical judgement from the general public. Dogs with cropped ears and docked tails were perceived to be unfriendly and mean-spirited. According to the data, dogs with alterations were assumed to be aggressive towards people and animals. They were also perceived to be more dominant than unaltered dogs.
The unaltered, or “natural” dogs, were presumed to be more playful and friendly than the altered dogs. Natural dogs were also considered more attractive and approachable than those who had undergone cropping and docking procedures.
In their final study, the team of researchers aimed to discover whether or not having a cosmetically altered dog would affect the public’s perception of the dog’s owner. Would they have the same negative thoughts towards people who owned dogs with cropped ears and docked tails?
This study used 420 participants from the United States, and featured photos of dogs paired with their owners. These participants were told that the purpose of the study was to see whether or not an individual’s personality could be accurately predicted by assessing their choice in a pet. They were told that they would be shown a picture of a person (either Karen or Brian) alongside their dog Pepper (either a cosmetically altered or unaltered doberman pinscher.) They were then given a list of questions about the personality of the dog’s owner.
The results of the study proved that the general public held the same stereotypical judgements about a dog’s owner as they did of the dogs, based on physical appearance. The subjects perceived the owners of dogs with cropped ears and docked tails as more aggressive and less playful. The test individuals also described owners of dogs with cosmetic alterations as narcissistic – a person with excessive self-admiration and feelings of superiority. As well, the owners were considered less warm, and less talkative than the owners of unmodified dogs.
The researchers summarized their results by stating: “it could be suggested that owners of modified dogs [appear to] have a greater risk of social conflicts, human interaction complications, and decreased approachability than owners of natural dogs.”
It is uncertain whether or not ear cropping and tail docking is associated with aggression due to historical beliefs and practises. These surgical alterations once served as useful for guard, fighting, and hunting dogs, which may have led to the general stereotype that altered dogs are aggressive. However, this stereotype has proven to negatively affect the lives of dogs who undergo unnecessary cosmetic alterations.
Dogs, with no history of aggression, are judged based on physical appearance alone. Not only are the dogs being judged, but the owners as well! This causes hardship for dogs in the shelter system waiting for their forever homes. The general public is less interested in adopting dogs with alterations, due to these sorts of negative generalizations. As well, dogs who have undergone cropping or docking receive negative attention from the general public, causing socialization issues and anxiety.
We may not discover the root of the stereotype, but we can work to change it. By combatting breed standards, we may see the eradication of cosmetic alterations on dogs, and the end of negative stereotypes surrounding breeds who commonly undergo these procedures.
We want to hear your opinion! Do you believe cropping and docking is causing the general public to view dogs negatively? How do you feel about breed standards?
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