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How could an animal lover buy a purebred dog?

by GiaGia on 9/8/2010 at 3:14 PM in Best Post

I classify myself as an animal lover. I serve as a Pet Santa, taking pictures with dogs, cats and other animals during the holiday season to raise money for animal charities. I foster and place homeless puppies. I trap feral cats in my neighborhood, and I pay out of pocket to have them neutered/spayed. I collect bags and bags of canine feces at a no-kill shelter. And I have read and I agree with PETA's, well formulated arguments about not buying purebred dogs.

I understand that, if I buy a purebred dog, even from a reputable breeder, that a homeless dog is lost. I also know that shelters have many purebred dogs and puppies that need homes, yet I am still attracted to buying purebred puppies from small local breeders or families. I do not think that I am the only person who fights this irrational attraction to purebred dogs.

I have had seven dogs in my life, and all have been designermixes_org_purebreds: two Welsh Corgis, two Boxers, an Airedale (from a shelter), a Whippet (who came with my wife) and an Italian Greyhound. I am presently considering a new puppy addition to my family so this question about why I have always had designermixes_org_purebreds is top-of-mind. Being a trained and practicing social scientist, I decided to explore the origins of my irrational impulse, and I offer some ideas on the topic, not to justify my potentially morally bankrupt purchase, but to create some affective neutrality so I may be able to control it. I apply some theories and ideas from the social sciences that may clarify what impacts the decision-making process in the acquisition of a dog. The arguments draw upon some current ideas on the brain, socio-biology and the cultural meaning of consumer goods.


Old Brain Issues

Dogs and people have evolved together for an estimated 15,000 years. The symbiotic relationship emerged from dogs (domesticated grey wolves) gaining access to food, and humans gaining access to dogs' keen hunting senses and early warning system (watchdog) capabilities.

Each contemporary breed's origins correlate with a particular point in human socio-cultural evolution, from the working breeds and farming to the toy breeds and industrial society. Dogs are selectively bred with human needs in mind, although some of the functional utility that dogs provide, such as hauling sleds and killing vermin, is less relevant today than in previous times. With practical usefulness waning, the ability of dogs to satisfy humans' aesthetic needs is on the rise. I contend that the physical appearance of dog breeds reflects "old brain" hardwiring for the attractiveness or beauty of people.

Consistent with this notion, biologists Klinenberg and Drake (University of Manchester, 2010) recently found that the skull shapes of contemporary domesticated dogs are more variable within the species than across the broader biological order, which includes cats, seals and bears-that, for example, collies' and boxers' skull shapes are more variable than the cats' and seals' skull shapes. Drake concludes that "dogs are bred for their looks, not for doing a job, so there is more scope for outlandish variation."

Evolutionary psychologists have identified universally shared elements that guide human perceptions of physical beauty. Features such as symmetry, body type and muscularity, height and posture, leg length, vitality, and skin tone have all been found to impact our attraction to fellow humans. These are the same elements that dogs are judged upon in dog shows. The breed standards may be seen as objectifications of basic human aesthetics or "cuteness." As a result, certain desirable physical elements of purebred dog have become exaggerated: the pushed-in noses of boxers and bulldogs, the wrinkles on the Shar Pei, the luxurious coat of the Irish Setter, the body length of the Dachshund.

Such traits have a fetish-like appeal to some people, although selective breeding for these characteristics often lead to serious health risks. Klingenberg (University of Manchester 2010) states, "Domestic dogs don't live in the wild so they don't have to run after things and kill them-their food comes out of a tin. So they can get away with a lot of variation that would affect functions such as breathing and chewing and would therefore lead to their extinction." Sadly, some dog traits are often selected for their aesthetics, not the animal's well being.

So why do some people want a purebred dog versus a mixed breed? Many people's response is that they want to know what they are getting in terms of appearance and temperament. I would raise a follow-up question: Why do you choose the particular traits you do? The answer might lie in part that they correspond with your particular human "hardwired" notions of beauty.

Social Learning

Not all decisions are reflexive and unconscious; we also utilize the right cortex of the brain, the seat of creativity, pattern matching and experience that helps us define situations and choose actions based on experience or accumulated knowledge. Thus, our attention to elements of the environment can be selective and our processing of information tainted by our unique experiences or even misguided traditions.

The decision-making process in purchasing a dog is influenced by previous events and associations. For example, my first and only dog as a child was a Welch Corgi. Whenever, I see one, I am still flooded with positive affect because the Corgi represents a time in my life of joy and innocence. As an adult, I impulsively bought a Corgi that reminded me of my first dog, and the two dogs seemed to morph cognitively into one representation of positive affect in my mind.

On the other hand, my Airedale, Harriet, was an adult dog when I adopted her from a shelter. Sadly, my family's experience with Harriet was not great, and one negative incident continues to color my opinion of shelter dogs. I suffer from what psychologists Tversky and Kahnemann (1974) would label "a bias due to retrievability." One day, a neighbor dropped his child off to play with my son. The man was hesitant toward Harriet, and he showed me a large facial scar, a souvenir of having been bitten as a child. I assured him that Harriet was a good dog with children, which I believed to be true, but Harriet would lunge at his son's throat a few hours later. I grabbed her collar before she could inflict any damage and returned the dog to the shelter for fear that a major incident would occur. I vowed never to adopt an adult dog from a kennel again, but my disseminating my fear to all adult shelter dogs is an irrational one that I am not proud of.

The point is that a particular bred of dog will bring back positive or negative memories that impact future decision-making. A specific bred that you and your grandfather shared special times with will cue certain positive effects and increase the likelihood of selection. Although a mix breed dog can evoke memories, the standardization of the cue with pure-bred dogs makes the association stronger.

Interests of the Self

In the last hundred years, human social identities have become more fluid, primary relationships have become increasingly transient, and people have a larger role in their own socialization experience. Consistent with the last 15,000 years of parallel evolution, dogs are more than able and willing to aid their human friends in this endeavor. In contemporary society, purebred dogs create a marker of self-identity and an unspoken (or sometimes spoken) network of people who own that type of dog. As anthropologist Grant McCracken (1988) discusses more generally in terms of consumer goods in our society, designermixes_org_purebreds offer a means to "create and sustain lifestyles" and "construct self." Obviously, BMWs, Rolex watches, and expensive bred dogs can be used to signify social position; like the car and the watch, the animal is a commodity and its cultural meaning can be transferred to the owner. When you buy a purebred dog, you become part of a cohesive group-just look at the bumper stickers that say, "I love my [insert dog breed here]!"

The owner of a purebred purchases an existing history and enters an established social network. McCracken discusses how Madison Avenue artificially creates these attributes in items as mundane as shovels touted as having been handcrafted by artisans from exotic locales, but purebred dogs have this market appeal naturally. Like your favorite teams in the NCAA final four, you can root for a breed during the Westminster Dog Show, you can buy a Pembroke Welsh Corgi and feel like a member of the British royal family, you can purchase an Afghan hound and tell the tall tale of their transport on Noah's Ark, or you can buy an Italian Greyhound and partake in play dates announced on websites with fellow IGGY owners at the local dog park. Buying a purebred dog creates or reinforces a social persona-a kind of "canine capital"-that mixed-breed do not create. While animal advocates would contend that all that a purebred says about you is that you are contributor to the industrial-pet complex or a snob, I argue that a minority of people define purebred ownership this way. In any case, presidents of the United States-owners of purebred cockers, beagles, and now Portuguese water dogs-have not seen it as a significant political risk.

In conclusion, biologically rooted notions of attractiveness, as well as emotionally charged memories and social capital, are all factors that direct people to purchase purebred dogs. PETA states on their website:
With millions of unwanted of unwanted dogs and cats (including designermixes_org_purebreds) dying every year in shelters, there is simply no reason for animals to be bred and sold for the pet-shop trade. Without these stores, the financial incentive for puppy mills would disappear, and the suffering of these dogs would end. The best way to find an animal companion is through an animal shelter or rescue group (PETA, 2010)

In my rational mind, I know PETA and other animal-advocacy groups are correct, and I hope that understanding the temptations and mental traps will be my first step in doing the right thing. Animal-protection groups would benefit from recognizing the kinds of gaps in the dog-lover's logic that I've described here in order to devise advertising and marketing strategies that do a better job of confronting the irrational human mind.

Sources:
McCracken, G. (1988). Culture & Consumption. Bloomington: Indiana Univeristy.

PETA. (2010, APRIL 15). Retrieved APRIL 15, 2010, from HELPING ANIMALS: http://www.helpinganimals.com/Factsheet/files/FactsheetDisplay.asp?ID=45

Tversky, A., & Daniel, K. (1974). Judgement under Uncertainty Heuristics and Biases. Science , 1124-1113.

University of Manchester (2010, January 21). 'Survival of the cutest' proves Darwin right. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 12, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.comĀ¬ /releases/2010/01/100120093525.htm


 
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Diarrhea in Dogs

by Dogo on 8/18/2010 at 3:51 PM in Best Post

Diarrhea is a sign of intestinal disease in dogs just as in humans. Eating inappropriate food is one of the main causes of diarrhea. There are also worms, bacterial infections, viral infections, and parasites causing diarrhea in dogs. Many dog owners feel frustrated because what's good for them might not necessarily be good for their pets. When a diarrhea is severe you might need a solution from the vet. Your dog will lose lots of fluids & therefore dehydration is inevitable. In any case, better safe than sorry. Contact your vet immediately if your dog has diarrhea. In young puppies diarrhea most of the times is caused by viruses and parasites. Diarrhea can dehydrate older dogs as well. Do not fast any puppy younger than 7 weeks but contact your vet immediately. Since diarrhea is not a disease but a symptom, many times other symptoms such as vomiting, fever*, and loss of appetite accompany it. Any cheap brand dogs' food may cause diarrhea. Also, some dogs have lactose intolerance or simply have a reaction to spicy food.

* http://www.sanomedics.com/thermometers/dog/
 
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