When Acquiring A Dog Becomes Controversial
When seeking out a companion dog, there are many controversial issues that guardians should be aware of. For example, it’s important to consider how to address biting, adopting dogs from foreign locations and risking disease transmission, buying pedigree dogs with genetic health issues, and supporting dog trafficking in the puppy mill industry.
The Dutch government and animal advocates have struggled with campaigns to make people more aware and better able to respond to these issues. Nevertheless, they still occur. This study examined the coping strategies that individuals in the Netherlands use when they (knowingly or unknowingly) contribute to the problem.
Researchers used focus groups to identify cognitive dissonance, a situation where people’s beliefs don’t align with their actions. The researchers formed four focus groups with varying types of dog guardians:
- Biting incidents: Included individuals with dogs of breeds considered to be at “high risk” of biting
- Zoonotic diseases: Included individuals who adopted their dogs from foreign shelters (which may result in disease transmission)
- Pedigree health issues: Included individuals who had pedigree dogs (who often suffer from breed-related health problems)
- Puppy farming: Included individuals who purchased their companion animals from a puppy farm or trader (which may result in purchasing a trafficked dog)
Participants in the pedigree dog group often justified themselves by saying that they valued getting a predictable dog or a puppy, that the other options were worse, or that they bought from a reputable breeder. They shifted responsibility to breeders and show dogs, minimizing their cognitive dissonance by placing trust in the supplier. Individuals in this group also distanced themselves from other pedigree dog purchasers who acquired “unhealthy” breeds.
Participants in the biting group largely detached themselves from the term “high-risk” and preferred “power breed” to describe their dogs. They focused on a breed’s positive qualities such as loyalty and protectiveness. They also highlighted all they had done to manage their dogs, such as appropriate training and moving to remote locations. They shifted responsibility by blaming biting incidents on irresponsible guardians or people who don’t know how to interact with high-risk dogs. They also minimized the harm caused by biting incidents.
Participants who had adopted their dogs from foreign shelters tended to shift blame by claiming zoonotic disease was something occurring in locations where they didn’t adopt their dog. Participants claimed that it’s better to adopt dogs, even from other countries, and trivialized the risk of disease spread. They often blamed Dutch shelters for not letting them adopt dogs or mediating organizations for not checking the dogs for disease. Some participants embraced cognitive dissonance by admitting that they would have preferred to adopt locally.
Participants in the puppy farm group justified their decision by stating that they wanted a puppy, didn’t want to wait, or had simply fallen in love with a particular puppy. They also shifted responsibility by blaming dishonest and unethical breeders and the lack of quality certifications. All participants admitted readily to their dissonance about buying a puppy from a puppy farm and the warning signs they ignored. However, they often detached from their past selves, saying they wouldn’t make the decision today. They also trivialized the decision by saying they were happy with their dogs now.
Although coping strategies were used across all the focus groups, many participants accepted the dissonance between their choices and their values. This means that they may be open to change. A better understanding of how people justify their decisions can help advocates create campaigns to get them to change their behavior, whether the goal is to encourage adoption or prevent biting and disease risks before they happen.