What's in a name: effect of breed perceptions & labeling on attractiveness, adoptions & length of stay for pit-bull-type dogs
Previous research has indicated that certain breeds of dogs stay longer in shelters than others; however exactly how breed perception and identification influences potential adopters' decisions remains unclear. Current dog breed identification practices in animal shelters are often based upon information supplied by the relinquishing owner, or staff determination based on the dog's phenotype. However discrepancies have been found between breed identification as typically assessed by welfare agencies and the outcome of DNA analysis. In Study 1, the perceived behavioral and adoptability characteristics of a pit-bull-type dog were compared with those of a Labrador Retriever and Border Collie. How the addition of a human handler influenced those perceptions was also assessed. In Study 2, lengths of stay and perceived attractiveness of dogs that were labeled as pit bull breeds to dogs that were phenotypically similar but were labeled as another breed at an animal shelter were compared. The latter dogs were called "lookalikes." In Study 3, perceived attractiveness in video recordings of pit-bull-type dogs and lookalikes with and without breed labels were compared. Lastly, data from an animal shelter that ceased applying breed labeling on kennels was analyzed, and lengths of stay and outcomes for all dog breeds, including pit bulls, before and after the change in labeling practice were compared. In total, these findings suggest that breed labeling influences potential adopters' perceptions and decision-making. Given the inherent complexity of breed assignment based on morphology coupled with negative breed perceptions, removing breed labels is a relatively low-cost strategy that will likely improve outcomes for dogs in animal shelters.