A news story recently came out saying that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has started an informal policy of trying to select sniffer dogs that have floppy ears rather than erect, pointed ears. This is based on the public perception that dogs with pointed ears look more aggressive and that they scare children. This is all just based on assumptions since no formal survey or study was done. Interesting though!
It’s true that if you compare a Pitbull with floppy ears (and a big grin) to one with the cropped erect ears – it softens the expression. Think about military dogs, mostly shepherds and Malinois’, with their erect ears. If you watch any movie about WWII they always show the shepherds being used as guard dogs. And they certainly don’t look friendly! So have we just been conditioned to associate the erect ears with a certain temperament? We sure get a lot of friendly shepherds through the shelter. And many small breeds have erect ears: Chihuahuas, Corgis, Bulldogs and Basenjis come to mind. Nothing very ferocious about a Boston Terrier!
Some breeds have their ears cropped to get them to be erect – Boxers, Pitbulls, Dobermans and Danes are a few. Sometimes a particular pup will need help to get his ears to say erect and people put wires or tape to help them stay up. Shelties and Collies have erect ears with just the very tip folded over. Again, some pups need help with that and breeders suggest taping a pebble on the end to help them fold correctly. The things we do to maintain a certain look!
Actually erect ears are more natural if you think back to our dogs’ ancestor, the wolf. Erect ears maintain better airflow and tend to have fewer infections. Big floppy ears trap moisture and are perfect breeding grounds for yeast and bacteria. Cocker Spaniels are well known to have ear issues and all my Golden Retrievers suffered from ear infections and needed their ears monitored for life. The furrier and longer the ears are, the higher the risk for ear problems.
All of which has nothing to do with a dog’s ability to sniff out drugs or bombs. All the dogs used by the TSA have gone through rigorous training and testing. This change is being done purely to present a “friendlier” dog to the public. Not that these dogs are pet-able – they all sport a vest saying “do not pet – working dog.” It also has nothing to do with an individual animal’s temperament although I’m sure the TSA would only pick those that they feel are safe to be in very public areas.
Next they will decide not to use black dogs – they also tend to have a negative public image. Like black cats, the hardest to place dogs are the black ones. Doesn’t really seem fair does it? Do you find yourself stereotyping dogs by their ear shape or color? Let’s do our own (informal) survey!
“Get Them Back Home” Campaign – Every lost pet should have a way to get back home. Free pet ID tag and a back-up microchip are available to all residents of Rohnert Park and Cotati. No appointment necessary, just come by the shelter during our regular open hours: Wed. 1-6:30; Thurs.-Fri.-Sat. 1-5:30; Sun. 1-4:30.
Fix-it Clinics – Free spay and neuters for cats; and $60 dog surgeries (up to 80 lbs.) for low-income Rohnert Park and Cotati residents. Call 588-3531 for an appointment.
Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.