Faux Foxes: Fox Domestication and Pet Ownership | Chapter II: Researcher’s Intentions

CHAPTER II

RESEARCHER’S INTENTIONS

This study investigated attitudes toward dogs compared to domesticated foxes as pets and ownership of these animals, analyzing how the manipulation of canine physical attributes by domestication can affect participant perceptions. The purpose of this study was to improve our understanding of attitudes about domesticating wild foxes and selling them as pets.

Anonymous surveys were administered to 97 undergraduate students enrolled in psychology classes at Texas State University. Each participant’s attitudes toward dogs and pet-dog ownership were measured alongside their attitudes toward domesticated foxes and pet domesticated fox ownership. Additional questions were created to assess participants’ legal and ethical attitudes, knowledge of fox domestication, and opinions and experiences in regard to pet ownership. Fox mages were created to isolate physical attributes in canines assessing their impact on human perception of undomesticated and domesticated features.

Hypotheses

This study intended to find correlations between participant attitudes toward pet dogs and pet domesticated foxes and participant attitudes toward the ethics of breeding and legalities of pet ownership regarding these animals. This study also attempted to improve understanding of fox domestication and selling foxes as pets by measuring participant responses to images of foxes with physical characteristics changed by domestication. Hypotheses were:

Hypothesis 1: Pet Dogs Compared to Pet Domesticated Foxes

a. Attitudes toward dogs and pet-dog ownership (Pet Dog Attitude Score) will be more positive than attitudes toward domesticated foxes and pet domesticated fox ownership (Pet Fox Attitude Score).

Dogs have become one of the most popular pets worldwide, with 83.3 million dogs finding themselves in about 56.7 million households according to the American Pet Products Association’s 2013-2014 National Pet Owners Survey. Thus, participants are expected to favor pet dogs over pet foxes.

b. Attitudes toward dogs and pet-dog ownership (Pet Dog Attitude Score) will predict attitudes toward domesticated foxes and pet domesticated fox ownership (Pet Fox Attitude Score).

Jennifer Word found that the type of pet kept and the level of importance attributed to the pet were not correlated (Word 2012). This may show that those who harbor positive attitudes toward pets may continue to display positive attitudes despite the species of pet.

c. Attitudes toward dogs and pet-dog ownership (Pet Dog Attitude Score) will predict attitudes toward pet-dog breeding ethics and pet-dog ownership laws, but not predict attitudes toward wild fox breeding ethics and pet domesticated fox ownership laws.

It is assumed that one’s attitudes toward dogs in general will affect his attitudes toward dog breeding ethics and pet-dog ownership laws because they involve the care and treatment of dogs. Because foxes are most commonly associated with wild animals, one’s attitudes toward dog breeding and pet-dog ownership laws may not necessarily reflect his attitudes toward fox breeding and pet-fox ownership laws.

d. Attitudes toward domesticated foxes and pet domesticated fox ownership (Pet Fox Attitude Score) will predict attitudes toward wild fox breeding ethics and pet domesticated fox ownership laws, but not predict attitudes toward pet-dog breeding ethics and pet-dog ownership laws.

Again, it is assumed that one’s attitudes toward foxes in general will affect his attitudes toward fox breeding ethics and pet-fox ownership laws because they involve the care and treatment of foxes. Because foxes are most commonly associated with wild animals, one’s attitudes toward fox breeding and pet-fox ownership laws may not necessarily reflect his attitudes toward dog breeding and pet-dog ownership laws.

e. Participants will rate dogs as a good pet more than domesticated foxes.

Because dogs are more common as pets than foxes according to the American Pet Products Association’s 2013-2014 National Pet Owners Survey, participants are expected to favor pet dogs over pet foxes.

f. Participants will prefer wanting a dog as a pet more than a domesticated fox.

Again, because dogs are more common as pets than foxes according to the American Pet Products Association’s 2013-2014 National Pet Owners Survey, participants are expected to favor pet dogs over pet foxes.

Hypothesis 2: Ethical and Legal Attitudes

a. Participants will be more likely to agree that it is ethical to selectively breed pet dogs, eventually altering them to suit our needs, than it is ethical to selectively breed wild foxes, eventually altering them to suit our needs.

Dog breeding is much more well-known than fox breeding as demonstrated in the existence of The American Kennel Club (AKC), the largest and second oldest non-profit organization which maintains a registry of purebred dogs in the world and governs the sport of breeding dogs. There is no such organization for fox breeding.

b. Participants will be more likely to agree that it should be legal in the United States to own a pet dog, than it should be legal in the United States to own a pet domesticated fox.

Again, dogs have become one of the most popular pets worldwide, with 83.3 million dogs finding themselves in about 56.7 million households according to the American Pet Products Association’s 2013-2014 National Pet Owners Survey. Thus, it is expected for participants to be more familiar, comfortable with, and in favor of the legal ownership of pet dogs than the legal ownership of pet foxes.

c. Attitudes toward pet-dog breeding ethics will predict attitudes toward pet-dog ownership laws, more than attitudes toward wild fox breeding ethics and pet domesticated fox ownership laws.

It is assumed that one’s attitudes toward dog-related topics will more greatly affect his attitudes toward other dog-related topics more so than fox-related topics because they concern the care and treatment of dogs.

d. Attitudes toward pet-dog ownership laws will not predict attitudes toward wild fox breeding ethics or pet domesticated fox ownership laws.

Because foxes are most commonly associated with wild animals, one’s attitudes toward pet-dog ownership laws may not necessarily reflect his attitudes toward fox breeding and pet-fox ownership laws.

e. Participant attitudes toward wild fox breeding ethics will predict attitudes toward pet domesticated fox ownership laws.

Again, it is assumed that one’s attitudes toward fox-related topics will greatly affect his attitudes toward other fox-related topics.

Hypothesis 3: Perceptions of Wild to Domesticated Fox Images

a. When shown a series of images that represent the transformation of a wild fox into a domesticated fox in images, participants will most frequently perceive the physical transformations of domestication in the earliest transformation images.

Because domesticated animals are known for demonstrating similar morphological changes such as body size and proportions, coat color, fur length, and hair texture, including white spotting, floppy ears, widened skills, shortened snouts, and curly tails, all markers of domestication (Abumrad 2009; Belyaev 1979; Kukekova et al. 2008a; Morey 1994; Trut 2007; Trut et al. 2009), it is assumed that participants will recognize these traits even in small amounts and classify that animal as domesticated. Darwin noted that there are no wild species with drooping ears and curled tails, although domesticated animals can acquire these traits, and concluded that the traits must result of domestication (Darwin 1875). Therefore, if a participant is shown a fox without completely erect ears or a low-slung tail, it is anticipated that he will respond to that fox as domesticated.

b. Fox images with smaller stop angles, more shortened body part lengths, and/or more greatly curled ears and tails will be rated as more domesticated.

Domesticated animals are known for demonstrating similar morphological changes such as body size and proportions, coat color, fur length, and hair texture. White spotting, floppy ears, and curly tails have become markers of domestication (Abumrad 2009; Belyaev 1979; Kukekova et al. 2008a; Morey 1994; Trut 2007; Trut et al. 2009). Pedomorphosis and neoteny, the retention in adults of juvenile traits, such as widened skulls, shortened snouts, floppy ears, and curly tails, also leads to the appearance of domestication (Morey 1994; Price 2002)

c. Fox images with selectively-bred coat colors, (piebald, platinum, or Georgian white,) will have higher ratings as more domesticated than foxes with wild coat colors, (red or silver.)

White spotting has become a marker of domestication (Abumrad 2009; Belyaev 1979; Kukekova et al. 2008a; Morey 1994; Trut 2007; Trut et al. 2009) and a piebald-spotted coat is one of the most striking mutations among domestic animals seen frequently in dogs, pigs, horses, cows, guinea pigs, cats, and other domesticated animals (Trut 1999).

d. Fox images with smaller stop angles, more shortened body part lengths, and/or more greatly curled ears and tails will be rated as more attractive.

Brian Hare theorizes that humans enjoy the appearance of pets because of their pedomorphic features, such as widened skulls, shortened snouts, floppy ears, and curly tails (Abumrad 2009; Child 2011; Morey 1994; Price 2002).

e. Fox images with selectively-bred coat colors, (piebald, platinum, or Georgian white,) will be rated as more attractive than foxes with wild coat colors, (red or silver.)

Fox fur from foxes with selectively-bred coat colors are exponentially higher in value than fur from wild foxes or selectively-bred foxes with wild colors (Cole and Shackelford 1943; Shackelford 1948). From this, it is expected that attitudes toward selectively-bred fox fur colors are more positive than wild fox fur colors. Also, because white spotting has become a marker of domestication (Abumrad 2009; Belyaev 1979; Kukekova et al. 2008a; Morey 1994; Trut 2007; Trut et al. 2009) and is seen frequently in dogs, pigs, horses, cows, guinea pigs, cats, and other domesticated animals (Trut 1999), participants may associate white fur color with domesticated animals and may be more familiar, comfortable, or nostalgic in regards to white fur.

f. Participants will most frequently have higher ratings for foxes with smaller stop angles, more shortened body part lengths, and/or more greatly curled ears and tails as a pet.

Because domesticated animals are known for demonstrating similar morphological changes such as body size and proportions, coat color, fur length, and hair texture, including white spotting, floppy ears, widened skills, shortened snouts, and curly tails, all markers of domestication (Abumrad 2009; Belyaev 1979; Kukekova et al. 2008a; Morey 1994; Trut 2007; Trut et al. 2009), it is assumed that participants will perceive foxes with these traits as more domesticated and better-suited as pets.

g. Participants will most frequently have higher ratings for foxes with selectively-bred coat colors, (piebald, platinum, or Georgian white,) than foxes with wild coat colors, (red or silver,) as a pet.

Because white spotting has become a marker of domestication (Abumrad 2009; Belyaev 1979; Kukekova et al. 2008a; Morey 1994; Trut 2007; Trut et al. 2009) and a piebald-spotted coat is one of the most striking mutations among domestic animals seen frequently in dogs, pigs, horses, cows, guinea pigs, cats, and other domesticated animals (Trut 1999), it is assumed that participants will perceive selectively-bred coats as a symbol of domestication, thus causing them to perceive foxes with these coats as more domesticated and better-suited as pets.

Hypothesis 4: Knowledge of the Farm-Fox Experiment

Fewer than 5% of participants will indicate having prior knowledge of the Farm-Fox Experiment conducted by the Institute of Cytology and Genetics of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Novisibirsk, Russia.

In an unpublished survey conducted by Noelle Brooks in 2010 with a small sample of approximately 20 undergraduate students at Texas State University, it was found that none had prior knowledge of the Farm-Fox Experiment.


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