Faux Foxes: Fox Domestication and Pet Ownership | Chapter III: Methodology

CHAPTER III
METHODOLOGY

Participants

This study utilized a sample of 97 undergraduate students enrolled in introductory psychology classes at Texas State University located in San Marcos, Texas. The students within these classes were given the option to participate in the study for optional extra credit within the class.

Demographics

Demographics of the sample were mostly female as 29 students, or 29.9%, were male; 67 students, or 69.07%, were female; and 1 person, or 1.03%, was unidentified. Because the sample utilized undergraduate students, most of the participants were either 20 or 21 years old. 16 students, or 16.49%, were 18 or 19 years old; 50 students, or 51.55%, were 20 or 21 years old; 16 students, or 16.49%, were 22 or 23 years old; 14 students, or 14.43% were 24 years or older; and 1 student, or 1.03% was unidentified. Ethnic distribution of the sample was similar to the university population of 37, 300 (Texas State University Office of Institutional Research 2015). 3 participants, or 3.09%, were Asian or Asian American; 14 participants, or 14.43%, were Black or African American; 26 participants, or 26.80%, were Hispanic or Latino; 47 participants, or 48.45%, were White, non-Hispanic; and 1 participant, or 1.03%, was unidentified.


Materials

A printed paper survey was administered that included a participant information page, cover page with instructions, survey sections for attitudes about dogs and domesticated foxes as pets and a section showing five different sets of fox domestication images for participants to evaluate. Participants reported their responses on a five-choice answer sheet.

Participant Information Page

Included with the survey was a separate, detached page that was used for the purposes of assigning extra credit within the class for the students whom participated in the study. This page asked the student to print his or her name, instructor’s name, class name, and class time and was removed from the completed answer form.

Cover Page

The cover page contained the Texas State University Institutional Review Board number assigned to this study, the principle investigator’s contact information, instructions for completing the survey, and a short description of the study’s purpose, giving notice to the participant that the survey was anonymous.

Survey

The survey consisted of eight pages with a total of 61 items divided between four sections, I-IV. The final section, Section IV, was divided into four smaller subsections: A-E. The survey included five sets of five images in Section IV dispersed between the five subsections within that section.

Section I

Section I consisted of six items, Items 1-6, contained demographic information, including participant genders, ages, and ethnicities.

This section also asked participants how many dogs they have owned all at one time in the past and how many they currently own.

The last item in this section asked participants if they had any knowledge of the Farm-Fox Experiment conducted by the Institute of Cytology and Genetics of the Russian Academy of Sciences located in Novisibirsk, Russia.

Section II

Section II contained 10 statements, Items 7-16, that were intended to determine a participant’s current attitudes toward dogs and pet-dog ownership. Participants were asked to indicate how strongly they agreed to the statements on a scale of 1-5. Choosing higher numbers indicated higher agreement to the statement. Statements were grouped into four pods related to “Love and Interaction,” “Pet Dogs in the Home,” “Investment,” and “Ethics and Legalities.” Responses to Items 7-14 were summed to measure a participant’s attitudes toward pet dogs by assigning a Pet Dog Attitude Score.

Item 15 was used to determine a participant’s attitudes toward the ethics of dog breeding and Item 16 was used to measure a participant’s attitudes toward laws regarding pet dogs.

6 statements from this section, Items 7-9, and 12-14 originated from the Pet Attitude Scale, an 18-item Likert-format survey developed by Donald I. Templer, et al. in 1981. The Pet Attitude Scale is intended to measure the favorableness of attitudes toward pets by assigning participants Pet Attitude Scores.

The original Pet Attitude Scale was modified to create two new scales, a Pet Dog Attitude Scale intended to measure the favorableness of attitudes toward pet dogs by assigning participants Pet Dog Attitude Scores and a Pet Fox Attitude Scale intended to measure the favorableness of attitudes toward pet foxes by assigning participants Pet Fox Attitude Scores.

The Likert-format was changed from a bipolar scale to a continuous, linear scale indicating magnitude of agreement with the items. Selected survey items were more precisely reworded, removing negative sentence structures to prevent the need for inversing participant responses. The items were also reworded to directly associate with pet dogs, rather than all pets.

 

Survey Section II Compared to the Pet Attitude Scale

Survey Section II
Pet Attitude Scale
7. I could love a pet dog. 11. I love pets.
8. Pet dogs could add happiness. 5. Housepets add happiness to my life (or would if I had one.)
9. Treat pet dogs with as much respect as a human member of your family. 18. You should treat your housepets with as much respect as you would a human member of your family.
12. If circumstances allowed and money was not an issue, I would like to own a pet dog. 3. I would like a pet in my home.
13. Pet dogs are worth the money to own. 4. Having pets is a waste of money.
14. Pets dogs are worth the trouble to own. 15. Pets are fun but it’s not worth the trouble of owning one.

Note. The items on the left are from Section II of the survey used in this study. The items on the right are the corresponding items from the Pet Attitude Scale from which they originated.

 

Section III

Section III contained 10 statements, Items 17-26, that were intended to determine a participant’s current attitudes toward domesticated foxes and pet domesticated fox ownership. A description at the beginning of the section delivered information on the Farm-Fox Experiment conducted by the Institute of Cytology and Genetics of the Russian Academy of Sciences located in Novisibirsk Russia:

A Farm-Fox Experiment in Russia has been selectively breeding foxes in order to domesticate the wild fox. These domesticated foxes are bred to have characteristics and physical features similar to pet dogs. They are bred to wag their tails, whine for attention, and bark when in the presence of humans and can be trained to obey commands and recognize their names. They enjoy being picked up and petted and show similar fear or aggression toward humans as dogs. However, they are still genetically wild foxes. They are not a dog species; they are a fox species. These animals are now being sold as pets, costing about $8,900 to own in the United States.

Participants were then asked to indicate how strongly they agreed to the statements on a scale of 1-5. Choosing higher numbers indicated higher agreement to the statement. Responses to Items 17-24 were summed to measure a participant’s attitudes toward pet foxes by assigning a Pet Fox Attitude Score.

Item 25 was used to determine a participant’s attitudes toward the ethics of fox breeding and Item 26 was used to measure a participant’s attitudes toward laws regarding pet domesticated foxes.

All the items in Section III identically resembled the items in Section II with a slight rewording of “pet dog” to “pet domesticated fox” in each item. This ensured that any change in participant attitude was strictly due to the change of animal associated with each item.

Section IV

Section IV contained 35 questions, Items 27-61, and five separate subsections labeled, A, B, C, D, and E. Each subsection paired a set of five illustrations of a full-body standing fox seen from the left side with seven questions. In each subsection, participants were asked to compare the five images together and notice their similarities and differences. Participants were warned that although the images may appear unchanged, there were slight differences. The participants were then asked to answer the questions using the images and record their responses on their answer forms.

The five images were labeled A, B, C, D, and E to correlate with the A, B, C, D, and E options on the answer form. In each subsection of Section IV, the first image, labeled A, was a standard wild red fox with common physical attributes, the least domesticated animal pictured. In the following four images, labeled B, C, D, and E, the standard wild red fox illustration was manipulated to replicate how domestication changes physical attributes. The image labeled E was the most manipulated and demonstrated an extreme physical transformation caused by domestication, making it the most domesticated animal pictured.

The only exception to this was in Section IV D. In this subsection, the images showed five different coat colors a red fox can have and did not show a range of change with Figure A begin the least domesticated animal and Figure E being the most domesticated animal. In this subsection, two coat colors that can be found in the wild were assigned labels A and B, while the three coat colors that can only be found through selective breeding were randomly assigned C, D, and E.

Four subsections of Section IV focused on one manipulated physical attribute. Section IV A focused on body part length and stop angle, Section IV B highlighted the ear curl, Section IV C demonstrated the tail curl angle, and Section IV D illustrated fur color. Section IV E composited a majority of the physical manipulations together, combining the shortened stop angle, snout, and leg lengths from Section IV A with the ear curl from Section IV B and the tail curl of Section IV C.

Section IV A: Stop Angle and Body Part Length

Section IV A of the survey contained Items 27-33 and focused on stop angles and body part lengths. This initial image set was used as a practice condition, familiarizing participants with the type of questions and how to rate the images. In this set of images, the fox’s stop’s angle decreased 5° within each new image, the snout decreased 3.17% in length, the legs decreased 1.29% in length, and the tail decreased 2.63% in length. The stop is the indentation in a canine’s forehead just above eye level where the bridge of the nose meets with the forehead.

The first image, labeled A, was a standard wild red fox and was the least domesticated animal pictured. The stop was measured at an angle of 140°. The length of the snout from the ear to the tip of the nose was measured in relation to the length of the entire head, coming out to 62% the length of the fox’s entire head. Because all of the legs were resized in equal amount to each other, only one leg was measured. The length of the front left leg was measured from the shoulder to the foot in relation to the height of the fox at the withers. This measurement showed that the fox’s legs were 74% of the fox’s total height. Lastly, the tail was measured in relation to the length of the fox’s body, measuring at 0.79 times the size of the body.

From these measurements, the following images, labeled B, C, D, and E were manipulated following set calculations. In Figure B¸ the fox had a stop angle of 135°, a snout length that was 60% the total length of the fox’s head, legs that were 73% the total height of the fox, and a tail that was 0.76 times the length of the body. Figure C showed a fox with a stop angle of 130°, a snout that was 57% the total length of the fox’s head, legs that made up 72% of the fox’s total height, and a tail that was 0.73 times the length of the body. In Figure D the fox has a stop angle of 125°, a snout that was 54% the total length of the fox’s head, legs that made up 70% of the fox’s total height, and a tail that was 0.71 times the length of the fox’s body. The final image, Figure E showed a fox with dramatic physical manipulation resulting from domestication, making it the most domesticated animal pictured. Figure E showed a fox with the smallest stop angle of 120°, the shortest snout that was 51% the total length of the fox’s head, the shortest legs that were 69% of the fox’s total height and the smallest tail that was 0.68 times the length of the body.

 

 Stop Angle and Body Part Length Calculations

Figure
Stop
Angle
Snout Length
(% of total head length)
Leg Length
(% of total height)
Tail Length
(times length of body)
A 140 63 74 0.79
B 135 60 73 0.76
C 130 57 72 0.73
D 125 54 70 0.71
E 120 51 69 0.68

 

Wild Red Fox Stop Angle and Body Part Length Calculations

 

Red Fox Face Variation Calculations

The fox’s stop’s angle decreased 5° and the snout decreased 1.29% in length in each new image. Figure A depicted a standard wild red fox with a wide stop and long snout, while Figure E showed the effects of a domesticated red fox as stop’s angle decreased in angle and the snout decreased in length creating a smaller face in general.

 

Red Fox Leg Length Calculations

The fox’s legs decreased 1.29% in length in each new image. Figure A depicted a standard wild red fox while Figure E illustrated the effects of a domesticated red fox as the legs decreased in length in relation to the body.

 

Red Fox Tail Length Calculations

The fox’s tail decreased 2.63% in length in each new image. Figure A depicted a standard wild red fox with a long tail while Figure E showed the effects of a domesticated red fox as the tail decreased in length.

Section IV B: Ear Curl

Section IV B of the survey contained Items 34-40 and focused on the curling of the fox’s ears. In this set of images, the fox’s ears curled downward 6.52% more in each new illustration.

The first image, labeled A, was a standard wild red fox with a 0% curl in its ears. In the second image, labeled B, the fox’s ears were curled over 6.52% in relation to the total height of the fox’s ears. With each new image, the ears were curled downward 6.52% more, meaning that in the image labeled C they were 13.04% curled, in the image labeled D they were 19.57% curled, and in the final and most modified image labeled E, they were curled 26.09% of the total height of the ear.

 

Wild Red Fox Ear Curl Calculations

 

Red Fox Ear Curl Calculations

In each new image, the fox’s ears curled downward 6.52% in relation to the ears’ total height. Figure A depicted a standard wild red fox with completely straight ears while Figure E showed the effects of a domesticated red fox as the ears curled over at 26.09% the total height of the ears.

Section IV C: Tail Curl Angle

Section IV C of the survey contained Items 41-47 and focused on the curl of the fox’s tail. In this version, the fox’s tail curled upward 45° more within each new image.

The first image, labeled A, was a standard wild red fox in which the hanging tail was measured at an angle of 0°, matching the sloping hindquarters of the fox. With each new illustration, the tail was curled upward 45° more with tail B at 45°, tail C at 90°, tail D at 135°, and lastly, tail E showing the most change at 180°.

 

Wild Red Fox Tail Curl Angle Calculation

 

Red Fox Tail Curl Angle Calculations

The fox’s tail curled upward 45° more in each new image. Figure A depicted a standard, wild red fox with a low-slung tail at 0° while Figure E illustrated the effects of a domesticated red fox as the tail curled upwards over the back of the fox 180° in a semi-circle motion.

 

Section IV D: Fur Color

Section IV D of the survey contained Items 48-54 and focused on fur color. Unlike the previous sets of images, in which the first image of the fox presented a standard wild red fox and the images following gradually increased in the amount of manipulation brought on by domestication, these images were unrelated to one another. Instead of showing a gradual progression of manipulation, this series simply showed five different colors that a fox’s fur can display, two found in the wild and three only found in selectively bred foxes.

The first image, labeled A, was a standard wild red fox with a common red coat. The second image, labeled B, showed a silver-colored red fox. While not as well-known as the red-colored red fox, the silver-colored red fox can be commonly found in the wild. The images labeled C, D, and E illustrated fur colors that can only be obtained through selective breeding. Figure C demonstrated a piebald-spotted silver-colored red fox, a silver-colored red fox that has large white piebald markings that occur from a reduction in pigment. These foxes are often called “silver whitemarks” or “white mark silvers” in the fox fur community (Canada Fox Breeders’ Association 1996). Figure D showed a platinum-colored red fox, a grey-colored fox with a great deal of white marks, including a blaze, collar, and stockings. The last image, Figure E displayed a Georgian white-colored red fox, an all-white fox with black speckles across its face, back, and legs.

 

Red-Colored Red Fox

 

Silver-Colored Red Fox

 

Piebald-Spotted, Silver-Colored Red Fox

 

Platinum-Colored Red Fox

 

Georgian White-Colored Red Fox

 

Section IV E: Composite

Section IV E contained Items 55-61 and did not focus on manipulating one specific physical attribute. This set of images composited several of the manipulations from three other versions of the survey into one series of images. In this section of the survey, the fox’s stop angles, body part lengths, ear curls, and tail curl angles were changed. In each new image, the fox’s stop’s angle decreased 5°, the snout decreased 3.17% in length, the legs decreased 1.29% in length, the ears curled downward 6.52% more, and the tail curled upward 45° more.

The first image, labeled A, was a standard wild red fox showing common physical features, the same as the images labeled A in all of the other variations of this survey. Within each new image, the fox was manipulated in several different ways. The image labeled E showed the fox with extreme modifications to its physical attributes, combining the smallest stop angle, shortest snout, shortest legs, most curled ears, and most curled tail from the previous Figure E’s to create a composite image demonstrating the great changes domestication can make to an animal’s physical appearance.

 

Composite Red Fox Calculations

 

Stop Angle, Body Part Length, Ear Curl, and Tail Curl Angle Composite Calculations

Figure
Stop
Angle
Snout Length
(% of total head length)
Leg Length
(% of total height)
Ear Curl
(% of total ear height)
Tail
Curl
Angle
A 140 63 74 0 0
B 135 60 73 6.52 45
C 130 57 72 13.04 90
D 125 54 70 19.57 135
E 120 51 69 26.09 180

Procedures

The survey was administered to 97 undergraduate students in introductory psychology classes at Texas State University. Each student was given the option to anonymously and voluntarily participate in the study in order to earn extra credit in the psychology class. Those who opted to participate, received a participant information page, an answer form, and a paper survey with an attached cover page. After completing the participant information page and using a No. 2 pencil to record their responses to the survey on their answer forms, students were informed to return all of their materials to the survey administrator.

The completed answer forms were sent for scoring at the Testing, Research Support, and Evaluation Center at Texas State University. At the Testing Center, the answer forms were scanned and run through a scoring program which generated three reports: a Microsoft Word, a Microsoft Excel, and an IBM SPSS score report.

For each participant, the sum of Items 7-14 was calculated to assign a Pet Dog Attitude Score, a sum of the participant’s attitudes toward dogs, and the sum of Items 17-24 was calculated to assign a Pet Fox Attitude Score, a sum of the participant’s attitudes toward foxes.


Statistical Analyses

All statistical analyses were carried out with SPSS Statistics (IBM Corp., Armonk, NY, USA). All tests were one-tailed and differences were considered significant where p < 0.05.

Inter-item reliability was calculated for the Pet Dog Attitude Scale, the Pet Fox Attitude Scale, and the two scales compared together. Pearson correlations were determined for the Pet Dog Attitude Scale and Pet Fox Attitude Scale. A Crohnbach’s alpha was also conducted to assess the reliability of these items.

Pearson correlations were determined for relations between Pet Dog Attitude Scores and Pet Fox Attitude Scores and the attitudes toward the ethics and legality of breeding and owning these different pets.

Lastly, frequency counts were used to evaluate participant responses to the physical features in the illustrations of the foxes changed by domestication. A contingency coefficient was performed for the correct and incorrect participant estimates of the physical features in the illustrations of the foxes changed by domestication. Estimates of what feature changed in the images were scored correct or incorrect and cast in a 4×2 contingency table.


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