Conscious Canine: How pop culture has influenced our understanding of dogs

Posted by | January 12, 2018 | Sincerely, Fitdog | No Comments
pop culture blog

For many people who grew up in homes where pets were not allowed, their first interactions with animals may have been through a song, a storybook, or a movie.

Perhaps you grew up watching Toto tease the wicked witch and came to think of Yorkshire terriers as quick, witty dogs. Or maybe you learned at a young age how a pack of Dalmatians could outsmart an evil fur mogul, showcasing the loyalty of a dog pack. And if your grandmother was anything like mine, you could sing how much is that doggie in the window? (arf arf) before you could speak full sentences.

Whether or not we realize it, the way we see, think, and feel about dogs has been tremendously influenced by how they are depicted through media and pop culture. Just like humans, dogs can be stereotyped based on their breed, and some have received the short end of the publicity stick.

The “Good Boys”

Timmy, why are you always falling in the damn well?

“Timmy, why are you always falling in the damn well?” -Lassie

The Lassies, Air Buds, and Scooby Doo’s of the cinematic world have gained favorable raps for their loyalty and heroic efforts. Studies showed a spike in Collie adoptions for 20 years following Lassie’s release, so perhaps we can thank the Old Yeller franchise for labrador retriever’s top standing on AKC’s most popular breeds list.

LA Times cites the chihuahua as the most popular dog breed, making up 15.6% of the city’s registered dog population as of 2016. The article suggests their popularity was due in part to the wide publicity received by Paris Hilton’s chihuahua Tinkerbell. Hilton’s sidekick arguably inspired Beverly Hills Chihuahua, a movie with its own questionable implications, which also posited chihuahuas as the “tiny but mighty” hero of privileged white females. According to TMZ, Hilton herself was inspired to get a chihuahua after seeing Legally Blonde, proving that even famous pups have influencers.


The Bad Boys

Photo credit: Pixar

Photo credit: Pixar

Back in October, we did a piece all about how pit bulls have gotten increasingly bad publicity since the 1980s when reports of seemingly random pit bull attacks hit the mainstream media. Pit bulls have since been stigmatized as inherently volatile breeds, though there is no scientific evidence to prove it.

Other large, muscular breeds including Dobermans, Rottweilers, Bulldogs, and German Shepherds have commonly been depicted as the villainous sidekicks of Hollywood’s most famous antagonists. These breeds have become known not for their agility, intelligence, or companionship, but for their menacing reputation based on their physiological makeup. Most people agree that there is no substantial link between breed and behavior, though research is constantly being done to determine it for good.


Marginalized Breeds

Photo credit: Filmpartners

Photo credit: Filmpartners

For mutts that fall into neither category, they are often depicted as the edgy, street-wise heroes of the urban underbelly. Think of Artful Dodger from Disney’s Oliver and Company, who can still catch the gaze of pampered dames as he struts through St. Marks with a scruffy coat and hot-dog scarf.

Similarly, the latter half of the Lady and the Tramp duo is also a tough-but-lovable hound with no clear genealogy, especially compared to Lady, who has the air of a purebred cocker spaniel. These two films go to show that ladies are attracted to the mysterious back stories behind mutts, and perhaps that’s part of the attraction for people who adopt them as well.

One movie that has taken a more serious approach to breed bias is White Godin which a city-wide ban on mutts causes an uprising from the dogs being forced into exile. The dogs find common ground in being unwanted, and that makes them even more loveable to audiences.

Wes Anderson’s upcoming film Isle of Dogs features a motley crew of mutts who have been exiled to Trash Island and must help a boy find his dog. Written in Anderson’s quipped yet eloquent style, the trailer promises an intelligent breed of doggie dialect and personalities. The film is set to release this March.

Have you been influenced?

Has your perception been swayed? If you think that certain behavioral traits are prevalent in specific dog breeds, you might pause to reconsider why you think these things. Have they occurred in your own sphere of experience, or is it a story you were told? Even if the behavioral traits up for debate are positive, they still contribute to the slanted bias amongst dog breeds– because for every good boy, there must be a boy who is equally as bad.

Our experience at Fitdog has shown us that there is no correlation between breed and behavior, despite popular assumptions. We hope to one day live in a world where dogs can be loved for their individual personalities, and not judged by the traits ascribed to them by external influences.

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