TSA Believes Floppy-Eared Dogs Look Friendlier (and Science Says They May Not Be Wrong)

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PetMD Editorial
Published: January 11, 2019

Image via iStock.com/memitina

The New York Times published an article discussing how the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has publicly stated that they prefer to use floppy-eared dogs to work in public-facing areas because they believe the public finds them less intimidating.

The NYT explains, “The agency said it favors floppy-eared dogs over pointy-eared dogs, especially in the jobs that require interacting with traveling passengers, because floppy-eared dogs appear friendlier and less aggressive.”

Chris Shelton, manager of the agency’s Canine Training Center, is quoted explaining that floppy-eared dogs tend to be good with humans of all ages and are generally seen as friendlier.

The NYT also reports that about 70 percent of the dogs in the TSA’s canine program are dogs with long, floppy ears, including Labrador Retrievers, German Shorthaired Pointers and Vizslas.

Understandably, this has become a controversial issue on the internet. Many pet parents and dog lovers have taken to Twitter and Facebook to show support for pointy-eared canines.

But is the TSA right? Is there scientific evidence that supports this thinking?

The NYT explains that when it comes to the science behind this decision, the TSA is not exactly in the wrong. In the 1950s, a Russian scientist named Dmitri K. Belyaev decided to undertake an experiment—that is still going today—to replicate the domestication process of dogs by using the silver fox.

To start the domestication process, he began selecting silver foxes to breed based on one simple characteristic: their friendliness towards humans. He found that within five generations, the foxes began to wag their tails and lick people’s hands. By the 10th generation, they started to develop floppy ears.

Dr. Lee Alan Dugatkin, coauthor of “How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog),” says, “The floppy ears, the curly tails and so on, all of those somehow came along for the ride when you choose only based on behavior.”

The NYT reports, “Researchers have discovered that animals that are calmer and friendlier also have fewer neural crest cells, a type of stem cell that can grow to form other types of cells, including cartilage, Dr. Dugatkin said.” When it comes to a dog’s ears, this means that you will end up with ears that don’t stand up because there is not as much cartilage.

Dr. Dugatkin explains, “People inherently think of these droopy ears as a more juvenilized, friendly kind of trait.”

However, in reality, you cannot assess a dog’s entire personality based on a physical trait. So while floppy-eared dogs may appear friendlier to some members of the public, that does not mean that pointy-eared dogs are not just as friendly.

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