Thursday, February 6, 2014

He Barks, She Barks, It Barks: The assignment of gendered stereotypes to neutered pet dogs

            Following on the heels of my last post and specifically my childhood dismay at discovering Lassie was actually portrayed by a series of male dog actors, I suggest the re-gendering of neutered dogs as a fascinating human-animal, conflict-related, anthrozoology research topic. The pet dog is a unique boundary category that often serves as a blank canvas upon which human owners assign meaning and expectation, sometimes in conflict with the biological reality of the species. The conflict aspect of neutering, and later reassigning stereotyped gender, to pet dogs may not seem immediately apparent; dogs have no “say” in whether or not they will be de-sexed, or re-sexed, for the sake of more harmonious cohabitation amongst humans. One might argue dogs are not cognizant of the neutering procedure or its after effects; and I am not arguing for pet dogs to suddenly be liberated or allowed to run amuck in intact sexual abandon. What I am interested in is human perceptions of, and responses to, dog sexes both before and after surgical sterilization.
            Launching off my daughter/ research partner Monica’s areas of research interest, I find it curious that people purchase dogs as commodified animals, but then immediately after their purchases many elevate their pets to the social status of beloved, gendered, family members, even claiming to view them as surrogate male or female “fur-kids.” As these pet-owner identified  canine “children” reach their teen years and begin showing signs of puberty or sexual maturity, their "personhood" may again be temporarily suspended—at least long enough for their owners to have them surgically altered.
            In my professional experience as a dog behavioral trainer, elective surgical neutering of companion dogs is generally argued to be warranted as an act of population control; however it also seems to frequently be motivated by peoples' expectations for post-operative behavioral changes. My clients have cited anticipation of neutering-mitigated behavioral changes including reductions in perceived sexually driven behaviors such as “urine marking,” "roaming," “aggression,” "humping," and "spotting" (from females in estrus.)
            Once dogs have been "neutered," many pet owners reassign the status of gendered personhood to their pets, evidenced by purchases of stereotypical male and female dog "clothing" and equipment in either frilly, sparkly, prissy, "feminine"--or bold, clean-lined, "masculine"--colors, prints and designs. One of the more extreme products available for the regendering of neutered male dogs is "Neuticles"--prosthetic testicles for post-castration implantation in vacated dog scrotums. I am not making this up.
            I would like to conduct research specific to peoples’ perceptions of dog sexes and behavioral expectations both before and after surgical sterilization. My hope is that this research might include interviews with pet owners who have had their dogs implanted with a set of Neuticles, to explore whether quality of life is improved for either the masculinity-enhanced dog or his human family members.

            If any of my imaginary readers would like to join Monica and me in this research, or if any bored Anthrozoology professors would like to sign up to mentor us and guide our homeschool grad school research, please get in touch!

1 comment:

  1. I'm super interested in this topic as well (duh.) I'd just like to add that there is a definite element of neotenization inherent in the process of removing hormonal and sexual abilities of pet dogs. It keeps them fur children, rather than actual persons, with those inconvenient and uncomfortable urges associated with adult canid behavior.