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pigs faceUnderstanding why companion animal welfare campaigns may fail: The paradoxical effect of scientific information on carers


Year: 2022

Daniel Mills
University of Lincoln, United Kingdom

Grant: £22,749


Companion animal welfare campaigns typically promote and inform owners about best practice in the care of companion animals, e.g. the problems of brachycephalic dogs. However, the failure of these campaigns is evident from increasing registration numbers. This may reflect the inadvertent cognitive dissonance caused by the framing of these campaigns.

This study will identify dissonance reduction strategies employed by dog owners when faced with information about the welfare consequences of breeding for brachycephalic traits, in order to lay the foundation for more effective educational material and campaign strategies to promote responsible dog breeding and reduce buyer-preference for brachycephalic dog breeds.

It is hypothesised that owners and potential owners of brachycephalic breeds adopt two broad strategies when faced with dissonant information contained within animal welfare campaign material. The first strategy is to reject the information that their dog is not healthy, these types of owners may choose to ignore scientific/media literature or justify that this information is not accurate (eg “They say pugs can’t breathe well and suffer, but my pug is happy and active”). There is already some evidence of this. However, a second strategy (which has not been explored to date) involves reframing the information into an egocentric “caregiving” context. This involves a degree of acceptance that these types of dogs have health problems, but a belief that they are best suited to care for them (eg “These dogs need special attention and care, and I can give this to them”). By elucidating the key strategies commonly used to resolve dissonance we shall be better positioned to develop targeted interventions, based on the principles of cognitive behavioural theory, to address the welfare concerns associated with phenomena such as the popularity of brachycephalic dogs.