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JoAnna Lou
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Influencing Pit Bull Perceptions
Study finds that photos can influence how personality is perceived

It’s no secret that Pit Bulls are cast in a negative light, causing them to be passed over time and time again at the animal shelter.  Now with the popularity of online adoption web sites, like Petfinder, a good picture can make all the difference in whether a dog gets adopted or not.  I’ve seen great ways of boosting a pet’s chances, from using professional photographers (many who generously donate their time to shelters) to having dogs wear cute holiday-themed bandannas.  But no matter how Pit Bulls are presented, people often click to the next dog as soon as they see the bully breed appear on the screen.

A recent study set out to see how shelters might increase Pit Bull adoptions by being strategic in photographing the dogs.  Lisa Gunter's experiment specifically looked at how different people pictured alongside a Pit Bull would affect perceptions of the dog’s temperament in six categories—approachability, aggressiveness, intelligence, friendliness, trainability, and finally, adoptability.

In pictures where a Pit Bull was featured with a person, no matter who it was, they scored higher in perceived intelligence as opposed to photos where the Pit Bull was pictured alone.  When a Pit Bull was featured next to an elderly woman or a young boy, the scores increased for friendliness and adoptability, while the numbers for aggressiveness decreased.  On the other end of the spectrum, picturing a Pit Bull next to a rough looking man caused scores for friendliness to decrease.

The findings from Lisa's study could easily be applied to shelter dogs to increase adoptability.  For those of you in the rescue field, what strategies have you tried to put Pit Bulls in a more favorable light?

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

Photo by Lisa Gunter.

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