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£500k Study Aims to Uncover Man’s Effect on Dogs

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University of Manchester researchers have launched one of the largest studies into the relationship between man and his ‘best friend’ to explore how humans have influenced the characteristics of domestic dogs through breeding, feeding, training and socialising.

The study, entitled ‘Pedigree Chums: Science, Medicine and the Remaking of the Dog in the Twentieth Century’, will include an exploration of the controversial role humans have played in the rise of dogs that are pure bred, which three years ago resulted in the RSPCA and BBC pulling out of dog show Crufts over concerns about the health of pedigree dogs.

“It is a cliché that the dog is ‘man's best friend’ and given its modern position as a domestic companion and use in various types of work there is obvious validity to the claim,” said project lead Professor Michael Worboys, from the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine in the Faculty of Life Sciences.

“Despite their importance in many people’s lives, dogs have been neglected by social scientists, while in medical history, the limited number of studies we have of animals are mainly on livestock and their diseases. Yet the dog and other companion animals now dominate modern veterinary practice – think how the portrayal of television vets has changed over time from All Creatures Great and Small to Rolf Harris’s Animal Hospital.

“Furthermore, the dog was transformed in the 20th century by the application of science and medicine: no animal species has been more altered in size, shape, colour or temperament by human selection; no species has a closer relationship with humans; no species is fed a more processed, industrialised diet, and no species has their health treated in a manner so close to what humans enjoy.

“We will study how changing ideas and practices with breeding, feeding, training and treating have essentially remade the modern dog, whether as pet, show dog or working animal.”

The research, funded by a £500,000 Wellcome Trust grant, will also investigate the interactions between, and influences of, humans on stray and dangerous dogs, as well as the use of dogs in the laboratory for health and medical research, both for the benefit of humans and canines.

Matthew Cobb, Professor of Zoology in Manchester’s Faculty of Life Sciences and a co-investigator on the project, added: “Veterinary medicine and animal health has been poorly served by researchers despite the subject being given priority funding for many years.

“We will also explore how aspects of human-dog relations have been increasingly medicalised, to the point where dogs are called ‘patients’ and vets’ records list them by their names, not those of their owners.”

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