The first annual College of Science Undergraduate Research Conference 2017, incorporating the Lincoln Festival of Biology, took place on Tuesday 2nd and Wednesday 3rd May in the Engine Shed, University of Lincoln.

The event featured research activities from our School of Life Sciences and also included student work from the Schools of Chemistry, Engineering and Pharmacy.

It was a fantastic opportunity for students to present their final projects and work to industry professionals with an allocated poster board, one for each student. Additionally, industry professionals were looking to recruit students based on their work and presentation, emphasising the importance of not only the students’ work, but also how they presented themselves.

Georgia Macfarlane’s poster was on ‘Human Perception of Aggression in Dogs (Canis familiaris); Phenotype and Breed Name’.  Her work was supervised by Prof Daniel Mills and Georgia said of her work,

I chose seven of the breeds from The Kennel Club UK breed registration statistics for 2016, for each breed group, I chose the top most registered which left me with the following breeds and their groups: miniature smooth haired Dachshund (hound group), Boxer (working), Border Terrier (terrier), Labrador Retriever (gundog), German Shepherd Dog (pastoral), French Bulldog (utility) and Pug (toy). 

This gave me a range of different appearances to use and being popular breeds, I was able to compare photograph versus name quite easily. As you’ll read on the poster name had a greater emotional response than photograph when it came to opinions on friendliness and aggression. The poster, however, was only a brief summary of the perceptions indicated, I summarise the overall negative and positive perceptions of each breed and mentioned the effect of name vs photograph in the discussion. In addition to the popular breeds, I included three out of the four breeds which are restricted by The Dangerous Dog Act (1991), which were the Dogo Argentino, Fila Brasileiro and Pit Bull Terrier, all of which received negative perceptions. 

My survey displayed photographs and names completely separately and in a different order- so that people were not aware they were the same 10 breeds. In regards to phenotype and photographs, I spent hours upon hours, choosing photographs which presented each breed in these particular formats: neutral pose, playing outside, positive interaction with a person and displayed aggression (e.g. showing teeth, growing, etc.) The real issue was finding photographs of the ‘dangerous dogs’ as many of these breeds have been modified through having their ears clipped and even Google has photographs which portray breeds in positive and negative lights.

Using previous papers, I came to the conclusion that many of these stigmas and temperaments were human driven and that several factors including breed are responsible for temperament. In addition, the perceptions have negative consequences such as higher frequencies of re-homing for particular breeds, overlooking aggressive warning signs in ‘positively’ perceived breeds and altered human behaviour around ‘negatively’ perceived breeds, both of which have been said to increase the likelihood of an aggressive response from a dog. It should be noted here that I didn’t investigate the ‘drivers’ of perceptions, I just compared the perceptions both within breeds (i.e. was there a difference between how they were perceived by name and photograph) and across them (i.e. was there a difference in how each breed was perceived in comparison to others). I then was able to use past research as an indicator and as support to basically say breeds were perceived differently and this seems to be why; generally past research did only focus on particular breeds such as dangerous dogs, German shepherd, etc.

Georgia will be graduating this year and also said, “I will be celebrating graduation over the summer, before starting the MSc Clinical Animal Behaviour course this September. Whilst I have briefly discussed another canine aggression and morphology topic with my lecturers which links in with my dissertation, I plan on getting a mixture of practical and research based experience over the next eighteen months.

Watch the slideshow below to view some of the students’ posters, including Georgia’s poster.