April 18, 2015

Tibetan Mastiff: from prized possession to discarded status symbol

It's terrible when an ancient dog breed becomes a commodity, but it's even worse when that fad is over. It's still worse when this happens in China, where the dog in question may end up in a slaughterhouse rather than a shelter.

The NYT reports that Tibetan Mastiffs, which until recently fetched thousands of dollars as a status symbol characterized as "intelligent" but also "brutal" (and clearly not dogs not suited to living with an average dog owner), now end up in slaughterhouses, where they might be "rendered into hot pot ingredients, imitation leather and the lining for winter gloves."
In some ways, the cooling passion for Tibetan mastiffs reflects the fickleness of a consuming class that adopts and discards new products with abandon. Famed for their ferocity and traditionally associated with free-spirited Tibetan nomads, mastiffs offered their ethnic Han Chinese owners a dose of Himalayan street cred, according to Liz Flora, editor in chief of Jing Daily, a marketing research company in Beijing. “Fads are a huge driving force in China’s luxury market,” she said, adding that “Han Chinese consumers have been willing to pay a premium for anything associated with the romanticism of Tibet.”

About interspecies oxytocin-mediated positive loops

A recent article in Science reported that "gazing behavior from dogs, but not wolves, increased urinary oxytocin concentration in owners, which consequently facilitated owners' affiliation and increased oxytocin concentration in dogs."

In other words, the way dogs look at humans make humans bond more with their dogs (via raising levels of the hormone oxytocin (the 'love hormone,' which is also released in labor), which in turn makes dogs happy (via raising their levels of oxytocin). Surprising news? You decide.

It's interesting to see how this research was written about for a general audience. Who said it best?

And here is the abstract of the original article by Nagasawa et al.:

Oxytocin-gaze positive loop and the coevolution of human-dog bonds
Human-like modes of communication, including mutual gaze, in dogs may have been acquired during domestication with humans. We show that gazing behavior from dogs, but not wolves, increased urinary oxytocin concentrations in owners, which consequently facilitated owners’ affiliation and increased oxytocin concentration in dogs. Further, nasally administered oxytocin increased gazing behavior in dogs, which in turn increased urinary oxytocin concentrations in owners. These findings support the existence of an interspecies oxytocin-mediated positive loop facilitated and modulated by gazing, which may have supported the coevolution of human-dog bonding by engaging common modes of communicating social attachment.