Until recently, the only association I made between dogs and pantyhose would have involved an unfortunate trip to the vet. Of the inanimate objects pulled from pets’ gastrointestinal tracts -- from drywall and hearing aids to corn cobs and toy cars -- pantyhose, and their cousins, socks and underwear, top the list.
But last week, dogs and pantyhose found themselves a new union. Dog owners in China have started a fad of dressing their dogs in pantyhose and, in some cases, pantyhose and high-heeled shoes.
A response of, “What the...?!” flooded the Web. One early article even came with the disclaimer, “This post contains content that some readers might find offensive.”
A Huffington Post Quick Poll asked readers to vote whether dogs in pantyhose is “good old harmless fun” or “sinister and vile.” Readers show support for the latter: “I find these photos very disturbing and unsettling. They make me feel unclean somehow and I don't really know why,” and “Absolutely gross, makes me want to vomit.”
It is easy to see why people would be upset. The images might evoke the sexualization of non-human animals or even bestiality. But for a moment, put aside any social (or sexual) connotations of pantyhose and think about pantyhose from the dog’s perspective.
What are pantyhose to dogs?
For one thing, highly constricting. Often made of nylon, pantyhose can easily cut off a dog’s urination and defecation pathways. And many of the dogs in pantyhose are pictured lying down, possibly because mobility has been hindered by, yes, those tight pantyhose. So a dog in pantyhose for an entire afternoon is probably not a good idea.
But what else? In the photos, the pantyhose don’t appear ripped or shredded. There are no massive holes or major runs from a toenail catching an edge. If anything, the dogs seem to have done a better job of getting into tights than I!
This is to say, companion dogs have been placed in pantyhose by the person or people they live with, seemingly without much resistance. Dogs didn’t wind up in pantyhose because they were ambushed by a stranger who jammed them into this attire. Dogs let particular people put them in this silly getup. Dogs and pantyhose is made possible by a relationship.
Behind dogs in pantyhose -- and behind much of the dog-human relationship -- is an immense amount of tolerance, often from dogs toward the people they live with. People do the silliest things with their companion dogs, things that, left to their own accord, dogs would not normally do.
We dress them up and have them eat like humans:
We costume them up for various occasions:
And of course, there are weddings and birthday parties. Much of this can be categorized as “putting things on dogs” both literally and figuratively.
Do dogs mind?
Studies find that dogs extend different levels of tolerance to people they do or don’t know. After being exposed to a threatening approach from either a dog’s owner or a stranger, the threatening approach from a well-known person didn't rankle the dogs. Dogs tend to want to associate and interact with known people, even after odd behavior. For example, a dog might recognize when its owner is “just kidding,” as often seen in play.
But while many dogs living as companion pets might tolerate our human whims -- and some dogs might even anticipate that a doggie costume signifies an awesome parade is up next (if they are into that sort of thing) -- there are plausible downsides. Will people have an expectation of tolerance, assuming that companion dogs will be comfortable with and amenable to all the various social and environmental contexts in which we place them? The danger is that we might forget what the dog wants (and many dogs do not want pantyhose). After all, if we ask a dog what he feels like doing, here’s how many would respond:
Győri B., Gácsi M. & Miklósi Á. (2010). Friend or foe: Context dependent sensitivity to human behaviour in dogs, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 128 (1-4) 69-77. DOI: 10.1016/j.applanim.2010.10.005