Forbes and Fifth

Cultural Reflection and Leadership in Dogs’ Behavior and Welfare


This paper explores how dogs’ behavior directly reflects their owners’ native culture, due to humans’ own cultural values and dimensions. These cultural aspects are then represented through animal protection and welfare organizations in each country, who pursue their purpose through the use of cross-cultural leadership theories and strategies. Research was conducted through observations of dogs’ behavior while traveling throughout the Netherlands over the span of twenty days, along with personal interactions in the United States over the past four years at a veterinary clinic. Additional research was conducted on the main animal protection and welfare organizations in each country: the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and Dierenbescherming (Animal Welfare group in the Netherlands). Scholarly journals, websites, and newspaper articles relating to animal protection and welfare were collected to analyze the organizations’ actions and successes. Finally, Cross-Cultural Management: Essential Concepts, written by Thomas and Peterson, was used to apply cross-cultural leadership theories to the organizations’ actions in protecting and promoting animal welfare, as well as the application of the Hofstede 6-D model and its description of cultural dimensions. 

Keywords: culture, leadership, animal behavior, animal welfare


Cultural Reflection and Leadership in Dogs’ Behavior and Welfare

          Natural sciences are not a usual go-to when studying leadership, yet animals have been used in the past as a subject. For example, the behavior of primates has been observed to examine qualities of leadership, based on their close DNA resemblance to humans. The study of silverback gorillas, proposed by Jane Goodall, is one of the most influential natural science subjects relating to leadership studies. There is a natural infatuation with studying animal behavior and subjects with cultural similarities (Thomas & Peterson, 2018, p. 38). However, both culture and leadership can be displayed in our daily lives through a much different subject: our pets. 

While on a trip in the Netherlands, I witnessed first-hand how animal behavior and animal-welfare organizations exhibit the native Dutch culture. Dogs, in particular, directly reflected the Dutch culture of their owners based on their actions. For instance, a dog in Maastricht, Netherlands was tolerant of the bustling city environment without a leash, while a dog in rural United States would bark, be distracted by the commotion, and potentially take off. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the Dierenbescherming (Animal Welfare group in the Netherlands) both have similar goals to protect and promote animal welfare in their countries, however, they each execute their motives in different ways due to the cultural influences of their country. These cultural differences effect the actions, values, and cross-cultural leadership methods of different organizations that focus on protecting and promoting animal rights.


         The study was conducted using observations of dogs and dog owners from the two countries. The behavior of the dogs and owners were compared to determine whether or not there was any cultural overlap. Research was then conducted on an animal welfare organization in each country. Because I am from the United States and currently work as a veterinary assistant, I have chosen to use my own, personal observations and experiences to analyze dog and dog owner behavior from the United States. A cultural analysis was done on both organizations based on their marketing and actions, such as adoption rates and promotion of animal welfare. Cross-cultural leadership studies were then applied to the cultural analysis of the two organizations, from which, a consensus was reached as to why the groups are successful based on their location. 


         The participants of the study were fifteen dogs and dog owners from the United States and the Netherlands. I noted each animal’s behavior and the environment in which the owner and dog lived at the time of the experiment. Based on the dog’s actions, I determined whether or not the dog’s behavior was reflective of the owner’s culture. The ASPCA in the United States and Dierenbescherming in the Netherlands were the two organizations I chose, based on their locations and purpose. I researched both groups and evaluated them in cultural and leadership-related terms. 


         Scholarly articles involving the ASPCA and Dierenbescherming, as well as the organizations’ websites, were used to examine the cultural differences between the organizations and how they promote and protect animal rights. In addition, a K-9 Magazine article and a news website from the Netherlands were used to solidify the cultural and behavioral differences that Dutch dogs portray compared to that of the United States.

Cultural Overview

         The United States and the Netherlands have very different cultures, with few overlapping similarities. The cultural characteristics that each country holds can be reflected in dogs’ behaviors when they are out in public. In addition, the ASPCA and Dierenbescherming reflect the cultural traits of their origin country, further exemplifying the differentiation between the two organizations.   

The Netherlands:

         Much like the United States, Dutch culture has many aspects and divisions. A lecture presented by Russell Kent, a professor at the University of Maastricht, explains the major factors of Dutch society, as well as an overview of the culture. There are twelve providences in the Netherlands that are all ruled under one constitutional monarchy. The country’s native language is Dutch; however, most residents are fluent in English. Communication styles in the Netherlands are direct and without the use of euphemisms. Many find the Dutch to be arrogant or opinionated, but criticism is often concise and stolid (Kent, 2019).

         A few note-worthy Dutch values include non-violent behavior, acceptance of others’ opinions, emphasis on reducing waste, and nonchalance. Those from the Netherlands are found to have more of a focus on control, scheduling, and attention to detail. Another major value the of Dutch culture is tolerance; since the 17th century, the Netherlands has had widespread tolerance for religion, immigration, and governmental efficacy. One surprising tolerance, that is not considered worldwide, is their nonchalant attitude towards soft drug use. Drugs such as marijuana are sold in stores called coffeeshops where Dutch citizens over 18 years of age can purchase up to five grams of cannabis. This tolerance has increased tourism in the Netherlands, primarily Amsterdam, where there is no regulation on usage. The Dutch position on soft drug use has become what the world sees as part of their culture. The culture of the Netherlands has expanded and progressed as the years have passed, but their overall cultural values have stayed the same (Kent, 2019). 

The United States:

         The United States may be considered a “melting pot” of different cultures, but there are a few overlapping values within the many different cultures found in America. The most important value of the United States is its concept of independence. Since breaking away from England’s control in 1776, Americans have cherished their independence to the point of having a national holiday dedicated to the declaration of freedom. Even today, people across the world will come to the country to experience its individualistic culture. In addition, the notion of equality goes hand-in-hand with the country’s strong belief in independence. America was founded around the central idea that all men are created equal regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender. Even though equality does not necessarily exist in the United States, this value has continued to be inherent to American patriotism, regardless of its realization. 

         The American dialogue is very similar to the Dutch. Directness and openness are common when communicating with others. Americans are often perceived as confrontational, because they believe discussion is the best way to solve problems. Additionally, if an American wants something done or has an opinion, they are often unafraid to express whatever is on their mind. However, the similarities in Dutch and English dialogue end here. Americans are very informal in their speech and tend to use idioms, sarcasm, first names, and jokes when talking to others (Hofstede, 2019). These variations of speech allow Americans to express emotion in their words, such as providing comedic relief to an awkward situation or colorful comparisons to get their point across.

Presentation of Cultural Dimensions

         Cultural dimensions are used to explain the fundamental characteristics of specific cultures. One model in particular has been the most helpful in assessing and analyzing cultural differences: the Hofstede 6-Dimension model. This model consists of six major categories. The first is power distance “which refers to the extent that power differences are accepted and sanctioned in a society” (Thomas & Peterson, 2018, p. 43). Individualism concerns how much of a society depends on themselves or on other people—the importance of in- and out-groups within their community. In-groups are defined as societies, who believe in “we” and focus on collectivism. Out-groups don’t usually depend on themselves (Hofstede, 2019). The third dimension is masculinity, which describes how closely a society reflects traditional “masculine” traits such as “ambition, acquisition, and achievement”, as compared to traits labelled more “feminine”, such as compassion (Thomas & Peterson, 2018, p. 43). Uncertainty avoidance is the measure of how societies try to prepare for uncertainty and promote stability (Hofstede, 2019). Long-term orientation reflects the “links with its own past while dealing with the challenges of the present and future,” (Hofstede, 2019). This means that tradition and norms are honored with low long-term orientation scores, while high-score societies take a pragmatic approach. The final dimension is indulgence, which measures how well members of a society can control impulses and desires. In this study, Hofstede’s 6-D dimension model was used to compare the Dutch culture to the American culture and analyze the behavior of animals in both countries.

The Netherlands:

         The Netherlands has some similar cultural dimensions compared to the United States. However, there are a few categories that stand out as being significantly different: individualism, masculinity, and long-term orientation. The Netherlands scored 80 for individualism, meaning that individuals take care of themselves and their families within loosely knit societies; however, the Dutch still depend and focus on group goals and well-being (Hofstede, 2019). The second dimension that heavily varied from the United States was masculinity. The Dutch have a very low score, 14, which reflects a society filled with more caring and compassion, traditionally feminine traits. (Hofstede, 2019). The third trait that was different than the United States was long-term orientation. The Netherlands scored 67, indicating that the Dutch depend on the situation to determine how they will act, rather than focusing on traditions (Hofstede, 2019).

The United States:

             The United States had polar opposite scores when being compared to the Dutch in the three aforementioned dimensions. First, Americans scored a 91 on individualism, 11 points higher than the Netherlands (Hofstede, 2019). While the Netherlands has some focus on group outcome and wellbeing, Americans are more self-based when it comes to achieving goals. Second, the United States masculinity score was 62, which is extremely high compared to Dutch culture’s score of 14 (Hofstede, 2019). The United States has a higher drive for ambition, rather than compassion, which solidifies its masculine culture. The final trait that was significantly different from the Dutch, was long-term orientation at 26 (Hofstede, 2019). The low score reveals the United States has short-term orientation, meaning that Americans analyze new information before acting on it. Even though it is home to many different cultures; ambition, masculinity, and emphasis on power is more prominent in the United States than in the Dutch collectivist culture.

Similarities Between the Countries

         The two countries had a few dimensions that were close in numbers; including power distance, uncertainty avoidance, and indulgence. The Netherlands’ score for power distance is 38, while the United States scored a 40 (Hofstede, 2019). This score is considerably low, meaning both cultures are relatively independent, believe in decentralized power, and dislike being controlled. The second dimension that was similar was uncertainty avoidance, with the Netherlands scoring 53 and the United States at 46 (Hofstede, 2019). Both countries are accepting of ideas and beliefs outside of the norm, while still depending on the security of rules and expression. The final dimension, indulgence, had a score of 68 for both the Netherlands and the United States. This is the only dimension that was identical between the two societies (Hofstede, 2019). Indulgences in this case would be spending money or dedicating time to things that are not essential, such as going to a movie theater or eating out for dinner at a nice restaurant.  This score is relatively high and means that both cultures are willing to succumb to their desires and impulses with ease. Although the United States and the Netherlands have very different cultural values, they do share these few cultural dimensions that are exhibited throughout their countries.


Culture, Dogs’ Behavior, and Leadership

         For the past two years, I have worked as a veterinary assistant at an animal hospital in my hometown, which has exposed me to different dog breeds and owners of multiple nationalities. A majority of American dogs that I have come into contact with, both in and outside of the vet hospital, share the same common traits: barking at other animals and simple sounds such as the doorbell or a truck passing by the house, pulling on their leash while on walks, and being possessive over their owners, bones, and other items that “belong” to them. However, the dogs that I encountered while visiting the Netherlands exhibited opposite behaviors. Whether I was visiting the small village of Zaanse Schans or touring the bustling city of Amsterdam, almost every dog acted the same. Unlike dogs in the U.S., they did not pull their owners down the street. Instead, they walked on light leads—some completely off leash—directly next to, or behind their owners. I heard only one dog bark in Amsterdam, and its owner scolded it immediately after. After witnessing these drastic behavioral differences, I decided to propose and research a rather abstract question: Is there a correlation to dogs’ behavior and their native country’s culture? After further observation and research, I realized that culture was not the only factor in the equation of behavioral differences. In addition, the main animal welfare and protection organization in each country reflected how and why dogs in their societies behave the way they do. Based on the native country’s culture, organizations such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the Dierenbescherming have catered specifically to the citizens of their respective countries. The functionality of the organizations can be accredited to how their country’s cultural values and traits are intertwined in the organizations’ purpose and actions. When put into the equation, the cultural differences, dogs’ behavior, and cross-cultural leadership theories further solidify the success of these organizations, in both the United States and the Netherlands.


Welfare Group Background

         After observing the cultural values, and researching Hofstede’s dimensions for the United States and the Netherlands, there is a better understanding of how and why these cultures act the way that they do. However, this does not fully solidify the correlation between dogs’ behavior, and the overall purpose of animal welfare organizations. The organizations’ websites state information on their purpose, actions, and resources available to those in their country based on the situation at hand. There are thousands of pages of information pertaining to their shared purpose of protecting and promoting animal welfare, but the most useful information when discussing animal behavior and cultural reflection is how their purpose is executed in their country. 



         The ASPCA, which was founded in 1866, is the largest humane society in North America; and has now rescued over 47,000 animals, granted $12 million to animal welfare organizations, had 4,756 animals adopted from their adoption centers, and has provided 89,768 spay and neuter surgeries to dogs and cats throughout the nation (ASPCA, 2019). The organization is a not-for-profit corporation and is privately funded through the generous donations of supporters around the country. The ASPCA mainly focuses on preventing, rescuing, and protecting animals from homelessness and animal cruelty (ASPCA, 2019). According to the ASPCA website (2019), “A majority of shelter populations are comprised of strays, rescues [from cruelty situations], and surrendered animals whose owners can no longer care for them.” As for animal cruelty in the United States, “There are 10,000 estimated puppy mills in the US and 250,000 animals fall victim to hoarding annually,” (ASPCA, 2019). The ASPCA’s tactics in getting others to promote and protect animals is different from most similar organizations. Rather than asking for hands-on volunteers or using advocacy and education as their number-one way to help, a donation link is found on every page of their website with a note stating, “Take Action: Join the ASPCA in the fight against animal [homelessness or cruelty] today,” (ASPCA, 2019). Donations are collected primarily online with the option to donate once or monthly, at any dollar amount over $5. Other ways people can help the organization is by adopting pets through their own adoption center, reporting animal cruelty, advocating animal welfare, and volunteering or working for the organization. However, donations are the most commonly advertised way of stopping animal homelessness and cruelty.


The Dierenbescherming:

         The Dierenbescherming is the Dutch equivalent of the ASPCA. Similar to the ASPCA, their main focus is fighting animal suffering and providing aid to animals. In 2017, the organization took care of over 25,000 animals in their rescue shelter and had an adoption rate of more than 80%. In 2018, inspectors carried out 9,000 inspections to prevent animal cruelty, and had 76,000 ambulance journeys transporting sick and injured animals to veterinary hospitals (Dierenbescherming, 2019). In addition, the organization states that “every year we receive over 4,000 dogs that have been dumped, neglected or abandoned”, while the ASPCA rescued 40,314 animals in 2018 alone (Dierenbescherming, 2019) (ASPCA, 2019). The execution of their purpose, however, is different from the ASPCA’s. Rather than mainly raising adoption numbers or donations, the Dierenbescherming advocates animal emergency assistance for cruelty cases, fighting animal suffering through inspection work, and promoting the ownership of companion animals.

         In addition to animal promotion and welfare execution, the Dierenbescherming has two sections relating to how Dutch citizens can help promote and protect animals in their country. The first section, “What Can You Do,” has subcategories for working as a company, municipality, or at school (Dierenbescherming, 2019). In addition to donations and volunteering, the organization has also provided educational resources describing how to care for animals and how to live animal friendly. Since more than 56% of households in the Netherlands have one or more pets, they have provided tips on how to take care of your animals in the winter, summer, and during holidays, as well as dog school recommendations. (Dierenbescherming, 2019). Their website contains informative articles about consumerism, the fur trade, and how to make a global impact (found under the “Living Animal-Friendly” section). The second section, “In Your Neighborhood,” provides resources in different regions of the country such as animal shelters, animal ambulances, dog schools, and shelters for livestock. The highly advertised dog schools are directly run by the Dierenbescherming and provide training, play, care, socialization, and exercise of your dog. Trainers are also trained by the Animal Protection, inspected by registered inspectors of the Dierenbescherming, all with a no-profit motive (Dierenbescherming, 2019).


Correlation Between Dogs’ Behavior and Culture

         Although the purpose of the Dierenbescherming and ASPCA are similar in the execution, their advocacy is directly tied to the level of dominance within their culture. From governmental legislation to the production and establishment of new veterinary clinics and shelters, both organizations have succeeded in creating better environments and protection to animals in their homeland. Their cultural norms and values can compare to dogs’ behavior by analyzing different situations, actions, and advances from each organization.  


The United States:

         Dogs in the United States reflect the American cultural values in their behavior. Since they cannot speak to us outside of barking or whining, dogs rely on their nonverbal communication when speaking to their owner. According to a thesis proposed in 2017, “people in the United States believe dogs are happy, loyal, and love all humans…dogs are also expected to know how to function in our society,” (Silvestrini, 2017, p. 32). The assumption that dogs should “know their place” directly correlates with Americans’ strong belief in individualism. Although we can only train our animals to an extent, Americans think that dogs should understand when and where they can act a certain way. When a dog in the U.S. doesn’t behave, perhaps barking at a squirrel, the owner is quick to scold the dog. The action of scolding the dog immediately, rather than analyzing why it was barking, is reflective of the American cultural dimension of short-term orientation: focusing on the present, or past, instead of the future. 

         In relation to the ASPCA, American culture is embedded in how the organization achieves its success. The first prime example dates back to 2013, when the organization decided to collaborate with the attorney general in New York on an animal protection initiative. The initiative was used to “promote the enforcement of consumer protection laws and target allegations of animal fighting and cruelty” through training programs in investigating dog fighting, puppy mills, and large-scale animal cruelty cases (Wire Feed, 2013, p. 1). The organization’s attempt at informing and educating others in how to handle these situations only extended to the leaders of the various regions of New York, rather than to the common public, in hopes of having a higher success rate. 

         Another example of the ASPCA reflecting the United States’ long-term cultural dimension is its most recent animal-welfare project. In June 2019, the ASPCA proposed that it would open three low-cost veterinary centers in New York. The CEO of the organization, Matt Bershadker, stated that many owners have to surrender their sick pets due to the owners’ inability to pay medical fees, and the creation of the new community vet clinics would help treat issues such as infections, in addition to spays/neuters, and vaccines (Colangelo, 2019, p. 10). The decision to focus on New York was influenced by the amount of homeless and sick dogs in the area. New York City, for example, is ranked as having some of the highest numbers of animal homelessness in the country. However, the choice to place all three hospitals in the state further reiterates the short-term orientation of the United States. The ASPCA is more focused on immediate mitigation of problems, rather than establishing solutions and building foundations for the future. Prominent, American cultural dimensions, such as short-term orientation and individualism, are prominent in the actions and behavior for the ASPCA and American dogs.


The Netherlands:

         The cultural dimensions and values of Dutch society can be reflected in Dutch dogs’ behavior and the Dierenbescherming’s actions. There are many laws around owning a pet in the country, including having your dog registered at the local town hall, paying an annual tax, and enforcing specific areas in which dogs are or are not permitted to walk without a leash or to relieve themselves (“Keeping Pets in the Netherlands”, 2018). While in the Netherlands, the dogs I observed off leash did not relieve themselves in places they were expected not to, and walked calmly beside or behind their owner. Rarely did I witness a dog barking or an owner scolding their pet for misbehaving. The behavior of the dogs directly reflected the “feminine traits” of caring and compassion that the Dutch tend to have. Rather than being aggressive or more dominant to their owners, dogs were much more submissive and easygoing.

The Dierenbescherming has been effective in promoting animal welfare by executing their purpose with the dimension of long-term orientation, as seen in their education and awareness programs. In addition, pets are required to be vaccinated, micro-chipped, and registered. Although many pets are registered and microchipped in the United States, it is not always required by the state or county. These requirements and resources show that the Dutch focus on long-term orientation. The idea of microchipping and registering pets attempts to reduce pet homelessness. In addition, by providing behavior specialists, training centers, and different types of veterinary medicine in the country, animal owners are assured that if something were to happen to their pet, they have multiple choices as to where to take them.

The final example involves the attitude of humans exhibit towards animals and the Dierenbescherming protecting animals through legislation. In 1975, the question of if animals were treated in ethical ways was brought up to the organization. The way the organization analyzed the question demonstrates their long-term orientation dimension. The Dierenbescherming admitted to the fact that it was “difficult to lay down exact criteria of animal welfare, but it is essential to alter the current system,” meaning that the organization would take a bit more time to try to fix the issue rather than coming up with an immediate solution (Hofstra, 1975, p. 697). The Dierenbescherming still continues to work on this question by adding and providing resources to Dutch dog owners to promote animal welfare and protection. 


Leadership within Animal Welfare Organizations 

         There are many reasons as to why the ASPCA and the Dierenbescherming are successful, including their numerous volunteers, employees, donors, and activists. However, cross-cultural leadership studies can further explain their success in their respective countries. First, the consequential and deontological models in decision-making play a strong role in the organizations’ success. The consequential model “focuses on the outcomes or consequences of a decision to determine whether the decision is ethical”, and on the idea that people should produce good over harm for everyone affected in the decision, or they will face consequences (Thomas & Peterson, 2018, p. 98.) The consequential attitude directly stems from Americans’ masculine attitude, and the tendency to act aggressively to mitigate a situation. This head-on approach can be seen in the ASPCA’s decision to open three vet centers as part of their Animal Protection Initiative in New York. Rather than having all the citizens uphold their ethical beliefs, they chose to directly act upon the situation to fight animal homelessness and better animal welfare. Their execution has proven successful for the ASPCA in regard to their ranking as one of the best animal welfare organizations in the world.

          The Dutch take a more “feminine” approach when trying to persuade people into making decisions. The deontological model states that humans hold certain fundamental rights, and must uphold these rights, rather than focusing on consequences (Thomas & Peterson, 2018, p. 98). This model is rule-based and states that “some behaviors exist that are never moral, even though they maximize utility,” (Thomas & Peterson, 2018, p. 99). The Dierenbescherming proves that it trusts citizens to fulfill their duty in animal protection and welfare through its production of numerous resources. The “feminine” attitude displayed by the Dutch is reflected in its responsibility-based and compassionate attitude towards animals. Dutch owners are going to be more interested in benefiting their dog through training and health benefits, rather than donating money to the cause and waiting for the organization to act. By advertising and promoting dog schools, training clinics, legislation, and tolerant attitudes; the Dierenbescherming has been successful in implementing their approach within their home country. 



         When studying cross-cultural leadership, it is important to look at organizations, culture, and members of the culture; even if they’re furry and four-legged. The ASPCA and Dierenbescherming reflect the cultural dimensions proposed by Hofstede for their country, and are successful due to their ability to stay true to their cultural values when acting for their purpose. Both organizations use decision-making models in their ethical dilemmas, and their style of decision-making aligns with their country’s culture. In addition, dogs’ behavior can reveal the cultural values of their country of origin. By observing, analyzing, and understanding this information, those in leadership studies can use animal behavior to explain why organizations and corporations act the way they do, and furthermore, why they are successful. 



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Volume 17, Fall 2020