When the Transportation Security Administration “hires” dogs to work at passenger screening zones in airports, its employees will be checking for one specific physical trait. Do the dog's ears hang low? Do they wobble to and fro? If so, they just might be the right dog for the job.
According to ABC News, the TSA will now give priority to floppy-eared dogs over pointy-eared ones, but only in sections of the airport where passengers and bags are screened. That’s because the new policy has nothing to do with differences in how the breeds perform (there are none) and everything to do with how comfortable passengers feel around the dogs.
David Pekoske, head of the TSA, says floppy-eared dogs like Labrador and golden retrievers tend to be perceived as friendlier and less threatening than pointy-eared dogs like German shepherds, even if this isn't rooted in reality. The TSA noticed that Labs have a calming effect on travelers—especially children—while German shepherds often do the opposite.
“You'll see parents kind of pull their kids away from a dog with pointy ears because, I think, we as a culture recognize that as a tactical dog or a police dog," TSA assistant administrator Michael Bilello tells ABC News.
However, that doesn’t mean the pointy-eared pooches will be out of a job soon. Bilello says the “health and operational capabilities” of a dog are still more important than the shape of her ears, and no dog will be removed from its current post due to the new policy. The only change is that floppy-eared dogs, if available, will be given preference for openings in passenger screening areas. Roughly four in five recent canine recruits have ears that fall flat, and this is a ratio the TSA hopes to stick with.
According to The Washington Post, the TSA uses about 1200 dogs of seven different breeds for passenger screening purposes. Only two of those breeds—German shepherds and Belgian Malinoises—have pointy ears.