UK dog lovers still too fond of flat-faced breeds, says study
According to a new study, 93 per cent of owners of flat-faced dogs such as the Pug, French Bulldog and English Bulldog would opt for the same breed again despite experiencing common and severe health problems in their pets.
The research, led by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh and Nottingham Trent University, also revealed that two-thirds (66 per cent) of owners would recommend their flat-faced breed to others.
The development of ‘breed-loyalty’ towards flat-faced breeds is very concerning, says the College, because it promotes the proliferation of these breeds despite their substantial health risks.
Brachycephalic dog breeds suffer many severe and often lifelong health issues, including eye ulcers, breathing problems and heatstroke, relating to their typical body shape, particularly their characteristic flattened face. Despite the heightened risk of such welfare problems, the popularity of flat-faced breeds has dramatically increased over the last decade, with the French Bulldog now the most popular breed registered with the Kennel Club in the UK.
Although previous RVC studies found that owners are initially attracted to brachycephalic breeds due to their distinctive appearance, this latest study has revealed that behaviour traits are a core component of why owners ‘love’ their breed and would recommend them to others – essentially, owners come for the looks, but stay for the personality.
Owners of all three breeds were very confident they would own ‘their’ breed again in the future. First-time dog owners and those that had a very close relationship with their current flat-faced dog were most likely to want to own their breed again. Recognising that their current dog had severe breathing problems or were experiencing behaviour that was worse than they had expected reduced an owner’s desire to acquire their breed again in the future.
In order to gain a deeper understanding of these views, the study, which involved more than 2,000 owners of Pugs, French Bulldogs and English Bulldogs, asked owners to describe which aspects of their current breed they would or would not recommend in their own words.
Key reasons for owners recommending their breed included the perceptions that these dogs were loving and affectionate, loyal, comical, ‘clown-like’ and playful and a belief that they were suitable for households with children.
Conversely, aspects of their breed that owners would not recommend included high maintenance requirements, their impact on owner lifestyle including excessive hair shedding and loud snoring and behavioural traits including stubbornness, neediness, and aggression.
Only a small number of owners cited concerns over ethical and welfare issues associated with breeding flat-faced dogs, such as irresponsible breeding practices and suffering associated with their body shape, as a reason that they would not recommend them.
Dr Rowena Packer, lecturer in companion animal behaviour and welfare science at the Royal Veterinary College and leader of the study, says that the results are of real concern because of the current surge of interest in brachycephalic breeds in the UK:
‘Understanding how breed loyalty develops towards brachycephalic breeds, and whether it can be changed once established, is key to reducing the popularity of short-muzzled breeds. If first time owners of flat-faced dogs choose these breeds for the rest of their lives, then the current crisis could continue for decades,’ warned Dr Packer.
‘Priority should be given to developing evidence-based strategies to help these owners consider lower risk, healthier breeds when acquiring future dogs. Our novel findings start this process by highlighting the key behavioural characteristics that this owner group value.’