Old English Sheepdog | Photo credit: Chris, AdobeStock

Changing Fashions and Fads, including Dogs?

February and March bring crocuses and daffodils to the Northern Hemisphere and extensive media coverage of “clothing and other fashions” in Milan, Paris, New York, and London. In mid-March last year, there were numerous media reports that the Labrador retriever had been deposed as America’s most popular dog by the French Bulldog (the “Frenchie”). The Economist included a graphic showing how the French bulldog’s popularity had changed from 2011 to 2022 in the USA, the UK, South Africa, France, New Zealand, and Japan.

Kennel club data on puppy registrations indicated a rapid rise in the breed’s popularity in the USA, the UK, and South Africa but no similar rise in popularity in France, New Zealand, or Japan. While such data may reflect societal fashions in a country, breed registration data from national kennel clubs are not necessarily reliable indicators of the overall popularity of different dog breeds. A 2011 report on the popularity of other breeds in the UK noted significant differences between different breed frequencies from pet insurance data versus Kennel Club puppy registrations. In the USA, the American Kennel Club (AKC) is only one of several dog breed registries and does not register all dog breeds. Even if the AKC were the only breed registry in the country, only a small proportion of dog owners in the USA register their pets with a breed registry.

Professor Harold Herzog at Western Carolina University has published several reports on dog breed popularity and has tracked a phenomenon he refers to as the dog breed contagion (see this 2006 report describing the rapid rise in the popularity of specific breeds followed by a rapid fall). Between 1965 and 2000, Herzog used AKC registration statistics to identify nine dog breeds (including Dalmations, Afghan hounds, and Saint Bernards) that were subject to “contagions.” The contagion effect for Old English Sheepdogs, reportedly caused by the launch of the Disney movie – The Shaggy Dog – is illustrated in a slide provided by Dr. Herzog.

The "Disney Movie Effect" chart by Harold Herzog

In 2014, Herzog and two colleagues published a paper expanding the investigation of the impact of movies on dog breed popularity over time. The analysis commented on fashion trends and fads in general. It focused on movies’ impact on dog breed popularity trends as an example of a specific type of fashion. The analysis found that movies featuring dogs as one of the lead characters usually resulted in a subsequent increase in the breed’s popularity for up to ten years after the movie’s release. They also found that a movie’s impact on breed popularity correlated with the number of viewers of the film during its opening weekend and that the influence of dogs shown in movies on breed popularity was most significant in the early part of the 20th century but has declined recently.

French bulldogs have appeared in at least seven movies or television series since 2010 (Due Date, Entourage, Slightly Single in LA, Grace Stirs up Success, Fast and Furious: Hobbs and Shaw, The Rental, and Without Me). However, other media are likely taking over the role of films. For example, an internet site names 30 celebrities and their French bulldog pets. One of those celebrities is Lady Gaga, whose French bulldogs were stolen while on a stroll with her dog walker (who was shot during the theft). The media uproar following this event may have mimicked the effect of a popular movie release. One of Lady Gaga’s French bulldogs, Miss Asia, reportedly has 230,000 followers on Instagram.

However, the attention given to “Frenchies” has a downside. The British Veterinary Association (BVA) launched a campaign early in 2018 advising pet acquirers to avoid breeds with a flat face (brachycephalic) like the French bulldog and calling on companies not to use images of brachycephalic dogs in their advertising. The BVA has taken this step because of the many health issues flat-faced dog breeds suffer. The popularity of Frenchies in the UK peaked around 2018, perhaps declining due to the BVA campaign, but the breed is still number two in puppy registrations.

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