The story of people and dogs is always tied in some way to culture, which is itself tied economics and sociology.
For example, I came of age in the Era of the Retriever, when in the late 80s and 90s, there was enough economic expansion as the result of a technology boom that middle class aspirations were always a house in the suburbs and a golden or Labrador retriever in the backyard.
Since the Great Recession, the middle class hasn’t been able to grow in most Western countries, and large sectors of people are coming of age in a world in which people must work long hours and live in little apartments.
Those are not the best conditions for caring for a gun dog breed, unless it’s a very toned down Labrador or golden.
Ten years ago, there was bit of an English bulldog fad. Ozzy Osbourne had bulldogs, and several reality TV shows, not just his, featured the breed. The breed suffers from a myriad of problems, and it took about a decade before people began to realize that these dogs are a lot of work and heartache.
So the English bulldog’popularity boom never stood a chance at replacing the Labrador.
But traveling alongside its larger English counterpart in its popularity rise was the French bulldog, and it is this breed that has the potential to reign as the most popular breed in much of the West in a very short order.
You may think I’m a bit crazy for saying so, but right now, the French bulldog has already displaced the Labrador in the UK in terms of Kennel Club registrations.
The reasons why this is happening are quite interesting. These dogs are not easy to breed, so the prices of them are extremely high. They are not dogs that the middle class can buy, but as the good life is no longer being defined as having a big house in the suburbs and having children, the French bulldog fits in better with these expectations.
Someone once told me that the reason someone likes French bulldogs is because they don’t like dogs. What was meant by that statement is that French bulldogs lack many of the traits we typically like in our dogs. They are not particularly trainable. They do have issues cooling themselves and breathing, as a result of their brachycephaly, and they really cannot be used for anything.
I’ve contended that the appeal of these dogs is they have more monkey-like faces, which we higher primates find particularly easy to relate to it, and we now live in a world where it’s harder and harder to keep and handle dogs. So much so, that we now have whole generations who don’t understand what a dog should be like.
So they go for the monkey dog, which won’t mind that it must live in an apartment or condo and certainly won’t care if its owner can’t give it much exercise or serious training.
The dog is cute to some people, probably because of our own ethology that predisposes us to monkey faces, and it’s not that hard to care for.
It’s now obvious that the market for these dogs is far from saturated, and people are plunking down as much as $ 10,000 for an eight-week-old puppy of some fad coloration in the breed.
There is now so much money in this breed, that thieves are stealing them from homes and even pet stores.
I am not going to argue for legislation that will tell you what kind of dog you must have, but it seems perverse that we moving so staunchly away from truly athletic and workmanlike dogs to these monkey dogs.
I can’t help but feel some sorrow about what we’re doing, because we’re not really doing it because of dogs but because of our own alienation from the natural world, an alienation that becomes more and more complete every year and with each generation.
The wolves that sat by the campfires of yore allowed their bodies to be bred in some many bizarre shapes and forms, but the current move is to step so far away from what a wolf is or was. It is step beyond the 35 million years or so this particular subfamily of Canidae, which has been to develop adaptations for distance running and cursorial predation.
We are engineering something new, just the way we have when we adapted wolves and primitive dogs for own new societies and tasks. It’s just what’s driving this distortion is human caprices and fashions, which are so rarely checked in when allowed to run amok in domestic dog breeds.