Why the flat face?

In response to growing concerns over the welfare of animals with extreme morphology (shape), the British Veterinary Association have outlined their position on the matter in a recent policy statement

Extreme conformation, the body shape or structure of an animal (usually referring to a pedigree dog) having a direct impact on its health and welfare, is a hot topic at the moment. This policy likely came about following the increasing population of flat-faced (currently called Brachycephalic) dogs such as the French Bulldog and Pug (pictured above). The policy sets out guidelines for those involved in the care of affected animals, with a specific emphasis on caution when breeding them. In the majority of cases, people are breeding to encourage these extreme traits. This has led to research into the under-lying desire for these excessive morphological features.

Why do people want a dog that has no nose? Why is a slanted back more attractive in a German Shepherd than straight? Publications such as that of a Danish group of scientists, have tried to find the answer. It seems there are different types of dog owner. Those who see the dog as a pet or working animal, consider health and appropriate conformation to be essential, compared to those who see their dog as a surrogate (or in some cases, actual) child and rate personality as a much more desirable trait. This would go some way to explaining the move towards flatter-faced, wider eyed dogs that look more like a human baby. Or tiny, handbag sized dogs that are easily carried as an accessory. More research into the profile of the breeders and owners of these extremely shaped dogs is needed. Particularly as results from a group at the Royal Veterinary College suggest that owners view health defects such as difficulty breathing, as ‘normal’.  Perhaps if we can empathise more with the people who choose these dogs, we can start to encourage healthier desires? Maybe we need a new pug version of Cujo? Whatever we do, we need to do it soon.