Perception Of Short-Muzzled Dog Breeds As Cute
“Brachycephalia” refers to the short muzzles and flattened faces of certain dog breeds such as bulldogs, pugs, and Boston terriers. These physical traits can cause serious health issues. Despite the broad scientific understanding of the attendant health and welfare problems, and advocacy against breeding dogs with brachycephaly, the popularity of brachycephalic breeds has recently increased dramatically. Some researchers argue that some humans think that brachycephalic dogs are cute and, when seeking a companion animal, opt for “cuteness” over the animal’s welfare. A recent study investigated the cuteness hypothesis.” Ultimately, the study found that the demand for brachycephalic breeds may be driven partially by cuteness, but the reality may be more complicated.
To carry out the study, a multinational team of researchers used a large dataset of online dog and puppy advertisements taken from a companion animal sales website in the U.K. Using the above-mentioned dataset, the team analyzed over forty thousand distinct advertisements. They analyzed how likely an advertisement was to use the words “cute,” “adorable,” and “sweet” to describe dogs with and without brachycephaly and of different ages and sizes. The results provided partial support for the claim that the popularity of brachycephalic breeds stems from their cuteness.
According to their analysis, brachycephalic dogs are more likely to be described as “cute,” but not as “sweet” or “adorable.” Brachycephalic puppies are more likely to be described as “cute” and “adorable” than non-brachycephalic dogs or brachycephalic adults. When the sample is confined to adult dogs, non-brachycephalic dogs are more likely to be described as “sweet.” However, other factors were more important in determining whether a dog was described as “cute,” “adorable,” or “sweet.” Size had the largest effect on whether dogs were described as “cute,” “adorable,” or “sweet”: all three were more common in small dogs. Puppies were more likely to be described as “cute” or “adorable,” while adult dogs were more likely to be described as “sweet.”
In sum, this study shows that humans are more likely to see short-muzzled dogs with flattened faces as cute, especially if the dogs are puppies. However, brachycephaly is not the most important factor affecting whether humans see a dog as cute. Moreover, longer-muzzled adult dogs are more likely to be described as sweet, implying that the link between cuteness and brachycephaly may be more complex than it seems. If the popularity of brachycephalic dogs isn’t because of their cuteness, their popularity may be more likely to decline. On the other hand, guardians do seem to find smaller dogs cute, so the popularity of small, brachycephalic breeds and other pathologically small dogs may increase.