BY CHARLOTTE LONG
It’s estimated there are over 16 million pet cats and dogs in the UK and you don’t need to be an animal enthusiast to notice an influx of certain breeds. In 2016 it seemed people went barking mad for Pugs, French Bulldogs and Boxers (we’re looking at you John Lewis) while British Shorthairs, Bengals and Persians were the cat breeds of choice.
But it probably comes as no surprise that the loyal Labrador has stayed firmly at the top of the UK league table. The first sightings of the breed in Britain were in the late 18th century and they remain a popular choice due to their family-friendly nature.
“Based on the Kennel Club’s registration figures, the most popular dog in the UK is the Labrador Retriever,” says Caroline Kisko, Kennel Club Secretary.
“Reasons for the breed’s continued popularity may include their good temperament and tendency to make great companions. Labradors are also intelligent and agile, making them good working or assistance dogs with the right training.”
What can increase the popularity of a breed? A range of things according to Caroline: “There are many factors that can be attributed to the popularity of individual breeds. In recent years breeds that see sudden increases in popularity usually do so because of celebrities and fashion, and more recently, social media, meaning that suddenly there is a huge demand for them which can have positive and negative effects on a breed.
“The popularity of dogs on Instagram can raise awareness of breeds that people may not have come across before, but that may be suitable for their lifestyle, for example, Corgis. In recent years Pembroke Welsh Corgis were on the Kennel Club’s vulnerable breeds list but in 2015 they officially came off the list after seeing a great increase in numbers. This boost is attributed in part to several ‘famous’ Pembroke Corgis on social media channels.
“Social media can also correct misconceptions about certain breeds. Ramsey the Staffordshire Bull Terrier is a great example of this because he has shown hundreds of thousands of Instagram users the true nature of his breed – friendly, loyal and charming dogs, not the aggressive dogs that the media often try to portray them as,” continues Caroline.
John Lewis’ highly anticipated Christmas advert last year made Boxers the star of the show – with Buster the Boxer bouncing on to everybody’s televisions and social media feeds. Could the breed’s jump into mainstream media mean a spike in sales this year?
The Kennel Club says internet searches for Boxers soared by 160 percent after the commercial appeared on TV.
Vikki Van-Beck, from KC-assured Boxer breeders, Newlaithe, says the advert brought up some issues: “The advert was ideal for the people who breed litters for money and have no care where their puppies end up. It’s a fantastic ad, and a credit to Biffs’ owners (although his name is Buster in the advert!), but the aftermath has to be considered.”
The RSPCA also warns about the danger of pet breed fads. In 2016 they launched a campaign after an influx of fashionable dog breeds and ‘designer’ crossbreeds were arriving at its centres.
According to the charity, responsible breeders are struggling to keep up with the demand for popular breeds, leading many prospective dog owners to turn to puppy farms and, all too often, ending up with dogs with health problems or behavioural issues. The RSPCA saw more than a 100% rise in Chihuahuas coming to their centres from 2012 to 2015, the results of the handbag dog trend. ‘Designer’ crossbreeds being abandoned such as Labradoodles (Labrador cross Poodle) and Puggles (Pug cross Beagle), have also risen. But, as has always been the case, Staffordshire Bull Terriers remain the most frequent residents.
Caroline reiterates the danger of pets being seen as fashion statements: “We also often see trends in dog breeds being influenced by celebrities, which is a concern, as it implies that dogs may be seen as fashion accessories rather than a long term commitment. Battersea Cats & Dogs Home have seen an increase of larger, working dogs at their centres because of certain popular television shows. “In recent years, we have seen a rise in the number of Huskies, Akitas and Alaskan Malamutes coming through our doors. These beautiful dogs have seen their popularity soar thanks to TV series such as Game of Thrones. But you need a lot of space and time to look after one of these dogs, with the energy and knowledge to look after their needs,” says Centre Manager Robert Young.
“Domestic Shorthairs are by far the most common breed of cat in the UK so that’s why we see so many of them come through our doors,” adds Robert.
Cat breed popularity seems less susceptible to the influence of celebrity, TV and social media. But there’s no denying that interest in our feline friends has increased ten fold since the birth of the World Wide Web. Almost half of all original YouTube videos are of people’s pets, and around 26 billion views are just for cats, making them the single most popular category.
Dog and cat breed popularity will forever be evolving – and there are many positives to that, for example certain breeds being taken off endangered lists. But it’s important to remind potential owners that a pet is not the latest handbag, it’s a long-term commitment.