The surprising reason why flat-faced dogs are so popular: vet explains the problems with this

Szénási Szimonetta

2024. February 7 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary; Love My Dogz

Bulldogs and other breeds, also known as flat-faced dogs, are very popular. And, as the ELTE study shows, the reason for this affects us unconsciously.


As we have said before, the various breeds of brachycephalic dogs, also known as flat-faced or pressed/short-nosed, are leading the list of most owned pets. The French bulldog is perhaps the best-selling dog on the market. This is surprising because these types of dogs suffer from a number of health problems, which are exacerbated by the high demand for breeding. If this is common knowledge, why do so many people want to have such a pet? ELTE ethologists have answered the question. And Dr. Luvszandagva Jargalsajhan, better known as Dr. Zsargal, an expert on flat-faced dogs, explained the causes of the problems affecting the breeds.

Like a sweet baby

Research from the Department of Ethology at ELTE University has shown that these dogs make eye contact with their owners much more often. And in doing so, they make owners feel like a parent.

According to the study, “in a problem-solving task, flat-faced dog breeds such as English or French bulldogs tend to look at their owners more often than their medium-nosed counterparts. This can be interpreted as ‘help-seeking’ behaviour”.

“The difficulties encountered in solving the task and seeking eye contact with the owners is “infant-like” behaviour, which may partly explain the popularity of these breeds despite their well-documented history of a number of health problems,” the researchers explain.

The French Bulldog is the most popular breed in our country.

Bulldogs vs. Mudis

Dorottya Ujfalussy, a member of the MTA-ELTE “Momentum” Animal Research Group, and her colleagues investigated how 15 English bulldogs and 15 French bulldogs compared to 13 Mudis in a task situation. The animals had to open three boxes containing a reward snack. However, the pots opened differently and were placed in front of the participants in a random order. The dogs had 2 minutes to complete the challenge while their owner and the researcher stood behind them.

Both the English and French bulldogs were significantly less successful at opening the box than the Mudis (93% less likely to open the box). The Mudis were also faster than the successful bulldogs. After a minute, about 90 percent of the mudis had opened the box, compared to about 50 percent of the bulldogs. However, compared to the Mudis, English and French bulldogs were significantly more likely (4.16 times and 4.49 times more likely, respectively) to look at people than Mudis.

From this, scientists have concluded that this kind of help-seeking, needy behaviour in brachycephalic breeds strengthens the social bond with their owners.

An interesting question, not addressed in the present study, is whether these breeds are genetically predisposed to be more dependent on humans. Or is the behaviour of their owners encourages this?

A long list of health problems

Dr. Zsargal, an expert on brachycephalic breeds, gives a very thorough presentation on the typical diseases of these dogs.

The renowned expert not only has an in-depth knowledge of these types of breeds, but has also been keeping them for 28 years. Currently the owner of 6 dogs. Decades of experience have given him great insight into the development of these breeds. As we learned, in the past, these dogs were not in such a bad state as they are today. This is explained by the aforementioned breeding.

As Dr Zsargal confirmed, the shortened cheekbones are particularly popular with people. Thus both the brachycephal – like the aforementioned French and English bulldogs – and the more recent brachychepal-like breeds – such as the pug and the boxer – have now become real fashion breeds.

Before listing the health problems, the doctor predicted that there is a healthy bloodline for all breeds. But the large number of individuals, often from uncontrolled circumstances due to the huge demand, can give rise to a number of issues.

These are:

  • Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS) due to a too narrow nasal passage and trachea and an elongated soft palate;
  • brachycephalic ocular syndrome (BOS) affecting the eyes;
  • orthopaedic problems affecting the vertebrae, which can lead to paralysis;
  • various skin conditions such as hyperkeratosis (dryness) of the nose;
  • dental issues;
  • digestive problems;
  • reproductive difficulties (fertility problems, caesarean section).

Unfortunately, as the doctor pointed out, many of these problems only appear over time. Moreover, often 3-4 different problems affect a single dog.

What are the warning signs?

First of all, it’s best to buy your dog from a reliable, well-informed breeder. This is essential for any breed. Secondly, in flat-faced breeds, you should be even more alert to possible warning signs. These can include snoring and too loud panting (which many people think are cute but are actually very uncomfortable for the animal!), skin lesions, avoidance of stairs, stiff posture and unusual behaviour that may indicate pain, and sleeping with the head propped up on a toy or feeding bowl, which is typically a self-remedy for dogs with reflux

The warm weather is very dangerous for them

You should also be aware that these breeds are extremely intolerant of heat because of the problems mentioned above. And by this we mean not only the summer heat, but also milder temperatures of over 20°C. Heat stroke is much more common for them than for other breeds.

boxer brachycephalic dog brachycephalic syndrome Dr. Luvszandagva Jargalsajhan ELTE English bulldog French bulldog mops research short-nosed dog

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