When a certain dog breed takes center stage in popular culture, chances are you’ll notice more of that breed around your city or town. Unfortunately, there’s another place you’ll find large numbers of fashionable breeds—your local shelter.
One of the best-known examples of this phenomenon is the Dalmatian—and the term ‘Dalmatian Effect’ was even coined to describe it. Demand for these beautiful white dogs with black spots jumped dramatically after the release of the original Disney animated film 101 Dalmatians in 1961, and then once again in tandem with its 1996 live-action remake.
Unfortunately, soon after their popularity grew, Dalmatians began appearing in shelters in higher numbers. The problem? Cute Dalmatian puppies grow up into adult Dalmatians—a wonderful breed that also happens to require experienced dog owners with ample time for obedience training and exercise.
Dalmatians were originally bred to run alongside horse-drawn coaches for miles on end to protect them from highway bandits—a job that later evolved into their well-known work as fire dogs. They are spirited, strong-willed, energetic, and more dog than many people (especially parents of young kids) can handle.
How Game of Thrones Influenced Husky Popularity
A recent example of the ‘Dalmatian Effect’ was the spike in popularity of Siberian Huskies that coincided with the eight seasons of Game of Thrones. Though the dire wolves of the series were portrayed by an Arctic Wolf and Northern Inuit dogs (a crossbreed of Huskies and German Shepherds), Huskies became a popular stand-in among GoT fans.
Game of Thrones debuted in 2011, and Google Trends shows a subsequent steady rise in searches for ‘siberian husky’ and ‘white husky’—the latter likely because people wanted their dog to resemble Ghost, character Jon Snow’s white dire wolf. Two years prior to the show’s premier, Huskies ranked 22 on the American Kennel Club (AKC) list of the most popular dogs, but by 2014 the breed had climbed to spot 12 and today holds the 14th spot on the list.
Similar to Dalmatians, Huskies make outstanding companions, but only for those with sufficient time to spend with the high-maintenance breed. In addition to requiring about an hour of exercise daily, Huskies are leash yankers, diggers, howlers, and escape artists, and they don’t appreciate spending time alone.
These qualities contributed, no doubt, to the rise in Huskies surrendered to shelters during the run of the show. In one California county, the number of Husky and Husky mixes in the county shelters nearly tripled between 2013 and 2018, rising from 351 to 1,027. Huskies were already popular, ranking 14 among the AKC’s 193 recognized breeds, but chances are the people who wanted dire wolves got them on impulse—never a great idea when it comes to dog ownership.
Did you know? Though GoT is fantasy, dire wolves existed once upon a time. Canis dirus is an extinct dog breed that resembled the modern wolf, but with a more massive head and jaw; it populated North and South America approximately 300,000 years ago.
Hyped Hounds: Know Your Dog Trends
Movies starring specific dog breeds can influence the popularity of the breed for as long as a decade, according to a 2014 study by researchers from the University of Bristol, Western Carolina University, and City University of New York. Other breeds that became popular, at least in part due to starring turns on the big and small screen, include Old English Sheepdogs (The Shaggy Dog), Collies (Lassie), Pugs (Men In Black), and Chihuahuas (Legally Blonde).
Social media also influences dog breed trends, with stars showing off their fancy dogs on Instagram, and particular dog breeds, such as the Shiba Inu, gaining global internet fame.
A Shiba Inu named Kabosu is the face of the wildly popular ‘Doge’ meme, and another Shiba—Bodhi, the Most Stylish Dog in the World—has 374k Instagram followers who check in to see the dapper dog dressed in men’s fashions. At least anecdotally, the number of Shibas in shelters has grown in the past few years. And it probably won’t come as a surprise that, in addition to its undeniable charm, the breed is highly energetic, sometimes stubborn, and requires consistent socialization.
Before Getting a Trendy Dog—Do Your Research
The truth is, research and an honest assessment of your financial and lifestyle readiness for a dog are essential before you get any pure breed, designer hybrid breed, or mutt. Responsible dog ownership always requires a significant investment of time, energy, and money.
Take the Labrador Retriever—the most popular breed registered with the AKC for 28 years running. This friendly, lovable, easy-to-train dog is the opposite of a trendy, flash-in-the-pan dog, but there’s still an abundance of hard work and loving attention involved in Lab ownership.
Indeed, the most common breeds in shelters after Pit Bulls and Pit Bull mixes are consistently popular breeds, such as Labrador Retrievers, Chihuahuas, Beagles, and German Shepherds—because these breeds make up a large majority of the overall dog population. Shelters and breed-specific rescues will also often describe dogs as Lab-mix, Beagle-mix, or Chihuahua-mix when their exact ancestry is unclear.
Still, an extra measure of careful consideration is in order when you find yourself dreaming of adding a trendy or designer dog to your household: Many come with additional baggage. In the case of Dalmatians and Huskies, common challenges are high energy, substantial exercise demands, and focused training requirements.
For French Bulldogs, the issue is chronic health problems. The breed’s popularity skyrocketed over the last 20 years, climbing from 76th to 4th on the AKC’s ‘Most Popular’ list. Sociable, silly, and low key, Frenchies make wonderful apartment dogs, and gentle, playful family dogs. But they also tend to experience health problems starting at an earlier age than other breeds, and the veterinary visits and procedures add up—leading those who can’t afford the bills to surrender the dog. Common health issues in French Bulldogs include respiratory problems due to their brachycephalic (flat) faces, and eye, skin, and digestive disorders.
What About Designer Dogs?
Many purebred dogs began as designer breeds, selectively crossbred over centuries (even millennia) to enhance specific traits, from a keen sense of smell to trainability to endurance.
The genesis of today’s ubiquitous designer or hybrid breeds, however, occurred in Australia in the 1980s when Wally Conron bred the first Labradoodle. He combined a Labrador Retriever and a Poodle purposefully to create a guide dog who was also hypoallergenic. Though he had some success in his goal, Conron expressed regret for the crossbreed because it helped spark the global designer canine trend that today includes Yorkipoos, Puggles, Goldendoodles, and scores of other mashup breeds and tiny teacup dogs.
Many of these breeds now have their own formal dog clubs, and in 2009 the AKC began a new program making mixed-breed dogs eligible for AKC registration, as well as AKC agility and training competitions.
The issue with designer mixes is you can’t control the characteristics that come through in puppies. In the case of Labradoodles, some puppies will have more Poodle qualities, and others will favor their Labrador side; some pups will represent the best qualities of both breeds, and others the most challenging ones. Another concern is unethical designer dog breeders producing litters without proper genetic testing to ensure the health of the puppies.
As the numbers of these designer dogs grew, predictably, they began showing up in shelters. In the case of Puggles (Pug/Beagle hybrids), many owners wanted a low-key dog like a Pug, and the undeniable cuteness of the mix, but ended up with an energetic dog with the temperament of a Beagle.
When buying a purebred dog or a hybrid breed, it’s essential you select a reputable breeder who is upfront about genetic and health testing.
Dogs shouldn’t be treated like fast fashion—those styles you love one season and discard the next. Take your time choosing a dog breed or designer dog, or visit your local animal shelter or rescue to find the perfect (if mysterious) mixed breed. Ask yourself the tough questions to determine if you’re ready for a dog or had better wait. Consider spreading the word among friends and family that you’re willing to dogsit during vacations so you can experience the reality of day-to-day dog ownership.
When you decide with care, chances are you won’t ever have to make the tough decision to surrender your dog. And your best friend will be in vogue through every season of your life together.