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Citation: Sandøe P, Kondrup SV, Bennett PC, Forkman B, Meyer I, Proschowsky HF, et al. (2017) Why do people buy dogs with potential welfare problems related to extreme conformation and inherited disease? A representative study of Danish owners of four small dog breeds. PLoS ONE 12(2): e0172091.
Competing interests: Helle Friis Proschowsky has a potential conflict of interest in that she works for the Danish Kennel Club, which has clear vested interest in breeding of purebred dogs. However, Helle Friis Proschowsky has had no final say in any matters that could relate to this potential conflict of interest. Also, this potential conflict of interest does not alter our adherence to PLOS ONE policies on sharing data and materials.
Different explanations have been proposed regarding the apparent paradox, that people buy breeds of dog that are predisposed to diseases and other welfare problems, while at the same time caring deeply about their dogs. One line of thought is that prospective dog owners, prior to acquisition, are not fully aware of the potential problems their dog may face. It is also possible that dog owners simply do not perceive the clinical signs of some inherited disorders as problems, but rather as normal, breed-specific characteristics . Alternatively, it could be that, when choosing a suitable breed, other characteristics of the dog may be considered more important than its health and welfare . Dogs with extreme physical features may possess qualities that matter to their owners to such an extent that they outshine any health and other welfare problems faced by the dogs.
The specific relationship between owner and dog could further explain why certain animals are more likely to become objects of human attraction . In this context, Archer and Monton  discovered a positive correlation between owner attachment to their dogs or cats and preferences for images of animals with infant features (large forehead, large and low-lying eyes, and bulging cheeks). Hoffman and others  and Serpell  also found that some behavioral characteristics are related to levels of owner attachment to their dogs, although Ghirlanda and others  found no evidence that breed-related differences in behavior influenced the popularity of different breeds.
More than half of the Cairn Terriers that enter the DDR have a DKC pedigree. The percentage for Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and French Bulldogs is 30% and 20% respectively, while less than 10% of Chihuahuas have a DKC pedigree (H. F. Proschowsky, personal communication).
The invitation letter specified to the respondent that the study aimed to cast light on the owner-dog relationship and to gain knowledge as to why and how people choose a dog, so that future dog owners could get relevant guidance in their choice of dogs. In the questionnaire, respondents were asked about socio-demographic details, whether he/she had had a pet earlier in life, descriptive details about the dog (e.g. breed, current age, purchase price), possible welfare problems, the choice of dog and breed, their expectations of a good dog, daily life with and care of the dog, expenses of the dog, owner-dog attachment, whether there were other dogs in the household and about intended future procurement of a dog. An overview of the entire questionnaire is provided in Table 2. Respondents were instructed to have the specific dog in mind they had registered with the DDR during the last five years when responding to the dog-related questions. If they had more than one dog of the same breed, which were registered in the same period, they were instructed to have the oldest of these dogs in mind. This was done to make sure that possible respondents that procured a dog of the same breed after October 2014 would not think of that dog.
Out of the 3000 recruitment letters distributed, no contact was made with 364 persons at the registered address, primarily because the addressee had moved, or due to an unknown address being supplied (registered by the Danish Postal service in a return letter). Of the remaining 2636 individuals, 911 responded to the questionnaire (796 web responses and 115 postal responses), giving an overall response rate of 35%. After removal of 24 owners who reported that they neither currently nor earlier had owned one of the four dogs, there were 883 respondents (see Table 3). The response rate varied across owners of the four dog breeds: Cairn Terriers, 45%; Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, 33%; Chihuahuas, 23%; and French Bulldogs, 31%.
Owners of Cairn Terriers appeared to be less inclined to acquire knowledge from books and professionals than owners of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and French Bulldogs (results from poisson regression where Cairn Terriers were set to reference value). Conversely, owners of Cairn Terriers seemed to rely on prior experience with this breed to a much greater extent (45.9%) than was the case with owners of other breeds. Owners of Cairn terriers and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels were significantly more likely to have obtained their dog as a puppy directly from a breeder, while owners of Chihuahuas and, to some extent, French Bulldogs tended to acquire their dogs from a previous owner.
Owners of French Bulldogs were more inclined to report that their dog had experienced gastrointestinal and skin problems many times (that did not require veterinary treatment) compared to owners of the other three dog breeds. Owners of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels had the second highest level of experiences with skin problems with their dogs (that did not require veterinary treatment) and they were on a similar level to owners of French Bulldogs when veterinary treatment was necessary. Owners of Chihuahuas and French Bulldogs were more inclined to report that their dog had experienced respiratory problems many times (that did not require veterinary treatment) compared to owners of the other two breeds. Apart from gastrointestinal problems that did not require veterinary treatment, owners of Cairn Terriers had the lowest or second lowest rates of experience with the different health issues outlined in Table 7.
Owners of French Bulldogs reported the highest expenses for veterinary care and owners of Cairn Terriers the lowest after adjustment for dog age (Table 8). A high percentage (81.2%) of owners of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels had visited the veterinarian in order to obtain a health check for their dog within the last year, which represents the highest proportion among owners in this study. Owners of French Bulldogs showed the lowest proportion in this respect (67.0%), Cairn Terriers the second lowest (70.5%), and Chihuahuas the second highest (72.7%), although owners of French Bulldogs reported the highest number of incidents of sudden illness or injury (29.2%) compared to Cavalier King Charles Spaniels (18.8%), Chihuahuas (16.1%), and Cairn Terriers (13.4%). Owners of French Bulldogs also reported the highest number of incidents involving chronic/long term illness demanding veterinary treatment (8.6%) compared to Cavalier King Charles Spaniels (5.5%), Chihuahuas (4.2%), and Cairn Terriers (4.0%). Owners of Chihuahuas reported the highest level of treatment for dental problems including tooth cleaning (32.9%) compared to Cavalier King Charles Spaniels (16.5%), Cairn Terriers (11.1%), and French Bulldogs (4.3%).
The two dog breeds with extreme physical features included in this study have enjoyed immense popularity during the last decade, which could be a sign of more general trends in preferences for some types of dogs: for example, a trend that celebrates the fashionability of the dog rather than its functional attributes .
That humans can and do form strong attachments to animals is widely accepted in the literature on human-animal relations, although theoretical consistency in relation to the ideas, concepts, and definitions that underpin attachment to companion animals is lacking . Previous studies have examined connections between different human and dog characteristics and levels of attachment between owners and their dogs but no coherent picture has emerged from this line of research. Dotson and Hyatt  found that owners of purebred dogs have stronger attachments to their dogs, while Marinelli and others  found the opposite.
The results from the current study suggest that one possible reason for these differing results is that purebred dogs are not a homogeneous category. Instead, different breeds may be acquired for different reasons and, hence, the level and type of attachment may be expected to differ even within groups of purebred dogs of similar size and function.
Among owners of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and French Bulldogs in this study, the distinctive appearance of the dogs was shown to be one motivational factor relevant for dog acquisition that was also found to be correlated with the level of owner-dog attachment. We did not differentiate between specific physical features in detail in our survey but, since owners of French Bulldogs and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels showed significant preferences for the distinctive appearances of their dog compared to what was found among owners of the other two dog breeds, we have reason to implicate selection for neotenic or paedomorphic features in these breeds. 041b061a72