AS YOU can imagine the breed registration list for 2014 left me feeling thoroughly miserable at the contrasting but equally depressing fate of two of my favourite breeds.
Until about ten years ago the French Bulldog was a specialist breed hovering just above what we would now regard as a ‘vulnerable’ level. Ten years later and they register twenty times more puppies. They passed a thousand registrations in 2008, two thousand two years later, four thousand in 2012, nearly seven thousand the next year, and 9,670 in 2014, doubling in two years.
This means that they are now the fourth most registered breed in the UK, and not very far behind the third, the English Springer.
You only have to plot these figures on a piece of graph paper to see how terrifying they are, and the obvious question is where will it end?
Sixty years ago, the same thing was happening to the Pembroke Corgi, albeit at a slightly slower pace. The breed was recognised during the ‘20s, gradually built up numbers and received a big boost when the royal family took them on.
Unlike for many breeds, even the war didn’t make much difference and the breed’s constant presence in the news ensured that its real rise started in 1943 and then exploded up to 1960 when it peaked at nearly 9,000.
Then it gradually began to decrease to more comfortable levels of popularity, but the decrease never halted and after teetering on the brink for a few years in 2014 the Pembroke has finally joined the ‘vulnerable native’ list with just 274 puppies registered.
What I will never understand is – why? Why does a breed explode in popularity? Why does another fall out of favour?
One thing to bear in mind is that the figures represent the supply, not the demand. Indications are that the public still like the Pembroke and there is still a considerable demand for them, but just very few people breeding them!
If, say, a thousand of them were bred each year, I would be surprised, personally, if there was much difficulty in finding good homes for them. So probably the real question to ask if not, ‘why isn’t the Pembroke popular nowadays,’ but ‘why aren’t more people breeding them?’
You can ask a similar question about the Frenchie, in this case ‘why are so many people breeding them?’ And indeed importing them, for an amazingly high proportion of the registrations are of dogs bred abroad, especially in Eastern Europe.
Some will be bred by ‘proper’ breeders who genuinely love the breed and want to do their best for it. Many more, I suspect the big majority, will be bred by those who have spied a chance to make a quick buck (or thousands of bucks). For that they rely on being able to sell all the pups and inevitably the time will come when the supply overtakes demand, an even more frightening prospect than the current situation.
Why the Frenchie? When the Pembroke started its big rise there was an obvious reason. But I cannot thing of any one event which drew the public’s attention to the Frenchie. Yes it’s a charming breed, usually with a delightful temperament, easy coat care, needing moderate exercise and usually a sensible size. But it does have its issues which the breed clubs, especially the parent club, are working hard to deal with through an excellent health scheme, but one has to wonder how many of the ‘breeders’ take note and how many buyers are properly briefed?
The breed has seen various celebrities get one, but that seems to be more a result of its new high profile rather than the cause. Similarly you can see its cute face on all sorts of products in high street stores but again I don’t think it can be said to be the starting point.
I suspect it’s probably just a cumulative combination of circumstances, coupled with it being easier now to obtain breeding stock. In the past the few serious breeders were always very particular where their puppies went but gradually more prolific (usually non-show) breeders managed to get hold of bitches and then the opening up of the borders helped things snowball.
And for Pembrokes, why did the opposite happen? The breed is just as delightful as it ever was, temperaments if anything more reliable than in the days when the press delighted in reporting that a palace footman had his heels nipped! Health issues are fewer than in many breeds, size is sensible, grooming not a major question, not that that seems to make any difference to whether a breed is popular or not.
We did have the docking ban to contend with which perhaps detracted a bit from the breed’s identity, and certainly led to some senior breeders retiring a little earlier that they might otherwise have done. But basically the Pem’s decline is as hard to understand as the Frenchie’s rise.