Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Decline in Kids & Rise of Small Dogs is Not New

- 1967 - 

Over at Quartz, they note that Americans are having dogs instead of babies, and that low fertility might be one reason that more and more Americans are embracing dogs in general, and small dogs in particular (but NOT AKC dogs, it should be said).
The fewer babies Americans give birth to, the more small dogs they seem to buy.

Birth rates in the US have fallen from nearly 70 per 1,000 women in 2007, to under 63 last year — a 10% tumble. American women birthed almost 400,000 fewer little humans in 2013 than they did six years before. The drop-off has come exclusively among 15- to 29-year-olds.

The article goes on to note that:
Meanwhile, the ownership of small dogs — that is, pets weighing no more than 20 pounds (9 kilograms) — is doing just the opposite. Americans have been buying more and more small dogs each year since 1999. The population of little canines more than doubled in the US over that period, and is only projected to continue upwards, according to data from market research firm Euromonitor.

“You do not have to go to many pet shows to realize that the numbers of small and tiny dogs are on the increase,” a report by Pets International opened in 2010 (pdf).

And rightly so. The number of small dogs has grown so fast that they are now the most popular kind nationwide.

In their rush to find correlation and assume causality, the authors of this piece miss the fact the the broad data trends they are reporting on are not exactly new.

U.S. fertility has been low since the early 1970s.  In fact, it has been hovering around replacement rate now for more than 40 years

As for the shifting of births to a later age, that trend has an even longer tail, and is occurring all over the world.

So what about the rise of small dogs? Again, nothing new.  As the November, 1936 issue of Popular Science magazine noted:

DOGS are getting smaller. Subject to style trends, the same as clothing, automobiles, and houses, they are adapting themselves — or, rather, being adapted — to the changed conditions of modern life.

People today are demanding dogs that can live in small homes or apartments, and ride in automobiles, without crowding out their human companions; dogs that can keep fit with a minimum of exercise; smart, good-natured dogs, and—an important consideration, sometimes—dogs that will not eat their masters out of house and home.To meet these new requirements, breeders are applying scientific principles of heredity in bringing out the desired qualities.

... Largely as a result of the demand for smaller dogs, the Boston terrier, one of the only three breeds actually originated in the United States, today leads all others in American Kennel Club registrations. Next come three other small breeds, the cocker spaniel, the wire-haired fox terrier, and the Scotish terrier. As recently as 1926, the German shepherd, often loosely called a “police dog,” ranked first; but it is now in twentieth place, possibly because the depression made owners more conscious of the cost of dog food.

Through selective breeding, experts have been meeting the demands for smaller dogs, dogs which eat less and can be kept more economically; dogs which need less exercise, and therefore retain better health in cramped quarters. The motor age has restricted the exercise of dogs even more than that of men. It has created a need for breeds which remain in good physical condition when they are walked only on a leash, or at best in close company of their owners, instead of being allowed to run free. Thousands of motorists want dogs adapted to riding in cars instead of to loping for miles alongside horse-drawn coaches.

So what is driving the advent of small dogs?

Well, to be clear, it is not ALL small dogs that are rising in popularity is it? No, it's small dogs that are featured in the handbags of young starlets -- mostly Chihuahuas, with a smattering of other breeds and mixes of the same tossed in for diversity: Toy Poodles, Maltese, Pugs, Shi Tzus, Dachshunds, Yorkies, Chinese Cresteds, Pomeranians, Italian Greyhounds, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. There's been no surge in Welsh or Australian Terriers that I can see.  Who wants a dog that needs all that exercise?

No, what people want, as I have noted in the past, is a dog that fits in with their increasingly frenetic urban and suburban lifestyles:

In the era of schooners and candles, when people lived on large farms with slow traffic, things were probably a little bit easier. Back then a large dog could sleep in the barn and roam more-or-less at will.

Now a lot of folks live in condominiums and multi-story apartment buildings surrounded by six-lanes of traffic. Others are retirees looking for less work. The result is a growing market for small dogs that are as easy to take care of as a cat.

In fact, what is wanted today is a dog that acts like a cat, and a cat that acts like a dog.

The market rushes in to supply whatever people want and will pay money for, and so today we have all kinds of crosses being created or experimented with, a situation that creates some angst among low-society eugenicists who sniff that these new crosses are nothing more than mongrels, a line that is met with roars of laughter by anyone who knows anything about dogs.

The true history of most dog breeds is one of "backyard breeders" creating contrived names and fake histories for their dogs and producing enough of the dogs in a short enough period (a puppy mill by any name) to create a "class" of dogs to fill a Kennel Club ring.

And it's not like the Kennel Club breeds cannot be improved by a little outcrossing!

The Yorkie has such serious teeth problems that they invariably require attention from expensive veterinary dentists.

The Pug's bulging eyes make it prone to eye injury, and nearly every one of them is born caesarian.

The Toy Poodle is a barker and often mentally unbalanced.

Dachshunds are prone to serious back and joint problems.

Papillons and Chihuahuas have all kinds of health problems, not the least of which are that their bones may be so light they can break jumping off the couch.

The Lhasa Apso is a walking mop requiring more grooming than a Hollywood starlet, and is often a mental case as well.

So things wobble down the plank as they always have. 

Old breeds are "improved" by the the Kennel Club to the point of failure, and then they are tossed onto the dust heap of history, or else they are "saved" by being outcrossed, recreated, relabeled, and removed from the Kennel Club system altogether.

Fertility continues to fall as women get more education, better jobs, higher pay, and improved access to the tools they need to control their own destiny, and as farms fall to freeways, and workers are replaced by robots.

And, of course, the world is more mobile than it has ever been.  People are getting their own places at younger ages, living in cities or else commuting long distances to the suburbs. These same people are taking vacations across borders, and also working late in order to afford rising rents and jaw-dropping gas prices.

And, of course, everyone is getting fatter and more sedentary thanks, in no small part, to the fact that so many of us are spending more than 12 hours a day attached to a screen of some sort -- desk top computer, cell phone, television, Kindle, or IPad.

Does it help that more and more of us are eating semi-prepared convenience foods loaded with fats, sugars, and salt and served in single-serving containers that are actually large enough to feed a family of four?
It does not.

And so, as time goes on, we want dogs that pack small, that can be boarded on the cheap, that spend all day napping, and that, like us, get exhausted by simply jumping up on to the couch.

And the market gives us what we want.  Same as it always has.


Michael said...

The Onion had fun with this.

Jennifer said...

It would be good to have meaningful statistics on dog size. The 1936 article you quote says the Boston is #1 in AKC registrations. If you look at more recent data you find the Labrador has held the #1 spot for at least a decade, the GSD is now #2, and the golden #3, while the Boston is #23. The first small dog on the list is the Yorkie at #6. But with mixed breeds outnumbering pedigree dogs, it's hard to get a clear picture.