Flat-faced dogs and cats’ helplessness makes them more attractive

Helpless flat-faced dogs and cats are attractive because of their helplessness. Flat faced brachycephalic dogs and cats behave like toddlers which attracts the nurturing desire in their human caregiver which in turn makes the animals more attractive as companions.
Flat faced brachycephalic dogs and cats behave like toddlers which attracts the nurturing desire in their human caregiver which in turn makes the animals more attractive as companions. Image: MikeB.
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STUDY RESULT PLUS COMMENT: Dorottya Ujfalussy from the Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary, has decided in her study that flat-faced dogs (and I’m going to include flat-faced cats) are more attractive to their owners because they are more helpless. And in being more helpless they are more like human toddlers who are themselves helpless in need parental help and guidance. So here we have a ‘helplessness factor’ in the attractiveness of a companion animal. This infant-like dog behavior is called: paedomorphism.

And if this conclusion is true and I certainly believe that it is, it points once again to how cat and dog owners relate to their companion animals as babies or toddlers and certainly family members.

Her research also concluded that this isn’t just a perception issue. They did some tests and found that after 60 seconds, 90% of conventionally-snouted dogs (in this case the Hungarian Mudis – mesocephalic heads) had succeeded in completing a specific task. The task was to work out how to open a box containing food rewards. Only half i.e. 50% of the French and English bulldogs cracked the problem. These breeds have brachycephalic heads (round heads and flat-faces).

Often they hardly made an attempt. Dorottya Ujfalussy said that they would try once or twice and then give up. And when they gave up, they looked at their owner for help, which would appear to be the key moment which provided evidence to the researchers that the dogs deliberately sought help from their owner who delivered the help rather than work out the problem themselves.

Frenchie struggles with test
Frenchie struggles with test. Image: the study (see base of article for link)

Brachycephalic breeds oriented less at the problem box and more at humans present. In summary, the short-headed breeds were less successful but oriented much more toward humans than mesocephalic dogs. 

Dorottya Ujfalussy – lead scientist in the study.

Perhaps these dogs had learnt to obtain their owner’s help as it was an easier route to problem solving. This in turn can make a dog more pampered and less able. But it appears that being less able than your average dog is not a barrier to being loved. It isn’t a barrier to being attractive to the human. Quite the contrary, it probably makes the dogs more attractive.

It’s all about the human desire to nurture offspring and if they relate to their dog or cat as a child or a baby it will draw out of their owner this nurturing desire which is a pleasant activity to a person. It makes the relationship between human and dog stronger.

All this leads to the fact that the French Bulldog was, to the best of my knowledge, the most desirable dog breed in the UK during and post-Covid. The French Bulldog is a breed of Covid-19. It became famous almost and certainly the most popular dog breed during and after Covid-19.

I have brought together the French Bulldog and the flat-based Persian or contemporary Persian in the image above. I think you can do this because they are both flat-faced which imports into the animal many health problems which are no barrier to being loved and purchased. Owners report that they buy them for their personality but I think that they buy them also because they are baby-like. They are helpless.

It isn’t just their intelligence or lack of it which is baby-like but their appearance also. The round eyes and round heads come to mind.

It is said that the bulldog’s health problems are so severe that their typical life expectancy is less than five years, which is an extraordinary admission of failure in the breeding process. An admission of failure by the kennel clubs which manage the breed standards insisting upon these flat-faced animals.

Dorottya Ujfalussy said that, “People like them, we think, because they are like children to them. They tap into our inborn tendency to nurture”.

But she added that it is “so heartbreaking sometimes to see that they want to run, but they cannot because they cannot get enough oxygen. Living with an unhealthy individual you love is heartbreaking.”

I fully agree with her but as I mentioned the health of the companion animal to many owners is secondary to the appearance.

The study compared the competence i.e. the problem-solving abilities, of 30 flat-faced French and English bulldogs with 15 of conventionally-snouted dogs which in this instance was the Hungarian Mudis.

Dorottya Ujfalussy concluded that because the flat-based dogs lacked the necessary grit or determination to complete the task that this was an attractive trait making them more like toddlers. Dorottya Ujfalussy wasn’t sure whether this was selectively bred into the breed or whether it comes from life experience “where they get this positive feedback from not doing anything. Because they look like babies, we do everything for them.”

Study published in the journal: Scientific Reports. Link: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-023-41229-8

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