Snub-Nosed Dogs More Affectionate

New research may help explain the growing obsession in some countries with short-nosed dogs.

Besides their owners finding them cute, short-nosed dogs are more affectionate and make better guard dogs than long-nosed dogs, a new study suggests.

The research, published recently in the journalPLOS ONE may help explain the growing obsession in some countries, including Australia, with short-nosed dogs.

Animal welfare experts are concerned about evidence that such dogs suffer health effects and are more likely to die younger than dogs with longer noses.

Dogs are given breed awards for extreme features such as flat faces, but the flatter the faces, the more breathing problems there are, often leading to a need for surgery, said Professor Paul McGreevy, an animal behaviour and animal welfare expert at the University of Sydney, who co-authored the new study.

"If people accept short-skulled dogs are likely to cost more, suffer health problems and die earlier, then there must be something else that gets people across the line," Professor McGreevy said.

"Yes the dogs look cute, but I think it's their beguiling behaviour that compensates for the disadvantages of owning them."

There are more than 400 recorded dog breeds of all shapes and sizes, ranging from chihuahuas that are just 20 centimetres high and two kilograms in weight, to Newfoundlands that can reach 70 centimetres and weigh 60 kilograms.

Skull length varies from seven to 28 centimetres in length.

At the short and wide end of the spectrum are the pugs, bulldogs, French and British bulldogs - the so-called brachycephalic dogs.

Then there are the dolichocephalic dogs, with long narrow heads like greyhounds, whippets and Afghans.

In a previous study of 8,000 dogs, McGreevy and colleagues found that small dogs are more likely to be aggressive, unruly and prone to 'humping' compared to larger dogs.

In their latest research, they have analysed data over 60,000 dogs, covering 45 breeds, to examine the relationship between a dog's physical characteristics and its behaviour, assessed using over 60 standardised tests.

Confirming some of the results of the earlier smaller study, the researchers found that, independent of a dog's size, the shape of its skull also strongly influences behaviour.

The latest study found short-nosed dogs were more likely to be affectionate and follow commands than dogs with pointy faces. They were also more likely to chase a toy being lured around the ground, which meant they could be easier to train.

But when threatened by a strange presence, short-nosed dogs were more likely to have the characteristics of a good guard dog - demonstrating defensive aggression such as biting, barking and lunging at a human standing under a sheet, or a cardboard cut-out of a human.

By contrast, dogs with long pointy faces were more likely to be shy and cautious and less aggressive towards strangers, Professor McGreevy said.

"This helps explain why greyhounds don't generally excel as guard dogs and Afghans tend to be aloof, less playful and more fearful than shorter-skulled dogs."

Apart from their behaviour, short-nosed dogs are likely to be more appealing to humans - and hence the star of toilet paper adverts - because the shape of their skull means they have more forward-facing eyes that are spaced further apart, said Professor McGreevy.

He said it's also likely their vision is more like a human's and there is also some evidence that they are better than the long-skulled dogs at following a human's pointing.

But, said Professor McGreevy, the latest evidence shows there is more to our love for these dogs than cuteness.

The issue is, while snub-nosed pooches might be more fun to be with and make better guard dogs,growing concern over their health effects is pause for thought, he said.

"The Norwegian Kennel Club has said that because of the health problem in short-skulled dogs, they're going to change the breed standards so the dogs won't be so short-skulled after all," Professor McGreevy said.

He said while the increasing popularity of short-nosed dogs may well be because most people want dogs to be friendly, good with children and trainable, there is a trade-off to be made.

"We also want long-lived dogs and we're not getting that if we follow this trend," he said.

Facial expressions among social animals appear to have universal qualities, to the point where humans and other animals can discern how certain species feel just by looking at their faces. That's the suggestion in two new studies -- published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior and PLOS ONE -- that help explain how humans can have such close, understanding relationships with animals such as dogs and horses, the subjects of the investigations. The research confirmed, through animal behavioral analysis, the underlying meaning of dog and horse facial expressions and also demonstrated that people have a natural knack for figuring out what they mean. For example, "this dog is experiencing a positive emotional state, as his owner has just come back," Emanuela Dalla Costa told Discovery News. She led both studies and is a researcher in the Department of Veterinary Science and Public Health at the Università degli Studi di Milano. She explained that the dog’s eyes are wide open, as is his mouth, yet his facial muscles are somewhat tense. Together, these features and others suggest that he is happy, eager and hopeful.

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Here is another happy dog. In this case, Dalla Costa explained, the dog's "lips are retracted, but with no exposure of the teeth." The dog is thrilled that its owner has just returned and eagerly looks to the human for guidance.

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This poor pooch "is tense, due to the departure of his owner," Dalla Costa said. Every part of the dog's face is turned in the direction of his owner's recent exit, maximizing the pup's ability to find him. The dog's eyes and tense mouth convey his worry and loneliness.

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This dog's gaze is riveted on its owner, who is holding food. "This emotional condition is considered positive, and we can assume that this dog is happy," said Dalla Costa, adding that "there is no visible tension in the facial muscles." Even though the eyes, ears and face are pointed in one direction, just as they were for the worried and lonely dog in the previous slide, this hopeful canine feels no anxiety.

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Every aspect of this dog’s face communicates concern and worry. "The mouth is opened and the dog is panting," Dalla Costa said. "The dog’s lips are partly drawn back, with no teeth exposure. The facial muscles show some degree of tension, visible through ridges that emerge on the lateral side of the face and near the eyes." His ears are up, yet not fully open, an indication that he’s attentive but also worried.

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If this dog could talk, the canine would likely be saying, "Oh, please -- feed me." The photo was snapped as the dog looked longingly at its owner, who was holding a favorite food treat. Dalla Costa explained that there is no visible tension in the dog’s face. Its expression cleverly communicates desire and gentleness, while also revealing a sense of hopeful expectation.

Horse expressions, meanwhile, share similar qualities with dogs. This horse, similar to the dogs happily looking at their owners, is attentive and awaiting direction. "The eyes are open and focused on the environment, ears are moving in the direction of sounds, and there is no muscle tension in the mouth," said Dalla Costa.

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This unfortunate horse was photographed while in pain, which, thankfully, turned out to be only temporary. In this moment, however, Dalla Costa noted that the horse's ears are in a sideways position. Its eyes are partially closed, and its "chewing muscles are strained and prominent." Even the horse’s nostrils are stiff over its tightly shut mouth.

While perhaps not as uncomfortable as the previous horse, this horse was also photographed while experiencing temporary, minor discomfort. In this case, the horse’s nostrils are wide open, while its lower lip is drawn back. Even its "ears are held passively backward," Dalla Costa said.

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This horse is completely relaxed. "There is no tension in the mouth and in the chewing muscles," said Dalla Costa. "The nostrils are relaxed." The horse was happy to be chilling out on a pleasant day in an open field.