Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Jay Gould’

bulldogs and baby

It’s actually very deeply rooted in our biology.

Humans find things that somewhat resemble our infants appealing.

The main reason why we find human babies cute is those features we believe are cute– large eyes and brachycephaly– are actually features that cause humans to care for them.

Stephen Jay Gould contended that this is why Disney’s cartoonists drew their characters in such a way. Mickey Mouse looks very cute to us, even though he really doesn’t resemble any kind of known mouse or rat species.

Gould borrowed heavily from Lorenz, who contended that our reaction to figures resembling human babies was so strong that it often has consequences in how we view animals. Camels are seen as aloof and haughty, while in German, the words for rabbit, squirrel, and robin (European robin, which is quite cute) all automatically have the diminutive suffix chen in their names.

Now, this is a very interesting way of looking at human behavior in regard to art, but it’s much more disconcerting when one looks at how it has affected dog breeding.

Gould supplies this depiction to make his point:

gould juvenile


In the third row, you see two dogs. One of which could be an English toy spaniel, and the other could be a smooth-coated saluki.

Humans tend to find dogs like the one on the left more appealing, which may be one reason virtually all domestic dogs have shorter muzzles in proportion to their skulls than wolves do.  Sighthounds and anomalies like bull terriers are notable exceptions.

Now, there are many different postulates about why dogs tend to have shorter muzzles than wolves, but the one that seems to be driving the extreme brachycephaly we see in modern breeds is the same one that makes us love Mickey Mouse.

I’m not immune to this appeal. I  find French bulldogs and Boston terriers unbelievably cute. I think it may be that having been around a much more naturally looking bulldog type (a boxer/golden retriever cross) that I happened to have known from the time she was a tiny puppy, I find dogs that remind me of her as a puppy bring back happy memories.

So it’s both my biology and my history of associations that make me find this sort of dog cute.

Now, the problem is that dog DNA is actually a very malleable medium.

Dog breeders are actually skilled sculptors who do nothing be mold DNA, and the elasticity in dog phenotype is unbelievable.

We’ve been able to breed so many unusual features into dogs so rapidly that we’ve not had time to take stock of what we’ve been doing.

That’s one reason why we have so many dogs with such extreme brachycephaly that they cannot breathe, cool, or clean themselves properly.

And it’s also why it’s almost impossible to have a rational conversation with a breeder of a bulldog about the many problems this breed has.

The dogs are just too cute to be changed.

We’re fighting human biology run amok on dogs.


Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: