Hollywood’s Impact on Dog Breed Popularity

Photo Credit: Annie McManus on Flicker under CC - A Belgian Malinois named Jagger plays the title role in the recently released movie, Max. As the story goes, the canine character Max has served in Afghanistan, and is returned to the United States after his Marine handler/partner is killed in action. Max, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, becomes part of a coming of age story for the killed Marine’s younger brother.

Max is pegged to be a summer blockbuster, although the reviews I’ve read have been mixed. Regardless of its popularity Max will undoubtedly create an, “I must have a Belgian Malinois phenomenon.” Any time Hollywood unleashes a new dog movie, a “breed du jour” is created. This phenomenon appears to be an ingrained cultural dynamic, no different than other fads gleaned from the movies such as clothing fashions, hairstyles and even baby names.

Scientific evidence

Three researchers from the University of Bristol, the City University of New York, and Western Carolina University recently conducted a study titled, “Dog Movie Stars and Dog Breed Popularity: A Case Study in Media Influence on Choice.” They looked at 87 movies released between 1927 and 2004, all of which featured dogs. By evaluating American Kennel Club (AKC) registration trends, the researchers confirmed that movies do indeed have a lasting impact on breed popularity, in some cases, for up to ten years.

The duration and intensity of the rise in breed popularity was shown to correlate with the movie’s success, particularly during its opening weekend. The researchers found that the top ten movies were associated with changes in AKC registration trends such that approximately 800,000 more dogs were registered in the ten years after movie release than would have been expected from pre-release trends. Lassie Come Home was associated with a 40 percent increase in Collie registrations during the two years following its release in 1943. The Shaggy Dog, released in 1959, produced a 100-fold increase in Old English Sheepdog registrations.

Concerns within the Belgian Malinois community

In response to the release of Max, Judy Hagen, President of the American Belgian Malinois Club (ABMC) stated, “We are very concerned that the public will see this movie and recognize the intelligence, athleticism and beauty of the Belgian Malinois, but not realize that the dogs currently being featured in movies and television are the result of years of intense training. Living with a Malinois requires a commitment to daily training and exercise. Without this they will find their own activities that will make your life a nightmare of dangerous and destructive behaviors.”

Another ABMC member, Melinda Wichmann stated, “Dedicated Malinois owners joke that Malinois are not just a dog, they’re a lifestyle. Unless you are ready to be a firm leader 24/7/365, Malinois will assume that you are an idiot and that they are in charge.”

The Belgian Malinois rescue community is already bracing for the predicted influx of dogs. Taylor Updike Haywood, Midwest Coordinator for American Belgian Malinois Rescue, reported, “It’s already starting here. People are calling and asking to adopt the Air Jordan of dogs.” It so happens that a movie trailer for Max uses the phrase “Air Jordan of dogs” to describe the breed.

The likely increase in the number of Malinois relinquished to rescue organizations is a valid concern. An impulse purchase of a Malinois without consideration of the breed’s temperament and all that is necessary to successfully train and care for one is bound to produce an unhappy ending. Additionally, unethical breeders taking advantage of the movie-generated demand for Malinois will produce pups without consideration paid to creating good health and temperaments. Yet one more ingredient in a recipe for disaster.

Max and me

I confess to having mixed feelings about seeing Max. I would love to watch it because three of the scenes in this movie were filmed in my very own backyard, DuPont State Recreational Forest. As tempting as this is, there will be no Max for me. I will resist for the following reasons:

  • I’m a major wimp when it comes to seeing animals or young children suffer, even when I know there will be a happy ending.
  • I get tweaked when animal-related things such as their behaviors are inaccurately portrayed in the movies. And, this seems inevitable in Hollywood productions. Don’t even get me started about how veterinarians or scenes of veterinary care are cinematically depicted.
  • Most importantly, I don’t want to contribute to the box office success of Max. The fewer tickets sold, hopefully the fewer impulse purchases of Belgian Malinois.

Impulse adoptions

Purchasing a particular breed of dog based on a reaction to a movie is ill advised. Such an impulse adoption foregoes the important research and preparation necessary to ensure that the dog breed will be a good fit. Think about it, how likely will a Belgian Malinois, the canine king of police and military work, be a suitable pet for the average family?

I encourage you to share this article with the Max moviegoers you know. Together, we can discourage as many of them as possible from thinking they need a Belgian Malinois of their very own.

Of all of the dog movies you’ve seen, which one is your favorite?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.


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21 Comments on “Hollywood’s Impact on Dog Breed Popularity

  1. Did the release of umpteen “Benji” movies spark an interest in shelter dogs or is this phenomena specific to purebreds? Wouldn’t it be nice if Hollywood produced a movie that encouraged an increase in responsible adoptions? Now who would go see that?

    I did see the movie “Max.” While heartwarming on some levels, I detested the dog fights that took place between Max and two Rotties. Just what we need is another demonized breed. As a trainer, I would have refused to put any dog through that regardless of what they were paying me.

  2. Although I am not a Mal person (Corgis for me!), I have tried to help share articles such as this to help educate the folks who will inevitably think they must have a Mal. Many years back, when I lived in a condo, a neighbor bought a Mal pup. The woman was not an outdoor type and the dog NEVER got walks further than the grass patch by her front door. So obviously no socialization either. We were casual friends and while visiting her one day, she showed me all the things she had taught her boy. He was an amazing dog and so badly wanted to work. I could see he was just bursting with energy. I was a the owner of a high energy corgi at the time, taking long, long walks to wear him out and wished I could help the poor Mal by offering to walk him, too. Unfortunately, having no exposure to other dogs, he was too dog aggressive to have near my dog or control on a walk. She had the dog for about three years when he eventually bit her badly. She was now petrified of the dog and tried to find a rescue but none wanted to deal with a biter. So she euthanized that beautiful young dog. I’ve always felt bad that I didn’t do something to help.

  3. I agree with Sue. I also have a “cousin” of the Malinois called a Belgian Tervuren. The national breed website says it’s not a dog for the first, second or even the third time dog owner. My Terv was the first dog of my very own and once I read about her breed I had her in school within a week of getting her. I enjoyed taking her through many, many levels of training for years including conformation, obedience, agility, therapy dog and search & rescue training. My point is that you have to be really committed and have the time to commit as well. The dog will be bored in your living room and will herd your children.

  4. I dreading within the next 6 to 10 months I will a lot young BM’s in our shelter.

    BM’s going go threw what Disney did to Dalmatians, Siberian Huskies and Golden Retrievers!

    If Hollywood have use a dog, use a mix breed from a shelter!

  5. When I was a young teenager (1956), a movie came out called “Goodbye, My Lady.” It was about a Basenji who was lost in the swamps of the Bayou, and found by a young boy. I fell in love with the breed. A couple of years later, our high school had a “dog show” where about 20 purebred dog owners brought their dogs to our school so we could learn about the breeds. One of the dogs was a Basenji and I swore I’d have one some day. When I grew up and got married, I eventually purchased a Basenji puppy from a breeder. I discovered that this breed sounds like the perfect dog – small, clean, easily house-broken, washes himself like a cat, and doesn’t bark. What I didn’t realize was that they are stubborn, difficult to train, destructive, escape artists, and often animal aggressive. My boy was beautiful but he was a serious challenge. I took him to dog shows and after a year, he was 1 point from being a champion. I purchased a female and while she didn’t have most of his behavioral problems, she had challenges of her own. I showed her as well, but although she was gorgeous, she hated shows so I retired both of them and got them “fixed.” I realized that most people who wanted a Basenji had no idea what they were getting. Over the next 25 years, I rescued 9 additional Basenjis. When the last one passed, I adopted an 8 year old Shiba Inu who had been dumped at a shelter because of shedding. It still amazes my how few people really research the breeds they want, even though I was just as guilty when I started out. Sadly, too many of these people end up “getting rid of” the dogs (I hate that phrase!) when problems arise. All of my dogs were furr-ever with me.

  6. Thank you for this Dr. Kay, it rings close to home. Our own Tripawds spokesdog Wyatt is the end result of the “I Am Legend” Will Smith movie craze from a few years ago. Unthinking people went out & bought German Shepherd puppies like crazy, only to dump them at shelters 18 months later when they found out how much work they are. Wyatt is one of 3 GSD Tripawds we know from Oakland CA, all born just after the movie’s release. All of these beautiful dogs ended up being neglected and abused, and although they have great homes now, are still paying the price every single day for Hollywood’s irresponsible portrayal of purebred dogs.

    We SO agree that there needs to be some education about this in movies. It’s scary to think of what will happen to the Malligators that end up in the wrong hands, thanks to this movie. As a result of people’s irresponsible decision to run out and buy them, we’ll surely see breed specific legislation against this beautiful breed very soon.

  7. Yes, I already am concerned about the many Malinois who will be bred quickly just to sell puppies to homes where they are not suited. What a mess it will be. People just don’t know and others wanting to make a quick buck will jump on the chance to profit.
    My brother-in-law has researched the breed and IS very suited to purchase, own and train a Mainois. While he was visiting us here in Va from Florida, I was able to have him meet a local law enforcement officer who has a 9 month old male Malinois she is raising. She was able to give him many valuable tips and a few excellent breeders/trainers to contact, one of who is in Florida! Even with doing your homework and being cautious, it would still be possible to purchase a dog who would not be a real representative of the breed. It is sad to see the dogs suffer from the public’s lack of knowledge about a breed and it’s needs. Get a rescue and save a life! I have three great rescue dogs and am always happy to help anyone searching for one suited for them/their family.

  8. I love the movie “UP” for a lot of reasons but specifically for the dog hero, Doug, the dorky but courageous mutt who saves the day and wins his “forever home.” My Basset hound / golden retriever cross is the spitting image of Doug, both in appearance and temperament. He would have been “Doug” instead of “Beau” if I’d seen the movie first.

  9. Sorry, in my previous communique I called the play “The Brownings of Wimpole Street. It should have been “THE BARRETTS of Wimpole Street”, in case anyone wants to look for it on Google…

  10. At the turn of the century a Broadway play showed in New York, titled :The Brownings of Wimpole Street”, the story of the love and elopement of Elizabeth Barrett with Robert Browning, both poets. Elizabeth Barrett owned a little Cocker Spaniel named Flash and the public went crazy – everybody wanted a Cocker. Breeders also went crazy and started grinding them out like cheap sausages, for the money, of course, in the process breeding the brains and the sweet temperament and health out of them, and bad temper and physical ailments into them. We have not heard much about “Cocker Rage” or “Spaniel Rage” until then. But they were beautiful and also became the subjects of painters and photographers. No one cared how the breed suffered because of this.

    Next subject, the AHA and its supervision – mere nonsense. They do NOT supervise how the animals in entertainments are treated AFTER they are off-camera, how they are trained for the camera and almost invariably when an animal attacks a human handler on the set, be it indoors or outside, you will find with some research that the animal was overworked, tired, exhausted, thirsty or im-handled in some way.

    I do NOT see any movies or plays with animals, I do NOT go to any circus that uses animals in any way. Regardless of what you may think of other rescues , the slogan they go by “animals are not here to entertain us” is soooooo correct!

  11. The Ugly Dachshund
    · 1966 · 1hr 33min · Family
    IMDb 6.6/10
    Fran Garrison’s all in a tizzy because her prize Dachshund, Danke, is having pups, and she has hopes of one of the pups becoming a champion. But at the vet’s, her husband Mark is talked into letting Danke wet nurse a Great Dane pup that’s been abandoned by his mother. And Mark wants to keep the Great Dane. But Brutus has this problem: he thinks he’s a dachshund and he’s too big to be a lapdog. But when Fran ridicules Brutus one too many times, Jim’s got a plan to prove to everyone (and Fran) that a great Dane can be far more than just an ugly dachshund.
    Release date: Feb 16, 1966
    Director: Norman Tokar
    Production companies: The Walt Disney Company · Walt Disney Pictures

  12. You left out one of the most long going Hollywood treatments of breeds: Dalmatians! Those of us who are involved with Dalmatian rescue are still reeling with the aftereffects of every Disney release of the 101 Dalmatians movies. I hope the Malinois breeders and rescuers learn from what we have had to cope with, and can do a better job of regulating the BYBs and educating the public.

  13. I can remember potential clients telling me stories about how much their dog was just like Marley. I didn’t find that funny because it meant to me that the dog was practicing lots of behaviors we now will have to untrain. It is a big difference between a scene or two to watch and living with it 24/7 and no end in sight.

    If given a chance to first time owners, I suggest people opt for a stupid dog, not ultra smart breed right out of the box. I mention how the smarties tend to create their own job, that you need to be thinking about what or where the dog will be getting into 20 feet from right now. And, this lasts for years and years – so do you want to live like this or do you want a dog who looks at you and says “How high?” instead of “Why?” when you ask it to jump.

  14. I have two favorite movies involving dogs. My first thought was The Incredible Journey about the two dogs and one cat that find their way back home to their masters….I still cry when I watch Shadow come limping over the hill and into the loving arms of his young boy. The other is an oldie called Where the Red Fern Grows. I read the book first and then watched the movie. It was another tear jerker, but a wonderful story.
    Being that I am in animal control and are under the supervision of the police department, I see the Malinios in action and with their handlers. They are a very prey driven and love their job.
    I preach the same speech to folks who come into the animal shelter looking to adopt a labrador retriever. I explain to them what will become of their belongings if the dog does not get the appropriate amount of exercise and discipline. I have saved many dogs from being returned to the shelter because of breed ignorance. I dread seeing the influx of the Malinois dogs into our shelter and I hope that it does not happen.

  15. I agree. I love dog movies but I dread what happens to the respective breed after. It has happened repeatedly in the past. I just hope that Hollywood will leave Rotties out of it.

  16. Great ideas and suggestions Chris. Thanks for sharing them. I will share them with some folks involved in Malinois Rescue.

  17. Before the movie, A Dog of Flanders, came out, our national breed club got together and created a webpage and petitioned the movie studio to link it to their trailer site. It was called Do Not Buy a Bouvier
    It took some work to get to the right people to accomplish this but it was totally worth the effort.
    I would urge the Malinois clubs, both AKC parent club and the AWDF working club, to join forces and accomplish this same thing.
    This is a marvelous breed but in any breed with such intense working traits, it is so easy to get unstable dogs who are a threat to everyone and that is precisely what will happen if everyone starts to breed them. It is already hard enough for legitimate breeders who care about the breed to find suitable homes.
    I dread the aftermath of this movie and pity the poor dogs who will be caught up in this and end up dead, chained in back yards or locked up all the time because no one can handle them.

  18. In order to add a little clarity I would like to state that the picture of the malinois in the sky of is Rocket, owned by Julie Bear, not Jagger who starred in the movie Max.

    I am also a coordinator with the American Belgian Malinois Rescue and we do expect our numbers to rise due to the increase awareness of the Malinois breed.

  19. I wish Hollywood would either leave dogs out of major roles, or have a disclaimer before AND after the film about the unsuitability of the breed for certain homes. I believe we only recently got to the end of the Dalmatian debacle, where thousands of people rushed out to buy puppies, realized they were not the highly trained dogs they saw, and required real work, lots of interaction, loads of patience, intelligence and love and them dumped them in “shelters” where they were killed in droves. The shelters are still overflowing with chihuahuas; they are the second most-often killed breed, due to sheer numbers. Personally, I think people should have to pass a test before they are allowed a puppy or dog; also before they are allowed to have children.

  20. My vet, who has done S&R with them made an appropriate comment. I had visited a training center in Cave Creek, AZ and came back saying how wonderful they and Ringsport were. She said they were called “Mali Gators” for a reason and if they did not have a job they would find one you hated. French Ringsport is amazing but those folk train 24/7 and so enjoy their dogs.

  21. I loved Collies from childhood, not due to Lassie Come Home or even the TV Show. I found my attraction to the breed through the books of Albert Payson Terhune. I acquired my first Collie as an adult living on a hobby farm. 35 years later, I now have Belgian Sheepdogs, a lower intensity “cousin” of the Malinois. Even my Belgian Sheepdog require a jon and exercise. The do not make good low maintenance pets for the average family.