Anyone who watches Netflix’s latest hit show “Bridgerton” knows that matchmaking queen Charlotte had a penchant for Pomeranian puppies. Indeed, this preference applied to the real Queen Charlotte. She brought them with her when she moved from Pomerania, Central Europe to Great Britain in 1761 to marry King George III. Their love for the lap dog was then passed down through the royal generations. Her son, King George IV, also liked the breed and Queen Victoria owned Dachshunds, Pugs and Pomeranians.
One of the most famous royal dogs was a small terrier named Caesar. “”[He] had a prominent place in Edward VII’s funeral procession before the other monarchs in attendance in 1910, “said Richard Fitzwilliams, a London-based royal commentator. Below is King Edward VIII – who was forced to abdicate in disgrace in order to marry the American divorce Wallis Simpson in the 1930s – also owned boobs that we know from another Netflix drama, “The Crown”.
But are the British royals really responsible for starting the lap dog madness? And when exactly did these toy breeds become popular beyond court life?
Connected: Why do the Queen’s guards wear such high hats?
Small dogs appeared not long after the dogs were domesticated; One of the oldest small dog remains found in the Middle East dates back to 12,000 years ago, according to a 2010 study in the journal BMC Biology. But it’s hard to know when these tiny canines came into vogue, since large breed popularity records don’t go that far back in time. However, the research available shows that people are largely influenced by trends and celebrity culture when choosing their pooch.
Stefano Ghirlanda, professor of psychology at Brooklyn College, demonstrated this influence by looking at the American Kennel Club’s puppy registration data between 1926 and 2005. In a 2013 study in the journal PLOS One, he and his colleagues agreed with the popularity of registered dog breeds with their typical traits such as health, longevity, and behavioral traits including aggression, exercise ability, and fear. One would expect there to be a link between desirable traits and racial popularity, but it just isn’t.
“We found absolutely no correlation,” Ghirlanda told Live Science. “Breed popularity fluctuates quite a lot and that made us think it was just a matter of fashion.”
His data shows that small lap dogs seemed to see a period of popularity in the 1970s and then fell out of favor, only to see a renaissance again in the early 2000s. “Pugs, for example, were very popular in the 1970s and 2000s. Interestingly, dachshunds follow the same pattern,” said Ghirlanda. This cyclical popularity has led Ghirlanda to conclude that people choose their dogs not based on which breed best suits their lifestyle, but rather are influenced by popular culture in the decision.
(Image credit: Courtesy of Netflix)
For this reason, Ghirlanda published a follow-up study in 2014, also in PLOS One, that looked at whether blockbuster films with dogs had led to an increase in the number of registered puppies of the same breed in the years after several films were released. “You can pretty much predict whether a breed will become popular just by looking at ticket sales during the opening week of a film,” said Ghirlanda. “If the film is successful, it increases the popularity of the races a lot.”
For example, Disney’s “101 Dalmatians” from 1996 increased the popularity of the spotty dogs by nearly 20% in the ten years after the film was released, according to Ghirlanda’s calculations. The 1943 film “Lassie Come Home” also experienced a similar impairment in registering rough collar breeds.
What all this means, Ghirlanda said, is that the question of when lap dogs became popular is unanswerable. Because they have likely gone through stages where they were popular and then unpopular, and they will continue in that order as long as popular culture dictates. It is fairly certain, however, that the royals adopted lap dogs early on and that they may have influenced the desire for such breeds, at least for a certain group of people.
“There wasn’t a lot of popular culture in the old days, but certainly people were paying attention to what the queen was doing, and dogs were just a privilege for rich people,” Ghirlanda said. This is because dogs needed to be fed, and for people down the classroom, dogs needed to make a living by helping out with the hunt or doing other helpful functions. In comparison, royal lap dogs were there to be enjoyed and pampered. King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson were perhaps the worst offenders to spoil their boobs. “They greeted guests on gold Cartier linen and had diamond-studded collars, ate from silver bowls, and slept on velvet pillows,” said Fitzwilliams.
Originally published on Live Science.