When a Dog Becomes a Movie Star, Americans Rabidly Buy That Breed of Dog

People love buying dog breeds that have a Hollywood film on its resume.

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Sep 10 2014, 9:55pm

Still: Air Bud

Hollywood, in its own special way, tells us what clothes to wear, what sorts of future wars to worry about, and, apparently, what dogs to buy. A new study suggests that, after a dog stars in a movie, a whole bunch of Americans go out and get that type of dog.

The most obvious example of this happened way back in 1943, when Lassie Comes Home was nominated for an Academy Award. In the year prior to its release, the American Kennel Club says it registered 2,000 collie puppies. In the three years after, that number had jumped to 15,000 annually.

This Hollywood effect is obviously more pronounced if the movie is a bigger hit, but there was a statistically significant effect on Americans' dog purchasing and adoption for most movies that researchers Stefano Ghirlanda, Alberto Acerbi, and Harold Herzog observed in a paper published today in PLOS One.

In fact, the change sometimes lasts as long as a decade, as is the case with 101 Dalmatians (20 percent increase over 10 years), Lassie Come Home (20 percent 10-year increase), Big Red (40 percent 10-year increase for Irish Setters), The Shaggy Dog (60 percent 10-year increase for English Sheepdogs). 

Here are the top 10 movies for which an effect was discernible (We can only assume that Air Bud was number 11):

"The top 10 movies highlighted [in that graph] are associated with changes in registration trends such that over 800,000 more dogs were registered in the 10 years after movie release than would have been expected from pre-release trends," the authors wrote.

In order to make sure that the trend was happening because of the movie and not with the movie (in other words, to rule out the possibility that a movie was made because a dog was getting popular), the researchers analyzed both pre-movie and post-movie buying trends. Even considering that, the influence was seen.

As you can see from the chart, however, the effect's strength isn't nearly as strong as it was a couple decades ago. That makes a lot of sense, for a couple reasons: First of all, movies just aren't as influential these days, thanks to the internet and media splintering. And, secondly, dog movies are way more popular these days. 

In the early 1940s, there was less than one movie starring a dog released each year; by 2005, there were an average of more than seven a year. Unless you're trying to create a live-action 101 Various Dog Breeds, no one is buying seven new dogs because they saw a movie.

So, why do we do this? To be like everyone else, Herzog theorizes in an article he wrote about the study over at Psychology Today.

"The real significance of our research is that it demonstrates how non-rational factors such as imitation, status envy, and random chance can have huge effects on both personal decision-making and widespread changes in popular culture," he wrote.

So, if you want to go against the grain, adopt a mutt.