Dogs are bounding across the silver screen in bigger packs than ever before: Prior to the 1940s, fewer than one movie a year featured a dog - but by 2005, that number ramped up to seven annually.
Watching dogs in movies also seems to influence our choice of pets, particularly when it comes to breed. To figure out just how big this impact is, American and British scientists reviewed 87 movies starring dogs, comparing the release dates to American Kennel Club (AKC) records for over 65 million dogs.
After "Lassie Come Home" was released in 1943, pet owners registered 40 percent more collies with the AKC, the researchers found. And following Disney's 1959 film "The Shaggy Dog," there were 100 times more Old English sheepdogs. In all, the most popular dogs films contributed to 800,000 more dogs than expected based on the trends prior to a film's release. "We focused on changes in trend popularity rather than on popularity itself to avoid attributing to movies trends that were already ongoing before movie release," says Stefano Ghirlanda, a psychologist at Brooklyn College, in a statement, "as up-trending breeds may have been chosen more often for movies."
But choosing dogs based on a Hollywood story can often be problematic. "If people buy en masse dogs because they appear in movies the consequences can be negative for the dogs themselves," Alberto Acerbi, an anthropologist at University of Bristol states."Our previous study found that the most popular breeds had the greatest number of inherited disorders."
The effect appears to be decreasing over time - with more films about dogs, as well as TV and the internet, the influence a specific piece of media has on dog ownership shrinks. That doesn't mean canine cinema can't be a force for good, with the press around Tom Hardy's "The Drop," for example, showcasing a softer side of the oft-maligned pit bull.
"It's not surprising that we tend to follow social cues and fashions, as this is a quite effective strategy in many situations," Acerbi says. "However, in particular cases the outcomes can be negative. When choosing a new pet, we may want to act differently."
That means taking the time to figure out if you can commit to owning a dog. And if you can, the best way to pick a pooch isn't from a theater - it's from a shelter.