‘Bulging skulls and protruding eyes’: Ten features dog owners should avoid

<span>Breeds with flat faces, such as pugs and French bulldogs, face difficulty breathing and exercising.</span><span>Photograph: MightyPics/Getty Images/iStockphoto</span>
Breeds with flat faces, such as pugs and French bulldogs, face difficulty breathing and exercising.Photograph: MightyPics/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Would-be dog owners should avoid bulging skulls, protruding eyes and shortened twisted legs and instead opt for a naturally healthy body shape, an international team of experts has urged.

The health and welfare implications of extreme canine body forms has become a pressing issue, with experts repeatedly warning of the myriad problems faced by breeds with flat faces – from breathing challenges to difficulties exercising and giving birth.

Now the International Collaborative on Extreme Conformations in Dogs (ICECDogs) is attempting to address dog-lovers directly, laying out healthy natural physical characteristics to look for in dogs, and extreme body shapes to avoid.

“It is the general public that now control how dogs look,” said Dr Dan O’Neill, the associate professor for companion animal epidemiology at the Royal Veterinary College and co-founding ICECDogs member.

O’Neill added while the appearance of dogs was historically linked to their function, such as retrieving or guarding, that has changed over the past 100 years as dogs have largely became companion animals.


“We have lots of types of dogs now we own that are no longer fully functional dogs,” he said, adding that in many animals, key natural capacities such as ease of breathing and exercise have been removed.

“And worse than that we may think that acquiring dogs with extreme body shapes demonstrates our love for these animals, because they’re cute and distinctive and unique,” he said, noting that in fact it can cause suffering.

Among the extreme features the group say could lead to problems is a disproportionately broad head and shoulders, flat face, lack of a tail and a clearly overshot or undershot jaw.

By contrast, among other traits, dogs with good innate health due to their body shape are able to breathe and move freely, self-groom, sleep effectively and, where applicable, breed without assistance.

Despite some breeds, such as French bulldogs, often showing many of the problematic traits, O’Neill said the guidance was not about stamping them out, but protecting them.

“This is not about saying to people do not ever, ever, ever buy a French bulldog or a dachshund – it is about buying a French bulldog, but one with a tail, one with a spine that bends, one with a muzzle that the dog can breath through. So in other words, it is about buying these dogs, but not the dogs with extreme conformations,” O’Neill said.

Yet efforts to improve canine body forms have not come without challenges.

In March a draft bill in Germany to strengthen laws around breeding dogs with traits that cause “pain, suffering or damage” caused an international furore after Germany’s Kennel Club (VDH) warned the law could put the sausage dog in peril – despite Germany’s agriculture ministrydenying it would lead to a ban on dachshunds or other breeds.

Bill Lambert, a spokesperson for the Kennel Club, based in the UK, said for centuries, dogs of all different shapes, sizes and personalities have lived alongside humans and been bred for a predictable set of characteristics, making them suited to particular jobs or owners.

But, he added, any dog should be bred and bought with careful consideration, avoiding unhealthy exaggerations.

“Prospective owners must thoroughly research which dog might be right for their lifestyle, pedigree or crossbreed, and use the information provided by the Kennel Club about which health schemes and tools a breeder has used before choosing a pup, as well as meeting the parents of the puppy and avoiding those with exaggerated physical features, such as very flat faces,” he said.

Ten extreme features owners should avoid:

  • Flat-faces

  • Large and protruding eyes

  • Shortened, twisted legs

  • Facial or body skin folds

  • Lack of tail

  • A clearly overshot or undershot jaw

  • A disproportionately broad head and shoulders

  • Eyelids turned in or out

  • A bulging or domed skull

  • A sloped back with an excessively low rear end and excessively flexed hind legs