The popularity of brachycephalic, or ‘flat faced’ dog breeds has soared in the past few years, with French Bulldogs now the most popular breed in the UK. These dogs are often chosen for their ‘cute’ characteristics – pugs and bulldogs with big eyes, droopy tongues and cuddly bodies – however it is these same characteristics that can cause health issues further down the line. As well as breathing difficulties, they can suffer from skin, joint and eye issues. However while the awareness of these health issues grows, so does their popularity.

We worked with Dogs Trust to help them with their aim of having fewer and better quality brachycephalic dogs being bred.


To understand more about who buys and owns brachycephalic dogs, and what really underlies dog buying behaviour, we conducted qualitative research with new owners, plus consulted experts from Dogs Trust and beyond.

Our key finding was that it’s a real challenge for awareness of the health risks to counteract the intensely positive emotions of the buying process, even for the most clued up purchasers. We also found that:

  • Buying short-nosed breeds seems to be a particularly emotional decision
  • There is no defined ‘should I get one?’ or ‘what breed?’ stage of the dog buying process. Instead, owning one of these breeds is usually a long-held dream which is primarily motivated by appearance and character
  • The popularity of these breeds means potential owners often feel a sense of urgency when deciding on whether to buy one, adding to the emotional drama of acquisition
  • Language is a large barrier to tackling this issue: not many people know what brachycephalic means, and even the owners of these dogs struggle to remember the name. Lack of clarity, consistency and a common vocabulary means that the issue struggles to be salient


Drawing on our new insight, we worked with the campaigns, communications, research and veterinary teams to identify what the best intervention points would be, and help build a new approach to tackling the issue.

A series of workshops and working sessions enabled us first to identify whose behaviour we were trying to change and through what channels, then home in on a specific set of behaviours to apply behavioural insights to.

As language was identified as a particular barrier, we developed a simple, modular statement that can be used by lots of organisations to summarise the problem. While there is no single action that will be enough to solve the problem entirely, no checklist or agreed set of actions currently exists so we then developed one that could lead on from our simple modular statement.


The Dogs Trust team are now working through our campaign recommendations with the wider organisation to put them into practice.

Other case studies