"Ugly" dog breeds are increasing in popularity as owners look for pets which provoke a strong reaction, new figures show.
Miss Ellie, a Chinese Crested Hairless dog, won the World's Ugliest Dog Contest last yearPhoto: Getty Images
Growing numbers of Britons are shunning traditional breeds in favour of the less obvious charms of animals which even their staunchest supporters might concede are not blessed in the looks department.
The surprising surge in popularity of a series of “ugly” or unconventional-looking dog breeds is revealed in statistics from the Kennel Club on the numbers of pedigree puppies born in the last decade.
Among the fastest risers were the Mexican hairless and Chinese crested, both of which are largely bald with wizened features, the Cirneco Dell’Etna and Pharaoh Hound, distinguished by their oversized bat-like ears, and the wrinkled-faced dogue de Bordeaux, owned by Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney, the England footballers.
Between these five breeds, 3,452 puppies were born in 2010, compared with just 990 in 2001.
Meanwhile, many traditional breeds are plummeting in numbers, among them the Yorkshire terrier (down 32 per cent since 2001 to 3,441 puppies in 2010), and West Highland White terrier, (down 51 per cent to 5,361), German shepherd (down 27 per cent to 10,364) and golden retriever (down 20 per cent to 7,911).
Experts believe the trend for “ugly” dogs is down to owners looking for increasingly rare and unusual pets, with the hairless breeds offering further attractions to people who suffer from asthma and allergies. The two with the most “extreme” looks are the Chinese crested and the Mexican hairless.
The Mexican hairless – also known as Xoloitzcuintle, or Xolos – originate in central and southern America and are believed to have been around for up to 3,500 years. Their early masters were the Toltecs, an ancient civilisation in the region, and the Aztecs, who believed they had special healing powers. They used them as companion animals – although they did also eat them as a delicacy.
When Christopher Columbus arrived in the Caribbean in 1492, his journal noted the presence of the strange animals and they were taken back to Europe as a curiosity. The first pair in the UK were kept at London Zoo in the 1950s.
Because of their lack of hair, the dogs need to be covered in sun cream when outdoors, to avoid burning. Puppies are estimated to cost up to £1,000.
Lesley Lockhart, treasurer from the Mexican Hairless Club UK, conceded that the animals’ appearance did provoke a strong reaction from people but defended them as a wonderful pet with a proud heritage.
“The dogs do get funny looks, or double takes, when they are out and about. I have had people asking if they are poorly.
“We called our first one Marmite, because people either love them or hate them. People are a bit taken aback by them, but once they get to know them they are bowled over by them. To find true beauty you have to scratch beneath the surface.”
The dogs themselves do not appear to be troubled by their appearance. Although good natured, Ms Lockhart said that by reputation they were an aloof breed.
Their numbers in the UK have remained very low since the 1980s, when the first pair of pets was imported. However, it has started to grow in recent years and the breed club was established in 2004 to promote and protect the animal.
Its numbers have more than doubled to around 70 in the last two years, of an estimated worldwide population of 4,000.
The Chinese crested, which is more established in the UK, now numbers in its thousands, having increased from just 312 puppies registered in 2001 to almost 600 last year. The breed has, in recent years, dominated the World’s Ugliest Dog Contest, an annual competition in California.
Also growing in popularity over the period are several other varieties, whose distinctive squashed features and flat faces mean they are similarly facially challenged. Among them are the griffon Bruxelloise (up 43 per cent to 201 puppies), Japanese chin (up 57 per cent to 302), and the shar pei (up 143 per cent to 2,304).
Two other unusual-looking breeds to have increased during the period are the more established pug (up 557 per cent to 5,726) and chihuahuas (up 322 per cent to 5,397), both of which have been popularised by celebrity owners, including Paris Hilton, Jonathan Ross, and Hugh Laurie.
Paul Keevil, who runs a group called British Heritage Dog Breeds, promoting more traditional, native varieties, said the trend for “eccentric-looking” dogs was about owners “making a statement – whatever that statement is”.
“There is certainly a growing appeal for these breeds, who seem to be, shall we say, a less attractive bunch.
“It is a desire for the bizarre. People want something that looks a bit usual, a bit striking. The dog is to make some kind of fashion or lifestyle statement.
“Maybe it makes the owner more beautiful. They say that people look like their dogs, but perhaps it doesn’t apply in these cases.”
How the UK’s 10 most popular pedigree dog breeds have changed in numbers
Labrador, 44,099 puppies registered in 2010 (a 31 per cent increase since 2001)
Cocker spaniel, 23,744 (87 per cent up)
English springer spaniel, 13,988 (18 per cent up)
German shepherd dog, 10,364 (27 per cent down)
Staffordshire bull terrier, 8,663 (14 per cent down)
Border terrier, 8,383 (87 per cent up)
Cavalier King Charles spaniel, 8,154 (21 per cent down)