All that fuss might be a sign that Dalmatians are poised to be the next break-out breed in advertising. After all, Jack Russell terriers, Chihuahuas, and Golden Retrievers all seem to have had more than their 15 minutes.
But don't bet the farm on it, say animal casting experts. While breed popularity definitely runs in cycles, both in terms of new-dog registrations and Madison Avenue casting calls, Dalmatians haven't been a favorite with Americans since the 1960s.
Even an 8-year surge in popularity, following the 1985 remake of '101 Dalmatians,' did little to win it many permanent fans: The American Kennel Club says the breed's popularity has plunged 97% in the last decade.
Right now, ad directors are shunning bigger dogs, said Linda Hanrahan, a trainer with Animals For Advertising in New York. And in this case, ads do imitate life: This year, the AKC reported that the tiny Yorkshire Terrier was the second most popular dog in America, bumping both the Golden Retriever and German Shepherd down a notch.
The Paris Hiltons of the world, with their little dogs in carry-on bags, continue to make smaller dog breeds more appealing, she says. "Creatives are also saying, 'I want something quirky--I do not want a Golden Retriever,'" said Hanrahan.
Besides size, Dalmatians have another casting issue. Budweiser more or less owns the breed, just as they do Clydesdale horses. A Budweiser spot starring two Dalmatians was the Super Bowl's No. 1 rated ad back in 1999, and Anheuser-Busch has linked the Dalmatians to its Clydesdales since the 1950s.
Each Clydesdale hitch was paired with two Dalmatians, who guarded the suds while drivers were inside making deliveries. Their markings made them easier to see in the evening when most beer runs were made, said an A-B spokesman.
"Some breeds do get typecast," Hanrahan said. In fact, Budweiser is the king of beer-dog typecasting. Spuds McKenzie ruled the airwaves (and yes, the Super Bowl) in the late 1980s, when people still said things like "Party hearty!" But it wasn't until recently that Miniature Bull Terriers made it back to the ad spotlight, and it's a good bet that most hipsters who love Target's Spot the Dog are so young they couldn't even pick the womanizing Spuds McKenzie out of a lineup.
But most ads don't call for party animals. "The most requested dogs are always family dogs," said Heather Long, a trainer with Hollywood Animals, Hollywood, Calif. Always appealing are Labrador Retrievers, which have been top dog on the AKC registry since 1991. Hanrahan said she's getting more requests these days for Pomeranians and Weimaraners. Gloria Winship, owner/trainer of Animal Actors, says her Jack Russell/Chihuahua cross is in constant demand.
But the No. 1 casting call? "It's always the scruffy, lovable little mutt," Hanrahan said.
And of course, it often follows that a popular on-screen dog will influence people's breed decisions. Rin Tin Tin, Lassie and Eddie of 'Frasier' all propelled their breeds to widespread popularity.
But advertising doesn't seem to have as much clout: Researchers at Western Carolina University, for example, found that Gidget, the famous "Drop the Chalupa!" Chihuahua who starred in Taco Bell's ads, actually turned people off to the breed. From 1998 to 2002, new AKC registrations for Chihuahuas fell 32%.