The Dog Economy Is Global—but What Is the World's True Canine Capital?

The U.S. leads the world in dogs and dogs per person, but India, Brazil, Norway have bragging rights of their own -- each of which explains a subtle development in the global economy

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AP Photo / Rajesh Kumar Singh

Dog ownership, like cocaine use, can be seen as an economic indicator. As incomes rise, some people can afford to have pets for the first time, while others decide they can spring for new toys, trips to the groomer, or pricey organic kibbles. On a macro level, as countries develop, new industries--dog shows, puppy hotels--grow up around dog doting and pampering.

Unsurprisingly, the US remains the paragon of dog love, with the world's biggest pet pooch population in both absolute and per capita terms (one dog for every four Americans). But elsewhere, dogs are on the rise, and the rapid changes in the extent and nature of ownership reflect new economic realities.

INDIA: FASTEST GROWING DOG POPULATION

India is the world's second-most populous country, but since it's still largely rural and poor, it has one of the world's lowest rates of dog ownership: 4 dogs per 1,000 people. That's quickly changing, though, with the total number of pups swelling by 58% between 2007 and 2012, according to market research firm Euromonitor International--the fastest growth rate of the 53 countries surveyed. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Switzerland saw its dog population shrink by 10% in that period.

In many places, the number of pets is spreading faster than the awareness of how to raise them; it's often up to vets, public health officials, and the media to educate first-time owners on how to handle their animals. Three-quarters of the world's dogs are thought to be strays, and in some Indian cities, near-epidemic waves of dog bites have left officials scrambling, conducting dog "censuses" to identify the size of the problem, and sometimes to capture, spay, vaccinate and then re-release the animals.

Meanwhile, among India's upper class, high-end dog trainers are helping to housebreak pampered pups in big cities, where US-based DOGTV is now available via satellite, playing calm music for pets left at home alone along with shows supposedly intended to improve their behavior.

BRAZIL: MOST SMALL DOGS PER CAPITA

Members of Brazil's rapidly urbanizing middle class are working more, earning more, and having kids later. And to fill their tiny apartments in the meantime, they're buying more and more dogs as pets. Brazilians, in fact, have nearly 20 million small dogs at home--more per capita than any country in the world, according to the Euromonitor survey.

Latin America has a long dog-owning tradition: Some pups were even found buried with their Inca owners around Machu Pichhu. Today, four countries--Chile, Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico--rank in the world's top 10 for household penetration. The average home in those countries is more likely to have a pooch than not have one.

Brazil tops the list in absolute terms, with nearly 36 million pups--more dogs than Canada has people. Some 55% of those dogs weigh less than 20 pounds (9.1 kilos), as tiny terriers, shih tzus, and chihuahuas fit with the lives of the 85% of Brazilians who live in cramped urban areas. Brazilian dogs are taken in droves to be blessed by priests in honor of St. Francis of Assis; a few are even ferried about in "pet taxis," taken for dog face lifts, or brought to breed in a doggie "love motel."

Presented by

Theresa Bradley and Ritchie King

Theresa Bradley is a reporter at Quartz. Ritchie S. King is a reporter and designer at Quartz.

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