The first time Lisha Gonzalez and her husband, Victor, met their bulldog, Buddy, as a puppy, they immediately fell in love with his slobbering, smush-nosed face and stubborn charm.
They didn't realize that Buddy, now 6, would be allergic to grass, cats and dust, take medication daily and need medicated shampoo. He can't get too hot or his skin will break out in a rash. He also snores at night and snorts like a pig. But that's all fine.
"Buddy has been a very delicate creature. But he's very loving and social," said Lisha, 56, one recent day as Buddy rolled around in the grass at their home in Pasadena, Calif.
With their short muzzles and smaller upper jaws, flat-faced dogs — known as brachycephalic breeds, and including bulldogs, Boston terriers, pugs and French bulldogs — tend to have particular health issues, from breathing noisily to overheating and allergies. But they remain favorites among dog owners. According to the American Kennel Club's rankings of popular dog breeds for 2016, bulldogs rank No. 4, French bulldogs No. 6, Boston terriers No. 21 and pugs No. 32 out of the AKC's 189 recognized breeds. (Labrador retrievers top the list.)
The four breeds "are all known for their good temperament, and they tend to be affectionate, loveable and friendly," said AKC vice president and executive secretary Gina DiNardo.
Lisa Hsuan, a veterinarian at the Animal Health Care Center in Los Angeles, said brachycephalic breeds are seen as "cute, funny, trendy and sociable," as well as entertaining (think of those videos of skateboarding bulldogs on social media).
Prospective owners should do their research first about the dogs and their issues, however, Hsuan said.
"They have breathing issues because of the anatomy of their faces, airways and noses, are prone to yeast infections in their skin folds, which are always moist, and have allergies and sensitive skin," she said. "They have a lot of ear infections, because their ear canals are narrow and twisty. They're also prone to heat exhaustion, since they don't move air very efficiently because of their faces. They pant a lot."
These dogs shouldn't be allowed to overheat or exercise in warm weather, Hsuan said. Keep them indoors with air conditioning on very hot days, DiNardo added.
Pay attention to cleaning and hygiene, Hsuan said. "Minimize contact with dust, grass and pollen, which can cause skin inflammation," she said. "Bathing frequently helps to avoid contact with environmental allergens. A lot of medicated shampoos have anti-yeast and anti-bacterial ingredients."
Energy levels vary among individual dogs and breeds, Hsuan said.
"Boston terriers can be wild sometimes, and are pretty high energy," said Hsuan. "Bulldogs tend to be nice, and low energy. They're heavy and don't breathe very well, so they don't have a lot of stamina. A lot of brachycephalic dog owners don't understand how important it is for their dogs to be lean. Being overweight can increase stress on their dogs' breathing. Some vets and breeders put the dogs on low-fat diets early in life."
Cynthia and Geraldo Rodriguez of Altadena, Calif., occasionally look after their adult daughter's 6-year-old pug, Lola. With her scrunched face and bulging eyes, Lola resembles a sad, cute clown.
"There's a lot of personality in a little package with pugs," Cynthia Rodriguez said. "You have to make sure with their protruding eyes that they don't run into a cactus! Lola is prissy. She's a sitting dog. She likes comfort. If the ground is too rough, she doesn't like it because it hurts her little paws."
Sharon Freeark of Pasadena had reservations about getting a bat-eared, squish-faced French bulldog five years ago, but since then has fallen in love with sporty, pool-loving Booboo.
"She's darling with kids, and is so smart, but incredibly disobedient," said Freeark, as Booboo panted loudly next to her on a recent walk. " 'Sit, stay, come' mean nothing to her. She's also hilarious, and she'll sit with her feet sticking straight out."
Los Angeles artist Lili Chin's 12-year-old Boston terrier, Boogie, is the muse and model for her business, Doggie Drawings, which specializes in pet portraits, dog art, and infographics on dog behavior and training.
"Boston terriers' faces are so expressive and full of character," said Chin. "Perhaps smush-faced dogs look more like people, with their big eyes and pouty mouths."
Boogie used to develop staph infections on his skin every summer. He takes allergy medicine daily. Yet he plays like a puppy, and enjoys long walks.
"I love that Boogie likes to sleep in in the mornings. He's a wonderful snuggler," Chin said.
"I feel very lucky that aside from the allergies, Boogie is a relatively healthy dog, and I would love him even if he wasn't."