The heritage of the French Bulldog – Pedigree Prints

The heritage of the French Bulldog

by Oliver Voke on March 08, 2020

The French Bulldog is a breed of domestic dog. They are the result of a cross between Toy Bulldogs imported from England and local ratters in Paris, France, in the 1800s. The breed is popular as a pet; in 2018, they were the most popular registered dog in the United Kingdom, and in the U.S., the fourth-most popular AKC-registered dog breed. They were rated the third-most popular dog in Australia in 2017. The French Bulldog also had 260 export pedigrees in the United Kingdom and a total of 36,785 of registered French Bulldogs in the United Kingdom in the past decade.

The modern French Bulldog breed descends directly from the dogs of the Molossians, an ancient Greek tribe. The dogs were spread throughout the ancient world by Phoenician traders. British Molossian dogs were developed into the English Mastiff. A sub-breed of the Mastiff was the bullenbeissier, a type of dog used for bull-baiting.

Bloodsports such as bull-baiting were outlawed in England in 1835, leaving these "Bulldogs" unemployed; however, they had been bred for non-sporting reasons since at least 1800, so their use changed from a sporting breed to a companion breed. To reduce their size, some Bulldogs were crossed with Terriers, ratter dogs from the "slums" of England. By 1850, the Toy Bulldog had become common in England and appeared in conformation shows when they began around 1860. These dogs weighed around 16–25 pounds (7.3–11.3 kg), although classes were also available at dog shows for those who weighed under 12 pounds (5.4 kg).

At the same time, lace workers from Nottingham who were displaced by the Industrial Revolution began to settle in Normandy, France. They brought a variety of dogs with them, including Toy Bulldogs. The dogs became popular in France and a trade in imported small Bulldogs was created, with breeders in England sending over Bulldogs that they considered to be too small, or with faults such as ears that stood up. By 1860, there were few Toy Bulldogs left in England, such was their popularity in France and due to the exploits of specialist dog exporters.

The small Bulldog type gradually became thought of as a breed, and received a name, the Bouledogue Francais. This Francisation of the English name is also a contraction of the words boule (ball) and dogue (mastiff or molosser). The dogs were highly fashionable and were sought after by society ladies and Parisian prostitutes alike, as well as creatives such as artists, writers, and fashion designers. There is record of artists named Edgar Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec who have been thought to have French Bulldogs in their paintings. However, records were not kept of the breed's development as it diverged further away from its original Bulldog roots. As it changed, terrier stock had been brought in to develop traits such as the breed's long straight ears.

Bulldogs were very popular in the past, especially in Western Europe. One of its ancestors was the English Bulldog. Americans had been importing French Bulldogs for a while, but it was not until 1885 when they were brought over in order to set up an American-based breeding program. They were mostly owned by society ladies, who first displayed them at the Westminster Kennel Dog Show in 1896. They arrived again in the following year with even more entries, where the judging of the breed would go on to have future ramifications. The judge in question at the dog show, a Mr. George Raper, only chose winners with "rose ears"—ears that folded at the tip, as with the standard for Bulldogs. The ladies formed the French Bull Dog Club of America and created the breed standard which stated for the first time that the "erect bat ear" was the correct type.

In the early 20th century the breed remained in vogue for high society, with dogs changing hands for up to $3,000 and being owned by members of influential families such as the Rockefellers and the J. P. Morgans. The American Kennel Club recognised the breed quickly after the breed club was formed, and by 1906 the French Bulldog was the fifth most popular dog breed in America. In 2013, the American Kennel Club (AKC) ranked the French Bulldog as the 11th most popular breed in the United States, enjoying a sharp rise in popularity from 54th place a decade before, in 2003. By 2014, they had moved up to become the ninth most popular AKC registered dog breed in the USA and by the 2017 they were the fourth most popular.

This new Bulldog breed arrived for the first time in England in 1893, with English Bulldog breeders in an uproar as the French imports did not meet the new breed standards in place by this time and they wanted to prevent the English stock from crossbreeding with the French. The Kennel Club initially recognised them as a subset of the existing Bulldog breed rather than an entirely new breed. Some English breeders in this period bred the French Bulldogs in order to resurrect the Toy Bulldog. On 10 July 1902, at the house of Frederick W. Cousens, a meeting was held to set up a breed club in order to seek individual recognition for the French breed. The adopted breed standard was the same one which was already in use in America, France, Germany and Austria. Despite opposition from Miniature Bulldog (the new breed name for the Toy Bulldog) and Bulldog breeders, in 1905, the Kennel Club changed its policy on the breed and recognised them separate from the English variety, initially as the Bouledogue Francais, then later in 1912 with the name changed to the French Bulldog.

The AKC Standard weight for a French Bulldog is maximum 28 pounds. The head of a French bulldog should be square shaped and large along with ears that symbolised bat ears. French bulldogs are also known as a flat faced breed. Eyes that are AKC Standard approved for French Bulldogs are dark and almost to the point of being black. Blue eyed French bulldogs are not AKC approved. The coat of a French bulldog should short haired and fine and silky. Acceptable colours under the breed standard are the various shades of brindle, fawn, cream or white with brindle patches (known as "pied"). The fawn colours can be any light through red. The most common colours are brindle, then fawn, with pieds being less common than the other colours. The breed clubs do not recognise any other colours or patterns. This is because some colours come linked with genetic health problems not usually found in the breed. These include blue coloration, which is linked with a form of alopecia (hair loss or baldness), sometimes known as "Blue Dog Alopecia". Although this is heavily disputed by some organisations, it has been suggested that the health, hair and skin conditions are caused by the colour pigment (melanin) clumping in the hair shaft itself. Even dogs that are not blue can develop "blue dog alopecia" or canine follicular dysplasia. 

The French Bulldog, like many other companion dog breeds, requires close contact with humans. If left alone for more than a few hours, they may experience separation anxiety. This is especially true when they are young, but persists into adulthood. Its anxiety may lead a French Bulldog to behave destructively and for its housebreaking to fail.

The French Bulldog is sometimes called a "Frog dog" or a "Clown dog." "Frog dog" is in reference to their wide round face and the way they sit with their hind legs spread out. "Clown dog" is because they are considered to be fun-loving, and indeed they have been described as the "clowns of the dog world."

French Bulldogs are often kept as companions. They rarely bark. The breed is patient and affectionate with their owners and can live with other breeds. French Bulldogs are agreeable dogs and are human/people oriented dogs as this makes them on the easier side to train even though they do have tendencies to be stubborn. It is noted that socialising puppies, including French bulldogs, can significantly impact the training of the puppy positively and is recommended.

They are ranked 109th in Stanley Coren's The Intelligence of Dogs. There are certain exceptions to this average level of canine intelligence; a French Bulldog named Princess Jacqueline which died in 1934 was claimed to understand 20 words, reacting correctly.

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