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The Adorable Frenchie

The story of this famous bulldog begins in England, where so many  AKC breeds originated. The ancestral type was not our modern bulldog but the bulldog of 150-200 years ago: a strong, athletic dog, high on leg, and capable of being used in that barbarous activity called “bull-baiting.”

Many English bulldog breeders began to change the breed around this time to a bigger, heavier dog with exaggerated features. Others crossbred them with terriers resulting in the bull-and-terrier breeds used for dogfighting, ratting, etc. Another group of breeders developed a smaller, lighter toy bulldog, around 12-25 lbs in weight, having either upright or rose ears, round foreheads and short underjaws—and perhaps a touch of terrier liveliness. These were quite popular with workers in the English midlands, in particular the artisans in the lace-making industry around Nottingham.

When the Industrial Revolution closed down many of the small craft shops, these lace-makers emigrated to the North of France—and they took their little bulldogs with them. The popularity of these little dogs spread from Normandy to Paris and soon the English breeders had a lively trade, exporting small bulldogs to France where they began to be called Bouledogues Français.

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They were favorites of ordinary Parisians such as butchers, cafe owners and dealers in the rag trade and became notorious as the favorites of the Parisian streetwalkers, les belles de nuit. The famous artist Toulouse Lautrec depicted in several works Bouboule, a Frenchie owned by Madame Palmyre, the proprietress of a favorite restaurant “La Souris.”

Society folks noticed these cute little bulldogs and before long they were a la mode. Most of the British wanted nothing to do with these French bulldogs so it was the French who were guardians of the breed until later in the 19th century.

They developed a more uniform breed—a dog with a compact body, straight legs, but without the extreme underjaw of the English Bulldog. Some had the erect “bat ears’ while others had “rose” ears. Wealthy Americans traveling in France fell in love with these endearing little dogs and began bringing them back to the USA.  The Yanks preferred dogs with erect ears which was fine with the French breeders as they preferred the rose eared specimens, as did the British breeders. 

Society ladies first exhibited Frenchies in 1896 at Westminster and a Frenchie was featured on the cover of the 1897 Westminster catalog even though it was not yet an approved AKC breed.

At that show, both bat eared and rose eared dogs were exhibited but the English judge put up only the rose-eared specimens.

This infuriated the American fanciers who quickly organized the French Bull Dog Club of America and drew up a breed standard allowing only the bat ear. At the 1898 Westminster show, the Americans were outraged to find that classes for both bat-eared and rose-eared dogs were to be shown despite the fact that the new breed standard allowed only the former.  They pulled their dogs, the American Judge refused to participate in the show, and the club organized their own show, for bat-eared dogs only, to be held at the luxurious Waldorf-Astoria.

This was the famous first specialty of the French Bulldog Club of America — which, incidentally, was the first breed club anywhere in the world to be dedicated to the French Bulldog.

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The winner of that first Specialty was a brindle dog named Dimboolaa. Popularity of Frenchies skyrocketed, particularly among the East Coast Society folks. After World War I the breed’s popularity began a decline that would last for the next fifty years.  The enormous popularity of another small brachycephalic breed, the Boston Terrier, probably contributed to this. Also many Frenchies had problems whelping naturally; it would be years before safe veterinary cesarean sections would be routinely performed. Hot summer months, before residential air conditioning became common, were rough going for the dogs. And interest in purebred dogs generally declined during the Depression of the 1930s.

 A small number of Frenchie breeders in America and Europe kept the flame alive but by 1940 French Bulldogs were considered a rare breed and only 100 were registered with the AKC. The years during World War II were difficult for all dog breeders and especially for those in Europe where many fine dogs starved or were put down for lack of food.

The 1980s witnessed a rapid rise in Frenchie registrations due to a newly energized French Bull Dog Club of America that included younger breeders who transformed the annual specialty shows into major events and who contributed to The French Bullytin, a new magazine devoted solely to Frenchies.  The 1980 breed registrations were 170 and by 1990 were 632. Since then, the popularity of these little dogs has soared and over 5,500 dogs were registered in 2006.

Nowadays it’s not that uncommon to see Frenchies featured in ads, movies or in stories about celebrities. This skyrocketing popularity can be scary for those of us who love the breed and who fight a constant battle to maintain breed type and minimize those health problems to which Frenchies are subject. Unscrupulous breeders and importers complicate the picture. Let’s hope that today’s successes are not a passing fad and that many future fanciers will enjoy all that can be offered by this most companionable breed.

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Health Care and Concerns  Find a good veterinarian, preferably one who has other short-faced patients; and provide your Frenchie with regular checkups, routine vaccinations, tests for intestinal parasites, heartworm prevention, and flea and tick control. Your vet should do regular dental checkups and care, and you should clean your dog’s teeth regularly at home as well.

As a short-faced, (“brachycephalic”), and dwarf breed, (“chondrodystrophic”), French Bulldogs may have some health concerns that you should be aware of. The short face can make their breathing less efficient than that of long-nosed breeds, so Frenchies have less tolerance of heat, exercise, and stress - all of which increase their need to breathe.

If your dog seems to overheat or become stressed too easily, with noisy breathing and sometimes spitting up foam, consult the vet and have its airway evaluated for pinched nostrils or an elongated soft palate. Anesthesia is also more risky in short-faced dogs, so be sure your veterinarian is experienced with such breeds should your Frenchie need to be anesthetized for any reason.

The spine also merits special attention. Like other dwarf breeds, the stocky French Bulldog may also have abnormal vertebrae and/or premature degeneration of the intervertebral discs. While the spine is supported by good musculature, herniation of degenerated discs can cause major problems, and most symptomatic back problems are due to disc disease rather than to abnormal vertebrae. All dogs should have a thorough musculoskeletal exam by a veterinarian, but most Frenchies can safely engage in regular moderate exercise, which is essential to help maintain healthy weight and good physical condition.

While some may think that their Frenchies are doing well in the water, it’s not actually like that. These gorgeous little gremlins can sustain swimming for a couple of seconds or minutes, but any longer staying in the water can turn out to be fatal. One of the main reasons for the French bulldog’s inability to swim is because they have shortened nostrils. We all know that breathing is a crucial part when we learn how to swim. And, since they breathe in short intervals due to brachycephalic skulls, French bulldogs can’t sustain swimming for an extended period.

Another essential factor that affects Frenchie’s swimming is its small and compact body. Short legs and swimming don’t go hand in hand.

One of the best ways to prevent your pooch from sinking is to buy a French bulldog life swimming vest. If he’s afraid of water, my advice is to make him enter into the water by telling him praise words. Giving treats can also help a lot since there’s no Frenchie who doesn’t like food. Try swimming with your dog and praise him during and after you finish the lesson. There are swimming jackets that come with a practical handle. You can use it to better maneuver while you spend the time swimming with your little gremlins.

Some vests also have a D-ring so you can attach a leash, and have a walk by the sea or ocean with your pooch.

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The French bulldog is high maintenance in many regards, but at least they don’t require much brushing. This breed has a medium-fine coat that sheds an average amount compared with other dog breeds.

French bulldogs come in a wide variety of colors. The AKC standard recognizes all combinations of bridle, fawn, and white. The AKC disqualifies French bulldogs that are solid black, liver, black and tan, black and white, mouse, and white with black. 

The bright, affectionate Frenchie is a charmer. Dogs of few words, Frenchies don’t bark much—but their alertness makes them excellent watchdogs. They happily adapt to life with singles, couples, or families, and do not require a lot of outdoor exercise. They get on well with other animals and enjoy making new friends of the human variety. It is no wonder that city folk from Paris to Peoria swear by this vastly amusing and companionable breed.

Many thanks to Jim Grebe, FBDCA Historian

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