Choosing, Raising, and Caring for a French Bulldog
To begin our story of the French bulldog, we must first investigate the origins of the bulldog breed itself, which took place in 13th century England. The original bulldog was taller, leaner, and had a longer snout than the contemporary breed we all easily recognize as the English bulldog. The 13th century dog was bred from the Mastiff breed brought from Central Asia, most likely during military campaigns against the continent of Europe. The exact breeding line is not well known but the motivations were—to breed a dog with ferocity and stubbornness to be used in a sport known as bull baiting, where the Bulldog would grab onto the nose of a bull and control it for sport or corralling.
In later centuries, bull baiting became increasingly illegal in England and the breed had lost its usefulness. But a small group of breeders was reluctant to let the breed fade away. They sought to breed out the ferocity, but as we all know, not the stubbornness, of the bulldog. They did this by crossing and re-crossing with the pug.
It is also of interesting to note that the bulldog was exported from England to Germany in the 19th century, where it was used to create the modern Boxer breed.
This leads us to the main part of our effort in understanding where and why the French bulldog came about. The French bulldog was bred from the best smaller sized examples of the English bulldog—not from inferior examples as is often surmised. This original breeding stock was taken from England by lace workers emigrating to Calais in Western France where it was increasingly bred with the French terrier. Popular colors of the frenchie are white, black, and brindle.
The French bulldog became a great hit in France due to its new and disturbing look. This is especially the case with the 'Belles de Nuit' or ladies of the night who kept them for their small size, excellent disposition, and warmth. It is interesting to note that the frenchie can be seen depicted in Toulouse-Lautrecs 'Le Marchand de Marrons' (1897) with a prominent place in front of a French brothel.
Colorful as the origins of the breed may be, the French Bulldog can make a wonderful companion for the right owner.
They do very well as apartment dogs or for owners who are out of the house for long periods each day. The frenchie has no problem being crated as they will be lazy and sleep most of that time. The same trait that makes your dog a great apartment dog also makes her a great traveler that contently lays on a passengers lap for hours at a time.
Even though the breed is not known for barking, they will alert their owner to people or animals encroaching on their territory. A bark and whine will accompany your frenchie from door to window as they follow the action outside. The frenchie may carry a bark but not a bite—they are extremely friendly with people. If socialized correctly, they will accept strangers willingly. A pat and a back rub are common pleasures.
The breed is not known for excessive shedding; only a minor amount of short hairs will come loose. A weekly vacuum will keep your house none the worse for wear.
Finding the Right Breeder
I had the opportunity to interview breeder Larry Seibel, owner of Ferncroft Farms in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Mr. Seibel has been a breeder of rare animals, including the largest herd of dromedary camels on the East Coast. His show quality dogs have competed and placed at the Westminster Dog Show. He owned, until its closing in 2006, the Triangle Metro Zoo in Raleigh, North Carolina, with a collection of over 400 animals.
Mr. Seibel cares deeply for his animals and offers this advice for searching out a breeder, "Find out why they breed, is it for money or to improve the breed? Find out if they actually bred the dog, do they participate in shows, do they love their dogs and are they well cared for? I enjoy finding loving forever homes for my puppies."
One of the reasons Mr. Seibel became interested in breeding the French bulldog is that "they are unique in their looks and disposition, they live to make you laugh and hence they are known as the clown of canines." Or as the AKC states, "Often described as a clown in the cloak of a philosopher. They are part cat, part dog, part philosopher and part comedian ... all the world is a stage for them."
Risks of Owning the Breed
Due to the shortness of their muzzle, the French bulldog cannot take excessive heat. According to Mr. Seibel, "French bulldogs are one of the many different brachycephalic breeds (Boxers, Pugs, and Boston terriers are others and are characterized by a 'pushed in face' and extremely short nose). Frenchies are unprepared to exist comfortably in hot, humid weather. Moderate exercise can become excessive on an 80-degree day or a 70-degree day with high humidity—both situations can be physically stressful." They simply can't cool themselves down. If your dog becomes heat stressed, cool water on the chest will quickly cool their bodies and is imperative if you notice excessive panting in your dog. With that warning in mind ,they love to walk (on a leash), smell the scents, and explore a trail.
Mr. Seibel relates that, "I breed my dogs to insure their breathing structures are correct. It is one of the most important health aspects that a breeder, as well as future owner, should be aware of. The dogs ability to breath, starting with the nares, the palate and then the trachea is of paramount importance. If the nasal openings are pinched, or very tight, it is difficult for them to take in a sufficient amount of air—these frenchies are the most likely candidates to suffer from heat stroke and respiratory distress. New owners should have their frenchies examined by a vet."
Always fence your frenchie and walk her on a leash. Remember from our history that obstinance was not bred out of the breed. They will not always come to you when called, they'll just stare and refuse to move. Worse yet, if you run to get them, they will more than likely run away from you, thinking that you are playing with them. A good trick is to carry a treat with you—frenchies love their bones!
Be careful with rough play. Frenchies are prone to back problems. They like getting down on the floor with you and gentle pushing and hand play are favorites. They also like to run after balls sparingly and playing with a favorite stuffed or plastic toy. Just be careful not to pull toys out of their mouths to avoid neck or back sprains. The vet will prescribe muscle relaxers for any episodes of spasms.
Do not feed your frenchie any grapes, chocolate, avocado, or macadamia as these may affect the breed in very low amounts and may lead to a potentially fatal condition.
Your dog will have a tendency to 'clean up' after themselves. To avoid this have a bag to pick up after your puppy and young adult dog to break her of this habit. I know it sounds distasteful but the alternative is even more so!
Your puppy is best trained from its crate. Shortly after weaning, your frenchie will whine every few hours; it will remind you of your newborn! Take them out to relieve themselves, cuddle for a few minutes, and place them back in their crate. A ticking clock and a warm blanket will help calm your puppy. As we mentioned before, the breed is stubborn! Start their house training by placing newspaper in a large area of the room that their crate is in. When your puppy relieves itself on the paper, praise and cuddle her. Over days and weeks make the paper area smaller and smaller with the last step taking the last sheet of paper outside. Did I forget to mention that frenchies are extremely intelligent? They will get the connection of 'going' outside. Praise her and give her a treat.
What to Feed
In order to keep your frenchie healthy, you must maintain optimal weight with the 'cut' between the chest and hind legs well defined. Feeding weight control dry mixed with a few morsels of soft food twice a day is perfect. Low fat bones, carrots, and apple slices (without the peel) can provide a happy treat as well as inducement to come where you want your frenchie to be. If your frenchie had hands, they would clap for joy and do a happy dance at the sight of their favorite treat!
Quirks of the Breed
French bulldogs are known to have a slight problem with odoriferous flatulence, a trait it shares with some other breeds most notably the Bassett Hound. Keep the 'people' food to a minimum and this problem will be kept at bay. A funny story related by an owner friend had their frenchie sitting in the kitchen amongst company when she let loose a very audible wind, whereby the dog looked around the room as to infer 'who the 'blank' did that'!
A great story Mr. Seibel related to me involved a professional couple who had been researching the purchase of a French bulldog for nearly two years, "They came for a visit to meet the puppies, arriving in a beautiful black Lexus—not a spot of dust. We spoke for a fair amount of time, they found the puppies to be irresistible and decided to reserve one with a deposit. They were flying out for business and would return in 10 days to pick up their pup. Upon returning they seemed very excited about their new pet. After they completed all the paperwork and received instructions from me the wife stopped and asked 'what is that noise?' I laughed and said it's their mother, she's sleeping in the other room and is snoring. She said in the most indignant tone, 'They snore? ... my husband snores and I don't know if I can take another one in the house!' I said, after two years of research you didn't come across any info pertaining to their snoring?" Mr. Seibel continued, "I later received an email where she confessed she had become accustomed to the snoring of the new member of their family and said she would become alarmed if she couldn't hear her dear little pet sleeping!"
Nails can be an issue with a dog that likes to lounge most of the time. Have your dogs nails trimmed or ground at home or at a Petsmart to keep the cuticles short.
Baths should be taken every week or so. This breed, along with other short hair breeds, retains a good amount of lanoline which can lead to a less than springtime ambience. For a dog that loves to snuggle, it will be more pleasant for you too! Just be careful to avoid water on her head so as not to get any in the ears.
The folds in your frenchie's muzzle need to be cleaned with a cue-tip and a bit of soapy water. Ears should be wiped, not probed.
What If You Want to Show?
I asked Mr. Seibel what is would take for a newcomer to break into showing dogs, "The first steps for a newcomer is to attend a dog show, the larger cluster dog shows usually have a 'new comer' education session for both spectators and would be show participants. The best place to start is with the AKC web site."
Mr. Seibel also says that when looking for a show quality puppy, "There should be very little difference in a pet versus a show dog. The health requirement for pet and show is the same. The only difference one should find between a pet and show dog may be some atheistic trait - is the dog's coat the correct color or maybe is it a little longer than it should be."
For a great companion that needs little other than love to make it happy, a French bulldog can't be beat. Be aware of its physical limitations and you will be rewarded with a friendly, playful, and home grown philosopher!