Posts Tagged ‘French bulldog’

The story of people and dogs is always tied in some way to culture, which is itself tied economics and sociology. 

For example, I came of age in the Era of the Retriever, when in the late 80s and 90s, there was enough economic expansion as the result of a technology boom that middle class aspirations were always a house in the suburbs and a golden or Labrador retriever in the backyard.

Since the Great Recession, the middle class hasn’t been able to grow in most Western countries, and large sectors of people are coming of age in a world in which people must work long hours and live in little apartments.

Those are not the best conditions for caring for a gun dog breed, unless it’s a very toned down Labrador or golden. 

Ten years ago, there was bit of an English bulldog fad. Ozzy Osbourne had bulldogs, and several reality TV shows, not just his, featured the breed. The breed suffers from a myriad of problems, and it took about a decade before people began to realize that these dogs are a lot of work and heartache.

So the English bulldog’popularity boom never stood a chance at replacing the Labrador.

But traveling alongside its larger English counterpart in its popularity rise was the French bulldog, and it is this breed that has the potential to reign as the most popular breed in much of the West in a very short order.

You may think I’m a bit crazy for saying so, but right now, the French bulldog has already displaced the Labrador in the UK in terms of Kennel Club registrations.

The reasons why this is happening are quite interesting. These dogs are not easy to breed, so the prices of them are extremely high. They are not dogs that the middle class can buy, but as the good life is no longer being defined as having a big house in the suburbs and having children, the French bulldog fits in better with these expectations.

Someone once told me that the reason someone likes French bulldogs is because they don’t like dogs.  What was meant by that statement is that French bulldogs lack many of the traits we typically like in our dogs. They are not particularly trainable. They do have issues cooling themselves and breathing, as a result of their brachycephaly, and they really cannot be used for anything.

I’ve contended that the appeal of these dogs is they have more monkey-like faces, which we higher primates find particularly easy to relate to it,  and we now live in a world where it’s harder and harder to keep and handle dogs. So much so, that  we now have whole generations who don’t understand what a dog should be like.

So they go for the monkey dog, which won’t mind that it must live in an apartment or condo and certainly won’t care if its owner can’t give it much exercise or serious training.

The dog is cute to some people, probably because of our own ethology that predisposes us to monkey faces, and it’s not that hard to care for.

It’s now obvious that the market for these dogs is far from saturated, and people are plunking down as much as $10,000 for an eight-week-old puppy of some fad coloration in the breed.

There is now so much money in this breed, that thieves are stealing them from homes and even pet stores.

I am not going to argue for legislation that will tell you what kind of dog you must have, but it seems perverse that we moving so staunchly away from truly athletic and workmanlike dogs to these monkey dogs.

I can’t help but feel some sorrow about what we’re doing, because we’re not really doing it because of dogs but because of our own alienation from the natural world, an alienation that becomes more and more complete every year and with each generation.

The wolves that sat by the campfires of yore allowed their bodies to be bred in some many bizarre shapes and forms, but the current move is to step so far away from what a wolf is or was. It is step beyond the 35 million years or so this particular subfamily of Canidae, which has been to develop adaptations for distance running and cursorial predation.

We are engineering something new, just the way we have when we adapted wolves and primitive dogs for own new societies and tasks. It’s just what’s driving this distortion is human caprices and fashions, which are so rarely checked in when allowed to run amok in domestic dog breeds.

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The Nadir of Dog Kind


The domestic dog is the most successful subspecies of wolf in the world.  All other subspecies have generally existed in spite of man’s persecution, but the dog thrives because it exists at some level domestication. Western culture exalts the canine, and many dogs living in North America and Europe have much easier lives than many people living in developing countries.

The dog in the West has been bred to be useful. Selective breeding produced many specialist forms, but most of these became antiquated as the Industrial Revolution continued on.

Because of our dog obsession, we began to breed these dogs as pets for the middle class. The fisherman’s dog of Newfoundland was bred larger and larger in Europe and the United States until it was a great shaggy beast that would be more likely to sink a dory from its ponderous girth than ride in it. The great fowling setters of Britain and Ireland were bred so profusely coated that their feathers do nothing but collect thorns and burs. The dachshund outside of its German performance registry is bred with such short legs and such a long back that paralysis from disc slippage is constant worry.

Such developments could have only happened when industrialization had created enough wealth and technological advancements to allow dogs to be bred solely as pets and exhibition animals. The value of a dog could come solely from what its parentage was, not its absolute functionality as a working animal.

One has to remember that this development is not necessarily a bad thing. Dogs that couldn’t perform very often wound up shot or left abandoned, but life for the bulk of domestic canines got better.

But at the same time, the unintended consequence of dogs being valued for what their ancestry represented is that all sorts of weird fads and styles could work their way through breeds, often crippling or severely encumbering them as individuals.

The bulldog, for example, did not typically have the best life as a working dog. Bulldogs were bred to attack bears and bulls– and sometimes big cats, like lions and tigers– in baiting contests that were meant as reenactments of the days when mastiff-type dogs had to battle with any number of fell beasts in the wilds of Europe. In Britain, those beasts had largely been subdued by the time baiting contests became popular, and the dog was bred for the bloodsport.  These dogs did not live long, happy lives as gladiators.

In the nineteenth century, the sport was made illegal, and the bulldogs soon found themselves out of work. They could have had the fate of the modern otterhound, a breed of griffon bred for pack work in the rivers.  When the otter finally became a protected species, the otterhound found itself without a job, but the introduced American mink provided it a possible redemption– until pack hunting with dogs became severely curtailed. The otterhound now exists almost solely as a fanciers’ dog, a relic of a time when the otter was so numerous as to threaten trout and salmon stock and thus needed to be hounded and harried along the banks and marshes.

But enterprising dog fanciers and dog dealers figured out that the bulldog could be redeemed through crossbreeding with the pug. an import from China by way of the Netherlands, and a few of the smaller, more docile terriers.  The goal was to make a bulldog that wasn’t so big and fierce and scary, a bulldog as toned down and tame that a baby could pull its flews not receive even the slightest growl from the beast.

This experiment largely succeeded, and as the bulldog became more and more popular as a show dog, the fad became to breed for the so-called “sourmug” type.  This type is the basis on which the modern bulldog, usually called the “English bulldog,” was formed. Breeding for a more and more massive head and narrower and narrower pelvis did cause problems with reproduction, but as we’ve advanced as a civilization, the AI and the Cesarean section allowed us to push the limits further and further.

Bulldogs were a breed that was not particularly popular through most of the middle and late twentieth centuries, but as we’ve moved in the twenty-first century, the much of the West has gone bulldog mad.

The breed was much celebrated on reality television, and when it became known how gentle they were, the public was intrigued. When it became well-known that they didn’t have that much of an activity level– which is largely the result of their constricted airways–the overworked post-industrial middle class went gaga for them.

Over time, though, it soon became well-publicized that the bulldog had atrocious health. About the only condition they didn’t suffer from was matted fur, and the English bulldog is still a relatively large dog. The modern West is an increasingly urbanized world in which weight limits are now being placed upon what dogs can be kept, and smaller-sized dogs are much more convenient to keep in a small space, even if no limits exist.

For decades, North American breed registries have been dominated with Labrador retrievers as their top most registered breed. The same goes for the Kennel Club in the UK. This is a large breed that is noted for its intelligence, and although not all individuals are well-wired for gundog work, many of them clearly are.  Some Labradors do well in city. Others eat down the furniture in the studio apartments where they are forced to dwell.

But now, it looks like change is afoot.  With the amount of inconsistency in the activity level in Labradors, urbanites have gone out in search of a replacement dog. They didn’t find it in the English bulldog. They didn’t find it in the Chihuahua either.

But after years of looking for that perfect urban pet, the perfect candidate has started to materialize. In the UK, the Kennel Club reports that the French bulldog is about to replace the Labrador as its top registered breed. The French bulldog is also the top dog registered with the American Kennel Club from the Los Angeles zip code.

The French bulldog is an offshoot of that original British dog dealer scheme to produce a nice pet from bull-baiting stock. This type of bulldog became popular in Paris (hence the name “French bulldog”) and Vienna, and it did have a bout popularity in the United States in the early part of the twentieth century, when its close cousin from Beacon Hill was the AKC’s most popular breed and the French dog came along for the popularity ride.

Its health is somewhat better than the English bulldog, but that isn’t saying much.  But it is smaller, and it has a short coat and a lower activity level. And it has been bred for docility.

Docile, small, smooth-coated, and phlegmatic. These are the desired characteristics of the post-industrial pet.

These dogs are so much removed from what I understand a dog. To me, a dog will always be a hard-runner who glories in the chase and whose coat is anointed with burs and foul-smelling substances. They are domesticated but not debased.  They are relics of a time when man lived right as part of nature and not some entity that is under the delusion that it can be separate from it.

Post-industrial society with postmodern values has pretty much set itself on creating a post-dog canine. If these trends continue, we might long for the days of the big, fat Labradors that their owners believe are just “big-boned.”

At least the Labrador is still a dog, but the post-dog canine, like French bulldog, is but a facsimile of what came before. Through its veins courses the blood wolves that were first forged into the hunting and war mastiffs of yore and then into the brawny bullbaiters of Elizabethan times, which now lie in this bizarre permutation of an extreme brachycephalic toy with the ears of a big-eared bat.

If this breed does replace the Labrador as the most popular dog in the West, then I think we can say that the dog species has reached its nadir. No longer can the fit, active dog thrive in our societies. Domestication will finally end with this sad debasement.

I say this not as someone who hates French bulldogs but as someone who wishes that we were more aware of what we were doing to dogs through our casual selections for pets. If French bulldogs were bred for smaller heads and longer muzzles, I would not have much of a complaint, but then there wouldn’t be much separating the French dogs from those proper Bostonians.  And dog breeders like to accentuate the differences between related forms.

The post-dog canine isn’t something that should be celebrated. It is to be lamented.

Lamented, for it will mean that our kind has made yet another step toward denying our own basic animality. No longer are these creatures from campfires of old. They are merely distorted pets for our own convenience, no longer beings in their own right but caricatures of what a dog once was.

They are caricatures of the canine in the glow of the city lights and neon signs.

The campfires have long since burned out.

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merle french bulldog

Merle is one those things.

The color itself is inherited through an incompletely dominant allele, which means you can easily transmit it from breed to breed. All you have to do is cross a merle dog of one breed with a breed that doesn’t yet have the color, and then you just breed back into that second breed until the dogs all look like like that breed, just with the merle color.

The problem with the color is that it can be risky.  It is often frowned upon to breed merle to merle, because there is risk that some of the puppies that are born double merle can have closed ear canals or eye deformities that might be as severe as the dog having no eyes at all.

All the breeds that have a standard merle color have a way of dealing with this problem, though, to be fair, not all breeders follow those guidelines.

The problem happens when you have cryptic merles– dogs that have the merle variant but you can’t tell by looking at them.  The dog simply doesn’t show the pattern at all, and when someone breeds that merle to a known merle, you can get the defective puppies.

Also merle can be hidden in yellow or cream colored dogs, simply because they don’t produce any pigment on their fur but yellow or cream. French bulldogs come in this color. (Though I don’t think their fancier use this name).

So you could run a risk in creating double merles entirely upon accident.

Now the dog in the photo doesn’t look to be that far removed from the crossbreeding that introduced the merle variant into that particular strain of French bulldog. But there are breeders who are producing merle French bulldogs with much more typical conformation.

I don’t see the point in adding merle to a breed that also comes in cream or yellow. It’s way too risky.

I’m sure the French bulldog clubs are thrilled to know that this color is being produced. It’s not a standard color in the breed.

But the issue is managing merle in a breed population, and I guarantee that the people who started producing these dogs aren’t thinking about breed management issues.

People love that merle color, but if it’s going to exist in any breed, there have to be guidelines about how to produce it.

Otherwise, it’s just asking for misery.

It’s better off left out of most breeds.


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bulldogs and baby

It’s actually very deeply rooted in our biology.

Humans find things that somewhat resemble our infants appealing.

The main reason why we find human babies cute is those features we believe are cute– large eyes and brachycephaly– are actually features that cause humans to care for them.

Stephen Jay Gould contended that this is why Disney’s cartoonists drew their characters in such a way. Mickey Mouse looks very cute to us, even though he really doesn’t resemble any kind of known mouse or rat species.

Gould borrowed heavily from Lorenz, who contended that our reaction to figures resembling human babies was so strong that it often has consequences in how we view animals. Camels are seen as aloof and haughty, while in German, the words for rabbit, squirrel, and robin (European robin, which is quite cute) all automatically have the diminutive suffix chen in their names.

Now, this is a very interesting way of looking at human behavior in regard to art, but it’s much more disconcerting when one looks at how it has affected dog breeding.

Gould supplies this depiction to make his point:

gould juvenile


In the third row, you see two dogs. One of which could be an English toy spaniel, and the other could be a smooth-coated saluki.

Humans tend to find dogs like the one on the left more appealing, which may be one reason virtually all domestic dogs have shorter muzzles in proportion to their skulls than wolves do.  Sighthounds and anomalies like bull terriers are notable exceptions.

Now, there are many different postulates about why dogs tend to have shorter muzzles than wolves, but the one that seems to be driving the extreme brachycephaly we see in modern breeds is the same one that makes us love Mickey Mouse.

I’m not immune to this appeal. I  find French bulldogs and Boston terriers unbelievably cute. I think it may be that having been around a much more naturally looking bulldog type (a boxer/golden retriever cross) that I happened to have known from the time she was a tiny puppy, I find dogs that remind me of her as a puppy bring back happy memories.

So it’s both my biology and my history of associations that make me find this sort of dog cute.

Now, the problem is that dog DNA is actually a very malleable medium.

Dog breeders are actually skilled sculptors who do nothing be mold DNA, and the elasticity in dog phenotype is unbelievable.

We’ve been able to breed so many unusual features into dogs so rapidly that we’ve not had time to take stock of what we’ve been doing.

That’s one reason why we have so many dogs with such extreme brachycephaly that they cannot breathe, cool, or clean themselves properly.

And it’s also why it’s almost impossible to have a rational conversation with a breeder of a bulldog about the many problems this breed has.

The dogs are just too cute to be changed.

We’re fighting human biology run amok on dogs.


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No muzzle

You don’t need a muzzle when you’re cute.

no muzzle

But you might if you want to cool yourself or, you know, breathe.


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Extreme brachycephaly means that a dog can’t snarl properly, which means it’s back to the primitive coyote gape threat!

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The bulldog is all bark and no bite.

I had no idea dog could shriek like that, which is probably because I’ve never had a dog with such extreme brachycephaly.

I’ve never heard any kind of dog make this sort of noise. The closest I can get to describing it is that it very closely sounds like the noises that gray foxes make. (Warning: Clicking the previous link will open an audio file, which will produce a noise that will get the attention of any dogs in the room. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

I bet this household has the neighbors a bit confused.

Not only do they have a shrieking French bulldog, they have a hairless crested dog.

Perhaps the neighbors think some bizarre genetic engineering experiments are going on in there.

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