- The Frenchie has long been a beloved breed — French bulldogs have been a popular breed since their 19th-century origins. In 2022, Frenchies ended the 31-year run of the Labrador retriever to become the most popular dog breed in America .
- They were originally English dogs with a French name — Thought to have first been bred from toy English bulldogs, the French bulldog was initially called the bouledogue Francais.
- Early breeders helped standardize their trademark bat ears — Breeders from the United Kingdom wanted to breed for rounder rose ears, but American and French high society preferred the bat-like ears. Therefore, the latter ultimately became the preferred trait among the breed fanciers.
Origins of the French bulldog
Like many other dog breeds, the French bulldog was developed over generations of dog breeding, either selectively or by happenstance. Learn more about the deep connections that this pint-sized pup shares with some other older dog breeds.
Your cuddly, snoring French bulldog can trace its origin back to ancient Greece, where it shares some ancestry with mighty breeds like the Great Pyrenees and the Molossus, a large war dog. While you won’t find a true member of this breed alive today, you can see traits in some of its descendant breeds, like the mastiff, French bulldog, and the now-extinct breed known as the Bullenbeisser. If the French bulldog’s story were a novel, this would merely be the prologue of their well-traveled adventure.
How England contributed to the French bulldog
In 1835, the English parliament passed the Cruelty to Animals Act, which banned bull baiting and, fortunately, put breeds like the Bullenbeisser out of work in this blood sport. As a result, the solid and durable dogs became companions, and the breeding practices associated with them were less stringent. Breeders began crossing the massive Bullenbeisser with terriers and English bulldogs to create the miniature bulldog.
A storied French history
While members of this breed today are instantly recognizable, it wasn’t until later in the 1800s that the French bulldog became associated with France. As the Industrial Revolution grew in England, jobs shrank for certain industries. Textile workers revolted , but some, like lace workers, simply picked up their tiny dogs and went elsewhere for work. These miniature bulldogs became so popular in France that the French began importing the bulldog, which was called bouledogues Français.
These charming little dogs became the symbol of a Parisian lifestyle and were popular not only with the social elite but also madams and prostitutes in Paris. Once the breed crossed borders again, it expanded into the United States and back to Britain. The breed was ultimately renamed the French bulldog.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, the recorder of Montmartre
The French bulldog’s popularity only grew thanks to Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, an artist from a privileged background. But, like many creative minds, he found his home and inspiration in the brothels of Paris. Madame Palmyre, a frequent subject of his, was often accompanied by her French bulldog, Bouboule, in de Toulouse-Lautrec’s paintings.
Thanks to their ties to the Paris nightlife, whether considered reputable or not, these dogs became a popular breed in high society, a popularity that continues to this day. Influential Frenchie owners like Dwayne Johnson, Reese Witherspoon, Hugh Jackman, and Snoop Dogg have French bulldogs with names as unique as their owners.
French bulldogs today
In 2022, French bulldogs climbed up the American Kennel Club’s charts to unseat the Labrador retriever’s 31-year reign as America’s favorite breed. This playful breed is in thousands of Americans’ homes across the United States despite the myriad of health issues that Frenchies are prone to. In 2021, French bulldogs had moved to the AKC’s No. 2 most popular dog breed, and even then, there were over 66,000 registered purebred dogs in the United States. This doesn’t include mixed breeds or owners who didn’t register their pups.
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Breed standards for Frenchies
The American Kennel Club and United Kennel Club have breed standards that differ slightly but ultimately disqualify dogs with deformities or health issues. There are minor differences, such as weight disqualifications, and certain other details, such as tail shape and how it lays. Both kennel clubs seem to prioritize birth defects that impact the dog’s health, which can be significant for this breed.
One of the most prominent features of a French bulldog is the characteristic flat face. Cute to some and unappealing to others, this short snout makes the French bulldog a brachycephalic breed, leading to respiratory problems. Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS) is a condition that impacts dogs with short noses and can make breathing challenging for the breed. Surgery can help, but it isn’t a cure, and owners should test their French for BOAS for their general knowledge or if they hope to breed them.
Dr. Dwight Alleyne
Frenchies are prone to many health issues where genetics have a major role. While these health issues may be difficult to completely avoid, buying from a reputable breeder can help minimize some of these conditions. Also, it is important to feed them a high-quality diet to help decrease the skin issues that they commonly face.
Another issue that French bulldogs are prone to is intervertebral disc disease. A slipped disc can cause sudden paralysis, which may or may not be correctable by surgery. Other conditions common to Frenchies, typically caused by their unique appearance, include eye issues and skin problems due to their wrinkles.
Frequently asked questions
When did French bulldogs originate?
French bulldogs as we know them today, originated in Europe. After initially moving from the English midlands to northern France and finally becoming one of the popular dog breeds in Paris, the French bulldog became a fashion symbol of Parisian life. English workers initially brought the breed with them as they looked for work.
What makes a French bulldog such a popular breed?
As a smaller dog with a short coat that’s easy to care for, the French bulldog is an attractive option for urban city dwellers. Additionally, celebrities seem to love the French bulldog. Lady Gaga has two, Koji and Gustav, which were famously kidnapped (and later returned) in 2022.
What two breeds make a French bulldog?
Today the French bulldog is a breed by itself, but the breed’s development involved pugs, terriers, and other bulldog breeds, including the now-extinct breed, the Bullenbeisser.
Are French bulldogs high maintenance?
Due to their health issues, French bulldogs can be high maintenance. Ear cleaning, skincare, and possible surgery due to bone and breathing issues should be expected and planned for by pet owners considering adding a Frenchie to the family.
Do French bulldogs bark a lot?
For the most part, Frenchies don’t tend to bark a lot. Some French bulldogs make good watchdogs and will alert owners to unexpected or unwelcome guests, so it’s important to learn your dog’s barking habits, tones, and frequency.