The Adorable & Lovable History of the French Bulldogs aka The Frenchie

Take one look at the charming French Bulldog and it’s no surprise why these adorable pups have become one of America’s most popular dog breeds. With fun and friendly temperaments and their small size, the French Bull Dog makes the perfect companion. Because of this, the number of French Bulldogs registered with the AKC has skyrocketed over the last few years and more and more of your neighbors may be on the hunt for a loveable friend of their own.

But these adorable little pups weren’t always as popular or fashionable as they are now. So how did this amazing breed come to be the dogs we know and love today?

Ancient Origins

Scientists believe that the first domesticated wolves appeared around 14,000 years ago. Fast forward to the ancient Roman era and you can find the first reference of the future bulldog. Writings from the empire mention “broad-mouth” dogs that fought alongside human soldiers in battle.

These strong, courageous dogs laid the foundation for the lineage of working dogs that would later become the English Bulldog. 

The English Bulldog

The term Bulldog was first mentioned in literature as far back as the 1500 and 1600s. In England, these medium sized dogs were originally used in bull baiting, a controversial blood sport that pit a bull against another animal, usually a dog. Requiring strength and ferocity, bullfighting helped these dogs to develop strong, muscular bodies and broad mouths. Their stocky bodies helped to give the dogs a fighting chance against these powerful creatures. English Bulldogs continued to be used in bullfighting until the sport was outlawed by the Cruelty to Animals Act in 1835.

The Frenchie that we know and love today is most likely a descendant of the toy variety of the popular English Bulldogs that had once been used in these bullfighting matches.  In order to create their smaller size, the English Bulldog may have been crossed with terrier breeds.

These miniature English Bulldogs were particularly popular among lace-makers from the English Midlands in the 1850s and ’60s. As the lace makers worked on their craft, their four-legged companions could often be found curled across their laps. No longer working dogs, these small bulldogs became the family companions we know them as today.

New Beginnings

These early French Bulldogs enjoyed their quiet lives in England until the advent of the industrial revolution. As waves of technology and innovation swept across the cities and the English countryside, these skilled artisans were replaced by the machines of the textile industry.

two-blue-french-bulldog-puppies-playing

In search of work, these English lace makers soon relocated to Normandy, France, taking their small companions with them. The miniature Bulldog was a perfect fit for the cramped apartments the lace-makers now called home. Additionally, these dogs served another purpose for their owners: ratters. The bulldogs helped to reduce the number of rats that infested the cramped living spaces in crowded cities.

Once these dogs settled in France, it was not long before they became extremely popular in their new homeland

The small, companionable Frenchie became highly fashionable and desirable among all classes of French society, from ordinary merchants and workers, artists, and among society’s most elite ladies. As their popularity continued to grow, more and more English breeders began to export their smaller bulldogs, leaving very few of these miniature pups in the country of their origin.

Over time, the French variety of bulldog became more and more distinct from their English counterparts. These dogs were much smaller, weighing in around 12-15 pounds and had either upright or rose ears, and a slight underjaw.

Eventually, these short, compact dogs became known as “bouledogues France” or French bulldogs.

The French Bulldog in the U.S.

While the French bulldog became extremely popular in Western Europe, it was not until the late 1880’s that the dogs were finally sent over to the United States to begin an American breeding program. Around this time, a more uniform breed began to develop. However, unlike their European counterparts, the American French Bulldog was owned predominantly by society women and influential families such as the Rockefellers and J.P. Morgans.

After it’s move to the United States, the French bulldog made its first appearance at the Westminster Kennel Club Show in 1896 and has remained a popular fixture in dog shows to this day.

The breed’s first appearance in show would later prove to have large effects on the development of the breed. At this historic show, both rose ear and bat-eared dogs were shown. However, only dogs with “rose ears” were chosen by the judges. 

Infuriated, America breeders formed the French Bulldog Club of America. The club quickly went to work setting the breed standards of the French Bulldog we know today, such as the small erect bat ears that were loved by these breeders.  

Shortly after the formation of the French Bulldog Club, the American Kennel Club officially recognized the breed as separate from the English Bulldog. The French Bulldog was officially given its name in 1912.

The Frenchie continued to enjoy enormous success and popularity within the United States, becoming the 5th most popular dog breed by 1906. The dogs were especially popular among high society women, who would pay up to $3,000 for one of these highly coveted dogs, until the advent of World Word II.

Unfortunately, after the war, the popularity of the breed began to decline. According to Jim Grebe, a historian of the French Bulldog Club, this may have been due to the difficulty of natural births for the breed as well as the general decline of interest in purebred dogs during the Great Depression and World Word II. By the 1940s, only one hundred French bulldogs were registered with the American Kennel Club.

french bulldog puppy in a red shirt with model

Between World War II and the late 1900s, the dog remained relatively rare. During this time, most of the registered French bulldogs sported brindle coats. In the 1950s a breeder named Amanda West bred and popularized the cream and fawn versions. Even as these cream and fawn bulldogs enjoyed immense success in dogs show, there was a growing concern over the future of the breed. Would the French Bulldog eventually die out?

The Popular Companions

It was not until the 1980’s that the breed experienced renewed interest and popularity and fears over the French Bulldog’s extinction were put to rest. According to Jim Grebe, the breed’s success can be attributed to the renewal and reenergizing of the French Bulldog Club of America and the creation of a The French Bulletin, a magazine devoted to the breed.

austin dillion at daytona 500 with his french bulldog puppy

French Bulldogs are now a common feature in magazines, movies, television, and the social media app Instagram. French Bulldogs are also the beloved pets of many celebrities, which may also influence the popularity of the breed. Celebrities such as Hilary Duff, Carrie Fisher, Dwayne Johnson, and the Beckhams all own French Bulldogs.

In addition, the rising cost of the housing market has also played a role in the tremendous success of the Frenchie. The enormous expense of home ownership has forced many young people, a large portion of the dog owners, to choose the ease and relatively low cost of renting an apartment. Because of their small size and even temperament, French Bulldogs are particularly suitable to live in an apartment. Apartment dwellers may also favor the French Bulldog due to its low energy lifestyle. Short walks and at home play are often enough to meet the needs of this dog and so a large yard or green space is not necessary.

According to an article written by National Geographic, in 2013, the French bulldog was the 11th most registered dog in the US. Four years later, the breed is now the 4th most registered dog. Only twenty years ago, French Bulldogs were sitting low in the 76th spot.

As a result of its popularity, French Bulldogs have become increasingly expensive as well and many would-be owners find themselves on a waiting list. Most people can expect to pay between $1,150 and $3,000 dollars for a Frenchie with the average price hovering around $2,000.

 Looking for a top-quality show dog? He can cost you up to $100,000.

While some Frenchie lovers enjoy the immense popularity of the breed, there has been a growing concern over the feasibility of maintaining its standards and ensuring the health and wellbeing of the popular dog.

As the Frenchie’s popularity continues to increase, so too does the number of unscrupulous breeders who often ignore the health conditions that threaten the breed to keep up with demand. Like other flat-faced breeds, the French Bulldog often suffers from breathing problems and can easily become overheated or short of breath.

It is now up to the breeders and owners of these popular dogs to ensure the success of the breed for many years to come. Responsible breeding practices can help to alleviate the health issues that plague French Bulldogs so that we can all enjoy the friendly, companionable dogs we love today for many years to come.

Interested in a Frenchie?

 Resources and Further Reading:

 Cutts, S. (2018).  English Bulldog History: Where do Bulldogs Come From. Retrieved from http://www.theHappyPuppySite.com

 Grebe, J.  History of the French Bulldog Breed. Retrieved from http://www.thefrenchbulldogclub.org.

 Lombardi, L. (2018, July 10). Are We Loving French Bulldogs to Death? Retrieved from http://thenationalgeoprahic.com.