You’d think that Los Angeles would take its cues from the rest of America and embrace the happy-go-lucky Golden Retriever, America’s most popular dog, as the city’s number one breed. After all, retrievers can run long distances, hop in and out of luxury SUVs, and fetch until they drop. But those aren’t exactly selling points for hipsters of Los Angeles, who are content to take their canines for quick trips down the sidewalk, don’t mind heaving them in and out of the car, and value cuddling over any other skill. They’ll even, judging by the number of Yorkies and Maltipoos peeking from bags, do the walking for them.
This trade-off of agility for personality could explain L.A.’s unconventional choice in top dogs: the English and French Bulldogs, in that order. With their compact skeletons and snub noses, you’d be hard-pressed to find more physically challenged members of the canine community. But when it comes to comic relief, bulldogs are without peer. French Bulldogs are very distinctive and full of expression. There’s a lot of personality in those wrinkles and that round head.
Of the two, the Frenchie has the more public mug. Blame it on the mechanics: The English bulldog is heavier and less agile than its Continental counterpart and harder to transport by car. It stays at home while its cousin racks up the exposure. Frenchies are big-ticket commitment. Pet-quality puppies start at $2,500, and the breed costs extra in special diets (Frenchies suffer from food allergies) and surgical treatments (for respiratory, back, and elbow problems). Bulldogs are brachycephalics (from the Greek for “short head”), flat-nosed breeds that include Pugs and Boston terriers and are known for their huffing and puffing. But Frenchie owners cheerfully accept the expense; the Frenchies affectionate natures, an easy camaraderie that differs from the jangly, needy qualities of, say, Chihuahuas or Yorkshire terriers.
The Frenchie came into being in the 1800s. The British had been developing a toy version of their classic bulldog but were appalled when the dogs were born with “bat-like” ears. The Brits deemed the protrusions a disqualification. The French had no such qualms and adopted the breed as their own. According to the AKC standard, a French bulldog should weigh no more than 28 pounds (compared with the English bulldog’s 50) and colors other than brindle, fawn, and white are banned from the show ring.
Throughout the 1900s, Americans gravitated to breeds popularized by TV (collies and German shepherds), presidential patronage (beagles and cocker spaniels), marketing campaigns (Chihuahuas and bull terriers), and celebrity ownership (Yorkshire terriers). The Frenchie boom of the past decade doesn’t have a Paris Hilton or Barack Obama moment (if anything, celebrities have been late to the game, with Dwayne Johnson, Lady Gaga, and other Frenchie fans just a couple of years into ownership). Rather, the attentions of L.A. and New York—Frenchies edge out the English bulldog for number one in the latter—have propelled the breed to ubiquity. L.A. is a trendy and hip place, and the Frenchie is trendy and hip. They’re great city dogs as well. They don’t need a lot of exercise. They’re easy to maintain in condos or apartments. You’re not going to see Frenchie owners with one of those ball things throwing a ball. That’s not going to happen even in Los Angeles.