French Bulldog History: A Complicated Past From Brothels to Royals
By Denise Flaim
Published: Mar 15, 2023
Though we often don’t think about them in this way, dogs are really about people — those long-ago (or, sometimes, not-so-long-ago) figures who developed particular breeds
for particular tasks. Some breeds — like the Doberman Pinscher, Teddy Roosevelt Terrier, and Cesky Terrier — owe their existence to just one visionary person.
Other breeds were brought into being by specific groups or classes of people.
If civilization is the intersection of a group of people with their environment, so too are their dogs. With coats that evolved to survive the local climate,
body styles developed to navigate native terrains, and characters that fit into the social values of the day, our purebred dogs are living, breathing moments of history,
reflections of the far-flung cultures that developed and nurtured them. Through them, we rediscover our globe’s cultural diversity and heritage.
The Rise of the French Bulldog
For a closeup on the French Bulldog‘s rather unique roots, we’ll head to the famous Montmartre neighborhood of Paris, on any given night in the 1890s.
Smack in the middle of the Belle Époque, when economic prosperity led to a boom in technology and the arts, persistently medieval Paris was being transformed into the chic,
modern city that it is today.
Ignoring the silent disapproval of the white-domed Basilica of the Sacré-Cœur rising on the hilltop above it, Montmartre was a bustling nightlife district.
Its cheap rents attracted a cross selection of working-class Parisians, and its cabarets and cafes attracted countless artists, including museum-worthy names– Picasso,
Renoir, Matisse, Degas, and on and on.
Amid its brasseries and bistros, Montmartre also had brothels – lots of them.
Besides plunging necklines and silk stockings, the city’s belles de nuit often flaunted another accessory: a compact, snub-nosed little dog
that sometimes had cartoonishly round, erect ears and an always outsized personality.
So indelible was this association between Paris’ sex workers and their French Bulldog companions that the dogs began to appear alongside their scantily -clad mistresses
in risque postcards of the late-19th and early-20th centuries.
Courtesy of the AKC Library and Archives
French Bulldogs of this period also turned up in the post-Impressionist paintings of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, the so-called “recorder of Montmartre.”
His most famous canine subject was Bouboule, a Frenchie belonging to Madame Palmyre, owner of the famous café La Souris (“the Mouse”).
Poet Paul Leclerq described Palmyre as “a buxom woman with the ferocious appearance of a bulldog who, though in reality exceedingly kindhearted, always seemed to be on
the point of biting.” Bouboule, for his part, was famous for urinating on the ankles of those patrons who had the temerity to try to pet him.
The English Toy Bulldog
Our vignette in Montmartre is just the mid-point of the French Bulldog’s journey, one which spanned three countries, two continents, and virtually every social class
before the breed was molded into the consummate companion we know today.
As its name suggests, the French Bulldog derives from Britain’s native Bulldog, which as far as relatives go was bigger and – during the early part of the 19th century,
at least – badder. Bulldogs had to be if they were to compete in bull-baiting, which involved grabbing an enraged bovine by the nose and hanging on for dear life.
When bull-baiting and other forms of animal combat were banned in England in the 1830s, Bulldogs headed to the show ring, where they were divided into classes by size,
including ones for the smallest of these charmers – the English Toy Bulldog.
As early as the 1810s, machines that could manufacture textile goods a hundred times faster than the human hand threatened to undo the literal
cottage industries of the English countryside. In Nottinghamshire, famous centuries before as the home of Robin Hood, a shadowy figure with a similarly
rogue operating style emerged. Ned Ludd led a revolt of angry textile workers who pounded the newfangled machines with sledgehammers in the dead of night, a
nd wrote letters of protest sent from “Ned Ludd’s office, Sherwood Forest.” Though ultimately unsuccessful at stopping the march of progress, Ludd is immortalized
in the word Luddite, which has come to mean someone who objects to innovations in technology.
Courtesy of the AKC Library and Archives
All Levels of Society
By the time the Toy Bulldog arrived on the scene, Ludd’s revolt had faded, and Nottingham’s highly-skilled, home-based artisans had been replaced by
low-wage workers who worked long hours in often-unsafe mills. It was these female lacemakers who took a fancy to the Toy Bulldogs, although no one quite knows why.
Perhaps these miniaturized bulldogs ate less food and took up less room in the tight quarters that were all the women could afford with their meager wages.
Maybe they fit snugly on a lap, where they made an attractive detour for fleas that were otherwise human-bound.
What we do know is that the lace workers were so smitten by their funny little Bulldogs that when the Industrial Revolution eliminated their jobs completely,
they took the dogs with them across the English Channel to the Normandy area in northern France. There, bespoke clothing was still valued, and the lacemakers’
skill with fabric and needle was still in demand. The little dogs – some of which had wonky, erect ears instead of the traditionally “rosed,” or crinkled, ones
valued by Bulldog purists – soon became popular with various levels of society, including our aforementioned ladies of the evening.
Today’s Popular Pooch
But the French Bulldog’s popularity didn’t stop there. Its courtesan connection made it chic among powerbrokers and even royals of the day.
Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna, daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, had a beloved Frenchie named Ortipo. It is believed that Ortipo met the same unfortunate
fate as the rest of the Russian imperial family. The spunky dog’s likeness, sculpted in quartz and bejeweled by Fabergé, now sits in a museum in St. Petersburg.
Eventually, American tourists became enamored of the breed, bringing it to the United States, the third and final leg of its journey.
A French Bulldog is even recorded as going down with the Titanic: Her owner, banker Robert Williams Daniel, insured her for 150 British pounds,
or about $17,000 in today’s U.S. dollars. Daniel survived the sinking. The dog, named Gamin de Pycombe, did not.
The Frenchies that did make it to this side of the Atlantic invariably proved the breed’s charms knew no borders.
American fanciers created the world’s first French Bulldog club and standardized the breed’s signature “bat” ears.
Produced in England, popularized in France, and perfected in America, this adorable little bowling ball of a dog has charmed everyone from call girls to kings.
And its rags-to-riches story is an apt embodiment of the American dream, in which reinvention – looking to where you want to go,
not to where you have been – has always been the guiding philosophy.
From 1905, French Bulldogs were recognized as a separate class from the English variant, and the iconic “bat ear” standard was also set by the ladies
at the French Bulldog Club of America. In the last 100 years, there weren’t any major changes regarding the breed’s standards.
Frenchies should be muscular, with a soft and loose coat forming wrinkles, and weigh a maximum of 28 pounds according to the AKC Standards.
The article is based on the expert knowledge of AKC and susan mcmillan who has been breeding French Bulldogs for 30 years
on her ranch where she also raises miniature horses..
Wondering how popular the French Bulldog really is?
Now you can find out how popular the Frenchie dog is based on AKC most popular dog breeds in 2023. These findings were based on stats on 2022 AKC registration statistics.
It is important to note that even though the French Bulldog is listed as the most popular dog there are many rare Frenchie colors
that are not accepted and therefore do not have the right to walk into an AKC show ring. (We will come back to colors later)
First of all Being #1 is not great news for French bulldog lovers. I really do not think everyone understands how AKC's ranking works.
AKC does not ask America what breed they like best each year. What being number one means is that there were more French bulldogs born in 2022 that any other breed.
There are allot of new breeders breeding french bulldogs right now.
Now some of the breeders absolutely love the breed so they want to be involved. Sadly allot of the people breeding French bulldogs right now are all about the money.
When too many people start doing the same thing it becomes less in demand and less in quality because quality is the last thing on these young breeders minds.
What I have found is these young breeders know nothing! Don't get caught up in the con. Look for someone who has been involved for a long time
and is open to talking about the breed.
so this is my input to how I lived through the evolution of the french bulldog:
Becoming a french bulldog breeder was not easy to achieve for me.
Years ago when I wanted to acquire a breeding pair of french bulldogs I ran into allot of show breeders who only wanted to sell on spay and neuture contracts.
I was very honest to my intent to raise french bulldogs to everyone I called and I found these breeders from the back of dog magazines at the vets office and the library.
when I started breeding there was no internet available yet. most of the show breeders I talked to were pretty snobby and cruel with their opinions of my plans.
finally I did purchase a beautiful cream male from the east coast with full breeding rights who we names buddha (for obvious reasons)
and then I purchased 3 females from a show kennel in russia.
betty (brindle pied)
dream (black masked fawn)
Ida (black brindle)
since I had bred and raised pugs for 15 years I had no problem moving over to the french bulldog breed.
Sadly what I had taken away from all of those greater than me speeches given to me by all of the different show breeders was that I did not want to become one of them.
I was introduced to a wonderful breeder of cairns, pugs, westies, ect.....
she had already been a breeder for about 40 yrs when I met her. She was kind, giving, smart, and a lover of dogs.
I wanted to base my breeding program and values mirroring hers. When I had a question she had an answer if I needed help she helped.
we would visit every morning by phone before and during chores, I would go help her by taking pictures of her puppies and building her a webpage.
I loved how safe I felt in what I wanted to do because I knew I could always reach out and ask my friend. this routine went on for many years.
one morning we started our visit like we always did by each telling the other how we wanted our day to go and I could tell something was different.
my friend told me she talked to her doctor and she was dyeing and had only months to live. We cried and we made plans for her dogs.
I'm telling you this because we are all the results of what we go through in life.
I chose to honor my friend by helping others who wanted help or answers with their puppies and adult dogs.
through the years I have met and become friends with other breeders and normal people who have purchased a puppy from me at some point.
The benefits go beyond the richness each friendship brings.
there has been an abundance of knowledge about life and about breeding dogs and about how to deal with different health issues that come up in dogs.
for example did you know dog plasma can be given to a puppy with parvo to help get rid of the parvo. some vets are very open to it and some are not open to using plasma.
I think the vets make more money dealing with parvo the old way because they can make thousands of dollars and with plasma
the puppy heals faster and less is needed for the puppy to thrive thus less money is spent.
Through the grape vine I had built across the world of breeders I was able to follow the evolution of the frenchie.
I find it fascinating and I see people telling stories that are not the way it all happened.
I believe there are always 3 versions to the truth:
my version, your version, and reality. lol
well here is my version how I saw it all unravel.
Blue French bulldogs
blues are a traditional color but show breeders wanted to eradicate the blue french bulldog color
so they refused to acknowledge the color as a choice when registering, they refuse to let blue french bulldogs in an akc show ring.
outside the united states they loved the blue french bulldogs and were actively breeding them. blue french bulldogs started to be imported back into the united states.
now at first allot of the blue dogs were not good quality, they were stringy, tall, just not the quality they should be.
breeders worked the blues into their programs and made better blue frenchies, and the blues helped each breeders programs because it brought back old forgotten bloodlines
that worked like brand new lines.
you might ask why bloodlines matter?
bloodlines matter because it makes a healthier animal when they have a variety of family lines and are not inbred.
Merle French bulldogs
the color pattern of merle has been around forever just not in every breed.
close to 20 some years ago there were a handful of breeders scattered around the united states that started to make merle french bulldogs.
they bred merle chihuahuas to bostons then took the result to frenchies and then
kept breeding back to frenchies eventually going back pure frenchie but retaining the merle color pattern.
black and tan and fluffy French bulldogs
close to 15 some years ago we started seeing black and tan, french bulldogs.
The pointed frenchies are beautiful in my opinion and remember it's not just black and tan ,
there are blue and tan, and chocolate and tan, and merle and tan, pretty much any color can have tan points.
ok so here is the skinny on it.
there were two ladies that purchased a frenchie male that carried the tan point gene.
these two ladies introduced terriers such as min pins or maybe rat terriers that were black and tan into their frenchie breeding program.
they then sold the results as pure french bulldogs to other breeders all over the world for a butt ton of money. that's how pointed bulldogs started.
oh and that is how we also got fluffy frenchies. one of the dogs they used must have been long haired when they were making pointed frenchies.
close to 4 some years ago we started seeing hairless french bulldogs
I honestly am not sure about hairless frenchies but I
would guess they introduced hairless dogs into the frenchie and then bred the body traits of the other breed out so they look like french bulldogs.
close to 2 years ago we started seeing curly french bulldogs.
curly french bulldogs are from crossing poodles into the french bulldog breed.
a year ago I started seeing wire haired french bulldogs.
wire haired french bulldogs are a cross with a cairn terrier.