The first French Bulldog I ever saw was a brindle bundle of energy walking with his owner through Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square. It was early evening as the pair strolled around the central fountain causing a minor sensation as they went. It seemed that everyone in the park that night had come to say hello to the energetic dog with the big ears and corkscrew tail.
I can recall several onlookers commenting on the dog’s resemblance to E.T. – the Extra-Terrestrial. Like the lead character in the film that had just been released, the little dog’s funny face and clownish antics had no trouble drawing a crowd.
The man on the other end of the leash said his companion was a “Frenchie,” and that he came not from outer space, but from an apartment a couple of blocks away.
The French Bulldog actually came to America from England, by way of France. When bull baiting was banned in Britain, small Bulldogs were bred as companions, and many of these were taken to France by lace makers from Nottingham.
French Bulldog Club of America Historian Jim Grebe writes, “When the Industrial Revolution closed down many of the small craft shops, these lace-makers emigrated to the North of France—and they took their little bulldogs with them. The popularity of these little dogs spread from Normandy to Paris, and soon the English breeders had a lively trade, exporting small bulldogs to France where they began to be called Bouledogues Français.”
The charming new “French” Bulldog became a favorite companion throughout French society, most notably among Parisian ladies of the evening.
In France, the breed became more uniform in conformation, although two types of ears were produced. “Some had the erect ‘bat ears’ while others had ‘rose’ ears,’” notes Grebe. “Wealthy Americans traveling in France fell in love with these endearing little dogs and began bringing them back to the USA. The Yanks preferred dogs with erect ears, which was fine with the French breeders as they preferred the rose-eared specimens, as did the British breeders.”
The French Bulldog Club of America was the first organization formed in support of the breed. Grebe describes the event that proved a turning point for the breed: “At the 1898 Westminster show, the Americans were outraged to find that classes for both bat-eared and rose-eared dogs were to be shown despite the fact that the new breed standard allowed only the former. They pulled their dogs, the American Judge refused to participate in the show, and the club organized their own show, for bat-eared dogs only, to be held at the luxurious Waldorf-Astoria.”
The event created a minor sensation and did much to promote the breed in America.
Although the Frenchie’s popularity has ebbed and flowed ever since, the breed’s charming appearance and comical nature seem destined to ensure it a place in the spotlight.
In 2011, the French Bulldog’s popularity as a companion placed the breed 18th in terms of registrations out of 173 AKC-recognized breeds.
The Bat-Eared Bulldog
The affable French Bulldog wears its signature bat ears with pride. The breed standard describes the ears as “broad at the base, elongated, with round top, set high on the head but not too close together, carried erect with the orifice to the front.” The leather is “fine and soft.”
The French Bulldog Club of America’s “Judging the French Bulldog” indicates the ears are ideally positioned on the head at “11 and 1 o’clock.” Any type of ear other than a bat ear is a disqualification in the show ring, according to the standard.
It is difficult to imagine the little Frenchman without his oversized ears. Like antennae, their placement and mobility seem perfectly suited for picking up signals – or sending them. Perhaps more than any other feature, it’s the bat ears that are responsible for luring strangers in, transforming them from curious onlookers to caring owners.
A Compact Clown
The affable French Bulldog is referred to as “a clown in the cloak of a philosopher,” alluding to a dual aspect to the breed’s nature.
The breed standard uses many adjectives to describe the Frenchie’s expression and temperament including those of a clown, affectionate, active and playful, and those of a philosopher, curious, interested and even. These qualities, and more, come to life in a physique that seems as much wrestler as anything else.
“Well-balanced and in good proportion,” according to the standard, the French Bulldog gives the appearance of being compactly made. The body is “short and well-rounded,” with a “broad, deep, and full” chest, and a back that is “strong and short, broad at the shoulders and narrowing at the loins.” This philosopher clown certainly looks as though he spends time at the gym!
One of the Frenchie’s unique features is the roach back, described as having “a slight fall close behind the shoulders.” In addition to accentuating the breed’s rounded appearance, it also seems to emphasize the very idea of compact construction.
The “heavy bone” of the Frenchie’s muscular frame suggests its “bully” breed heritage. The General Appearance section of the standard describes a “medium or small structure,” making it one of the smaller members of that family of dogs.
Heavy-boned, but not especially heavy, the standard’s section on Size, Proportion and Substance indicates that dogs weighing over 28 pounds are to be disqualified.
Screwed, But Not Curly
The French Bulldog’s tail is described by the standard as “short, hung low” with a “thick root and fine tip.” Its shape may be either “straight or screwed (but not curly),” and it should be “carried low in repose.”
A screwed tail is one with kinks and bends, not curly like that of the Pug.
“Judging the French Bulldog” illustrates the vertebrae of the tail as varying in number. Tail length is not uniform, and both shorter and longer tails are considered “equally acceptable.” A low tail placement and carriage are described as being more important than the length, although a tail of some dimension should always appear on the Frenchie’s derriere.
The compact and companionable French Bulldog knows how to get attention, both coming and going. With its bat ears and screwed tail, the breed’s physical charms – and affectionate nature – have always seemed more than mere mortals can resist.