Beloved and Controversial: French Bulldog Becomes America’s No. 1 Dog Breed for First Time in 30 Years

Adorable to some eyes, deplorable to others, the sturdy, push-faced, perky-eared, world-weary-looking, distinctly funny French Bulldog has become the most common purebred dog in the country this year. last, the club announced in April. The Frenchies ousted the Labrador retrievers from first place after a 31-year record.

“They are comical, friendly and loving little dogs,” said Patty Sosa, spokesperson for the French Bull Dog Club of America. Suitable for the city, with modest maintenance and exercise needs, she said, “they offer a lot in a small package.”

Yet the Frenchie’s dizzying rise – he wasn’t even in the top 75 a quarter of a century ago – has his fans worried, not to mention his detractors.

The buzzing little bulldogs have been the target of robberies, including the fatal shooting last month of a 76-year-old breeder in South Carolina and the 2021 shooting of a California dog walker who was herding the singer’s pets Lady Gaga.

It is feared that the demand, along with the extra that some buyers are willing to pay for “exotic” coat colors and textures, will result in fast breeders and unhealthy dogs. The breed’s popularity sharpens the debate over whether there’s anything healthy about propagating dogs that are prone to respiratory, spinal, eye, and skin problems.

The British Veterinary Association has urged people not to buy flat-faced breeds, such as Frenchies. The Netherlands has banned the breeding of dogs with very short muzzles and the country’s Minister of Agriculture wants to ban even their possession.

“French bulldogs can be a polarizing topic,” said Glendale, Wis.-based veterinarian Dr. Carrie Stefaniak, who serves on the Frenchie Club’s health committee.

She has treated French bulldogs with breathing difficulties and stresses that prospective owners need to research breeders and health tests and recognize that the issues can be costly to treat.

But she is not an enemy of the Frenchies. She owns two and has conditioned them to run agility classes and go on hilly hikes.

“These dogs can be very fit and very active,” Stefaniak said. “They don’t have to be sedentary dogs that can’t breathe.”

The AKC’s popularity rankings cover about 200 breeds in the nation’s oldest canine registry. The stats are based on nearly 716,500 newly registered puppies and other dogs last year – around 1 in 7 is a Frenchie. Registration is voluntary.

Most rarely owned? English Foxhounds.

The ranking does not take into account mixed breeds or, at least for now, Labradoodles, Puggles, Morkies and other popular “designer” hybrids. The AKC top 10 were: French Bulldogs, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, Poodles, Bulldogs, Rottweilers, Beagles, Dachshunds, and German Shorthaired Pointers.

With roots in England and then France, French Bulldogs became fashionable among America’s elite around the turn of the 20th century and then died out.

This has changed rapidly during this century. Social media and celebrity owners — ranging from Leonardo di Caprio to Megan Thee Stallion to U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — have given dogs new exposure. Last year, American viewers saw a Frenchie named Winston take second place at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show and then win the national dog show hosted by the Kennel Club of Philadelphia.

Last year, around 108,000 newly registered French Bulldogs passed labs of more than 21,000.

As a long-time breeder and veterinarian, Dr. Lori Hunt considers Frenchies ideal companions, but their popularity “a curse, not a blessing.”

“They are very exploited” by unscrupulous breeders, she says. The Westlake, Ohio-based vet has seen many Frenchies with issues, but rejects arguments that the breed is inherently unhealthy. Some of them are into canine performance sports.

Some other breeds are prone to illnesses ranging from hip dysplasia to cancers, and mixed-breed dogs can get sick too. But recently published research involving around 24,600 dogs in Britain suggests that Frenchies have “very different and vastly much worse” health than other dogs, largely because of the shortened, wrinkled face that sums up the je ne sais quoi of race.

Given the findings, the British Veterinary Association said it “strongly advises against” buying flat-faced dogs and campaigned to remove them from adverts and even greeting cards.

The American Veterinary Medical Association is studying ways to improve the well-being of flat-faced dogs, said president Dr. Lori Teller.

For animal rights and welfare activists, the French bulldog’s frenzy puts a panting, sniffling face on the issues of dog breeding in general.

“Most of the breed characteristics that are associated with these dogs are for looks, not necessarily health and well-being, and Frenchies are probably one of the most exaggerated examples of that,” said Dr. Lorna Grande of the Humane Society Veterinary. Medical Association, a professional group affiliated with the Humane Society of the United States.

“It’s a question of well-being. These dogs are suffering,” she said.

The AKC notes that its Canine Health Foundation has donated $67 million since 1990 for research and education on many breeds, and the Kennel and Frenchie Clubs have said progress has been made. A new breath test debuted in the United States on Frenchies, bulldogs and pugs at a show in January.

Prospective purebred owners should explore breeder backgrounds and health testing, agree to expect a puppy, and consider whether they are ready for the responsibility, the AKC said.

“Research what goes into owning a dog,” spokeswoman Brandi Hunter Munden said, “and really assess your lifestyle to make sure you’re really making the best decision, not just for you, but for the animal.”


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