Beloved and controversial: French bulldog becomes America’s top dog breed for first time in 30 years

Adorable to some eyes, deplorable to others, the sturdy, thrust-faced, perky-eared, world-weary-looking, distinctly funny French bulldog has become the nation’s most common purebred dog of the year last, the club announced in April. Frenchies ousted Labrador retrievers from the top spot after a record 31 years.

“They are funny, friendly, loving little dogs,” said Patty Sosa, a spokeswoman for the French Bull Dog Club of America. Urban-friendly, with modest maintenance and exercise requirements, she said, “they offer a lot in a small package.”

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

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

There are concerns that the demand, along with the premium some buyers are willing to pay for “exotic” coat colors and textures, could result in fast breeders and unhealthy dogs. The breed’s popularity is sharpening debate over whether there is anything healthy about breeding dogs 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 snouts and the country’s agriculture minister wants to ban even their possession.

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

She has treated French bulldogs with breathing difficulties and emphasizes that prospective owners should research breeders and health tests and recognize that problems can be expensive to treat.

But she is not an enemy of 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 statistics are based on nearly 716,500 newly registered puppies and other dogs last year – about 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 chic among American elites around the turn of the 20th century, then disappeared.

This has changed rapidly in this century. Social media and celebrity owners — ranging from Leonardo di Caprio to Megan Thee Stallion to U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — have given dogs new exposure. Last year, American viewers watched 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, about 108,000 newly registered French bulldogs outnumbered labs by more than 21,000.

As a longtime 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 said. The Westlake, Ohio-based veterinarian has seen many Frenchies with problems, but rejects arguments that the breed is inherently unhealthy. Some of them practice canine performance sports.

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

Given these findings, the British Veterinary Association said it “strongly advises against” buying flat-faced dogs and has 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 frenzy puts a panting, sniffling face on the problems of dog breeding in general.

“Most of the breed characteristics that are associated with these dogs are for appearance, not necessarily health and well-being, and Frenchies are probably one of the most exaggerated examples of this,” 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 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 an exhibition in January.

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

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


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