10 things you didn’t know about French bulldogs – including how they’re actually British

Elizabeth Whitney reveals some fun facts about the endearingly bat-eared French bulldog.

They’re not really French – not in origin, anyway

Despite their name, “Frenchies” do not originate from France – they are descendants of British bulldogs. British bulldogs were originally bred for bull baiting until the sport was outlawed in 1835; dogs were trained to creep close to bulls then spring out to provoke them.

They only moved to France when industrialisation hit the British lace trade

After the bull baiting was banned, people began to breed smaller bulldogs, which became popular in some parts of the UK. When Nottingham lace makers, casualties of the Industrial Revolution, settled in Normandy, they migrated with their miniature bulldogs.

They were originally the runts of the litter

Breeders in England sent over to France any bulldogs they considered to be too small or with faults, such as ears that stood up. These dogs became hugely fashionable over the channel and a trade in small bulldogs became popular.

An image from ‘Bell’s New French Picture Cards’ by artist H M Brock, painted in 1925.

They’re part Parisian-ratter

These small bulldogs were bred with local ratters in Paris and gradually became considered a breed – the Bouledogue Francais.

They haven’t always had ‘bat ears’

Originally, French bulldogs had rose-shaped ears, similar to their larger relative, the English bulldog. English breeders much preferred the shape, but American breeders liked the unique bat ears. Today, French bulldogs feature the bat-shaped ears American breeders fought to preserve.

They last had a mass following over 100 years ago

In the ‘Gilded Age’, French bulldogs became highly fashionable in American society amongst wealthy ladies who had spotted the trend in Paris. Dogs were sold for up to $3,000 and were owned by many influential families, such as the Rockefellers and J.P. Morgans.

They’ve dozens of famous fans, going back years

Other famous bulldog owners include Nancy Mitford, Yves Saint Laurent and D. H. Lawrence. They are still popular amongst the rich and famous today, from the Beckhams to Lady Gaga. Leonardo DiCaprio has one called Django and Hugh Jackman’s Frenchie is called Dali.

Don’t let them chase a stick into a lake

French bulldogs can’t swim. Their short muzzle causes them to tilt their body backward to keep their nose and mouth above water and they have disproportionately large heads and short legs, which makes it difficult for them to stay afloat in the water.

A Frenchie went down with the Titanic

Gamin de Pycombe, a champion French bulldog, was one of the victims aboard the Titanic in 1912 – he’s even featured in the 1997 film. His owner, Robert Daniel, paid £150 for the Frenchie – almost £13,400 in today’s money.

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Frenchies and the Titanic 🚢 When we think of Titanic we tend to concentrate on people but to our suprise on the ship there was also a lot of animals! A less well known statistic is that of the twelve dogs known to have been on board, only 3 survived. Sadly, the one French Bulldog passenger went down with the ship. Most of the dogs belonged to wealthy Americans travelling in first class, since the fare for a dog was the equivalent of a person taveling. One of those owners was Robert Daniel, a 27 year old banker, who was bringing back with him a brindle French bulldog named Gamin de Pycombe. Gamin was born in January 1910 and was just two years old when he died. His breeder was Gwendoline Romilly of what would later be the “Taplow” kennel. He was sired by CH Charlemagne of Amersham, a French import to Britain who became Britain’s first pied champion Frenchie, and who later was the first Frenchie to be a champion in both the UK and the USA.Mr.Daniel had bought the dog in England for a very high price of £150 (about £11,000 or $17,000 in today’s prices). Stories told later by survivors indicated that Mr. Daniel’s Frenchie was staying in his cabin, rather than in the well-appointed kennel on board. When the ship was going down, it was reported that someone released the kenneled dogs, though this was of little help to them except for the three small dogs who were secretly taken aboard lifeboats by their owners. Another passenger, Edith Russell, later said that Gamin de Pycombe was in his master’s cabin, which was near hers. She recalled hearing him whimpering as she walked along the hall on her way to the upper deck after the ship had hit the iceberg. She said she went in to calm him and put him to bed. In an interview in 1966 she said: “The dog was scared so I petted him and laid him down in his bed. He was very obedient and sat there and looked at me sweetly as I closed the door. I did not know then that we were in any great danger or else I would have taken him with me.” Another surviving passenger later reported having seen a French Bulldog swimming in the ocean, so apparently someone did let Gamin de Pycombe out of his owner’s cabin. #RIP #GaminDePycombe

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You need to be very careful where you get one from

Like many pedigree breeds, French bulldogs can have health issues – most obviously breathing issues related to their facial structure.  Some French airlines have even banned French bulldogs along with other brachycephalic (short-snouted) breeds, since breathing problems have even led to fatal situations in the air. If you are considering buying a French bulldog, it is imperative you go through the Kennel Club to find a reputable breeder who will minimise these breathing problems.