With their adorable, squishable faces and their loving, even-mannered temperament, French bulldogs are among the most beloved pet companions.
In 2020, Frenchies were the second-most popular breed registered with the American Kennel Club. Owners love their low-key, quirky personalities and how their adaptable to any space, from small apartments to large homes with even larger outdoor spaces.
To know French bulldogs is to love them. But do you know if they’re actually French?
When diving into the history of the Frenchie, you need to know a bit about its adorable continent-cousin — the English bulldog. English, or British, bulldogs are larger and more muscular than Frenchies.
They also date to around the early 17th century and were bred to be stocky and aggressive sporting dogs used in the long-outlawed practice of bull-baiting, where they would take on, yes, actual bulls. After the practice vanished, English bulldogs were such an institution in Britain that they remained popular and eventually an emblem for the country itself.
While experts agree that French bulldogs originated from English bulldogs, there are different opinions about what exactly led to the breed’s development.
One thought is that Frenchies were bred down in size in the mid-19th century and eventually made their way to France where they continued to be developed. One thing is for sure: The Frenchies’ endearing, bat-like ears persisted in France, as it’s a major difference between the English and French breeds and continues to this day.
Another theory is that Frenchies rose in prominence when traditional-trade workers from England were displaced as a result of the rise of factory machines during the Industrial Revolution. Many settled in Normandy, in northern France, and brought their now-toy bulldogs with them.
Breed experts agree that French bulldogs began to develop in England before first coming to France, often crossed with terriers to reduce their size. Another breed that was potentially mixed with the English toy bulldog to lead to the Frenchie was the small-and-spunky pug.
Another factor that led to the Frenchie: those lovable ears. As the toy English bulldog breed developed, people reportedly sent those with the erect, bat-ears out of the country, to France, in contrast with the more rose-shaped ears of the traditional English bulldog. Those distinctive ears contributed heavily to the characteristics of what would become the distinctive Frenchie.
Frenchies became increasingly popular in its namesake country, at first for keeping homes free from vermin, but then popular pets for all types of people, from famous artists to shopkeepers. Eventually, they became beloved as lapdogs for rich society women.
By the late 1800s, they were regularly finding their way to the United States where they also became popular as pets in high society (the breed was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1898).
And the American breeders? They officially designated the bat ears as the proper look for all Frenchies in America.
So while the French bulldog may not be entirely French, is the breed’s name actually misleading? Mais non.