NEW YORK — For the first time in three decades, the United States has a new favorite dog breed, according to the American Kennel Club.
Adorable in some eyes, deplorable in others, the sturdy, pushy-faced, high-eared, world-weary-looking and distinctively whimsical French bulldog became the nation’s most prevalent purebred dog over the past year, the club announced Wednesday. Frenchies ousted Labrador Retrievers from the top spot after a record 31-year run.
“They’re funny, friendly, loving little dogs,” says French Bull Dog Club of America spokeswoman Patty Sosa. City-friendly, with modest grooming and exercise needs, she says, “they offer a lot in a small package.”
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Stitch, a 2-year-old French bulldog, jumps the floor while playing at the Burbank Soccer Complex dog park on Thursday, October 20, 2022 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
PERSONAL PHOTO OF MICHAEL JOHNSON
Yet the Frenchie’s dizzying rise to fame — he wasn’t even a top 75 breed a quarter century ago — worries his fans, not to mention his detractors.
The feisty little bulldogs have been the target of thefts, including the fatal shooting of a 76-year-old South Carolina breeder last month and the 2021 shooting of a California dog walker who stole singer Lady Gaga’s pets.
There is concern that the demand and the premium some buyers pay for “exotic” coat colors and textures will create fast breeders and unhealthy dogs. The breed’s popularity is fueling debate over whether it’s healthy to breed dogs, who are prone to respiratory, spinal, eye, and skin conditions.
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The British Veterinary Association has urged people not to buy flat-faced breeds like Frenchies. The Netherlands has banned the breeding of dogs with very short muzzles, and the country’s agriculture minister is even planning to ban dog ownership.
“French bulldogs can be a polarizing topic,” says Dr. Carrie Stefaniak, a Glendale, Wisconsin-based veterinarian who is on the Frenchie Club’s Health Committee.
She has treated French bulldogs with respiratory problems, stressing that prospective owners need to research breeders and health testing, and recognize that treating problems can be expensive.
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But she’s not a Frenchie foe. She owns two and has trained them to take skill classes and go on hilly hikes.
“These dogs can be very fit and very active,” Stefaniak said. “It doesn’t have to be sedentary dogs that can’t breathe.”
The AKC’s Popularity Ranking includes about 200 breeds in the oldest dog registry in the country. The stats are based on nearly 716,500 puppies and other dogs newly registered last year – about 1 in 7 of them is a Frenchie. Registration is voluntary.
The least obsessed? English Foxhounds.
The ranking does not count mixed breeds or, at least for now, Labradoodles, Puggles, Morkies and other popular “designer” hybrids.
Top 10 list
Daniel, a golden retriever, wins the sports group during the 144th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on February 11, 2020 in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, file)
The AKC’s top 10 were:
- French bulldogs
- Labrador Retriever
- Golden retriever
- German shepherds
- German Shorthaired Pointer
With roots in England and then France, French bulldogs became fashionable among the American elite at the turn of the 20th century and then fell out of favor.
That changed quickly in this century. Social media and celebrity owners (from Leonardo di Caprio to Megan Thee Stallion to US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) gave the dogs new attention. Even more came last year when US television viewers watched a Frenchman 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.
Lola, a French bulldog, lies on the floor before the start of a St. Francis Day service at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York October 7, 2007. The American Kennel Club announced on Wednesday, March 15, 2023 that French Bulldogs have become the most widely owned dog breed in the United States, ending the Labrador Retriever’s record-breaking 31 years at the helm. (AP Photo/Tina Fineberg, file)
Last year about 108,000 newly registered French bulldogs surpassed Labs by over 21,000.
As a longtime breeder and veterinarian, Dr. Lori Hunt Frenchies as ideal companions but her popularity as “a curse, not a blessing”.
“They are very exploited by unscrupulous breeders,” she said. The Westlake, Ohio-based veterinarian has seen many French people with problems, but dismisses arguments that the breed is inherently unhealthy. Some of them do competitive dog sports.
Some other breeds are prone to diseases ranging from hip dysplasia to cancer, and mixed breed dogs can get sick too. However, recently published research involving around 24,600 dogs in the UK suggests that Frenchies have “very variable and for the most part much poorer” health than other dogs, largely due to the shortened, wrinkled face that is the je ne sais quoi of the breed embodied.
Faced with such findings, the British Veterinary Association has said it “strongly discourages” buying flat-faced dogs and has campaigned for them to be removed from advertisements and even greeting cards.
The American Veterinary Medical Association is exploring ways to improve the welfare of flat-faced dogs, says President Dr. Lori Teller.
“You are for the looks”
For animal rights and welfare activists, the French bulldog craze throws a snorting, gasping face at dog breeding issues in general.
“Many of the breed traits that are inbred into these dogs are for looks, not necessarily for health and welfare, 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 an animal welfare issue. These dogs are suffering,” she says.
The AKC notes that its Canine Health Foundation has donated $67 million to research and education across many breeds since 1990, and the Kennel and Frenchie Clubs say there has been progress. A new breath test made its US debut in Frenchies, bulldogs and pugs at a show in January.
Prospective purebred owners should examine breeders’ histories and health testing, accept the wait for a puppy, and ask themselves if they’re prepared for the responsibility, the AKC says.
“Ask yourself what it means to own a dog,” says spokesperson Brandi Hunter Munden, “and make a real assessment of your lifestyle to make sure you’re really making the best decision, not just for you, but for you.” for the animal.”
Pearl the French bulldog wears a carnival collar during the kickoff to King Cake Day in New Orleans, Louisiana Sunday, January 6, 2019 at the Bywater Bakery.
Staff photo by EMILY KASK