The French Bulldog breed is first and foremost a bulldog. But it is easy to forget this when looking at these pint-sized pups in their neat short coats.
There are no species on the planet today that exhibit more diversity in appearance than the domestic dog and this is definitely true of the bulldog breeds as well.
While some bulldogs have gotten larger and stockier over the decades, other bulldogs have gotten smaller and shorter. So it can take some digging to recall what bulldogs, in general, were originally bred to do!
In this article, learn the intriguing history and origins of the French Bulldog breed and find out what Frenchies were originally bred for because it wasn't sitting in your lap!
What Were French Bulldogs Bred For
While today's French Bulldogs are purely indoor dogs that are best kept by owners who like the idea of a dog who loves temperature control and frequent naps, it wasn't always this way.
The original intent of French Bulldog breeding was to develop a miniature version of the English Bulldog that was more suitable to family life.
English Bulldogs, of course, were primarily bred for the vicious sport of bull-baiting, which thankfully has now been outlawed in most areas.
Learn a Short History of the French Bulldog Breed
This mini-documentary on YouTube takes you into the origins and history of the French Bulldog breed as these dogs moved from England to France with their owners during the Industrial Revolution.
You will also learn more about how these dogs became popular around the world after they were discovered by various royals and taken to court to become lap dogs!
How the French Bulldog Breed Got Its Start
As the American Kennel Club (AKC) explains, today the French Bulldog breed sits in the number four slot (out of 195 breeds) for most popular pet dogs in America.
But it wasn't always this way. Rewind a century or two and the dog that was to become today's French Bulldog looked and acted very differently.
As the French Bull Dog Club of America recounts, the original bulldog was stout and stocky, heavy and powerful, capable of facing down enormous bulls in the ring for the sport of bull-baiting.
If you want to see the difference between an English Bulldog and the French Bulldog of today, the best way to do it is to head over to the American Kennel Club Bulldog breed page.
While it is easy to see the family resemblance, so to speak, it is far less easy to imagine how a breeder might go about changing the look of a traditional English bulldog so substantially that the French Bulldog would be the result.
So how did they do it? Read on to find out.
Changing the English Bulldog Into the French Bulldog
As History explains, the 18th century ushered in a period that is now called the Industrial Revolution.
This period of time was so-named because technology began to replace many cottage industries that were once done by hand. Lace-making was one such industry.
As opportunities to sell hand-crafted lace steadily diminished, many lace-makers moved their families to rural France. Of course, they took their beloved dogs with them.
These dogs were to become the torchbearers for future generations of the breed that would come to be called the French Bulldog.
As the French Bull Dog Club explains, early breeders back in England had already begun experimenting with cross-breeding the traditional English Bulldog with other dog breeds.
This practice, which today is called hybrid or designer dog breeding, is actually how many of today's modern purebred dog breeds were first developed.
In the English Bulldog's case, these early English breeders began to cross English Bulldogs with terriers and also with pugs, as Bark Avenue French Bulldog breeder explains.
Crossing the English Bulldog with the Rat Terrier
Early breed historical accounts do not specify exactly which terriers were used in this crossbreeding effort – and today there are 31 recognized terrier breeds.
However, it is likely the French rat terrier that was selected.
In fact, the French name for the rat terrier, Chien terrier, means "dog of the earth."
You can take a look at the American Kennel Club Rat Terrier breed page to get a visual sense of what early French Bulldog breeders might have been thinking could result from crossing an English Bulldog and a Rat Terrier.
In fact, today's French Bulldog does have a somewhat striking resemblance to the Rat Terrier in many ways, from the enormous bat-like ears to that distinctive and stylish dual-color coat patterns.
And yet you can also detect the stocky, stout lines of the English Bulldog in the mix, with that pugnacious wide jaw and broad fighting stance.
The result, as you already know, was a smaller version of the English Bulldog with a more neat, compact body shape and shorter legs.
Crossing the English Bulldog with the Pug
As Bark Avenue Puppies breeder explains, not all aspiring French Bulldog breeders chose to cross the English Bulldog with the Rat Terrier.
Some breeders chose to crossbreed with Pugs instead.
You can take a look at the American Kennel Club Pug breed page to get a sense of what these breeders might have had in mind for an outcome with this type of crossbreeding program.
The two breeds really do look a great deal alike!
The Pug hails from a completely different geographic region and period in history that harkens back to the time of the great Chinese dynasties and the emperors that ruled over them.
To hear the AKC tell it, the Pug dog's personality is often summed up as (in Latin at least) "a lot in a little" in Latin.
This makes perfect sense when you think of the French Bulldog personality as well. Both dogs are packed with personality in pint-sized bodies.
So it is likely that the French Bulldog took a great deal of this breed's love of the spotlight from their Pug predecessors. Unfortunately, a cross-breeding with the Pug also increased the shortened muzzle shape that comes with certain health issues.
The French Bulldog also took some of their signature facial and coat coloration from the Pug, with their darker facial markings and lighter-colored foreheads and bodies.
French Bulldog Ears: the Controversy Over Bat Versus Rose
Dog breeders over the centuries have often disagreed with one another over the best way to develop and evolve the lineage of their favorite dog breeds.
The French Bulldog is no exception to this long legacy of disagreement.
Originally, the French Bulldog was bred to have a style of the ear called the "rose." Today, for American French Bulldog breeders at least, the preferred style of the ear is called the "bat."
Believe it or not, this was a topic for tremendous controversy initially and is actually what led to the creation of the French Bull Dog Club of America.
For comparison purposes (and if you are more of a visual learner) you may want to take a look at this document from the French Bull Dog Club of America where you can see early examples of each ear type – rose versus bat.
French Bulldogs with rose ears
Early French Bulldogs got the rose ear type from their Bulldog roots.
Bulldogs have more of a floppy ear style that curls in over itself in a way similar to how the petals of a rose curl in around themselves.
It is quite possible that those breeders who decided to cross the original English Bulldog with the Pug dog, which also has more of a rose style of the ear, were the originators of the French Bulldog with the rose ear shape.
Interestingly, today the UK French Bulldog breed standard also specifies that dogs eligible for show competition should display the bat ear shape. But it took some decades to get to this decision!
French Bulldogs with bat ears
As the French Bull Dog Club of America outlines, the bat ears were the preferred ear type among early American breeders, show judges, and French Bulldog enthusiasts.
Because there was so much controversy around-ear type, the American breeders withdrew from participation in English shows and formed their own club and began to host their own dog shows. Only bat ear French Bulldogs could be shown.
The bat ears likely were inherited from the breed crossings with the rat terrier, which also displays the large upright ears the French Bulldog is known for today.
While it took quite a bit of time, today the bat ear type of French Bulldog is near-universally the choice among both breeders and show judges and also French Bulldog owners.
As a happy side effect, the bat ear shape and erect position make these dogs less prone to ear infection than dogs with the floppy rose type ear shape.
Because the ears are open and upright, air circulation can reduce the likelihood of yeast overgrowth that can lead to an ear infection.
Tracing the History from Early French Bulldogs to Today
Now you can see just how far the early French Bulldogs have come to become the universally beloved dog breed they are around the world today.
They started out as English bulldogs being bred for a smaller size standard. This was likely accomplished by breeders selectively choosing smaller English Bulldog parent pairs for their breeding programs.
Next, some breeders began to cross the new toy-sized English Bulldogs with Rat Terriers (and perhaps other breeds of Terrier as well).
These new Bulldog-Terriers were small but tall with erect, wide ears and a two-pattern coat.
At around the same time, other breeders began to cross the toy-sized Bulldogs with Pugs, resulting in Pug-Bulldogs with shorter, stockier frames and folding floppy ears.
As all this was going on, many English Bulldog owners who were in the lace industry were migrating to France in search of continued work. They took their smaller English Bulldogs with them and their French neighbors took one look and promptly fell in love.
It was only a matter of time before Europeans in other places and members of the French royalty began keeping the newly renamed French Bulldogs as well.
This was when the battles over the rose ear versus bat ear in the French Bulldog kicked off, which in turn led to the creation of breed standards by different dog clubs.
These breed standards were (and still are) primarily appearance-based for show competition purposes. However, ironically today's major breed standards in both Europe and the United States will disqualify rose ear French Bulldogs.
Bulldogs Were Out of a Job in 1835
In 1835, the UK passed the Cruelty to Animals Act in Parliament. This vital and long overdue act made it illegal to conduct bull-baiting, bear-baiting, and other similar types of animal-based sport.
While this was a welcome development for English Bulldogs and other bulldogs, not to mention for bulls and bears, it also meant that English bulldogs and other fighting dogs were suddenly out of a job.
Thankfully, dog lovers were so enamored of these dogs by then that those early breeders quickly started adapting the English Bulldog breed so it could enjoy more of a companion canine lifestyle. It didn't take long.
Today's Bulldogs are known to be intolerant to heat, relatively low in energy, literally unable to swim, and often unable to safely travel by plane. They are definitely indoor dogs that are best suited to living in the lap of luxury – literally.
French Bulldogs today are bred for one purpose and only one purpose: to bring joy to people and families all around the world.
While many breeders and owners do enjoy showing their Frenchies in dog shows and canine competitions, at the end of the day, the French Bulldog's most important job is to be a companion canine to their human families.
As a freelance pet writer and blogger, Shannon is passionate about crafting knowledge-based, science-supported articles that foster healthy bonds of love and respect between people and animals. But her first and very most important job is as a dog auntie and cockatiel, tortoise, and box turtle mama.