Do you breed for temperament?
As some of you may have noticed, we’ve started a new rescue. French Bulldog Last Chance Rescue is primarily devoted to the idea that every dog, even those with a history of being very bad Frenchies, indeed, deserve to get one last chance at rehabilitation.
This is an essential point, since many rescue now have closed their doors to French Bulldogs with a bite history. Some of this is simple logistics – it’s hard to find foster homes willing to take on a Frenchie who might try to quite literally bite the hand that feeds it. Some of it is likely liability related. At any rate, Last Chance Rescue aims to give all French Bulldogs on last chance at a new life, but it does make me consider the issue of temperament in our breed.
As I’ve written before, French Bulldog, like several of the other companion breeds, have only ever been bred for a single function, that of being a charming companion. To this end, I’ve always insisted that the definition of a’charming companion’ is actually more complex than one might think.
A charming, and functional, modern day companion dog should have certain inescapable characteristics, to whit:
They should be healthy, since a sickly or genetic complaint riddled dog is of little to no use as a companion, or is heart breaking to its owner.
They should be sensible barkers, since a nuisance barker is not welcome in most urban or suburban environments.
They should live relatively long lives, since their humans will do the same thanks to modern medicine.
And, finally, they should be affectionate towards people in almost all circumstances, since this is almost the most defining feature of a companion dog.
In spite of this, the French Bulldog world has seen a dramatic rise in dogs which do not fulfill this most essential of characteristics. Oh, we’ve always insisted that Frenchies, being at their very essence a bull and terrier breed, can be stroppy with other dogs, but that’s rarely translated into their being the same with people.
Tara, the dog at the beginning of this article, was a holy terror with other dogs, flinging herself into battle with gleeful abandon if they even looked at her crossways. With people, however, there’s nothing you couldn’t do with Tara. She wore doll clothes and rode in a buggy pushed by the neighborhood kids, she got carried around slung across their shoulders, she licked away tears and slept on the bed, she was never happier than when she was sleeping on someone’s lap. A more perfect illustration of the words ‘companion dog’ you’d be hard pressed to find.
In the last decade or so, those of us who love and study French Bulldogs have noticed an alarming trend – it is no longer unusual to encounter a French Bulldog who bites. In fact, it’s common enough for us to have had to start an entire rescue to deal with the issue.
What’s going on here?
Terrierman has an article on his blog detailing a discussion about what makes a ‘working’ Saluki, and this section, written by evolutionary biologist and Saluki coursing enthusiast Dan Belkin, struck me quite forcefully –
The last thing I would like to impress on you is that if you don’t select for something, you are going to lose it. If you fail to select for visual acuity for a long enough time, your Salukis are not going to be able to see at all. If you only select your Salukis for moving correctly at a trot, eventually you are going to have Salukis that can’t gallop well enough to catch anything. Look at show Afghans if you want to see an example of that. That’s the way selection works. That’s the way genetics works: any characteristic which is not actively selected for will degenerate. It will go away. That’s true throughout the animal kingdom and is true for our dogs as well.
Temperament, just like any other characteristic, is something we can choose to ‘select’ for. Quite simply put, we choose not to breed a dog who is stroppy or ill tempered, or who growls at us if attempt to touch its feet. Better still, we can insist that all of our breeding and show dogs pass a simple test meant to evaluate temperament – a Canine Good Neighbour test (CGN) , in Canada, or a Canine Good Citizen test (CGC), in the USA (or Good Citizen Scheme, in the UK).
Ignoring temperament is going to lead to serious repercussions for our breed. At a time when more and more regions are implementing breed specific legislation (BSL), can we afford to have French Bulldogs on the radar of law makers? We already appear to be another one of “those” bulldog breeds, to far too many politicians. Can we really afford to not make temperament a top priority in our breeding programs?
Are we losing temperament in French Bulldogs?
The breed questionaire for a survey I filled out recently asked specific questions about aggressiveness in one's Frenchies, and rating the level of it. It was a link I found here, actually – was it the FBCA or a health org?
Read, read, read!
I've seen reports of a similer problem in Golden Retrievers. I do know its possible to fix it though. The breeder we got our Tibetan Mastiff from has put alot of effort into breeding not JUST for confirmation, but specificly to produce a TM that, while retaining the primitive guardian instinct, actually likes people. And I can testify she's succeeded. Apollo has plenty of guardian instinct, but as soon as he has any clue you're friendly then you just became his new best friend.