I spent most of last week flat on my back, sick with the flu. Thank God for Jane Austen novels and French Bulldogs that love to snuggle, because they are the only thing that can get me through a week of enforced bed rest and computer abstinence. There’s something about a snoring Frenchie warming your feet that speeds up the healing process. I know I’m not the only person who feels that way, either. Years of doing therapy visitations has taught me that few things can cheer up a sick, lonely or isolated person faster than a lap full of Frenchie.
None of this should really be too surprising to us, when we consider what French Bulldogs were originally bred for. Unlike Border Collies or Jack Russell Terriers, Frenchies have only been designed with one ‘job’ in mind, that of being a companion.
It is popular among owners and fanciers of ‘working dogs’ to decry dogs that have ‘no purpose’ as being a waste of time, pointless to own, ridiculous to breed, and altogether a waste of good canine genetics. I’d argue that the ‘job’ of being a companion dog is not only a valid purpose for a breed, but one that requires just as much time, effort and specialization to breed.
Form Follows Function
Let’s start with the basic blueprint of the breed.
Frenchies were bred to be small enough to be portable, allowing them to be easily carried by their owners, or tucked into carriages (the original French Bulldog was even smaller than the dog we know today, usually under 20 lbs in weight).
Frenchies might be feisty with other dogs, but with people they are to be pleasant, amusing and above all, affectionate. A human aggressive Frenchie is an aberration, and should never be tolerated.
French Bulldogs were meant to be indoor pets, so have a reduced energy level. They don’t require hours of field work to keep them calm, or an abundance of challenging work to keep them happy. A pleasant stroll through the park, or romp with other dogs, is sufficient exercise to keep a Frenchie happy.
The flat face of the French Bulldog appeals to us on a level that is actually psychological. The flat face and forward facing eyes of a French Bulldog mimics the facial appearance of a human baby more than it does that of other, non flat faced dog breeds. This appeals to us on an emotional level, helping us to bond more closely with our French Bulldogs (or other flat faced breeds) than we might with more prototypically muzzled dog breeds.
Put together, these characteristics combine to create the blueprint of a sturdy, structurally and aesthetically pleasing dog breed. I’d venture to add that we need more than that, however, to create a dog that can adequately perform the ‘job’ of being a companion.
We ask that our pets be with us for as long as possible, just as much as owners of herding or hunting breeds require their dogs to be long lived. To this end, we deserve dogs that are healthy, and that have the best chance of living long lives.
As breeders, we’re failing our breed if we don’t test for conditions that can shorten the lives of our pets, or which can cause them pain and suffering (and cause the same to their human owners, by extension). Better breathing, stronger spinal cords, healthy hips and patellas are all required for a ‘pet’ to complete the job requirements of being a ‘companion’.
This is yet another reason why potential owners who say they are looking for ‘just a pet’ fail to understand just what that statement signifies. “Just a pet” is perhaps one of the most difficult, demanding things to breed for, if we fully consider what is required of a companion. Being ‘just a pet’ is a job, and in today’s increasingly urbanized society, the job of being ‘just a pet’ is the job that the majority of dogs are called upon to do.
Just because my dog doesn’t hunt, or herd, or protect flocks, or sniff out bombs, does not mean that my dog is purposeless, or that owning or dedicating myself to breeding them is frivolous or a waste of time. My dogs do have a job, and their job is to be the best ‘pet’, in the most varied of situations, that they can possibly be.
Frenchies are companions, when we are sick or well.
Frenchies are the best friends of children and the elderly.
Frenchies do therapy work, comforting the ill and the lonely.
Frenchies do agility, weight pulling and obedience.
All of this is work. It is work, it is their work, and it is important, and breeding dogs which can succeed at being everything we require from a great pet is indeed something to strive for.