After 31 years, a new best dog breed appeared in America.
NEW YORK — For the first time in three decades, the United States has a new favorite dog breed, according to the American Kennel Club.
Charming in some eyes, deplorable in others, the hard-faced, cocky-eared, world-weary and distinctly cheerful French bulldog became the nation’s most popular purebred dog last year, the club announced Wednesday. After that, the French ousted Labrador Retrievers from the top spot a record 31 years.
“They are funny, friendly, loving little dogs,” says Patty Sosa, spokesperson for the French Bull Club of America. City-friendly, with modest maintenance and exercise needs, she says, “they offer a lot in a small package.”
Still, the French breed’s meteoric rise – a quarter of a century ago it wasn’t even in the top 75 breeds – worries its fans, not to mention its critics.
Thick bulldogs were also involved in theft fatal shooting last month 76-year-old breeder from South Carolina and 2021 picture of a Californian dog who searched for singer Lady Gaga’s pets.
There is concern that the demand, and the premium some buyers will pay for “exotic” coat colors and textures, is creating fast-growing breeders and unhealthy dogs. The breed’s popularity has fueled debate over whether there is anything beneficial in breeding dogs prone to respiratory, spinal, eye and skin diseases.
The British Veterinary Association has urged people not to buy flat-faced breeds such as Frenchies. In the Netherlands, it has been banned to breed dogs with a very short muzzle, and the country’s minister of agriculture is trying to ban even their ownership.
“French bulldogs can be a polarizing issue,” says Dr. Carrie Stefaniak, a veterinarian in Glendale, Wis., who serves on the Frenchie Club’s health committee.
She has treated French bulldogs with breathing difficulties, and she stresses that prospective owners should research breeders and health checks and recognize that problems can be expensive to treat.
But she is not an enemy of the French. She has two and has trained them for agility classes and hill hikes.
“These dogs can be very fit, can be very active,” Stefaniak said. “They shouldn’t be sedentary dogs that can’t breathe.”
The AKC’s popularity ratings cover nearly 200 breeds in the nation’s oldest dog registry. The statistics are based on almost 716,500 puppies and other dogs newly registered last year – about 1 in 7 of them were French. Registration is voluntary.
Most often owned? English foxhounds.
The rating does not take into account mixed breeds, or at least not yet, labradoodles, puggles, Morkies and other popular “designer” hybrids. The top 10 according to the AKC included: French Bulldogs, Labradors, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, Poodles, Bulldogs, Rottweilers, Beagles, Dachshunds and German Shorthaired Pointers.
With roots in England and then France, French bulldogs became fashionable among American elites at the turn of the 20th century before falling out of favor.
what changed, quickly, in this century. Social media owners and celebrities (from Leonardo DiCaprio to Megan Ty Stallion to US Rep. Alexandria Acasio-Cortez) have given dogs a new way to show off. There was even more last year when US TV viewers watched a Frenchman named Winston to finish second in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog show and later win the National Dog Show organized by the Kennel Club of Philadelphia.
Last year, about 108,000 newly registered French Bulldogs outnumbered Labs by more than 21,000.
As a longtime breeder and veterinarian, Dr. Laurie Hunt considers Frenchies to be ideal companions, but their popularity is “a curse, not a blessing.”
“They are very exploited” by unscrupulous breeders, she said. The Westlake, Ohio, vet has seen many Frenchies with problems, but rejects arguments that the breed itself is unhealthy. Some of them themselves are engaged in dog sports.
Some other breeds are prone to diseases ranging from hip dysplasia to cancer, and mixed breed dogs can also be affected. But a recently published study involving around 24,600 dogs in Britain found that Frenchies have “very different and mostly much worse” health than other dogs, largely because of the shortened, wrinkled face that encapsulates the breed’s je ne sais quoi.
In light of these findings, the British Veterinary Association said it “strongly advises against” buying flat-faced dogs and has campaigned to remove them from advertising and even greeting cards.
President Dr. Lori Teller says the American Veterinary Medical Association is studying ways to improve the welfare of flat-faced dogs.
For animal rights and welfare activists, the French bulldog craze puts a snorting, panting face on the problems with dog breeding in general.
“Many of the breed characteristics that are assigned to these dogs are for looks, not necessarily for health and well-being, and Frenchies are probably one of the most exaggerated examples of this,” said Dr. Lorna Grande of the Humane Veterinary Society. Medical Association, a professional group affiliated with the Humane Society of the United States.
“This is a matter of welfare. These dogs are suffering,” she says.
The AKC notes that its Canine Health Foundation has donated $67 million to research and education for many breeds since 1990, and kennel clubs and French clubs say there are successes. The new breath test debuted in the US on Frenchies, bulldogs and pugs at a show in January.
Prospective purebred owners should research the history and health of the breeders, come to terms with waiting for a puppy and ask themselves if they’re ready to accept the responsibility, the AKC says.
“Do your research on what goes into owning a dog,” says spokeswoman Brandi Hunter Munden, “and really evaluate your lifestyle to make sure you’re really making the best decision for not only you, but the animal as well.”