The Complete Guide To The French Bulldog

The more we learn about the French Bulldog, the more we understand why it is one of the most popular small dogs in the world. It’s the 4th most popular breed in the US out of 194 breeds and is affectionately known as the Frenchie to lovers of the breed.

There’s a lot to love about the French Bulldog, and this guide will hopefully give you all the information you need. There are several reasons why French Bulldogs are so sought-after, but they’re not without their issues. If you’re thinking about bringing a Frenchie into the family, you need to know about these, too.  

Breed Characteristics Of The French Bulldog  

Let’s look at the physical characteristics of a Frenchie, their origins, size, build, and peculiarities of the breed, before having an in-depth analysis of their character and personality.

Origins And Development Of The French Bulldog

The history of the French Bulldog reads like a romantic novel – from Phoenicia to the bull-baiting rings of England to the laps of the French aristocracy and high society in the USA, our favorite small dog breed has seen it all.

The French Bulldog is not a miniature bulldog but is related to the English Bulldog, a descendent of the Ancient Greek Molossian. When blood sports were banned in England, breeders of bulldogs and Pitbulls began to breed smaller and smaller versions, crossed with pugs and terriers, while another group of breeders specialized in toy bulldogs, with either rose or upright ears and short underjaws.

 As docile companion dogs, they were particularly popular with the lace workers of Nottingham, who used them as lapdogs during the day and to kill rats in the factory at night. Many of these lace workers were compelled to emigrate to the lace-making centers in northern France after they lost their jobs and livelihood in the Industrial Revolution, and they took their dogs with them.

It wasn’t long before these toy bulldogs, “bouledogue francais,” as the French named them, became sought-after pets of ordinary Frenchmen, restaurateurs and tradespeople as well as, maybe more notoriously, the streetwalkers of Paris.  

French breeders were responsible for creating more uniformity in the breed, and the French Bulldog soon became something of a status symbol in French high society. Visiting tourists from America found them equally appealing, and the first examples of the breed appeared in the US in the late 19th century. The French Bulldog was first recognized as a breed in America in 1898.

The popularity of the French Bulldog declined after World War 1, and by 1940 there were only one hundred dogs registered with the American Kennel Club (AKC). Several reasons for this have been given – the surge of interest in the Boston Terrier, another small Brachycephalic, plus the Great Depression, and the fact that breeding French Bulldogs is fraught with problems (more of this later).

In 1960, there were still only 106 registered French Bulldogs in the US, and there was a fear that they might disappear completely. However, in the 1980s, several young breeders and a rejuvenated French Bull Dog Society had put the breed back in the spotlight, and popularity soared.

French bulldog

The Appearance Of The French Bulldog Today

The American Kennel Club has a very detailed standard for the French Bulldog, as it does for almost two hundred breeds. Not all Frenchies will live up to this ideal, but let’s try and describe the average not-necessarily-prize-winning-but-thoroughbred example:

  • Build: Built like a tiny tank, compact and muscular, with a large, square-shaped head, flat between the ears, but with a curved forehead. They have a solid stance, with the front legs spaced wider than the back legs due to their narrow pelvis.
  • Coat: Short, glossy coat, and accepted colors are fawn, cream, white, brindle, and pied. Black, black and white, blue (more like a grey), merle, and other rare colors are found but will disqualify the dog from being registered with the AKC. Black face masks with different body colors are accepted.

       Interestingly, many rare colors are associated with health issues (discussed later).

  • Vital statistics: Average weight is between 25 and 27 lbs, with males between 20  and 28 lbs and females between 16 and 24 lbs. Height at the shoulder between 11 and 13 inches.
  • Facial features: French bulldogs are brachycephalic, with extremely flat faces,  and have round, well-spaced eyes and erect bat ears. The face displays many skin folds, more aptly described as wrinkles, an indication of their English bulldog ancestry.

The Personality Of The French Bulldog

Think of every positive personality trait you’d like to have in a dog, and it applies to the Frenchie. And that’s no exaggeration – they are intelligent, even-tempered, easy-going but lively, they are sociable and very affectionate, they are excellent watchdogs but don’t bark unless they need to, and they’re adaptable, so they will fit into apartment-living if you don’t have a garden.

Unlike many other small breeds such as dachshunds and terriers, which were bred for various forms of hunting, the Frenchie was always intended to be a companion dog, and that’s why they make ideal pets for single people, couples, and families with young children. And because they’re non-sporting and don’t need a lot of exercise, they’re also great pets for older folk. So that’s just about everybody!

Okay, to create some balance, here’s a negative – Frenchies can be stubborn and sensitive. That means a certain amount of patience is required to train them. Just like Pitbulls you need to reward them to get them to toe the line. But they’re intelligent dogs, and if you persist, they will reward you with their newly learned behavior.    

Grooming And Care Of French Bulldogs

The Frenchie is considered low maintenance when it comes to grooming. However, no dog is totally maintenance-free, and there are some grooming chores that you can’t overlook.

  • Coat care – with its short coat, the French Bulldog just needs a weekly brush with a soft-bristle brush to remove shed hair and stimulate the underlying skin. If you walk your dog often, it may get a little muddy at times, and the brushing will also get rid of that dirt.
  • Bathing – not necessary too often; every four to six weeks should be ample. Some Frenchies do have skin problems, so I recommend a hypoallergenic shampoo. Because of all their folds and wrinkles, it’s essential to deep clean these areas to avoid smelly bacteria build-up and to wipe them with a sanitizing cloth regularly between baths. Dry shampoo also works to keep the folds clean and fresh.
  • Ears – their famous bat ears also need cleaning. Use earbuds dipped in a vinegar solution to remove any dirt, but don’t try to get too deep into the ear. 
  • Nails – because Frenchies are not big on exercise, their nails need regular trimming. If you find this task daunting, it might be less traumatic for you and the dog to get your local dog parlor or vet to do it for you.
  • Dental care is more critical with a French Bulldog than many other breeds because of their underbite. Because the lower jaw protrudes more than the top jaw, the two sets of teeth don’t align with one another. This results in plaque build-up, gingivitis, and loose and worn teeth. Regular cleaning from an early age will prevent these problems or at least lessen their impact on the dog’s health. Letting the dog gnaw on dental chews, available from your local pet store, also helps with dental hygiene.
  • Feeding – Frenchies have sensitive stomachs and are allergy-prone, so after they’ve passed the puppy stage, their diet should not be too protein-rich and avoid or have only small amounts of possible allergens like wheat, soy, and other grains. These can cause bloating and flatulence, and Frenchies are notorious for their toxic farts.

Health Issues Associated With French Bulldogs

There’s no doubt that the French Bulldog makes an outstanding companion, and the fact that it’s the fourth most popular breed in America proves the point. However, any potential owner needs to know that these spunky little canines are unfortunately prone to many genetic ailments, some of which can be very expensive to cure.

Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome (BAS)

Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome (BAS) is probably the most notorious ailment afflicting Frenchies, and it’s an unfortunate result of breeding for appearance rather than health. Anatomical abnormalities, including extremely narrow nostrils, elongated soft palate, and weakened trachea, all contribute to restricted airflow and difficulty in breathing.

This is why Frenchies snore, breathe heavily, are intolerant to heat and cold, and are intolerant to exercise. Their quality of life is directly affected as they are prone to sleep apnea, and there is also the risk of heart disease due to BAS.

 Fortunately, surgery is available, which will totally alleviate the problem, but it’s not possible for everyone to afford the cost, estimated at around $2,500 to $3,000 for a comprehensive restructuring of the airway.

Depending on the diagnosis, it may be possible to operate only on a particular section of the airway,  such as the trachea, larynx, or palate, which will reduce the cost without detracting from the success of the operation.

Less serious but quite common in French Bulldogs are:

  • Hip Dysplasia, is a degenerative disease and cannot be totally cured. However, by preventing your Frenchie from becoming overweight, and with treatment, the progress of the complaint can be slowed considerably.
  • Back Problems are common in French Bulldogs, including malformation of the vertebrae, where the vertebrae form a wedge shape and compress the spinal cord. It also manifests in a screw tail, familiar in bulldogs, but this doesn’t affect the spinal cord. Treatment would include rest and confinement, weight control, and pain relief.
  • Middle Ear Infection: the most common ailment, caused by having a very narrow ear canal, which can be infected as a result of allergies, or a hormone imbalance causing wax build-up. Scratching of the ear and redness are early warning signs.
  • Conjunctivitis: A redness of the eyes and possible discharge or swelling of the eye are the signs to watch for. It may be caused by bacteria, which can be treated with an antibiotic, but surgery will be needed if it results from blocked tear glands.
  • Skin Fold Dermatitis: All the folds and wrinkles which make the Frenchie so cute are also the sites of bacterial infections, causing itchiness, dry crusts, redness, and welts. It can occur in the armpits and in females in the vaginal area. Using unscented baby wipes on at least a weekly basis is the best way to prevent dermatitis.
  • Pyoderma is another of the common skin ailments suffered by many Frenchies. It is a bacterial infection that occurs on the site of a cut or abrasion, resulting in hair loss around the wound, a pus discharge or a crust on the site, and itchiness—treated by cleaning the area and using antifungal cream.
  • Allergies are common, with symptoms including runny discharge from the eyes or nose, coughing, wheezing, diarrhea, and itchy skin. These allergies are triggered by certain foods, as well as house dust, mold spores, pollens, and grasses.  
  • Heat Stress resulting in vomiting or diarrhea is caused by a Frenchies inability to adequately control its body temperature, as we’ve already mentioned, particularly if subjected to strenuous exercise.
  • Breeding French Bulldogs serves to highlight another serious health issue caused by genetic anatomical abnormalities. The main problem is that the female finds it very difficult to birth the puppies normally because of her narrow pelvis, and as a result, almost 80% of all births are now done by Caesarean section. As if that wasn’t bad enough for the breeder, the male also has a problem with his narrow pelvis and finds it difficult to mount the female, necessitating artificial insemination to get the fertilization done.

These are some of the many ailments that commonly occur in French Bulldogs, and it is estimated that 72% of all Frenchies will suffer from at least one of these during their first year of life. It’s not possible to avoid the risk entirely, but it highlights the need to investigate the breeder you buy from, to ensure that they are responsible and reputable and that there is clear evidence that their pups are healthy and genetically sound.

Genetic testing by responsible breeders of French Bulldogs is done as a matter of course. There is what is known as a four-panel test, which involves taking a cheek swab that is analyzed, and results returned in two weeks. This is considered the most basic acceptable test, and the pup needs to be cleared of four genetic disorders:

  • Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) is an inherited disorder characterized by gradual muscle wasting.
  • Hyperuricosuria (HUU) leads to the formation of kidney and bladder stones.
  • Juvenile Hereditary Cataract (JHC) hereditary cataracts that commonly lead to blindness.
  • Canine Multifocal Retinopathy 1 (CMR1) causes detached retinas but not visual impairment.

The pup may be designated as tested, but not necessarily clear – check the wording on the certificate. When you’re paying upwards of $3500 for your new French Bulldog, you’re entitled to know its actual state of health.

Where To Find Your French Bulldog

If you’ve debated all the pros and cons and decided that despite the long list of potential wallet-draining illnesses you may have to deal with, the French Bulldog is worth every cent. The next step is to find your pup.

The French Bull Dog Club Of America Aims For Excellence

The FBDCA is your first port of call when searching for a reputable breeder. They strive for excellence in the breeding of French Bulldogs and have a Code Of Ethics to which members adhere. The club also runs a referral service which is a service available to members and the public. To be listed as a breeder with the FBDCA, a breeder has to comply with strict regulations:

  • They must breed only dogs that comply with the breed standards laid down by the AKC.
  • They must have bred at least one French Bulldog Conformation Champion
  • They must have a clear sales contract that contains a returns policy and a guarantee of health

Numerous breeders are listed on various internet sites as among the country’s top five or ten breeders. This may well be true, but working through the FBDCA is probably the best guarantee of getting a quality-bred pup.

Attending AKC-recognized Dog Shows

Reputable breeders will enter their dogs in competitions to gain recognition and enhance their reputation. So, attending these shows is a sure sign of their commitment to breed standards, and they would be the right people to talk to about purchasing a pup.

Saving A Frenchie From A Rescue Centre

For an opportunity to do a good deed and, at the same time, fulfill your goal of welcoming a French Bulldog into your home, why not consider a French Bulldog rescue organization? Again, working through the FBDCA, you can contact both national and regional rescue groups, get full details of what dogs are up for adoption, and offer a forever home to a little abandoned Frenchie.

  • The French Bulldog Rescue Network (FBRN) is a national organization operating through volunteers in all fifty states and Canada. Their stated aim is to rescue, rehabilitate and rehome Frenchies that have been rescued from commercial breeders, import brokers, private rescues, and Good Samaritans. The volunteers foster these dogs, and nurture and train them until they are placed with their new families.
  • Rescue French Bulldogs is a non-profit organization in Houston, Texas, that aims to love, care for, and refamily French Bulldogsin the region.
  • The French Bulldog Village is a national rescue group aiming to rescue, rehabilitate and rehome French Bulldogs and financially assist other rescue groups and private rescuers throughout the country.
  • The Chicago French Bulldog Rescue is a regional non-profit group seeking to protect French Bulldogs from abuse, neglect, and theft, and most importantly, to re-settle those dogs saved from shelters and unscrupulous “puppy mills .” They also assist families who are not in a financial position to continue looking after their French Bulldog.

Making The Decision – Is A French Bulldog The Right Choice

Choosing a dog should never be a casual decision. Certainly, in the case of a French Bulldog, it’s a question of weighing up some persuasive positives with quite a list of intimidating negatives. You can expect your Frenchie to be with you for between ten and thirteen years (their average life span), so you need to be sure you’ve made the right choice.

Positive Properties Of French Bulldogs

  • Bred specifically to be companions, not derived from sporting or hunting breeds
  • Extremely affectionate and friendly to humans and other animals
  • Very adaptable, so they are just as happy In an apartment as on a farm
  • Minimum grooming and shedding because of their short coat
  • Don’t require much exercise but will walk quite happily with you. 
  • Intelligent, even-tempered, and not too boisterous, so ideal pets for young children
  • Make surprisingly good watchdogs but only bark when necessary.

Negatives To Consider Before Choosing A French Bulldog

  • First and foremost, are you financially prepared to face the possibility of expensive medical and surgical treatment for your dog – you can minimize the risk by careful selection, but it cannot be eliminated.
  • They are unfortunately prone to skin and eye infections, so while grooming is easy, there is a fair amount of maintenance needed to keep them healthy.
  • Frenchies give love but need it back. They are sensitive and won’t be happy with being left alone all day without company.
  • They are stubborn by nature. Toilet training may take longer than anticipated – it can take six to eight months. 
  • They are heat- and cold-intolerant, so they don’t handle much exercise or temperature extremes. If you want a jogging companion, they are not the right choice.
  • They also can’t swim due to their front-heavy physique, so you will need to take care around the pool.   
  • Challenging to breed and requiring intervention at conception and birth, they are expensive to buy.


We’ve done our best to provide a balanced and thorough guide to the French Bulldog, but you might have noticed an affection for these feisty little dogs that is hard to disguise. There is good reason for their ever-increasing popularity, and it’s hard to think of a more suitable companion for people of all ages, particularly in a city environment.

There are always two sides to a coin, and it’s crucial for potential Frenchie owners to be aware of what issues may need to be addressed. We’ve looked at these, too, and can only stress the advice already given, and that is to ensure you get your dog, if that’s what you’ve decided to do, from the best and most reputable breeder you can find. Enjoy your Frenchie!  

Emily Andrews