Let’s face it: even the top champions have their faults. Call them weaknesses. Imperfections.
But there are things that many a breeder might admit (if only to themselves) that he or she would change in their top dogs,
if given the chance. They might be little details. They might be major. But whatever they are, rest assured
that you, as a potential puppy buyer, will never hear them mentioned. If you are a newcomer to the breed, considering
your first Frenchie purchase, do not be deterred. The vast majority of French Bulldogs are happy, healthy, and live
long lives. But there is a tendency in any breed for certain problems to occur. (Frenchies are not afflicted by
nearly as many as some breeds!) If you know what these potential problems are, you will be better equipped to choose
a puppy and avoid problems later in its life.
In general, French bulldogs are great companion dogs, but as with all flat-faced (brachycephalic) breeds,
they have certain limitations. They are not marathon runners, and will not deal well with long walks. They also
do not handle hot weather well. Their small lung capacity and reduced ability to cool themselves effectively by panting
make overheating a major concern. Other than that, there is the other flat-face problem: they injure their eyes
more easily by running into things.
Genetically, there are a variety of conditions that show up in Frenchies. Some are insignificant.
Others are important to understand. There are different levels of problems:
· those that impact the show quality of an individual
· those that affect the general well-being and comfort
of the dog;
· and those that can threaten the life and survival of the dog.
Let us look at some of these, and how they relate to the puppy you might be considering.
CONDITIONS IMPACTING SHOW QUALITY
Some colors are not allowable for showing purposes, although they have no impact on the health and well-being of the dog.
Some of the offending colors occur only rarely. Others appear more frequently.
Black: The biggest problem with Frenchies is the occurrence of black dogs. This also includes black and white, or
white and black (pied). Black is all right, as long as it contains some hint of brindling. If not, it is a disqualification
Brindling is a pattern of lighter color (blond, red or similar, but not white) in stripes or lines running through the
base color. How much constitutes “brindling” has been hotly debated within the breed for many years.
It has been accepted that even a few lighter hairs somewhere on a dog constitutes brindling. Bear in mind that if you
are purchasing a Frenchie for show, the darker the dog, and the sparser the brindling, the more likely that the offspring
of that dog will be black. Predominantly black dogs are acceptable, but when it comes to breeding them, careful choices
must be made so as not to double up on dark genes.
Remember this: brindling is not a color, it is a pattern. Therefore, you should be able to detect at least
a little on a dog that resembles a pattern in the base color. If you are talking “just a few hairs”, that
really doesn’t constitute a pattern. If you are buying a Frenchie for show, you might want to stay away from a
black dog with just a few hairs of brindling. Unless you enjoy arguing in the ring with judges as to whether your dog
has enough light hairs to be legal.
Black and White: If a dog is predominantly black, but marked with white (Boston marked, or with white on its chest,
throat or feet), the same rule still applies. There has to be brindling.
White and Black: With pied dogs, the areas of black must have some brindling within them, or it is a disqualification.
Liver: It is very unlikely that you will ever see a liver-colored Frenchie. The color is probably best described
as the color of a red Doberman. It would be expected that a liver-colored Frenchie would have a lighter-colored nose.
Black and Tan: As rare as this color combination is in the breed, it has been seen. It comes from the terrier
background. The color is predominantly black with tan highlights, as is seen on a Manchester terrier or a Rottweiler.
Because of its rarity in the breed, it is not a major concern.
“Mouse”: One of the great mysteries of the Breed Standard is exactly what a “mouse”-colored
Frenchie would look like. Generally, it is understood to be a blue-grey color, such as is found on some Greyhounds.
White with patches of blue-grey would be similarly disqualified.
All other colors are allowable in the breed. Red, fawn, cream, white. The only real concern is a black dog
without brindling. Breeders have been known to hide black dogs, or highlight them with hair color, for showing purposes.
A breeder doesn’t want it known that their lines are producing black dogs.
A color footnote: for showing purposes, the judges are supposed to follow the Standard. However, judges do
show color preferences. These preferences tend to go through changes, according to fashion. For example, in the
1960’s and 1970’s, brindle Frenchies were the most popular with the show judges. More recently, cream Frenchies
have been the big winners. If you are looking to be highly competitive in the ring, it might be good to check to see
what colors are the biggest winners. Beware, though, because individual judges may have tastes that go against the mainstream.
The only health concern involved in colors is the link between white or nearly all-white dogs and deafness. This
linkage occurs in other breeds, as well. There is an incidence of deafness occurring in pied Frenchies with minimal
markings, or in white dogs. If you are considering a pied or near-white puppy, check its hearing.
As in other breeds, white or light-colored dogs may be more prone to skin problems. They may also be more susceptible
The good thing about nose color is that anyone can see it. It is as plain as the nose on a dog’s
face. Sometimes, in the rush to purchase a puppy, a buyer will miss something obvious. If you are buying for show,
look at noses. The breed standard specifies that the nose color must be black, and that non-black noses are a disqualification...except
in lighter colored dogs, where lighter noses are allowable (but not preferred).
There are two nose conditions that are not acceptable:
“Dudley” Nose: Some breeds of dog have a reddish or “liver”-colored nose. Although
the Breed Standard allows for lighter noses on lighter dogs, a Dudley nose is just too noticeable.
“Butterfly” Nose: Especially on pied dogs, a dark nose may be marked with pink. This is not allowable.
But: light patches on a puppy’s nose may darken as the dog matures. Question is: are you willing to
take the risk?
Another nose issue not mentioned in the Breed Standard is known as “stenotic nares”. That is where the
nares, the openings in the nose, are pinched and narrow. This creates a breathing problem. Narrow nares occur
with some frequency in the breed. If a breathing problem is present, it will probably not be noticeable until the dog
is an adult. If you are looking at a puppy, it may be hard to distinguish if the nares are wide or narrow, unless you
know what you are looking at. Check the parents, if they are available. That may give you some clue.
The breed standard makes it clear that only a “bat” ear is acceptable in the breed. Since the ears are
the breed’s hallmark, this only stands to reason. There is talk of ears being too pointed or of the wrong form
to be bat ears. But in truth, if they are standing up, and are not “rose” ears, as would be found on an
English bulldog, then they are considered to be correct.
There is a lot said about “earset”. While not a disqualification, a bad earset is a fault. Ears
should be placed high up on the head, and when the dog is at alert, the ears should be at a position resembling “eleven
o’clock and one o’clock”. The old saying is “ten and two will not do!”
If you are looking at puppies, you should understand that they are born with their ears down. Their ears can come
up as early as five weeks of age, but may take as long as fifteen weeks to come up. At the time when the puppies are
ready to go to their new homes, their ears should be up. At that point, you should be able to judge the correctness
of their earsets. One observation: a puppy with ears that come up late is more likely to have a lazy earset in adulthood.
Size of ears is another factor that greatly affects the appearance of the dog. A puppy should look like a rabbit.
If its ears are too much in proportion with its head when it is small, they will appear too small when the dog is grown.
While ear size is not a disqualification, and is merely a matter of preference, larger is generally better.
The Breed Standard specifies that “weight over 28 pounds is a disqualification.”
There is a tendency in males, in particular, to push the envelope as far as weight. For showing, a dog should be small
enough that it is still under 28 pounds when it is in good weight. If you have to keep a dog on a diet to keep it within
the weight standard, it will look undernourished in the ring.
When looking at puppies, it is hard for an outsider to guess how big they will be at adulthood. Even different bloodlines
develop differently. One indication is to look at the parents. If they are large, then the tendency will be that
the offspring will be large as well. Since European standards allow for larger Frenchies, anything with European bloodlines
could carry a tendency to get larger.
Also, don’t think that buying the runt of the litter will help. While that individual may remain smaller, there
is no guarantee that it will not put on a late spurt of growth. For breeding purposes, such a small individual will
still tend to produce offspring more like its larger forebears.
There is no minimum weight standard. But a male French Bulldog much under 17 pounds is going to look like a runt
when held up against the others in the breed ring. A small bitch can get by more easily than a small dog.
While many breeds have cropped ears or docked tails, once a French Bulldog is born, it is pretty much as it should be.
The Breed Standard states “Any alteration other than removal of dewclaws is a disqualification.”
The only real concern with Frenchies is work done on the tail. Some Frenchies have more tail than others. Some
have just a button, or a screw tail that lays down. But if it screws so it sticks up, or it is straight, the breeder
may have it altered or reduced in size. If the judge can detect this, it is a disqualification.
If an over-obvious tail is docked, an astute person can tell by feeling the tip of the tail. The last tail bone should
be pointed. If it is not, then there is a likelihood that some of the tail has been removed.
The eyes are the centerpiece of a dog’s expression. The Breed Standard makes the statement that the eyes should
be dark (lighter color allowable in lighter colored dogs), and that when the dog is looking straight at you, you shouldn’t
be able to see any white. The eyes should also be round, not almond-shaped or squinty.
When looking at very young puppies, you will probably observe a deep bluish eye color that some breeders refer to as “puppy
eye”. As the puppy grows up, the natural eye color will develop. You want the eye color to be as dark as
possible, even on a lighter colored puppy. However, if the puppy does have lighter eyes, they may darken some in the
first year as the puppy matures. Still, the darker the eyes, the better.
One thing not mentioned in the Breed Standard is that both eyes should be able to look at you at the same time. “Wall-eye”
(where the left eye looks to the left and the right eye to the right) is a fault, and reduces the show value of a Frenchie.
Besides, it is ugly.
When Frenchie puppies first open their eyes (somewhere around ten days of age), they may appear wall-eyed. By the
time they are five weeks old, the eyes should be coming around. If they are still wall-eyed at eight to twelve weeks
of age (when many puppies are sold), then there is a likelihood they will stay that way.
In describing the bite of a French Bulldog, the Standard states that it should be “well under”. A scissors
bite or an overbite are considered a fault. Looking at the bite in an 8-week old puppy will only give you an indication.
The jaw relationship will continue to change until the head has reached its adult size. In males, the bite may continue
to change up to about 2 years of age.
Although the bite is supposed to be “well under”, the Standard makes it clear that no teeth are supposed to
show when the mouth is closed. If a puppy has an extreme underbite, the possibility of it showing teeth as an adult
The bite is also supposed to be even. Being tilted to the left or the right is referred to as “wry mouth”,
and is a serious fault. This is a common fault in French Bulldogs. It takes a trained eye to spot a slight tip
of the jaw in a puppy. If there is a misalignment, it will only get worse as the puppy matures.
Uneven teeth are also common in the breed. While not as attractive as a straight line of teeth, it is not a major
fault. Judges will usually overlook a tooth out of position, as long as the jaw itself is aligned correctly.
Protruding tongue is also a common problem in the breed. Flat-faced breeds have greater difficulty containing a tongue
that is larger. If the tongue protrudes to one side or the other, it could indicate underlying problems with jaw alignment.
If it sticks straight out, then there is just too much tongue for the mouth. Tongue can be a major drawback in a show
dog, as it is visible from a great distance. If it is minor, the dog can be taught to keep it in while being shown.
If it is major, there is little hope.
In puppies, teething can cause the tongue to protrude due to gum swelling and discomfort. Since teething continues
intermittently until the puppy is about a year old, intermittent protruding tongue might be because of this. It is difficult
to differentiate between teething tongue and permanent protruding tongue. Check inside the mouth of the pup to see if
teeth are missing (especially in front). If they are all there, it is possible that the tongue problem will be permanent.
Most permanent tongue problems are apparent from eight weeks of age. The difficulty is in figuring out what is permanent
and what is transitional.
The neck needs to be thick and well arched, to allow the head to be carried properly. If the neck is too short, it
will affect the mobility of the head. While puppies (particularly males) will not have the bulk and fill they will have
at adulthood, you should be able to look at the general proportions of the body to tell how the neck relates to the rest.
Make sure the head is carried proudly, and that there is a definite arch from the back of the ears down to the shoulders.
The upper outline of a Frenchie body may be hard to determine in a puppy. A lot of things change with adolescence.
Nonetheless, there should be a slight fall close behind the shoulders, and the rear should be somewhat higher. Correct
topline should minimize problems with movement. One complication is that very short-backed dogs may not show a clear
“roach” back. And very long-backed Frenchies may have a pronounced “roach”, but may not win
very much in the ring.
There is much discussion about toplines, and it is advisable that you know what a good topline should look like.
As with other characteristics, look at the toplines of the parents as an indication of where the offspring should go.
Several things can go on with the hindquarters. There should be good “rear angulation”, meaning the dogleg
curve of the hind leg. If the back leg is very straight, it is less attractive and is more likely to produce poor movement.
It may also indicate problems in the joints. “Straight stifle” is very common in the breed, and is
visible once the puppy is up on its feet.
When looking at Frenchie puppies, you need to know that they are a little slow to get their rear legs under them.
There is a tendency for the rear legs to stick out at an angle until the thigh muscles strengthen up. So weakness back
there is not a major concern, and will right itself with exercise.
The biggest joint problem with Frenchie rears is luxation of the patella. That is slipping of the kneecap.
In some individuals, it can move out of position, causing crippling pain. In a puppy, it is hard to detect. While
the puppy is standing still, try to gently move each rear limb through its normal range of motion. Feel for any “popping”.
If a leg pops, there is a possibility of patella problems.
Look at the puppy from the rear. If the feet are rotated inward (pigeon toed) or outward (cow hocked), that may indicate
a condition that will not right itself in adulthood. Even though Frenchie puppies are somewhat slow to come up on their
rear legs, they should be able to stand with the rear relatively straight in relation to the axis of the body.
Watch the puppy moving around, and observe carefully to see if its movement is true. If rear legs cross over, or
if the puppy shows any signs of limping, there is a chance of a problem existing. In the front, forepaws should reach
straight forward. There should be no “paddling” or “crossing over”.
French bulldogs should “double-track”. Their rear feet should track inside the span of the front feet.
While puppy movement can be inexact, there should be some tendency to move soundly.
Watch also for “crabbing”. That is where the rear comes around on the right or the left, as if it is
trying to catch up with the front legs. This is common in puppies, but sometimes it does not correct itself. It
is not a major fault, but it does spoil the movement of the puppy.
Frenchies should be active and free-moving. If the movement is difficult or “muscle-bound”, it will be
less attractive to the eye, and less appealing to a judge. Any abnormality of movement should be suspect.
About the only way a Frenchie can lose in the ring due to temperament is to bite a judge. As loving a breed as it
is, a few individuals have shamed their owners in this way. Some judges will pass over a Frenchie with a listless temperament,
but that is rare.
A puppy should be alert and intelligent, curious and playful. If it is not, it could be sick. It could also
have neurological problems. If a puppy doesn’t respond to you immediately and try to make friends, you should
Outside the show ring, the most important feature of a French bulldog is its personality. You want one that will
be a good companion, agreeable, and affectionate. You don’t want one that is hyperactive and difficult to control.
You don’t want one that is mean. And you don’t want one that is lethargic.
Look at the parents, if you can. Are they loving and affectionate? Are they standoffish or timid? Frenchies
should come up to you and try to make friends immediately. If they don’t, then something is up.
CONDITIONS IMPACTING HEALTH
Occasionally, something shows up that is more serious than something that just impacts show quality. There is a historical
track record of some problems in French bulldogs.
Have some tact. A breeder will take offense if you ask if they have had any occurrence of serious genetic problems.
And chances are, they would not tell you anyway. Perhaps the best way to approach the issue is to talk of problems other
breeders are reported to have had.
Recent work with registries for certain genetic problems indicate that there will be more tracking of these in the future.
At present, it is enough that you know the problems are out there.
When you are dealing with any breed that is basically dwarfed, you know that certain problems are going to be endemic.
One of them that is a constant worry in Frenchies is hydrocephaly.
Hydrocephaly, sometimes known in humans as “water on the brain” is actually an imbalance in the body fluids
that results in a buildup and consequent increase in fluid pressure on the brain. The results are brain and nervous
system damage. Most severely affected puppies die, or are put down at birth by responsible breeders. On rare occasion,
a moderately affected puppy will make it through.
Such a puppy will have an exaggerated domelike appearance to the head. The head may even be enlarged. Its behavior
will not be normal and playful. It may have difficulty standing and walking. What may appear at first to be shyness
may actually be nerve damage.
Hydrocephalics have greater chance for a shortened life. Secondary problems usually take them before they are two
years old. Veterinary bills can be staggering, and the results will still be early death. If you purchase a puppy
that turns out to be hydrocephalic, contact the breeder immediately.
There is some disagreement as to whether this is a genetic problem or a developmental problem. There are indications
that outside factors that affect the mother during pregnancy might influence the closing of the palate.
Whether genetic or developmental, all the bull breeds do suffer a greater incidence of cleft palate. Most breeders
put them down at birth, as it is difficult for a cleft palate puppy to feed without aspirating milk. Pneumonia often
takes them quickly. There are degrees of cleft, however, and a minor one might go without being detected.
Related to this problem is incomplete closure of the body cavity itself. Whatever factor influences the non-closure
of the palate can also cause a more profound non-closure. Such puppies cannot survive.
VON WILLIEBRAND’S DISEASE
This is hemophilia in dogs. There is definitely a genetic cause. So there is not only the concern of whether
a puppy is a potential hemophiliac, but also if it is a non-expressing carrier for the factor.