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Mike Homan considers... The French Bulldog enigma


French Bulldog Ch Chevet Tinker 1935

The evolution of the French Bulldog is shrouded in mystery; for more than a century enthusiasts have pondered the ancestry of this fine breed.

Author Edward Ash in his two volume work ‘Dogs, Their History and Development’, says:

‘In common with many other breeds, the French Bulldog was presented to us as an accomplished fact, and we were left to imagine as best we could how he came into existence.’

Over the years breed enthusiasts have endeavoured to discover how the breed came into being. Many consider the French Bulldog was distinct, and by no means evolved during the 19th and 20th centuries - thoughts such as this may very well be true.

Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald’s ‘The Book of the Dog’ features a chapter ‘French Bulldog’ by Canis (pseud. Clifford Hubbard). He states: ‘The French Bulldog, or Bouledogue Francais, is entirely a French creation, for though it appears that some Spanish Bulldog-type dog on the one hand, and the small English Bulldog on the other hand, played part in its manufacture, the actual creation of the dog was made possible by French supporters of the breed’.

It has also been suggested that 19th century out of work lace-makers of Nottingham, sought employment at Chantilly (situated north of Paris and renowned for the quality of its lace), and that some of the emigrating lace-makers took small bulldogs across the Channel and very often cross-bred to short faced bull-baiting dogs of various European countries - thus the French Bulldog was born! However, this theory along with many others appears vague and unconvincing.

Herbert Compton’s under-estimated two-volume work ‘The Twentieth Century Dog’ (compiled from contributions of over five hundred experts) published in 1904 recounts what may well be the true account of the French Bulldogs origins:

‘Half a century ago a small bulldog was plentiful enough in England without aspiring to the title Toy. There arose a demand in France for the diminutive specimens of our national dog, and many were exported to that country, where they settled down so completely that in the process of time they became naturalised citizens of the republic, and were regarded as natives of the soil’.

Furthermore, the author concludes, ‘the French Bulldog does not exist, as all the ‘French’ specimens are descended from dogs originally exported from England.’

Comparison made between the photograph images of Toy Bulldog, Ch. Peter Amos (1904) and French Bulldog, Ch. Chevet Tinker (1935) to some extent confirms the aforementioned.

Without doubt the history of most dog breeds is intriguing and fascinating. Discovering the smallest item of information not previously revealed arouses excitement and curiosity - pushing us along to delve even further. In many instances when researching the history of any breed it can beneficial to move away from purely canine related publications. For instance, a short time ago seeking additional historical information on the development of terrier breeds, an obscure clue led me to 19th and early 20th century archaeology books. Reading through the work of Max Hilzheimer’s ‘Antiquity’ the following was unearthed:

‘About fifty years ago (1888) great surprise was caused by the identification among the animal remains recovered by Reiss and Stobel in the cemetery of Ancon, Peru, of a breed of dog whose skull and bones, especially the extremities had the closest affinities with those of a small bull-dog.

Since then further remains have come to light, including mummified specimens. Hitherto, however, we have been content to establish anatomical similarities without puzzling over the appearance of this remarkable breed’

‘It was accepted that it must have looked like the English bull-dog. The Frankfurt Bolivian expedition (1927 - 9), led by Richard N. Wegner, has brought back a number of vases portraying this bull-dog in a very naturalistic style. They show that we are concerned with a small elongated animal with a big head and erect ‘bat ears’, which finds its parallel in the French dwarf bull-dog.

The resemblance is positively amazing, as may be seen from numerous instances. Many ‘defects‚ can be observed, lips leaving the upper lip and teeth free, the concave nasal bridge, etc
‘All these features were recorded with the greatest fidelity by old Peruvian artists who, by indicating them on several models, have provided us with real portraits of the dogs. When, moreover, we find some of these models have short ears and some long, we are satisfied in regarding the portraits as faithful ones. Up till now, however, these dog models are recorded exclusively from Northern Peru.

‘This breed, which is only found in the pre-Columbian period, is today extinct.’ Max Hilzheimer (Antiquity 1936 Page 358)

Apparently, the striped stirrup spouted vessel (see illustration) -closed pot having a hollow U-shaped handle surmounted by a tubular spout was the most characteristic of Chavin ceramic shape, probably dated between 1200 and 2000 BC and created in the northern Peruvian coastal valley. The highly accomplished effigy pots display abstract and realistic designs.

Is it possible the French Bulldog has been in existence for a period almost as long as that of the Greyhound - which said to be 5000 years? Cecil Wimhurst in ‘The Book of The Greyhound’ (1961) tells us the Greyhound is mentioned in the Bible (Proverbs, chapter 30, verses 29 - 31).