The very cute, totally disturbing tale of the American “it” dog
How the quest to own the nation’s most popular, most Instagram-worthy pup has bred a world of problems.
In 2022, the French bulldog, commonly known as a Frenchie, became the most popular dog breed in America, dethroning the lowly Labrador retriever for the first time in 31 years.
If there’s an “it” breed of the 21st century so far, it’s the Frenchie, with their squat figures, flat faces, and outsize bat ears. The American Kennel Club, which announced the breed’s rise to the No. 1 spot, noted that registrations for the breed have risen steadily for over a decade, growing by more than 1,000 percent since 2012. At around 20 pounds and perfectly sized for carry-on luggage, Frenchies have been marketed as the dog best suited to the lifestyles of the rich and quite possibly lazy. They don’t even need much exercise, for the simple reason that their numerous health problems can make too much exercise dangerous.
Rather than requiring human owners to change their lives to accommodate a new dog, the French bulldog is a breed that’s been broken to accommodate us. It’s not uncommon for Frenchies (like other small, trendy dog breeds) to be “housetrained” to exclusively go to the bathroom on pee pads, litter boxes, or turfgrass inside an apartment or on a balcony.
In 2018, they were the most popular pup in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco and in the top five in many other cities. The Frenchie is the most hashtagged dog on Instagram. It’s in ads, on television, and a celebrity favorite. Demand for them is so high that they can easily cost up to $5,000; there’s enough money in them that they have inspired multiple robberies, perhaps most famously in 2021, when Lady Gaga’s dog walker was shot and two of her Frenchies, Koji and Gustav, were stolen.
Part of the reason for Frenchies’ exorbitant cost is that the dogs’ heads are so large that litters usually have to be delivered via C-section, an expensive veterinary procedure. The dogs can also cost their owners thousands of dollars down the line, because they’re prone to a multitude of health problems, including skin, eye, and ear infections. There are also the breathing issues common to all brachycephalic breeds — those with flat faces — that can cause respiratory distress, heat intolerance (since the dogs have to pant to cool themselves off), and frequent vomiting. Later in life, Frenchies can show signs of more serious issues like painful spine deformations and nerve pain.
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