Posts Tagged ‘dogue de bordeaux’

Photo by Marlies Kloet

Photo by Marlies Kloet

On the Pedigree Dogs Exposed Facebook group, debate is very common, and things have heated up in the aftermath of Crufts.  So many controversies are going on with Crufts this year, but one of them that has me curious is one involving the issue of breed standards.

Last week, rancorous debate ensued when it was suggested that the golden retriever that won the breed at Crufts was overweight. I don’t have an opinion about the weight of the dog, but I was curious about why golden retrievers in Europe are so divided between show and working types.

The answer I was given was that golden retrievers in Europe were just pets, and it didn’t matter if they were built for the purpose or not.

Earlier I had posted an image of a golden retriever winner at Crufts in 1927, and I asked why they were okay with breed changing so much.

The answer I received was that the breed should just be allowed to evolve.

Both of these answers are problematic.

Everyone who gets interested in dogs learns that dog shows and breed standards were developed to preserve the breed, but if conformation is allowed to slide just because the dogs aren’t used anymore or are allowed to “evolve” based upon fashion, then how can anyone say that dog shows have anything to do with preserving the breed?

I got no answers to that question.

This evening things have taken an even more bizarre turn when the issues turned to those surrounding the tendency to breed for extreme type in conformation with dogues de Bordeaux. On my group, it was asked why dogues de Bordeaux were being bred to look like giant red English bulldogs, and it just so happens that we have video of the author of the FCI standard for that breed excoriating breeders for producing such extreme dogs.

So if the even ideas of the people who helped standardize the breed don’t matter, then the entire edifice of the dog show is pretty tenuous.

It ultimately comes down to people will breed whatever they like, just so long as the judges award them with prizes. Judging requires understanding the standard, but much of the standard is like scripture– quite open to interpretation.

If all it comes down to is what wins in the ring, then this appears to be one of the worst ways of selecting breeding stock. Breed type and what wins in the ring become self-fulfilling prophecies rather than objective ways of evaluating dogs.

I assumed that some of this was going on all along, but I did not expect it be articulated to me in such a way.

It is rather quite distressing.

And yes, people do use golden retrievers in Europe, but it is now all but impossible to have a dual purpose dog in the breed now.

And people still do breed dogues de Bordeaux that look and move soundly.

It is just that dog shows and breed standards aren’t what they are portrayed to be. They are not the final word on a dog’s quality.

I think it may be long past time for the pretense to be dropped entirely.






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This is an interview of  the author of the FCI/French dogue de Bordeaux standard, and he has a lot of interesting things to say. He thinks the dogue should join the AKC, so the American dogs will be able to be used in international bloodlines. But he’s worried that AKC recognition could “change the dog.”  He’s very concerned that people will breed for a larger size and poor head and body structure if the dog becomes AKC.  (In case you were wondering, the dogue de Bordeaux has since joined the AKC.).

Part I:


Part II:


These questions are important for any critics of the institutionalized dog fancy.

You may have issues with it, but if you want your dogs to contribute to the future and to international lines, you almost have to go along with the nonsense.


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If you don’t believe me, listen to this interview of a well-known French Dogue de Bordeaux expert– who wrote the breed standard that is used for the FCI. There is so much discussion of the specifics of what this animal is supposed to look like that you wonder if he’s talking about a biological entity or something that one would mold from a lump of clay:


Link to Part II.

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This painting is by the French artist Jean-Baptiste Oudry (1686-1755).

The dogs appear to be forerunners of the dogue de Bordeaux, which once came in a great many more colors, including brindle.

The wild boar piglets are clearly striped, as all wild boars are when they are first born.

Thanks to Nara Uusihanni for passing this one on.


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Dogue down

Yesterday, a Dogue de Bordeaux named Marley collapsed on her way out of arena at Crufts.

She died shortly thereafter.  The diagnosis was laryngeal paralysis, something you might have heard about on this blog. (Miley no longer has any paralysis of any sort.)

Of course,  this disorder can affect virtually any breed at any time.

One cannot blame this on breeding or anything else.

It just happens.

So please don’t use this story to attack the problems of dog shows.

It is not intellectually honest.

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One of my favorite dog movies is Turner & Hooch.  It’s not a particularly good Tom Hanks movie, but it’s a pretty good dog movie.

The dog who played Hooch was actually named Beasley.

Beasley was a Dogue de Bordeaux, but when I first saw it, I thought he was a pit bull.

When I later learned about this breed from advertisements in Dog World, I realized that this film had essentially put this breed on the map in North America.

Now, as I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve been looking at dog longevity quite a bit. I often reference this site on dog longevity, and based upon the e the average lifespan for this breed is 5.21 years.

Beasley doesn’t look very old in the movie, but because he never appeared in any other films, I just assumed he died at an early age.

Well, I was wrong on both accounts.

It turns out that Beasley was about ten years old when this film was made, and he died at the age of 13!

Talk about an outlier!

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This British Dogue's name was Sans Peur ("Without Fear").

The Dogue de Bordeaux only became somewhat popular in the English speaking world after one starred in the film Turner and Hooch.

The dog above was imported to Britain by H.C. Brooke in the late 1890’s. As you can see, he looks very much like a modern Dogue de Bordeaux, just with cropped ears.

However, if he were to make an appearance today, I’m sure that people would be asking “Is that a rednose pit bull?” And after hearing the answer, they’d tell their friends “I just seen the biggest rednose pit ever!”

W.D. Drury wrote about the Dogue in his British Dogs, Their Points, Selection, And Show Preparation (1903):

Of comparatively recent introduction from abroad, the Dogue de Bordeaux, or Dogue of the South of France, as it is more familiarly called, is one of the few varieties that have not taken a hold in this country. Any popularity that it might have attained was endangered at the outset by the edict that went forth against cropping. Indeed, those who championed its cause here suggest that it was the abolition of cropping that was mainly responsible for its fate here (pg. 401).

When dogs are cropped, breeders do not select for a particular ear carriage. In Europe, dobermanns have nice floppy ears that have a particular set and carriage. In America, where the dogs must be cropped to be shown, the AKC standard does not  even describe what an uncropped ear should look like. Ear-cropping was banned in the UK in the 1890s, and this caused certain amount of trouble for many terrier breeds that were traditionally cropped. Creating a definite ear carriage was very difficult to do, when the dogs always had them cut off. There were no selection pressures for correct or uniform ear type, and this might explain why nonstandard Jack Russells have so many different ear carriages. Nonstandard JRT’s came from ancestors that were cropped, and no one really tried to select for an ear carriage or type after the ban was enacted.

The Dogue is similar to the bullmastiff breed, which may have been one reason why they shunned in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Why go for the French version, when one has a very similar dog  in the home country?

However, in the 1890’s, this breed could have become quite popular in Britain. As soon as cropping was banned, all interest in the Dogue dried up. This fact tells us that the breed was never meant to be a working dog of any sort in the UK. It was meant to be a show dog.

Dogues became modestly popular in the US after Turner and Hooch came out. I remember seeing dozens of ads for them in different dog publications.

However, it wasn’t until 2008 that this breed was recognized by the AKC.

By then, the breed had already developed a uniform ear carriage and type. As cropping loses its importance and legality throughout the world, many breeds are going to have a hard time adjusting.

It is amazing how much cropping prevents people from selecting for a particular ear.  It only becomes evident when those traditionally cropped breeds have their ears left intact.








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The Dogue de Bordeaux is the last remaining native French mastiff. There were once Parisian dogues, dogues from Toulouse, and the Dogue de Bordeaux. These dogs were often brindle, red with black masks, or marked with white.  The dogs may have had lots of purposes, as all mastiff-types did. Their ancestors probably hunted boars, wolves, and other large animals. Some were probably used in war (the famous story of the mastiff defending Sir Peers Legh at the battle of Agincourt was an English mastiff, though, not a French one). Later, they guarded estates. These dogs were powerful and fierce. Unlike the bullmastiff and the big English mastiff, the Dogue de Bordeaux retains some of these traits, some more so than others.

Today, this breed is horribly inbred with a very short life expectancy of about six years. It was made popular for a few years with the film Turner and Hooch, which was an early Tom Hanks film. The dog was a slobbering beast with a charming personality that on occasion went berserk on a bad guy. No wonder Americans wanted one!


Another wild French canid was the Beast of Gevaudan that killed scores of peasants in rural France. No one has been able to figure out what it was. A wolf? A hyena? A lion? Maybe a cryptid unknown to science? The story of the Beast was the basis for the film Brotherhood of the Wolf, a 2001 French film. In this film, though, the beast is an armored lioness released upon the peasants to make them hate their king who allowed for scientific thought to exist in France.

But what was the animal? There were two of them, but both were larger than the wolf of the region. Wolf attacks may have happened in Europe, most of them were probably the result of rabies. However, there were child snatching wolves in India that, killed or seriously maimed 74 children from 1996-1997. These people were in the same position as the French peasants. They were poor and unarmed. The forest was nearly empty of game, forcing wolves to rely on livestock for food. It is just a short leap from killing livestock to killing people, and these Indian wolves did it. Could the Gevaudan wolves also made that leap?

There are some problems with this theory. One is that there were only two wolves, and over three years they attacked over 200 people and killed 113 people. In the case of the Indian wolves, whole packs of wolves involved. Further, the French were wolf hunters, unlike the people of this part of India. Although the peasants did not often have guns, the nobles had estate managers and hired hunters to keep the wolf population low. The wolves had a lot more to fear of people in France in 1764 than the wolves had to fear of people in India in 1996.  Both of these problems– the volume of the deaths from just two animals and the ability for the French to kill wolves– certainly causes me to doubt that the Beast of Gevaudan was a wolf.

The animals tore at the face and throats of their victims, which is consistent with a dog or wolf attack. Some have suggested that the beast wasn’t a canid at all, but a hyena or a big cat. Big cats were often kept in menageries, but there is no record of any missing big cats in that part of France. Further, no one owned any. The hyena theory does get some people excited, because there is mention of the Beast having stripes and a wolf-like head. However, striped hyenas are only scavengers. They do not hunt. Spotted hyenas are the only hyenas that hunt large prey, and if the Beast had been mottled, the hyena theory might have some merit.  (The brown hyena has been known to kill fur seal pups on the coast of Namibia, but those are slow moving prey. The brown hyena is the largest animal that can survive on scavenging alone. Anyway, that species was virtually unknown to Europeans).

In 1765, the King of France had one of his wolf hunters go into the countryside, as well as some of his harquebus bearer and Lieutenant of the Hunt. The French government spent lots of money and manpower trying to kill the beast, but all the came up with was an unusually large wolf, weighing 130 pounds and standing 31 inches at the shoulder. The common wolf of Europe weighs only 75 to 100 pounds. Pure wolves of this size only exist in the wild in far northern parts of North America, which is why I am sure this animal wasn’t a pure wolf. It had scar  that the animal had received from its victims as they tried to defend themselves. This “wolf” is sometimes called the Wolf of Chazes, and there are very few good depictions of it other than fanciful nonsense, such as this:


But there is this depiction of it that seems more realistic:


The size is very large for a wolf (and probably not realistic). But the head and really large ears seem to me that this beast was actually a wolf-dog. Large ears are indicative of a wolf-dog cross. Because most modern wolf-dogs are hybrids with wolves and wolf-like dogs, we assume that the wolf hybrids are going to look like wolves. But here are some wolf hybrids from a wolf and standard poodle:


From the goldendoodle website. Could you tell that they were poodle-wolf crosses? They look like some kind of weird dog to me. I don’t think I could determine their species.

The second creature was killed two years later, as people continued to be attacked and killed. One local hunter, Jean Chastel, was charged with the task of kill the beast. And he succeeded, after he had stopped to pray (of course!) and the reign of the Beast of Gevaudan was ended. The second animal looked something like this:


The white marking tells you that this is definitely a wolf hybrid.



What kind of dog was it that the wolves were crossed with to make the Beasts? The first animal was probably an F1 cross, a very high content wolf hybrid. The second animal had more dog-like characteristics. It may have been the descendant of the first. Both animals were reddish in color, big, and striped (brindled?)  The white markings on the second animal tell me what it was. And the dog in the mix was a French Mastiff, a dogue, probably a red brindled one. This assertion is not far-fetched. The Spanish used their war mastiff, a close relative of the dogue, to kill native people in the New World. Dogue and wolf combine could create a mysteriously ugly monster of a hybrid, one that no one could identify as either species.

Perhaps this hybrid occurred naturally, or perhaps human agency was involved. There were plots against the French king at this time, for France had lost most of its overseas empire in the Seven Years War just before the killing started. France was a broken nation, and a monster problem that could not be solved could turn the peasants into a revolutionary state. There are some conspiracy theories that name Jean Chastel, the wolf hunter, as part of the conspiracy, along with the nobles of the region. However, I do not wish to engage in conspiracy theories on this site.

Animal Planet once had a show called Animal X, a show about cryptozoology. They covered the Beast of Gevaudan as a whodunnit, and I thought that this was about the only reasonable show of the series in terms of science. However, I still loved it for its camp factor. I love true believers in cryptids. I’m sorry I can’t join you, but I love to watch you tilt at windmills.

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