A Brief History of Small Dogs

A Brief History of Small Dogs

It’s hard to name a better inter-species team-up than human beings and dogs. In contrast to other pets, canines are highly trainable and willing to take our lead in many useful ways: Sled dogs and police K9 units can enthusiastically perform physical work alongside their humans, while service dogs drastically improve the quality of life of individuals. Yet the true beauty of the human-dog relationship is companionship, and since companionship doesn’t require size, strength, or resilience, it has opened up the door for all sizes and shapes of dogs to be bred—including toy dogs, such as our beloved French Bulldogs. Let’s take a look at some early forms of toy dog ownership to see how things evolved up to this point.

Keeping small, ‘pretty’ dogs for companionship and decoration goes back thousands of years to dynastic China. Pekingese (named for the Imperial Chinese) and Pugs were bred as lapdogs for ruling families and were popular in imperial courts. While Pekingese were prized for their lion-like appearance, the facial wrinkles of Pugs were seen as lucky. Over time, the popularity of this type of dog spread throughout Asia and eventually to Europe in the 16th century.

European nobility grew just as fond of Pugs as their earlier Chinese counterparts. One noteworthy Pug named Pompey even thwarted an attempt of the life of a Dutch prince by alerting the prince of attackers with his barking. Terriers were popular at the time too, albeit more for working as ‘ratters’ and less so for their winning personalities. Still, ratting deserves credit as the chief working domain which smaller dogs were better suited to and therefore consistently bred for. Sadly, many dogs at the time were also bred and used for bloodsports involving bears and bulls. Around the time the United Kingdom banned these pursuits, the Industrial Revolution displaced English lace workers to Normandy, France with their pets, introducing many new breeds to the continent. The most popular by far were the tiny Bulldogs some owned. Though not a recognized breed, a brisk trade was established, with UK breeders selling undersized Bulldog pups to France where they were prized. As these ‘Toy Bulldogs’ were bred over time in France, Terrier stock was introduced to make their ears stand up straighter and eventually the modern day French Bulldog was born.

Small breeds made their way across the Atlantic with European mariners alongside larger breeds. Pest control was still a priority and breeding intensified to suit this purpose. In fact, the American Kennel Club refers to the Rat Terrier as an ‘American original’. The descendants of these ‘ratters’—most notably the Jack Russell Terrier— remain popular pets today. The French Bulldog also stayed in vogue in the United States, and by 1906 it was the fifth most popular breed in the country, with notable owners including the Rockefeller and Morgan families. As of 2017, the ‘Frenchie’ is the fourth most popular dog breed in the United States. We’re proud to take the venerable French Bulldog as our namesake at Frenchie Bulldog, but whatever small breed you cohabitate with, we will always seek to make the most comfortable, secure and stylish accessories for them.

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