R EESE WITHERSPOON has one. Lady Gaga has three. Martha Stewart flashes hers all over TV. And French bulldogs are enticing less famous Americans, too. America’s Kennel Club said on March 15th that they were the most-registered breed in the country last year, overtaking the Labrador retriever, which had enjoyed a record 31-year run as the country’s top dog. In Britain Frenchies have gone from the 22nd-most popular breed in 2011 to second today; in South Africa they have leapt from 27th to first over an even shorter period. Our chart (below) shows the soaring popularity of the wrinkled mutts. Why are some people so obsessed with them?
Frenchies are odd little creatures. Colette, a Parisian author born in the 19th century, compared hers to a frog that had been sat upon. Over time they have been bred to have increasingly stocky frames, bat ears and squishy noses—which, though chic, is also cruel and life-threatening (a recent British study of 18 breeds kept as pets found French bulldogs to have the shortest life expectancy; in New Zealand vets reckon the dogs are “too compromised to continue breeding” them).
Yet they remain attractive to owners, partly because of their small size. In countries with a high concentration of urban dwellers, tiny dogs that can trot around bijou apartments are appealing. Behaviour also plays a part. Frenchies have a reputation for being friendly towards humans and dogs. But that does not make them unique. A recent study found that many popular types of dog are equally or more friendly, on average (see chart).