This article takes a look at this fascinating breed in detail, and tells you everything you want to know about the Dogue de Bordeaux.
Why the Dogue?
A few months ago I visited Battersea Dogs Home. It’s a surprisingly uplifting place.
Given the number of dogs living in close quarters, the noise is not too overpowering.
It’s very clean, and full of staff who are clearly devoted to caring for and working with the dogs during their stay.
But there were a few things that surprised me more than the good feelings the building held.
The first, was the structure of the building.
I’m not sure why, but it slightly blew my mind that these dogs were living on the upper floors. Silly in hindsight, and totally irrelevant here you’d think, but worth mentioning because I thought it was going to be the thing that took me aback the most that day.
Because I was about to see a dog that would stick in my memory like no other.
At the end of a corridor, sat a kennel. Where a Dogue de Bordeaux was currently in residence.
That First Dogue
Now, I am very experienced with dogs, around dogs, and I have seen an awful lot of them.
Many shapes and sizes, many temperaments and styles. And whether sensible or not, I have pretty much adored every single one.
Hand on my heart, I can honestly say I have never seen anything like that dog. I wish I’d taken a photo.
They say you never forget your first – and it’s clearly true here.
The word enormous does not do that dog justice.
His muzzle was short, and his skin hung loose around his face.
With rivers of drool running down his face, he calmly stared at us from inside his cage.
His eyes were kind, his coat was very clean and well cared for, and he didn’t make a sound.
He just watched everything, with an intelligent regard.
The funny thing was, had there not been a sign asking you not to on the door, I would have still happily introduced myself to him.
Because everything about this dog interested me. I found him frankly, fascinating.
So since then I have read a lot of articles on the breed and done some research to find out more.
Given what I’ve read, I can absolutely conclude that even if I had a much larger house, no children and no other pets, a Dogue would still not be the breed for me.
But nonetheless, I very much understand this gentle giant’s huge appeal.
Let’s take a look at why!
History and Role of the Dogue de Bordeaux
Often referred to as the French Mastiff, the Dogue de Bordeaux belongs to a group of dogs referred to as Mastiffs.
This ancient French breed is a seriously large and powerful animal, originally used for a variety of tasks and roles including hunting big game and fighting.
According to the KC website the French Mastiff was a member of the very first French dog show in 1863.
Although they were not recognised by the Kennel Club in the UK until as recently as 1997.
It is thought that breeding of Dogues in the UK was first carried out in the late 1800’s, and then revised to more modern standards in the 1960’s.
What does a Dogue de Bordeaux look like?
The early Dogue de Bordeaux looked a far cry from the dog I saw at Battersea recently, as you can see in these pictures, shown below with permission from Jemima Harrison of Pedigree Dogs Exposed.
As she discusses in her interesting article looking at Yesterday’s Dogues you would be hard pushed to believed that the loose skinned, wrinkled dog you see today is the same breed as the dogs pictured here.
Indeed it is the dramatic difference in this dog’s appearance has most likely contributed to their sad suffering from many health issues in recent years.
Dogue de Bordeaux Health Issues
The Dogue de Bordeaux can suffer from some serious health issues, so it’s important if you are considering bringing one into your life that you are familiar with the conditions. This will enable you to choose a puppy that is the least likely to have inherited them, but also to spot signs of trouble brewing as soon as possible.
Some of the health issues are ones which affect many breeds of dog, and that any prospective dog owner should be aware of the existence of. Epilepsy, progressive retinal atrophy and hypothyroidism are a few of these.
Like so many larger breeds of dog, the French Mastiff is prone to suffer from hip and elbow dysplasia. These nasty inherited conditions arise where a malformation of the hip causes an instability in the joint.
Fortunately, hip dysplasia is one of those conditions that for being largely inherited, can be screened for in your puppy’s potential parents. If you only buy a pup from a breeder whose dogs have better than average hip scores for the breed, you will increase your chances of getting a puppy who doesn’t suffer.
Unfortunately however, the breed mean for Dogue’s is approaching 20. When you consider that the average Labrador has a breed mean of 11, and lower scores equal better hips, you can see that this is a serious problem for the breed.
This said, there are suggestions that your odds can also be improved further by limiting their exercise at a young age, preventing them from jumping or running up and down stairs. Although research is not yet conclusive on this point, if you are buying a pup from a breed prone to joint issues, then it’s sensible to follow this advice just in case.
There are other structural issues related to the Dogue’s structure that are more specific to his breed.
Let’s take a look at the his face.
The Dogue’s Muzzle
Dogue de Bordeauxs are what is known as a ‘brachycephalic’ breed. You can find out more about brachycephaly in general here.
Brachycephaly refers to the condition whereby a dog has been bred to such extremes that their muzzle is far shorter than nature originally intended it. This shortened muzzle can cause serious breathing problems, although this isn’t shown in it’s most extreme form in this breed.
A related potential cause for concern is their nostril openings. It has been noted that some of our modern Dogues’ nostrils are more closed. Making it harder for them to both breathe and potentially regulate their body heat. Check both the potential parents of your new puppy for signs of this, to reduce your chances of your pup suffering.
And speaking of noses – in addition to this, a quick search online will show you numerous owners whose dogs are troubled by very dry sore skin on their noses. There are even products being sold specifically to ease this problem in Mastiffs.
Another example of a structural health concern is the issues caused by excess skin.
Today’s Dogue de Bordeaux has to put it lightly, more than enough skin. It hangs loosely off his face in folds that wrinkle and for crevasses. There are several problems with this type of loose skin being bred into a dog.
Primarily, any fold of skin like this is hard to clean, and forms the perfect environment for germs to fester. This makes it really very prone to infection.
The Dogue’s loose skin also leaves him with drooping lips. This inability to securely close his mouth causes a constant stream of drool to fall from his mouth. Given his enormous size, the proportionate amount of drool is not insignificant.
Not only is this messy, but it increases the hostility of the environment on his skin by keeping it constantly moist.
The final serious issue caused by his loose skin relates to his eyes. When skin at the base of your eyelids hangs down, it exposes tissues that are meant to remain hidden. This outward rolling of the eyelid is known as ectropion.
Dogs suffering from ectropion have eyes which are very prone to infection, damage and contamination. Your Dogue will need regular vet checks to ensure that his eyes are staying healthy and not causing him irritation. Your vet may also need to use surgical intervention to help the dog’s eye health and repair the lids.
Something all dog owners need to be aware of is bloat. Several of the more prominent Dogue de Bordeaux websites suggest that this is definitely a prominent issue for the breed.
It is a potentially fatal issue whereby the stomach becomes distended and rotates after eating. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to help reduce your dog’s chances of suffering. Mainly, by helping them to eat their food slowly, through the use of a slow feeder or giving smaller portions at more frequent intervals.
There is a good article on bloat on The Labrador Site here, which you might want to check out for further information.
There are two other issues which I have found several references to being a serious concern to Dogue owners. Namely, cancer and heart disease. This article from Your Purebred Puppy and this one Dogue de Bordeaux Rehoming both refer to a survey from the Dogue de Bordeaux Society.
They both say that this survey of 79 gives the most common cause of death as cancer at 30% and then heart disease (26%). Suggesting that these are both serious causes for concern for the breed. However, frustratingly I have not been able to find a copy of this survey, or any note of the year it was carried out even!
What is the Dogue de Bordeaux Lifespan?
Taking the health issues that Dogue’s suffer from into account, it is still surprising to see just how short lived they can be. Although as you may know, giant breeds to seem to live far shorter lives than their smaller cousins.
The Kennel Club website states the breeds lifespan is being over 10 years, and indeed it’s reported that probably the most famous Dogue, the star of Turner and Hooch lived to a ripe old age of 14!
However, if you look at the Kennel Club’s own health survey from 2004 they give the average lifespan as a measly 3.8 years!
This was however a very small sample size, so I will let you draw your own conclusions from their survey summary here.
If you are to believe the recordings apparently taken from the Society study mentioned above, they put the expected lifespan at a middling 5-6 years.
So it’s hard to say how long your Dogue puppy might be expected to share your life with you. Another clue can be in the individual pup’s line – breeders usually keep detailed accounts of their dogs’ genealogy, and this may well provide you with not only an idea of their longevity, but of the illnesses there fore bearers were prone too.
Do Dogue de Bordeaux make good pets?
Mastiff’s are guarding breeds at heart. This means that whilst they are strongly bonded to the individuals they have regular contact with, they are very wary of those that they don’t.
By all accounts they get along very well with the children in their families. But the problem is that children have friends, who are children. And your Dogue is unlikely to view them with the same love an affection.
Owners of a giant breed like the Dogue will have to keep them shut away from junior guests, for the dog’s safety as well as the child’s.
If you live a fairly isolated existence, in a rural location where a guard dog is a reassurance and benefit, then a Dogue will absolutely provide you with just that.
Because they attach very strongly to individuals, this Mastiff breed can be prone to suffering from separation anxiety. You will need to gently introduce your puppy to the idea of spending time alone, consistently rewarding good quiet behaviour around the house.
If you are thinking of inviting one into your home, it’s not a bad idea to watch the 80’s film Turn and Hooch! It sounds daft, and obviously there is a fair amount of poetic license regarding the breed, but the doggy star of that Tom Hanks film was a Dogue de Bordeaux. If you’ve never seen one in person, it’s gives you a good idea of the best and worst of the breed’s stereotypes! However correct they may be!
I also dare you not to walk away totally loving the heroic and adorable Dogue.
How do I look after my Dogue de Bordeaux?
The Dogue is not for the faint of heart, or light of bank account.
When they need veterinary treatment, and they are likely to do so, they require proportionately more of the vet’s time and medicine – all of which racks up the cost quickly.
They also have a serious drooling problem, due to the way that they have been selectively bred to have loose skin. Even with conscientious wiping of their mouths, you will have a very sticky home to clear up on a near constant basis.
On the bright side they have a very easily maintained coat, as it’s short, neat and not too prone to shedding. You will get away with grooming him weekly, although given his size that isn’t a fast task!
How much exercise does a Dogue de Bordeaux need?
Although the Dogue is a large breed, for health reasons it is best to give them several short walks a day rather than extended periods of intense exercise.
They will also benefit from periods of play in the garden. And it can be great for bonding and getting along with your dog if you use these times to play games that benefit their training, like fetch!
Dogue de Bordeaux Training
Dedication to positive reinforcement training is vital with this dog, as is socialisation from the moment you bring him or her home at 8 weeks old.
I recommend following a positive training programme that allows all of his meals to be given in the form of treats, to encourage you to stick to this training come rain or shine.
Basic house manners can be allowed to slide for small dogs, but large drooly pups like the Dogue will not be welcome anywhere without their manners being top notch.
Puppy classes could be a great benefit too, to help your pup meet lots of different types of people as well as breeds of dog.
Frequent exposure could help them to feel more relaxed and accepting of strangers.
Although I have a real soft spot for this gentle giant, I have to say that most families will not be well suited to him.
The health issues, both known and unknown, alone are very off-putting. And when coupled with their guarding behaviours and mess, you need a real die-hard fan to give these lovely dogs the home they need.
It’s really important that people have honest breed information, because the only result otherwise is a dog who ends up being shunted to a rescue home before he’s even two year’s old.
I couldn’t in good conscience advice you to get a Dogue unless you are absolutely certain you are up to the challenge. For his sake as well as your own.
So, if you are looking for a bigger dog to join your family, perhaps look for a working bred German Shepherd to join your clan?
Although they don’t have the unique look of a Dogue, they do have a lot of their charm in terms of intense loyalty and devotion, as well as protective instincts. However, they are a much more manageable breed for most pet owners, and with proper socialisation may fit more smoothly into your life.
Should I Buy a Dogue de Bordeaux Puppy?
Despite having found out some negative things about the Dogue during my investigation into the breed, I still have a real soft spot for this charming giant.
But I also think that they need help from their clearly willing and loving owners and breeders.
Help to reduce the issues with their shortening muzzle and loose skin, by deliberately breeding parents that show less pronounced traits.
Help by introducing extreme measures to combat their health problems, by only breeding from fully health tested parents.
And help on an individual basis by new puppy owners, by being socialised and trained to an incredibly high level.
To demonstrate to the wider world that this giant dog has a truly loving, devoted soul.
I have doubt that if properly managed in the right environment, there are plenty of adult homes out there who would welcome the challenge of this gentle giant.
Further links and information
If you think a Dogue de Bordeaux is for you, then I recommend taking a look at the following websites before you bring your puppy home: