Information about the Dogue de Bordeaux

The Dogue de Bordeaux, Bordeaux Mastiff or French Mastiff or Bordeauxdog is a breed of dog that is strong, powerful, and imposing. The Dogue de Bordeaux is one of the most ancient French breeds. They are a typical brachycephalic molossoid type. Bordeaux are very powerful dogs, with a very muscular body yet retaining a harmonious temperament. The breed has been utilized in many different forms, from using their brawn to pull carts or haul heavy objects, to guarding flocks and used to protect castles of the European elite.

Dogue de Bordeaux, also called French Mastiff or Bordeaux Bulldog, is longer in body than it is tall, and is a well muscled and stocky Molosser breed with a heavy, broad head, and deep chest, not appearing “leggy” in any way.

The breed standards by European FCI and the American Kennel Club specify a minimum weight of 100 lbs for a female and 115 lbs for a male. There is no formally stated maximum weight but dogs must be balanced with regard to their overall type and the conformation standards of the breed.

The standard states that the desirable height, at maturity, should range between 23½ inches to 27 inches (58-67.5 cm) for male dogs and from 22½ inches to 25½ inches (57 cm-65 cm) for females. Deviation from these margins is considered a fault.

Dogue de Bordeaux is a well balanced, muscular and massive dog with a powerful build. The Dogue’s size should come mostly from width and muscles, rather than height. The breed is set somewhat low to the ground and is not tall like the English Mastiff. The body of the Dogue de Bordeaux is thick-set, straight top-line and a gentle rounded croup. The front legs should be straight and heavy-boned, well up on pasterns, down to tight cat like feet. The straight tail begins thickly at the base and then tapers to a point at the end. It should not reach lower than the hocks. The tail is thick at the base and tapers to the tip and is set and carried low. The breed is to be presented in a completely natural condition with intact ears, tail and natural dewclaws. It should be evaluated equally for correctness in conformation, temperament, movement and overall structural soundness.

The massive head is a crucial breed characteristic. The Dogue de Bordeaux is claimed to have the largest head in the canine world, in proportion to the rest of the body. For males the circumference of the head, measured at the widest point of the skull, is roughly equal to the dog’s height at the withers (shoulders). For females the circumference may be slightly less. When viewed from the front or from above, the head of the Dogue forms a trapezoid shape with the longer top-line of the skull, and the shorter line of the underjaw, forming the parallel sides of the trapezoid. The jaw is undershot and powerful. The Dogue should always have a black or red mask that can be distinguished from the rest of the coat around and under the nose, including the lips and eye rims. The nose colour in red masked dogs should be brown, in black masked dogs this must be black. The muzzle should be at most 1/3 the total length of the head and no shorter than 1/4 the length of the head, the ideal being between the two extremes. The upper lips hang thickly down over the lower jaw. The skin on the neck is loose, forming a noticeable dewlap, but should not be excessive like that of a Neapolitan Mastiff. Small pendant ears top the head, but should not be long and houndy.

The standard specifies the coat to be ‘short, fine, and soft to the touch’. Color varies from shades of fawn (light, coppery red) to mahogany (dark, brownish red) with a black, brown or red mask, though the red mask is true to the breed. White markings are permitted on the tips of the toes and on the chest, but white on any other part of the body is considered a fault, and a disqualifying one if the pigmentation goes beyond the neck. They are light shedders and hypoallergenic.

As with other large breeds of canine, the lifespan of the Dogue is fairly short. According data collected by the Dogue De Bordeaux Society of America the average lifespan of the breed is 5 to 6 years. The oldest dog in the record was 12 years old. The Society is actively recording dogs that are 7 year old or older to celebrate the longer lived dogs.

The Dogue de Bordeaux was known in France as early as the fourteenth century, particularly in southern France in the region around Bordeaux. Hence, the city lent its name to these large dogs.
Sculpture of a Dogue de Bordeaux fighting a wolf from the Muséum national d’histoire naturelle

A uniform breed type of the Bordeaux Dog did not exist before about 1920. The French placed emphasis on keeping the old breeding line pure. Black masks were considered an indication of the crossing in of the English Mastiff. As an important indication of purity of the breed, attention was paid to the self colored (pink) nose, lighter eye color (dark amber), and red mask. They were originally bred with huge anatomically incorrect heads; a pioneer for the breed in Germany, Werner Preugschat once wrote:

“What am I supposed to do with a dog that has a monstrous skull and is at most able to carry it from the food dish to its bed?”

The Dogue de Bordeaux was at one time known to come in two varieties, Dogues and Doguins, the former, the Dogue, being a considerably larger dog than the latter. The latter, the Doguin, has withered away to nothing more than a mention in breed history books, as it is no longer in existence.

The history of the breed is believed to predate the Bullmastiff and the Bulldog. It is said that the Dogue can be found in the background of the Bullmastiff, and others claim that the Dogue and Mastiff breeds were both being accomplished at the same time. Another theory is the Dogue de Bordeaux originates from the Tibetan Mastiff and it is also said that the Dogue is related to the Greco Roman molossoids used for war, as there was a breed similar to the Dogue de Bordeaux in Rome at the time of Julius Caesar’s reign, possibly a cousin of the Neapolitan Mastiff. Others suggest that the Dogue de Bordeaux is a descendent of a breed which existed in ancient France, the Dogues de Bordeaux of Aquitaine. Which ever theory is true, it is obvious that the Dogue de Bordeaux shares the same common links as all modern molossers.

The Dogue de Bordeaux was once classified into three varieties, the Parisian, the Toulouse and the Bordeaux, types which were bred depending on the region of France and the jobs they were required to do. Ancestral Dogues de Bordeaux had various coat colors, such as brindle and majority of white markings that carried fully up the legs. They had scissor bites in some regions, undershot in others, big heads, small heads, large bodies and small bodies; very inconsistent in type. Another controversial aspect was the mask, red (brown), none or black. The Dogues de Bordeaux of Bordeaux of the time also sported cropped ears. Regardless, they all had a general type similar to today’s Dogue de Bordeaux.

In 1863 the first canine exhibition was held at the “Jardin d’Acclimatation” in Paris, France. The winner of the Dogue de Bordeaux was a bitch named Magentas. The Dogue de Bordeaux was then given the name of the capital of their region of origin, today’s Dogue de Bordeaux.

The Dogue de Bordeaux was used as a hunter, a herding dog, and a guardian. They were trained to bait bulls, bears, and jaguars, hunt boars, herd cattle, and protect the homes, butcher shops, and vineyards of their masters.

During the 1960s, a group of breeders of the Dogue de Bordeaux in France, headed by Raymond Triquet, worked on the rebuilding of the foundation of the breed. In 1970 a new standard was written for the breed, with the most recent update in 1995. This standard is the basis of the standard written for the AKC in 2005.

Although the Dogue de Bordeaux first came to the USA in the 1890s for the show ring, the first documented Dogues de Bordeaux of modern times was in 1959, Fidelle de Fenelon, and in 1968, Rugby de la Maison des Arbres. Between 1969 and 1980 imported Dogues de Bordeaux in the USA were scarce, limited to a few breeders who worked closely with the French Dogue de Bordeaux Club, the SADB. The breed was first “officially” introduced to American purebred enthusiasts in an article written in 1982 and by the American anthropologist, Dr. Carl Semencic for “Dog World” magazine. That article, entitled “Introducing the Dogue de Bordeaux”, was followed by chapters dedicated to the Dogue in Semencic’s books on dogs, published by T.F.H. Publications of Neptune, New Jersey. When Semencic’s first article on the breed was published there were no Bordeaux Dogues in the United States, there were 600 examples left in the world, mostly in France, Holland and East Berlin, and the breed’s numbers were on the decline. Much later, in 1989 the typical American family saw the Dogue de Bordeaux for the first time on the big screen in Touchstone’s movie Turner & Hooch about a police man and his canine partner, although many people did not know that the massive slobbering animal was a Dogue de Bordeaux.

Since then the Dogue de Bordeaux has taken hold in the United States and can be found in greatly increasing numbers across the country. The Dogue de Bordeaux has been supported by multiple breed clubs throughout the years, and has finally found its way to full AKC recognition through the assistance of the Dogue de Bordeaux Society of America. Since 1997 the DDBSA has helped bring the breed to the point in which full AKC recognition could be achieved.

The Dogue de Bordeaux has begun to flourish is recent years, with the introduction of them into more movies and even television, as well as their full recognition status by the American Kennel Club, also known as the AKC (full AKC recognition began July 2008). Their numbers are climbing, but careful attention must be paid to health in the breed, if the increase in popularity is to progress this breed in a positive forward motion in years to come.