Dogue de Bordeaux

Stuart Fitzgerald
Dr Stuart Fitzgerald (MVB MANZCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Dogue de Bordeaux

The Dogue de Bordeaux is a large, powerful molosser breed originating in the southwest of France. It has been associated with the aristocracy in its homeland for over 500 years, a fact that almost led to its demise in the upheaval of the French Revolution toward the end of the eighteenth century. The breed has traditionally been used in a guard dog role, although it also has a long history of involvement in dog fighting and other blood sports, including bear baiting. Dogues de Bordeaux are loyal and loving, and unusually calm and easy company considering their massive size. However, they are also territorial and suspicious of strangers. These traits, combined with their instinctive courage, make them quick to defend their owners from intruders or other would-be assailants, and these energies do need to be managed and directed to avoid the breed becoming unnecessarily aggressive.

Most Dogues make excellent family pets, as they are tolerant and gentle toward children, but due to their size should never be left unattended with a child. Like many mastiff breeds, they produce a lot of drool, and as they prefer to live indoors, this can be an issue for some owners. They do not require much exercise, and are particularly slothful in warm weather, when they are prone to overheating. The breed suffers several well-recognised health complaints, and anyone considering the purchase of a Dogue de Bordeaux pup should insist on certificates of veterinary examination of both the puppy and its parents. Largely because of a tendency to develop cardiac disease, the breed’s average life expectancy is only 7–8 years.

About & History

The name Dogue de Bordeaux translates as “Bordeaux Mastiff”, which gives a nod to the breed’s shared roots with some of our other best-loved breeds. This breed, along with many others, was derived from the molosser dogs that have been popular since Roman times, and have been used for purposes as diverse as cargo haulage, gladiatorial combat, mountain rescue, and hunting. The Mastiff, Rottweiller, and Pug are but a few of today’s breeds with a similar background. Though the Dogue de Bordeaux has only been truly standardised since around the 1920s, similar dogs can be traced, through art and literature, to around the sixteenth century, when they were used primarily in blood sports, but also as guardians of the nobility.

While the modern line is strongly associated with the wine-growing regions of southwestern France, at least two other similar Dogues were recognised, with the cities of Toulouse and Paris having Dogues of their own. It is unclear whether these other breed types died out, or whether they were incorporated into the development of the breed that we know today. We do know that many members of the breed were executed along with their aristocratic owners during the French Revolution, and that their numbers plummeted as a result around this time.

During the breed’s establishment, it may have also been crossed with the ancestors of the Bullmastiff and Bulldog breeds, though this is contested hotly by the various breed historians. Those invested in the Dogue de Bordeaux contend that it predates these and other related dogs. The breed shot to prominence after the starring role played by Beasley in the 1989 Tom Hanks’ movie, Turner and Hooch, and it has continued to gain in popularity, becoming recognised by the UK Kennel Club in 1997, and being admitted to the American Kennel Club register in 2008.

Appearance

Dogue de Bordeaux Large Photo

This massive dog has a powerful, muscular build, and is relatively squat and low to the ground in comparison to some of the other giant breeds. Its head is its defining feature, with its massive skull, which is wider between the ears than at the eyes, and is rounded from side to side. The forehead ends squarely, with a marked stop between the crown and muzzle. In an ideal specimen, the muzzle should be between one-third and one-quarter the entire length of the skull, meaning the breed is considered brachycephalic, or short-nosed. The muzzle is square, and barely narrows along its length. The lower jaw overshoots the upper to a greater or lesser degree, although the lower teeth should not be visible when the mouth is relaxed. There is an abundance of skin around the head, with symmetrical, mobile wrinkling of the forehead and heavy, hanging upper and lower lips. Dogues de Bordeaux can have eyes of varying shades of brown, and convey an expression of aloofness and seriousness. The ears are small and pendant-like, and are set high on the skull.

The neck and back are broad and strong, with loose and supple skin overlying throughout. The chest is well sprung, and extends below the elbows in most dogs, and the abdomen is reasonably well tucked. The dog’s limbs are very heavy boned and well muscled, and the breed moves with an easy, loping gait, the massive head being held lower to the ground with increasing speed. The paws are large and tight, with no splaying of the toes. The tail is broad at the base and tapering, and is usually held low.

The breed has a short coat, in which the undercoat and primary hairs are of similar length, giving it a soft and silky feel. Though white patches were a feature of the early Dogues de Bordeaux, such markings are now frowned upon. The Kennel Club states a preference for fawn-coloured dogs, with one of three facial marking patterns:

  • Black mask
  • Brown mask
  • No mask

Male dogs should be 60–68 cm (23.5–27 in) tall, and between 50 and 70 kg (110–154 lb) in weight, while females are 58–66 cm (23–26 in) tall, and weigh 45–58 kg (99–127 lb).

Character & Temperament

The breed is known for its loving and affectionate nature toward its owners, but equally for its watchful and defensive approach to strangers. Some individuals have a strong prey drive, and unless raised with cats from puppyhood, most should not be left in feline company unattended. The Dogue de Bordeaux is not an ideal choice for a novice owner, as it has a strong and stubborn personality, and young dogs will push the boundaries during adolescence in an attempt to gain dominance within the family. The owner must be capable of dealing with any attempted challenges by the large juvenile in an assertive and confident manner.

The breed appreciates this type of strong leadership, and once they gain an understanding of their place in the family pack, they mature into loyal and devoted adults. When relaxed, a Dogue de Bordeaux is just about the most laid-back dog imaginable, and will happily while the day away in fitful slumber. However, this air of calm can disappear in an instant should a doorbell ring, for the breed will always race to confront a potential threat ahead of their owner. Their natural guarding instincts need to be managed and controlled through socialisation and training, for aggression toward people, or other dogs in particular, is not uncommon.

Trainability

Photo of Dogue de Bordeaux puppy

The most important aspect of training a Dogue de Bordeaux is socialisation. It is vital that such a powerful dog have a good grounding in how to approach and behave toward other dogs and humans, and a puppy training class is an ideal environment in which to do this, once the pup has completed his primary vaccination course. However, the pup’s owner must be prepared for the fact that their pride and joy is more likely to come home wearing the dunce’s hat rather than a gold star!

Dogues de Bordeaux are difficult to train well: although their behaviour and manners can be markedly improved with persistence and effort, few progress beyond the obedience basics of “sit” and “heel”. Again, of prime importance is the owner’s confidence and assertiveness during these training sessions, for earning the respect of the dog is every bit as important as his response to commands.

Health

Though all giant breed dogs are expected to have a somewhat limited life expectancy, the Dogue de Bordeaux is particularly unfortunate in this respect, with many reaching only five or six years of age before succumbing to a serious illness. A compounding factor is the high neonatal mortality that often occurs in large dogs due to smothering or crushing injuries, which again are issues in this breed because of the large litter size frequently seen. The following list outlines some of the more common problems encountered in the Dogue de Bordeaux.

  • Aortic Stenosis – The aortic valve is one of several major valves within the heart and large blood vessels that ensure the ordered flow of blood from the venous to arterial circulation. Aortic stenosis is a congenital condition in which an abnormal narrowing exists at the point where blood exits the heart to circulate around the body. This results in increased pressures within the heart, as well as decreased outflow of blood, particularly during periods of exertion. A careful veterinary examination should detect a murmur in affected pups, though a very thorough work-up is required to ascertain prognosis. Many dogs with aortic stenosis die before adulthood unless surgically treated.
  • Cruciate Ligament Rupture – The cruciate ligaments are vital structures within the knee joints that allow a full range of flexion and extension while also preventing instability of the joint. Many Dogues suffer rupture of one or both ligaments during normal activity, and due to their bulk, need surgical intervention to prevent the early onset of osteoarthritis and pain.
  • Demodicosis – The breed has a genetic susceptibility to infestation with Demodex mites, which manifests as diffuse hair loss, scabbing, and itch. While this condition is now very manageable with modern anti-parasitic medications, affected dogs need to be treated every 1–3 months, depending on the product being used, for their entire lives.
  • Dilated Cardiomyopathy – A disorder of the heart muscle, resulting in weakened and scarred cardiac walls. In turn, this causes the heart to expand and stretch over time, leading to impaired function, sluggish blood flow, and fluid retention around the body. The condition can arise even in young adults, with signs of exercise intolerance, fainting, coughing, and abdominal bloating the most common signs.
  • Ectropion – Some dogs develop outward rolling of the eyelids, which predisposes to ocular irritation and infection. Mild cases may not require attention, while others may need surgical repair.
  • Epilepsy – There are some familial tendencies to epilepsy within the breed, a condition which manifests as convulsive episodes with a loss of consciousness. Diagnosis requires ruling out any other underlying neurological disorders, and dogs experiencing more than one seizure episode per month are likely to be started on long-term anti-epileptic medication.
  • Footpad Hyperkeratosis – This appears to be another condition occurring in certain families of the Dogue de Bordeaux. Symptoms usually appear by 6 months of age, when excess “horns” of hard tissue begin to appear on the pads of the feet. This may progress to the point of causing discomfort to the dog when walking. In these cases, veterinary intervention may be required to trim the excess keratin. Unfortunately, there is no cure available, though topical emollients may help to soften the lesions and reduce discomfort.
  • Hyperthermia – As described above, the breed has a brachycephalic conformation, and the short nose predisposes to overheating in warm weather. Severe hyperthermia can result in brain damage and death, and so Dogues de Bordeaux should not be exercised excessively during the summer, must always have access to water, and should never be left in a car in direct sunlight.

Exercise and Activity Levels

The Dogue de Bordeaux is not an active breed: around half an hour of walking per day should provide all the exercise they require, and few can resist lying down for a nap shortly afterwards. Around the home, they are inactive for most of the day, although they do benefit from having access to a garden for the occasional outdoor excursion.

Grooming

The breed’s soft coat sheds year-round, though they are not known for having particularly heavy seasonal moults. Weekly brushing will suffice for most, although heavily wrinkled individuals may need special attention, as the skin folds can trap moisture and dirt, and thus become infected. Antiseptic wipes are available from most veterinary clinics which should be used daily to clean these areas. Their heavy drooling means that most dogs need their faces and surroundings cleaned on a regular basis.

Dogues de Bordeaux should be trained from an early age to tolerate nail clipping, teeth brushing, and examination of their ears and feet. By performing some of these tasks at home on a frequent and casual basis, owners can help ensure their dog is compliant and relaxed when being groomed or undergoing veterinary examination.

Famous Dogues de Bordeaux

By far the most famous Dogue de Bordeaux was Tom Hanks’ on-screen companion:

  • Hooch, or Beasly, was played by a dog called Mac in the film Turner and Hooch

Cross-Breeds

The breed is sometimes crossed with other pedigrees, to produce offspring that range from adorable to unusual:

  • Basset Bordeaux – Cross between a Dogue de Bordeaux and Basset Hound
  • Bully Bordeaux – Cross between a Dogue de Bordeaux and Bullmastiff
  • Dogue de Boxer – Cross between a Dogue de Bordeaux and Boxer
  • Doguedoodle – Cross between a Dogue de Bordeaux and Poodle
  • Muscle Mastiff – Cross between a Dogue de Bordeaux and Mastiff
  • Rottie Bordeaux – Cross between a Dogue de Bordeaux and Rottweiler

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