Background and History
The History of the Molosser breeds
In order to have a full understanding of the lineage of the Dogue de Bordeaux it is necessary to understand the emergence of the Molosser breeds from which they descend.
The forebears of the group of dogs known as Mastiffs can be traced as far back as 3000BC in Asia. With the flowing tides of war and conquest these dogs then spread throughout the Middle East and Europe. This dissemination of this impressive dog is then reflected in their adoption by a grouping of Ancient Greek tribes called the Molossians as war dogs and guard dogs. From here the rapid expansion of the Empire created by Alexander the Great of Macedonia led once again to the widespread use of these redoubtable war-dogs.
From here they spread across Classical Greece and later Rome and became known as Molossus dogs. The Romans continued to use them as war dogs but also a protection dog, guarding homes and livestock. They also graced the amphitheatres of Rome as formidable fighting dogs in re-enacted battles. It is thought that other Mastiff breeds, such as the English Mastiff, were intermingled with the Molossus in an early breeding programme to add even more size and strength to the Molossus dogs of Italy.
The History of the Dogue de Bordeaux
The Dogue de Bordeaux is thought to be one of the oldest surviving breeds from France although many consider that it was the English invaders during the 14th and 15th centuries that created this breed by mixing English Mastiffs and Bulldogs with native French breeds.
Others maintain that Roman Molosser breeds that gave rise to the Italian Mastiff, English Mastiff and the Spanish Mastiff were also extant in France, most likely introduced via the Roman occupation beginning with Julius Caesar in the 1st century BC. It was directly from them, possibly with some intermingling with other Mastiffs or native French breeds that the Dogue de Bordeaux emerged. But the exact truth is lost in the mists of time. But what we can say with certainty is that the name is taken from the concentration of these dogs in the South Western Regions of France around Bordeaux.
These dogs were used for hunting as ‘catcher-dogs’ for boar, deer and other large prey (similar to the Great Dane and Rottweiler in Northern Europe). The role of these ‘catcher dogs’ was to grab and slow down prey already spotted by the faster sight-hounds before the arrival of the hunters. They were also used as guard dogs on aristocratic estates, usually accompany gatekeepers in patrolling and fending off poachers and other intruders. But following the French Revolution in 1789 this role was greatly reduced.
Also used as cart dogs (similar to the Rottweiler in Germany). Like the Italian Mastiffs, the Cane Corso and the Neapolitan Mastiff, as well as the English Mastiff in the United Kingdom, during WW1 and WWII (where they used to pull the wounded and dead from the battlefield) they declined to the point where it is thought that were only a few pairs remaining. This was possibly due to the hefty food requirements of these large dogs during the hardships brought on by war. By 1946 both these breeds had almost disappeared and it is thought there were only around 500 remaining.
But, fortunately, a slender flame of breed awareness was maintained throughout this barren period for the ‘French Mastiff’. In 1863 an exhibition in France celebrating native breeds featured this dog and it was at this point that it was proudly claimed as a national breed with the official conferring of the name ‘Dogue de Bordeaux’.
An article written in 1982 by Dr. Carl Semencic, an American Academic, first opened the door to interest in this breed in the USA and the Dogue de Bordeaux began to gain a delicate paw-hold in the country in the 1980s. This was further promoted in cultural consciousness with the starring of a ‘Dogue de Bordeaux’ in the film Turner and Hooch in 1989 . This French Mastiff was officially recognized by the AKC in 2008 and is currently ranked at a very respectable 71st based on 2020 registration data .
Linked Hybrid Breeds:
Character and Temperament
This powerful and robust dog is very similar in temperament to its cousin breed the Neapolitan Mastiff, although it is a slightly higher energy dog, although not as active as the other Italian Mastiff breed, the Cane Corso.
But like these other Mastiffs this dog is also certainly very deserving of the title of ‘gentle giant’. This dog has a gentle and affection nature combined with a laid back temperament. Although still a very good and fearless guard dog it is less wary of strangers than is typical for the Mastiff guard types making socialization to accept welcome visitors relatively straightforward.
Like its cousin breeds, the English Mastiff and Neapolitan Mastiff, are reluctant to bite unless in extreme circumstances and are more likely to use their bulk and huge heads to move people away if they feel threatened. But they will attack if they sense any fear from or threat towards their human pack. They will also sound a sonorous alarm if anyone unfamiliar approaches the house.
As with most guarding breeds these dogs are fiercely devoted and loyal to all of their family members to the point that are sometimes labelled as want-to-be lapdogs. They are traditionally a close-quarter guarding breed and do much better if they are kept inside as part of a loving family rather than outside as working guard dogs. Like the Neapolitan Mastiff this breed tend to be huge ‘velcro dogs’ and will shadow their family members and they are tactile and affectionate.
The Dogue de Bordeaux does not cope very well with being left alone and steps should be put in place to prevent or mitigate separation anxiety. They will do well in a multi-canine household although can sometimes clash with other large male dogs as they usually strive to be the alpha dog. But be aware that these dogs do drool prolifically and can also be clumsy, so a prospective owner will need to Mastiff-proof their house.
As protective family dogs the Dogue de Bordeaux has deservedly accelerated up the popularity rankings. Their energy levels are lower than a number of other guardian breeds, such as the Doberman Pinscher, making them a good large breed to have indoors. They will engage in interactive play, but will not zoom around the house causing any accidental destruction. This means that for those owners who seek a protection dog, but can only commit to around an hour of walking each day, the Dogue de Bordeaux makes an excellent choice. More active owners might be better served by the more energetic Cane Corso, while those who desire an even lower energy protection dog may want to look at the Neapolitan Mastiff.
These dogs do carry over a high prey drive from their historic hunting background so consistent socialization will need to put in place if there are smaller dogs or cats in the household. For information on introducing a puppy to an established dog please click here. For a sensitive and structured approach to introducing a puppy to a cat please click here.
They are excellent with children and will be gentle, although due to their sheer bulk they must be carefully supervised around small children. Owners do report that these dogs are essentially ‘big softies’. The Dogue de Bordeaux is a family dog in the true sense of the word, and is likely to form strong bonds with the whole of the family. Some of these mastiffs can be stand-offish with other dogs, particularly males, but they are generally good with other dogs and very rarely aggressive. But this does depend on good socialization strategies to ensure that they fully understand cues so that they do not accidentally hurt smaller dogs.
The Dogue de Bordeaux does share the characteristic Mastiff trait of not being very adaptable to change, so routine will be critical in ensuring this dog is relaxed and confident.
This dog, although not very high-energy, will still require the physical stimulation of obedience training and play. This dog will particularly enjoy fetching, tugging and treasure-hunt games.
With this very large and powerful dog it is important to establish yourself as a canine leader. The Dogue de Bordeaux is not only physically powerfulm but also intelligent dogs with a tendency to push boundaries. They can be a little stubborn, another typical Mastiff characteristic, but with patience and a gently firm approach can be trained to a very good standard and learn a range of commands. As a working dog they will fully enjoy obedience drills, scent trails and interactive play.
A training regime based around positive reinforcement will have excellent results and produce a generally biddable dog. Additionally, they are eager to please and have a mature and balanced temperament.
Socialization and training should foreground sensitivity towards smaller dogs and other animals like cats. Also in getting a puppy and young dog used to welcome guests at the home.
These dogs are bred to work closely with humans in both protection and hunting, so training to prevent or mitigate separation anxiety should be put in place for this dog as soon as possible to prevent any destructive behaviors when left alone.
The Dogue de Bordeaux is around the middle of the Mastiff spectrum in terms of exercise and around two 30 minute walks per day should suffice alongside interactive play and obedience training.
As with other large breeds such as the Great Dane, it is important for Mastiffs that exercise is managed carefully when they are young. This means a graduated approach of little and often rather than long walks in order to protect the young dog’s joints and allow bones to fully develop. A puppy or very young dog should also be prevented from running up and down stairs.
A mature dog will have only moderate exercise requirements and a walk of around an hour a day should suffice although this could readily be broken down to two smaller walks of around half-an-hour.
The Dogue de Bordeaux is brachycephalic, which means their short muzzles do not allow sufficient cooling through panting. This means exercise should be further be reduced in periods of hot weather.
Be aware that this dog does suffer from bloat, so should not be walked or have intense exercise within an hour of feeding.
The Dogue de Bordeaux boasts the largest head in relation to the body in the whole of the canine kingdom. This impressively broad head is corrugated with wrinkling on the loose-fitting skin.
The neck of this Mastiff is think and powerful and the chest is very broad lending a kind of ‘Bulldog’ shape to this muscular dog. The legs are very stout and muscular and the straight back leading to a thick, tapering tail that is generally carried low
The male French Mastiff stands at around 24-27 inches (61-69cm) at the shoulder with the female only slightly shorter at 23-26 inches (58-66cm). The male weighs in excess of 105 lbs (47.5 kgs) with the female at around 99lbs (45 kgs) or more.
Coat and Grooming
The Dogue de Bordeaux requires only very minimal grooming and they don’t shed very often. But this breed will profusely drool (similar to the Neapolitan Mastiff). This means prospective owners will need to accept that this dog will leave behind some mess in the house.
The coat, however, is very fine, short and clean and a good brush a couple of times weekly should be adequate. But it will be important to ensure the folds, particularly around the eyes and mouth, are kept clean in order to avoid infection.
This breed also needs their ears cleaning regularly in order to avoid or remedy any yeast infection.
Lifespan and Health
The lifespan of this dog is around 7-10 years.
As very large dogs the Dogue de Bordeaux is susceptible to Coronary Heart Disease, hip and elbow dysplasia gastric torsion and bloating so avoid exercise for at least an hour after feeding. They can also suffer from eye conditions such as entropion, intropion, and skin infections due to the wrinkles.
It is also important to be aware that this dog is brachycephalic which can cause some health issues and does make them particularly susceptible to the heat so it is important to take steps to keep your dog cool.
In order to maintain this dog’s health it is also very important to avoid overweight to avoid extra strain on organs and joints.