Dogue de Bordeaux (French Mastiff)
Powerful yet gentle. Watchful yet laid back. Stately yet affectionate. Strong-willed yet eager to please. It takes a special breed to be able hold these contradictions in such a loveable package, but the Dogue de Bordeaux does it beautifully. Likewise, it takes a special owner to be able to give this breed the attention and care he needs to thrive. But those who have the experience and resources to welcome a Dogue into their home say the rewards are well worth any challenges.
The Dogue de Bordeaux (pronunciation: dohg duh bore-DOE)—also called the French mastiff, Bordeaux mastiff, Bordeauxdog, and DDB—is an ancient breed, but it wasn't until a certain 1989 Tom Hanks film that they started gaining widespread attention in the U.S. The breed's history goes so far back, in fact, that it's difficult to definitively pinpoint when and where they got their start. There are multiple origin stories, including one that describes them as descendants of ancient Roman war dogs.
Dogues live much quieter lives these days than their ancestors, though they haven't completely abandoned their working dog instincts. They prefer to stay close to their beloved owners and have the size, vigilance, and courage to make formidable companions.
Muscular, stocky, and immense in size, the Dogue de Bordeaux is no stranger to turning heads. And on a related note: Proportionally speaking, their broad, angular heads are the largest in the canine kingdom. Adult males can grow to be 27 inches tall and weigh at least 110 pounds, while females can reach a height of 26 inches and weigh at least 99 pounds. But don't let their size fool you into thinking they're only able to merely amble along: Dogues are more than capable of springing into a sprint.
DDBs are brachycephalic, which means they have short snouts that look like they've been smooshed in. They have brown, oval, wide-set eyes, and small ears (at least when compared to their exceptionally large skulls) that sit high on the head. Dogues' thick, loose-fitting skin creates expressive wrinkles spanning their faces and jowls that hang down past their lower jaw, giving them a serious, dignified air that becomes even more endearing with the addition of a little (or a lot) of drool.
Dogues de Bordeaux have soft coats of short, fine fur that come in all shades of fawn. They can also have black or brown masks and white patches on their chest and limbs. Thanks to year-round shedding, you'll likely end up seeing the breed's beautiful hair on your carpet, couch, and clothing, too, though weekly brushing can help curb this.
While every dog has a unique personality stemming from both genetics and life experiences, well-trained and cared for Dogues de Bordeaux have earned a reputation for being calm, gentle, and affectionate companions. Pamela Cortese, president of Dogue de Bordeaux Rescue, Inc., describes the breed as regal, eager to please, and loyal, yet she notes that despite their easygoing nature, they can also be very strong-minded. This obstinance, coupled with the breed's size and strength, makes early socialization and training a must—and it's why Dogues aren't a great choice for first-time dog owners.
Dogues may be members of the working dog category, but they're quite content to laze the days away, preferably near their owner. Despite their low energy, they make courageous, vigilant dogs and are devoted to their families. And speaking of families, Dogues are known for being great with kids. Typical watchdogs, they can be reserved and wary when it comes to strangers. Again, make sure to socialize your pup so he'll be comfortable around new people and situations.
As for how they do with furry family members, that can depend on the specific dog and when he becomes a sibling. Dogues de Bordeaux raised with other animals from puppyhood tend to have a greater chance at harmony. But what about adopting an adult Dogue? "Each situation and dog is different," says Cortese, who's no stranger to this situation after working as a rescue volunteer for 10 years. "You would want to have the dogs meet in a neutral place and do a slow introduction." When it comes to cats, she says knowing the dog's history can help give you an idea, like whether or not he's lived with a cat or other small animals before. Keep in mind that Dogues de Bordeaux tend to have a high prey drive and their instincts can kick in around smaller animals, so approach the situation thoughtfully and cautiously.
Dogues de Bordeaux would appreciate their owners to embrace the what's-mine-is-yours approach to life. Like your couch. And your bed. And your personal space. DDBs are happiest when they can be close to their owners and don't always do well when they have to be separated for long periods.
As mentioned before, Dogues can thrive in families with children, but their size means precautions should be taken. For example, a well-meaning DDB could easily knock over a small child by accident. And a kid should be big enough to control a Dogue before taking him on a walk. With the breed's high prey drive, a scampering squirrel could easily create chaos.
While Dogues don't necessarily need a lot of space, indoors or outdoors, they might not be the best choice for apartment dwellers, though each case depends on the apartment and dog in question. For one, a Dogue's size means that your downstairs neighbors might accuse you of keeping livestock in your home. And because he's a natural watchdog, the constant flow of people and animals in and out of your building could be a bit overwhelming for him.
Positive reinforcement training and socialization are a big deal when it comes to Dogues de Bordeaux, partly because the dogs themselves are so big. A 100-plus-pound dog that's out of control isn't pleasant for anyone—including the dog. Christopher Pachel, DVM, DACVB, owner and primary clinician at the Animal Behavior Clinic in Portland, Ore., tailors his socialization and training approach to the temperament of the breed. "The general trend for mastiff types is that they're reasonably laid-back, but also just a bit wary of or concerned by individuals outside of their immediate social circle," he says. "They're not generally overtly fearful, but more in line with a guard breed tendency."
With this in mind, Pachel recommends a more comprehensive approach to socializing and training DDBs. "I worry less about creating exciting positive associations," he says, "and more about developing tolerance and acceptance of a variety of circumstances while reinforcing the desired behavior patterns for situations in which some of those guarding tendencies may be more likely to show up in the absence of proactive direction."
In other words, Pachel advises being proactive instead of reactive about everyday things that could cause a pup to get wound up. For example, he says it's wise to teach dogs how to respond when the doorbell rings so that expectations are set long before doorbell-induced barking becomes a concern. And the earlier you can start setting these expectations, the better. Don't wait until your Dogue de Bordeaux puppy is all grown up.
What Pachel doesn't recommend is heavy-handed, punishment-based training methods. "What most dogs benefit from is consistency and clarity of expectations," he continues. "Having a harder hand may look like it's working in the short term, but it isn't necessarily accomplishing what people think it is. Most of the mastiffs of varying types that I've worked with are actually quite biddable when it comes to training. And even though they're large, their level of responsiveness is generally more than adequate to avoid significant problems if approached proactively."
Still daunted? You don't have to navigate socialization and training alone. Ask your veterinarian if they can recommend a local trainer or refer you to a veterinary behavior specialist, like Pachel, who can help you develop a plan.
Grooming, thankfully, is a much simpler topic. Dogues' short coats need to be brushed about once a week with a rubber curry or shedding blade to keep loose fur from filling your home, and they should be bathed about once a month. But hair isn't the only thing DDBs tend to leave behind: They're also prolific droolers. Cortese recommends keeping a towel on hand to collect those shiny, wet "shoelaces." One more thing—or rather, a few things—worth mentioning are those classic DDB wrinkles. They're good at holding water, food, and other debris (drool, perhaps?) and may need daily attention to remain clean and dry.
As for exercise, you should limit giant dog breeds to low-impact activities (this means no long jogs) until they're at least 18 months old to protect their growing bones and joints. Older Dogues just need regular walks and playtime (if you have access to a body of water, they love swimming), but be extra cautious on hot days to not overexert them. Brachycephalic breeds are prone to heat stroke and heat exhaustion.
Before you bring home a DDB, it's important to note that dog size and maintenance costs tend to be directly proportional. In other words, the larger the dog, the more money you'll be spending on food and medications. The costs can add up fast!
All breeds are predisposed to various health conditions, and the DDB is no exception. According to a health information sheet from the Dogue de Bordeaux Rescue, Inc., some of the top concerns include:
- Heart disease: Two common forms of heart disease in DDBs are dilated cardiomyopathy and subaortic stenosis. Dilated cardiomyopathy affects the heart muscle, weakening its ability to pump blood, and eventually causes the chambers of the heart to become enlarged. Leaking valves and signs of congestive heart failure follow. Subaortic stenosis, on the other hand, refers to a narrowing of the area underneath the aortic valve that obstructs blood flow and can force the heart to work harder than it should.
- Gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV): GDV, also called bloat, begins with food, gas, or liquid getting trapped in the stomach, causing it to expand—growing as large as a basketball in some cases. This expansion can lead to problems beyond the digestive system. Pressure on the lungs can cause breathing to become difficult, and if the stomach twists on itself (think of a towel being wrung out), blood flow is cut off to vital organs, and emergency surgery is required.
- Hip dysplasia: This developmental condition is caused by a hip deformity that results in a loose joint and can lead to pain, mobility issues, and osteoarthritis.
- Cancer: While there are many forms of cancer that can affect Dogues, osteosarcoma (bone cancer), lymphoma (cancer of the lymphatic system), hemangiosarcoma (cancer in the blood vessels), mammary cancer, and mast cell tumors (growths) are some of the most common.
There are two more health conditions worth noting. First, as a brachycephalic breed with a shorter muzzle and nose, Dogues are at risk of developing brachycephalic syndrome, a condition in which multiple anatomic abnormalities obstruct the upper airway. Second, this laid-back breed can easily put on extra weight, which can lead to a number of health issues.
Dogues de Bordeaux have a relatively short lifespan of 5–8 years. But by partnering with your veterinarian and learning the signs of common health problems, you can take a proactive approach to caring for your pup and filling those years with a high quality of life.
If your first introduction to Dogues de Bordeaux was the 1989 film Turner and Hooch, starring Tom Hanks and a drooling, scene-stealing DDB, you're not alone. However, these beautiful dogs have been around much longer than the '80s. In fact, the Dogue de Bordeaux is considered to be one of the oldest French breeds. Unfortunately, when your history goes back as far as the Dogue's, the precise details get a little fuzzy.
Are Dogues an indigenous French breed that came to be over thousands of years? Are they descendants of the mastiff, Neapolitan mastiff, or Tibetan mastiff? Or were their ancestors brought to France (then Gaul) by Roman troops in the first century B.C. as war dogs and gladiators? Perhaps we'll never know.
Once we move out of ancient history, their path becomes a bit clearer. The Dogue de Bordeaux once came in two distinct sizes: large (called Dogues) and small (called Doguins). But after the 1700s the Doguin drops from the historical record, adding evidence to the adage that sometimes, bigger is indeed better. This makes sense when you consider how these immense dogs were employed to guard the estates of French aristocrats in the late 18th century. The French Revolution, however, put them out of a job when their wealthy masters were imprisoned or killed.
Thankfully, the breed survived this upheaval and found new purpose as livestock drovers, earning them the nickname of the "butcher's dog." Still, the Dogue de Bordeaux remained virtually unknown in the U.S. until Hollywood put one in the spotlight. Since then, they've grown in popularity, and were officially registered by the American Kennel Club in 2008.
- The Dogue de Bordeaux is referred to as a “molossoid type breed.” According to the Canadian Mastiff Club, the term molosser refers to a group of working dogs that includes breeds like the boxer, bull terrier, Great Dane, and mastiff. These dogs share a related ancient ancestry and history of working as property and livestock guards.
- Turner and Hooch was the first and only film for Beasley the Dog. He lived to be an astonishing 14 years old.
- Concerned by the dwindling number of DDBs in Europe in the 1960s, Professor Raymond Triquet became an ambassador for the breed. He bred a Dogue (named Mowgli de la Maison des Arbes, in case you're looking for name inspiration) that he took throughout the continent to raise awareness of and interest in the breed, and wrote "the definitive book"on the DDB: The Saga of the Dogue de Bordeaux. His work earned him the honorary title of the "father" of the breed.