Affectionate, Loyal, Courageous: Dogue de Bordeaux

The Dogue de Bordeaux is an ancient breed whose origins are not exactly clear, but there are “hints” of such a classification of this breed dating back to the 1200s where Brunetto Latini mentions a type of dog called the Matin as, “The others are mastin, great and fat, and with very great power, which hunt wolves, boars, bears and all big game, they fight fiercely, even against men.” These Matins did not look like our modern day dogue, different colorations and different builds, but it is likely that these Matins were the forefathers of our breed.

Phoebus, in the 1300s describes this type of dog by saying, “The mastins (matins) aren’t rare. Everybody has seen them. Their task is to guard the animals and the dwelling of their master. They defend and guard but are ‘mean’ dogs of ‘mean’ size (in this text ‘mean’ equates with ‘ugly’). Not much store was set by these dogs. They were used to guard and hunt, but if one was killed during hunting it was not a great loss.

In the 1500s Jean de Clamorgan uses the word ‘dogue’ to describe this canine, stating, “Others are called dogues, to attack, bite and hold boars, bears or wolves.” Charles Estinne in the same century wrote, “The dogues (…) for guarding the house, of which there are always one or two, enclosed during the day and on the chain, which are freed at night to roam and guard the courtyard against thieves.” So it is clear to see that our modern day dogue has a long history of hunting large game and protecting the dwelling of his master, the latter quality he continues to do to this day.

In 1863, listed in a Paris exhibition catalogue was four “Dogues de Bordeaux”, where our name was first officially used. A second exhibition took place in 1865 with no dogues attending and the next time they were listed was the exhibition of 1883, a span of 20 years, during which France experienced war and unpleasant conditions. The dogues that were listed in these exhibition catalogues did not look like our modern day dogues; different colorations of coats were described, and not until the exhibition of 1887 were the dogues shown properly called “Dogue de Bordeaux”.

Fast forward to the Second World War. By this point the Dogue de Bordeaux is an established breed and showing in exhibitions, puppies are being bred for not only the show ring but for their ancient purpose – to guard the farms in the French countryside. The Germans very quickly occupied parts of France and it was very hard for the people of France to feed themselves on their rations, let alone their dogues. Dogues were put down for lack of food, some were turned loose to fend for themselves and many were killed outright by the occupying army. Dog shows continue during this time and on July 5, 1942 a show is held where only one bitch and one male are present. On February 14, 1943, L’Eleveur magazine reports, “We regret to record that among the kennels, which have been seriously affected, are those of the Dogue de Bordeaux, at least in the Bordeaux region. Practically the only one who has been able to keep some dogues is Mr. Jagourt, one of the oldest breeders.”

The war is over on May 8, 1945. The first post-war show is organized for July 29th and per L’Eleveur magazine, “the Dogues de Bordeaux were conspicuous by their absence”. In 1946 at the Paris show there is not a single Dogue de Bordeaux exhibited. A list was compiled of breeding stock as of January 1, 1946 and sadly only four dogues, young enough to be bred, remain. Slowly additional dogues emerge from the provinces and the rebuilding process begins.

 

HEALTH & TEMPERAMENT

As a result of their unfortunate history, the Dogue de Bordeaux does have health issues. Some are just the result of being a larger breed (orthopaedic issues), but owners can see heart issues, cancers, thyroid and skin and allergy issues. Owners of this breed need to be prepared for possible future financial responsibilities in caring for their Dogue.

For this reason, it is imperative that potential owners seek out reputable breeders who health test their breeding stock. Hearts, eyes, elbows and hips being some of the most important. Potential owners should visit (if possible) the breeder and see exactly where their puppy is coming from. Ask to see the health certificates of the parents and see the parent or parents if both are there. While this will not guarantee the health of any particular dogue, the new owner will have done everything possible to try and avoid health issues down the road.

They do drool! As owners we laugh about it, but the drooling factor is not for the faint-hearted or anyone who is a neat freak. Some Dogues drool more than others and this really needs to be a consideration before deciding to get this breed. The area of floor surrounding the water bucket can become a skating rink if not careful! When they are eating and drinking, you will want to stay as far away as possible!

The Dogue de Bordeaux is an outstanding companion and is a guardian breed, but ownership of a Dogue carries much greater-than-average legal and moral responsibilities due to the traits possessed by this breed, their size and strength.

They can be dog aggressive and may only show this after fully mature. Introducing a new pet when there is an adult Dogue in the household should be done slowly and with care. Dog-to-dog aggression is influenced by the early socialization of puppies, their bloodlines and sex; males are less tolerant of other males than they are of females. Bitches may also be intolerant of other dogs. The Dogue is intelligent and trainable, but some may not live peacefully with other animals. This is not to say that they cannot be trained to have manners around other animals when going for a walk on leash or say, at the vet.

It is very necessary to establish your control of the dogue and obedience training is often the easiest and most rewarding way to do so. The dogue can often be controlled using verbal reprimands alone and while they occasionally require physical corrections (collar corrections), sensitive, patient and positive training methods work best. Patience is an important factor in training the Dogue de Bordeaux.

The Dogue de Bordeaux is a sensitive, intelligent and loyal animal and usually wants to please its owner. Occasionally it can be quite stubborn though and requires more attention. It is imperative that training is consistent and firm without being overly rough. Ownership isn’t for the timid or very busy person who cannot or is not inclined towards careful supervision of his/her pet and willing to spend the time to train and exercise.

 

THE WORKING DOGUE

The Dogue de Bordeaux is a Working breed and they are capable of doing just that—working! There are many areas to get involved with, other than traditional obedience competitions or conformation. For example, there is the fun sport of rally, there is also agility, scent work, lure coursing, weight pulling, cart pulling, tracking and many other games and activities, including trick work and even acting!

Working venues allow you to test the bond—that centuries-old relationship. You will be required to test your trust in your Dogue. They will likewise have to rely and trust in your direction. With that reliance and trust comes mutual respect. You will never experience such a symbiotic trust and respect then training and working with your DDB. Working with your Dogue in many avenues requires you to become a team of one mind and one purpose. When you “click”—which actually can take years—it is a beautiful thing. The DDB thrives on positive reinforcement, any negativity and you might find yourself working alone. You do not need to compete or even earn multiple titles with your Dogue. What is important is that you “work it” together!

The DDBSA has a formal Working Dog Ability Program to recognize those Dogues that exemplify the qualities of a true Working dog. There are three levels of achievement and dogs receive a certificate acknowledging their accomplishment. They also offer a mentoring program to encourage those new to the Dogue de Bordeaux to build a working relationship with their Dogue, as well as an end-of-the-year Awards Banquet at our National Specialty to celebrate the Dogue’s successes.

AKC Therapy Dog titles have also been incorporated into the DDBSA Working Dogue Levels of Achievement. Therapy titles can range anywhere from 10 to 400 visits—wow! We have Dogues that provide therapy relief in airports to calm passengers, therapy Dogues that visit children sick in the hospital and Dogues that go to libraries and participate in Tutor Dogs. Children read to the dogs in an environment safe from criticism where they don’t have to be self-conscious reading aloud in front of other children.

We even have Dogues following in the footsteps of the infamous Beasley to our breed, from the movie “Turner and Hooch” and taking up an acting career—with appearances in internationally syndicated television shows and commercials.

The Dogue de Bordeaux is even being used as Service Dogs and Emotional Support Dogs. The breed is naturally empathetic and provides a great source of comfort and understanding. In service work, they are often used in Mobility and Balance; their size giving them an added advantage.

The Dogue de Bordeaux is so much more than just a pretty face!

 

THE STANDARD

H.E.A.R.T.S. At the Dogue de Bordeaux Society of America’s (DDBSA) Judges’ Education seminars, our comprehensive Power Point presentation begins with an acronym which the DDBSA has developed that defines the 6 major points of our breed. This acronym, H.E.A.R.T.S., stands for Head, Expression, Athletic, WRinkle, Trots like a lion and Substance. Not only are these 6 points beneficial in helping determine what to look for in a Dogue de Bordeaux, but by defining the components of each, the goal is to provide a clearer picture of what constitutes a proper representative of our breed. They are as follows:

Head: The head is large, angular, broad and rather short. It is shaped like a trapezoid. That is to say, when viewed from above and from the front, it is trapezium-shaped. The head should be wide and have prominent cheeks, the forehead is high and the stop is very pronounced.

Expression: The expression in the Dogue de Bordeaux is the sum of all of the components that make up expression, i.e., ear set, eye set, eye shape and color, length of muzzle (length varies between one third and one quarter of the total length of the head measured from the nose to the occipital crest), wrinkle and the chin mark. Chin mark means that the chin is very pronounced (bite is undershot) and along with the other “Expression” attributes noted, creates the “sour mug” or “dissuasive look” of the Dogue de Bordeaux. If one or more of these attributes is off, it will change the desired expression.

Athletic: In spite of the fact that the Dogue de Bordeaux is heavy, low and lumbering, it should be athletic and be able to move well with power and drive. This cannot be emphasized enough. The Dogue de Bordeaux should be able to move with good drive from the hindquarters and good extension of the forelegs, especially at the trot, which, according to our breed standard, is the preferred gait. Also, according to our breed standard, the Dogue de Bordeaux is capable of great speed over short distances by “bolting along close to the ground.”

WRinkle: The Dogue de Bordeaux’s wrinkles sets it apart from other mastiff breeds in that the wrinkles are not static. That is to say, the Dogue de Bordeaux should have what is termed, “mobile ropes of wrinkle” that change in intensity and proportion as the face expressions change.

Trots Like a Lion: The Dogue de Bordeaux’s movement is similar to that of a lion. It is heavy and powerful, has good reach and drive and the head and shoulders drop low to the ground especially as the movement quickens. Additionally, with a quickened gait, the front feet move closer to the middle or median plane.

Substance: The Dogue de Bordeaux is a substantially built dog that is massive and built rather close to the ground. It should be noted that “massive” doesn’t mean “fat” or “obese”. The Dogue de Bordeaux’s substance should be a result of strong and heavy bone and muscle, not obesity. Ample muscling in the shoulders and hindquarters should be evident as well as strong and heavy bone in the skull and limbs.

In summarizing the six H.E.A.R.T.S. acronyms, it is important to note that the acronyms connect with and complement each other. Each one, in and of itself, is vitally important and each contributes to the sum of all of the parts. They all paint a picture of the Dogue de Bordeaux being a powerful and substantial breed that should be capable of athletic and powerful movement, has a unique expression and a massive head with proper proportions and features.

 

THE DOGUE DE BORDEAUX SOCIETY OF AMERICA

The Dogue de Bordeaux Society of America is a 501©3 nonprofit organization that was formed by a team of individuals who wanted to provide a common area for the Dogue de Bordeaux breed and it’s enthusiasts to come together as one for the love of the breed. The Dogue de Bordeaux Society was officially a recognized organization in February of 1997.

In 2004, the DDBS was appointed as the club that the AKC FSS recommended for AKC Parent Club representation for the Dogue de Bordeaux. In 2006, the Dogue de Bordeaux was officially moved to the AKC Miscellaneous Class and on July 1, 2008, the breed officially moved to the AKC Working Group! Also in 2006, the DDBS officially changed its name to the Dogue de Bordeaux Society of America—the DDBSA.

The DDBSA has a list of ongoing goals that it pursues and maintains, such as running a breed rescue, promoting canine education, exhibiting the natural working ability of the Dogue, welcoming all owners and fanciers to the club, improvement of the breed, adherence to the AKC breed standard, community outreach and encouraging the highest standards and ethics of breeding and care of the Dogue de Bordeaux.

The day-to-day activities of the club are handled by a group of individuals who make up the Officers and Board of Directors. We encourage open communication among members and welcome all Dogues—conformation, working, agility or the family companion.

Some of the accomplishments of the club were to begin and run a breed rescue for the Dogue de Bordeaux and Dogue de Bordeaux mixes. The rescue has successfully fostered, placed and assisted with over 50 dogs. Additionally, the club has established a club championship, awarding over 40 champions as well as a working recognition program that awarded and continues to award many WD1-3 titles. A website for the club and rescue has been established and is visited by hundreds of people a week. A bi-monthly newsletter is published and sent to all members, filled with interesting news, veterinary notes, member spotlights, etc.

The DDBSA holds a Nationals show each year in different regions of the US with some years having over 130 Dogues de Bordeaux entered. Many of our members have travelled overseas to watch conformation shows and also participate in the SADB National Dogue de Bordeaux Show in France. The DDBSA will continue to be a dedicated steward and guardian of the Dogue de Bordeaux and strive to promote our beloved breed in a positive and informative way in order to provide the recognition, knowledge and nurturing that our breed truly deserves.

  • REFERENCES History: The Saga of the Dogue de Bordeaux by Raymond Triquet; published by Bas Bosch Press
  • REFERENCES The Working Dogue: DDBSA Working Ability Committee
  • REFERENCES Standard: DDBSA Judges Educational Committee

 

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