French Bulldogs have
been described as the “heartache breed”. This is
not because they are hard to live with, or
because they have an abundance of health
problems. The description usually flies from the
lips of newcomers to the breed, who get into
breeding once they hear that puppies can sell
for $1000.00 or $1500.00, or even more. They
start out with a bitch or two, and when they get
around to their first litter, the problems
Bear in mind: this is a man-made breed. Their
survival without human intervention is
definitely in question. The males often need an
assist to impregnate the females (especially the
taller girls!). The females also need particular
care during pregnancy. The puppies usually have
to be taken by Caesarian section. Then, if you
are lucky, you may have three or four puppies.
Once the puppies are on the ground, the problems
are only beginning. Special care needs to be
taken to assure the puppies grow optimally, and
that they are not exposed to potentially
Faced with these obstacles, the novice breeder
often flees to another easier breed. “No wonder
the puppies are so expensive!” I’ve been told
time and again. It’s not a breed you can get
into to make money. Each litter costs me much
more than I might make on the sale of any
puppies. But when I breed, it is to produce
something I want, not to produce puppies for
CHOOSING A MALE:
When planning a litter, you have to start with
your bitch. First off, you need to ask yourself:
what is your goal in breeding her? Are you
trying to replicate something good that you
already have, or are you trying to improve on
it? Are you trying to produce a particular
conformation or a certain color? Maybe you are
trying to fix something in her that you really
wish wasn’t there. The answers to these
questions will help determine which male you
choose. Having specific goals will help you when
you are talking with the owner of the stud
In choosing a stud male, you should look for
stud males who have the positive characteristics
you seek to combine with your female. Better,
you need to find a stud male who produces the
positive characteristics you seek. There are
many fine champion males who do not pass on
their positive traits. It is just as true that
there are some truly average-looking males who
produce spectacularly. Remember that if you are
using a male who does not already have progeny
on the ground, you have no guide to indicate
what you will get. You will have to decide if
the risk is worth taking.
So where do you find a male? The first place I
look is at the dog shows. There you are able to
see the male in real life, and decide if he is
the one for your bitch. (A photograph can only
tell you so much.) The breeder or owner will
most likely be there to answer your questions.
They may also have other males available that
you could go and see.
If there are no males close to you that fit your
needs (and with a rare breed like Frenchies,
that is defiinitely a possibility), your next
avenue is to go to the breed publications. There
you will find advertisements that will show
different available males. You can then call and
ask pertinent questions. If you find a potential
male, ask for photos and a pedigree.
Learn to read a pedigree. At first, all those
names will be just a jumble. But as you read
more, you will begin to see familiar names. By
knowing what is in the male’s background, and in
your female’s background, you can have a better
idea of what the breeding will produce.
One caution: it is common for a novice breeder
to simply go to the top winning male Frenchie to
breed. Ask yourself what this male can
contribute to your female. (Famous blood lines
is a wrong answer!) Look critically at his
characteristics, and his weaknesses. Moreover,
find out what his progeny are like. Does he
Dog breeding etiquette dictates that the owner
of the male sets the terms. To try to bargain
with them on their stud fee, or how the breeding
is to take place is considered uncool. If you do
not like the price or the terms, go elsewhere,
and go politely. If you get into hostilities
with the owner of a male, word of the bad
interaction can follow you and keep you from
forging other ties.
Remember, a breeding is a form of marriage. You
get the in-laws. Once your Frenchie’s blood
lines are mixed with those of another breeder,
you are inextricably bonded with them, not only
for your bitch’s life, but for all future
generations. This is one of those times when you
can choose your relatives.
PREPARING THE FEMALE:
Once you have decided on a stud male, and the
owners of the stud male have agreed to breed to
your female, then you need to start preparing
your female. I begin as soon as I have some
indication she is going to come in season. I
keep charts and records, so that I know
approximately when each female is due. Then, as
the time approaches, I watch closely.
If she seems to be late, it is definitely worth
the cost to take her in and have her checked.
Have the vet look particularly at her thyroid.
While you are there, have her checked for
vaginal infections. A stubborn infection can
keep a bitch from conceiving, or even damage or
kill the developing embryos. Also important is
to check her for brucellosis. This is a viral
infection that could make her infertile, and
could also be passed to the stud male. (You
should not allow a natural breeding if the male
and female have not been checked for
brucellosis, and certified clear.) If all is in
order, adjust her nutrition and wait.
During this time period, I supplement their
diet. Folic acid is critical for embryonic
development, so I start building up her reserves
in advance. I also use some form of kelp
extract, for iodine (to keep the thyroid in
balance). Another additive is Vitamin E. If
nothing else, it keeps their coats nice. If you
are not giving your bitch a multi-vitamin
already, this is the time to start.
I have been told by certain breeders that adding
a touch of cider vinegar to the bitch’s food
each day will reduce the incidence of vaginal
infections. The concept seems to be that it
acidifies the blood and secretions, making a
less ideal environment for bacteria. I can
testify that it at least makes the bitches
thirsty. Maybe the extra activity flushes the
COMING IN SEASON:
Assuming your bitch blesses you with
irritability and spots of blood, your next goal
is to determine exactly when she will be ready
to breed. Some experienced breeders simply watch
the bitch. When the color of her blood flow
changes from bright red to dark, she is supposed
to be ready. That occurs somewhere between ten
and fifteen days into her season. Since the
window of opportunity is only two or three days,
I choose to rely on my veterinarian. With a
vaginal smear and a blood progesterone test,
your vet should be able to tell you exactly when
she will be ready. (Note: this may involve three
or four trips to your vet to get the timing
All this time, you should have been in regular
contact with the owner of the stud male, letting
them know of your bitch’s progress. The male
will need to be available when your bitch is
ready. Then they will have to be gotten
together. The options will boil down to:
· Ship your bitch to the stud male
· Go there with your bitch
· Have chilled semen shipped to your vet
Please note that having the male come to you is
not mentioned as an option. It is a
long-standing convention in dog breeding that
the female comes into the male’s territory, not
the other way around.
The breeding itself can be a major event. If it
is done naturally, the two have to be monitored
carefully, to make sure they don’t tear each
other up. A female who doesn’t like a stud male
could easily inflict considerable damage on him.
Also, if you have a smaller male and a bigger
female, there may be physical limitations. He
may need a boost.
A somewhat safer alternative is to assist the
breeding. By this I mean letting them get
together, but drawing the semen from the male
using artificial insemination techniques. This
can help avoid such problems as getting urine in
the female’ reproductive tract, and since there
is no penetration, there is no chance for one to
give an infection to the other.
Usually, breedings are done on two successive
days. This is by agreement with the owners of
the male. I have seen litters of five come out
of a single breeding, and no puppies come out of
five breedings. The key is to do it on the right
day, when the eggs are in the right spot. If
your bitch is healthy and vigorous, the male is
producing viable sperm, and the vet has helped
you time it right, everything should work.
Note down the breeding dates. These dates will
be critical in determining when your bitch will
need to be C-sectioned.
Next comes two agonizing months of waiting.
During this period, you will doubt she is
pregnant, you will question your vet’s
abilities, and you will question your own sanity
in even attempting a breeding. Your bitch can
(and probably will) go off her food, especially
if this is her first litter. She may go through
bouts of morningsickness. Be patient with her.
While it may not look it from the outside, there
is a lot going on inside her.
I always restrict the bitches somewhat,
especially during the second half of pregnancy.
Don’t let her get too hot, too cold, dehydrated,
or malnourished. Don’t let the other dogs
roughhouse with her. Don’t let her pick up an
infection from living or sleeping in an unclean
environment. In short, pamper her a little.
Throughout gestation, her nutrition needs to be
tailored to the needs of the developing puppies.
You need her to get a high protein, high fat
diet, with all the vitamins and minerals. She
should receive folic acid daily. Many seasoned
breeders also give their bitches-in-whelp at
least a little liver each day. This is purported
to reduce the incidence of birth defects.
During the second month, bones develop, so she
will need extra calcium. I add cottage cheese to
the bitch’s meals, and add a calcium supplement
as well. During this time period, you might
start splitting her meals, giving her half as
much, twice as often. The pressure of all those
puppies makes it hard to eat a big meal.
So what if she won’t eat? (How would you feel,
with little things growing and moving around
inside you?) Tempt her with things you know you
can get her to eat. One thing I have found is
that strong-smelling foods will often put them
off. Sometimes bland food is easier for them.
When all else fails, I fix white rice and boil
some chicken. I mix the broth and small pieces
of chicken into the rice, and I give it to her
in small portions.
During the second month, you should begin to see
signs she is pregnant. Her nipples will enlarge,
and subtly, her outline will change. By week
six, you should definitely be able to tell she
is pregnant. If you aren’t sure, it’s time to go
to the vet again. From about day 32 to day 38,
you should be able to see the puppies via
ultrasound. After that, there’s a gap until the
puppies’ bones begin to calcify. Then they
become visible on X-ray, usually during the last
I usually just wait. Taking the bitch in to the
vet all the time can stress her, and it also
exposes her to all manner of infectious
THE FINAL COUNTDOWN:
During the last week, you should set up the
whelping box, a safe and secure environment for
the mother and her puppies. There are commercial
whelping boxes available. All of them have a
railing around the edges so that the mother
can’t lay on a puppy and crush it against the
side. Some people build their own. You will need
soft, cleanable bedding material. The bitch will
bleed after the C-section, and at first, may not
regulate her bodily functions as well as she
normally does. Additionally, it should have a
heating pad or some source of warmth. And there
should be protection for the puppies from chills
I always put the whelping box in a separate
bedroom, far from the other dogs and commotion.
That way it is easier to quarantine. Also, it is
easier to close it off and keep it warm. Once it
is set up, put the bitch inside, and let her get
used to it. When she comes home with the
puppies, you don’t want her going into a strange
So, assuming you have gotten to about day 58,
and all has gone well, what next? The countdown
begins at about day 59. That’s when you need to
keep a steady watch over your bitch. If she
hasn’t already, she will probably stop eating.
Monitor her body temperature. Most of them are
normally at about 99.4 degrees to as much as 101
degrees. When she is ready to go into labor, her
temperature should drop about one degree. (Not
always!) She should show some restlessness and
nesting behaviour (tearing up bedding and such).
She may start panting, looking glassy-eyed. You
need to take her in before she starts labor,
otherwise she might start forcing the puppies
out. If she does that, you risk losing the
puppies, and even losing the bitch.
It’s a good idea to have a backup vet, someplace
that is open 24 hours. If the bitch goes into
labor in the middle of the night, you don’t want
to wait until morning. By then, your puppies
could be dead. Contact your vet in advance, so
he is alerted that a C-section is due. The vet
may want to look over your bitch, just to see
that all is going well. Also, he may determine
exactly when to do the surgery.
You don’t want to take the puppies too soon. It
should be at least 60 days from the last
breeding, and should fall in the 60 to 63 day
window. Most Frenchie bitches I’ve worked with
don’t go much beyond 61 days.
THE BIG DAY:
Once you are committed to the C-section, you are
in the hands of your vet. If your vet has
experience with the Bull breeds, so much the
better. I always insist on being present in the
operating room, partly so I can reassure my
bitch when she comes out of the anaesthetic, but
also so I can help clear the fluid out of the
puppies’ lungs and rub them to life. Some vets
allow this, some do not.
It is the most amazing and exciting thing to be
there as each puppy is drawn from the mother,
still in its own amniotic sac. Then the sac is
removed, and you can see the color, the sex, and
the form of each one. And you can hear their
first cries as they enter our world.
The vet should check each pup at birth,
especially for cleft palate and hydrocephaly,
both of which are a fact of life in a dwarfed,
flatfaced breed. If there are birth defects,
some hard decisions will have to be made.
When you get home with the mother and her
puppies, put the puppies on the heating pad in
the whelping box, but be careful of the bitch.
She has just come out of surgery, and she may
still be groggy from the anaesthetic. Also,
since she was unconscious, she has yet to
understand that the puppies are hers. You don’t
want her to hurt the puppies by accident.
During the first three hours, I don’t ever leave
her alone with the pups, not for a minute. Once
I see signs she is relaxing with them, I relax
some. I still watch her as often as I can until
I see she is starting to adjust to motherhood.
When she recognizes the puppies as hers, will
allow them to feed, and is willing to clean
them, you can get some sleep.
THE FIRST WEEK:
Don’t expect much sleep the first few days.
Until the mother becomes accustomed to the pups,
and until her milk comes in fully, there will be
lots to do.
The first day or two, the mother will produce
colostrum. This is the watery, almost yellowish
proto-milk. It is full of antibodies the puppies
need, so it is absolutely critical to their
development that they feed. You will probably
have to hold them against the mother and
encourage them until they gain enough strength
to find her and feed for themselves. Sometimes
this takes tremendous patience, as some will
just refuse to hang on. The puppies should feed
every two to four hours.
You may also have to do supplemental feedings,
especially during the first days. I use an
infant bottle, and feed supplementally with
warmed-up Esbilac, as often as is needed to keep
the puppies plump. (It is easier than making
your own formula.) Some bitches will start
producing milk in abundance, and get you off the
hook. Others will have you feeding their pups
for a week! The worst-case scenario (I went
through this with my first Frenchie litter!) is
if the mother develops mastitis. If the swelling
and blockage cannot be controlled quickly, the
mother may have to be taken out for treatment,
and the puppies raised by hand. That will mean
three to four weeks of bottle-feeding them, at
two to four-hour intervals!
When you bottle-feed, watch out for “milknose”.
It is very easy for Frenchie puppies to
regurgitate milk back through their noses. If
milk remains in their nasal passages, serious
infections can result. Usually, wiping and
“burping” until they get it all out is
The first few days, you may have to take the
place of the mother in that other delicate
activity, getting the puppies to pee and poop.
The mother stimulates the puppies by licking in
the appropriate areas. (Be glad human babies
aren’t the same!) If she refuses to clean them,
you will have to substitute. I use a cotton ball
dipped in warm water. Rub here for them to pee,
rub there for them to poop. It takes a while to
get the hang of it. You should do this after
every feeding, to keep their digestive tracts
actively working. If any puppy backs up for a
long period (the better part of a day) you may
have to run to the vet. With some of them, it
just takes patience and perseverance.
If you make it through the first 7 days, the
worst is over. By then, the mother should be
doing everything, and you should be back to a
normal sleep cycle. You still need to watch for
infections brought in by the mother. The puppies
should be steadily growing and gaining weight.
Somewhere between day 10 and day 12, they should
open their eyes.
Soon after this, they should be starting to
stand and walk. (I have had some do it before
their eyes opened!) This gives you the
opportunity to evaluate their fronts, to see if
they are straight. The rears take much longer.
Don’t be dismayed if they take time to get their
back feet under them. Don’t listen to negative
comments from people who have raised other
breeds. Bull breeds are different, and take
longer to come together in the rears.
When they start to stand, they will need some
kind of resistant surface to hold them up. I use
remnant carpet pieces, which keep their little
feet from slipping, and give something they can
grab with their nails.
Once they are up on their feet, you can start
looking for slipping patellas. If a puppy seems
to be having a harder time than the others in
standing, you might consider a trip to the vet.
During development, there is a lot of movement
and flexibility back there, but by ten weeks of
age, the patellas should not be popping out of
position. If you can feel a popping as the puppy
moves its rear, this might be a concern. Have
your vet make a determination.
All should proceed smoothly until about the
fourth or fifth week. That is when the puppies
start to develop teeth. If you haven’t been
paying attention, the mother will probably let
you know when she starts snapping at the
puppies. That is when you should start weaning.
For solid food, I have used a variety of
different formulas. The most simple and
successful has been just taking a high quality
dry puppy food, soaking it and mushing it down
to make a form of porridge. I add to this some
corn syrup, and powdered vitamins, and sometimes
plain yogurt. As they get older, I might add
all-meat human babyfood, or paste-type canned
dog food. To start, you want it to be pretty
thin, in order to transition them from a liquid
to a solid diet.
Getting them to take it is somthing of an art.
Some puppies will take it off a flat surface by
lapping it up. Others just skate in it. I take
it on my fingertip and dab it into their mouths,
until they develop a taste for it. (With the
more obstinate ones, this can take days.)
Initially, I give them solid food once a day,
and then put the mother back in to clean them
up. As they get to like it, I start taking the
mother out for longer periods, and start feeding
them twice or three times a day. Eventually, the
mother can stay out, and the puppies are on
As they grow, I change the diet to soaked puppy
kibble mixed with cottage cheese (for calcium).
Once a day, they get multi-vitamins. I watch
carefully to make sure they aren’t too thin, and
that they aren’t too fat. Either one is bad. Too
thin means a trip to the vet to check for
internal problems. Too fat means a diet so their
feet don’t break down. Also, you don’t want them
to grow accustomed to keeping their weight at an
unhealthy level; they will want to stay that way
when they get older.
By this time, they are starting to look like
French Bulldogs. Their ears should start coming
up between week 5 and week 8. If they haven’t
come up by then, you need to look at taping the
ears, and giving them additional calcium
supplements. I have had puppies whose ears did
not stabilize until they were 15 weeks old. Once
they did come up, they were fine.
There is some disagreement as to when it is safe
to allow puppies outside. I am an extreme
conservative, and try to protect my puppies from
parvo and all the other outside infections until
they are at least 12 weeks old. They should
already be on an inoculation schedule by then.
De-wormings and inoculations should be done on a
schedule as recommended by your veterinarian. I
give shots myself, to save the risk of exposing
the puppies at the vet’s office. Most people
take the puppies in. One benefit is that the vet
can look your puppies over for any problem you
might have missed. An inoculation/deworming
record should be kept, and should go with the
puppy if it is headed for a new home. This will
give the new owners’ vet a record of your care.
One note: watch your puppies closely for a few
hours after any vaccination. An allergic
reaction can develop with startling rapidity. A
puppy’s airway can swell shut, and the puppy can
die, if it has been left unattended. If hives or
swelling develops after a shot, rush back to the
vet! Quickly administered adrenaline and
antihistamines can save the puppy’s life.
If you are looking to sell puppies, they can be
placed in a home from 8 weeks of age. I like to
wait at least until 10 weeks. But remember that
after 15 weeks, the puppies start to go through
the uglies, with the onset of adolescence. They
may not look as appealing to a potential buyer
until they are about 6 months old, unless it is
someone who knows the breed and understands how
they should look.
Evaluating puppies is an art. How do you decide
what to keep and what to sell? You need to go
back to your original goal in performing the
breeding. Did you get what you set out to
achieve? If so, keep hold of it. If not, did you
get part-way there? Or did you get something
totally unexpected that is worth hanging onto?
Most of us find that from our first litter, we
want to keep everything. They’re all so cute.
But you have to ask yourself seriously where you
will be at in a year. (If you just got a litter
of four boys, will they be at each others’
throats every time a female comes into season?
Maybe you should think hard before you decide to
keep them all.)
The hardest decisions involve the litters where
you didn’t get everything you wanted. The
desirable characteristics you wanted to bring in
arrived, but brought things you weren’t
expecting, or wanting. You have to decide if the
goods outweigh the bads. There are no right or
wrong decisions in this case, just best guesses.
Whenever I part with a puppy, part of me goes
with it. I worry that the people will not
understand how delicate and valuable an animal
they are taking with them. I worry that the
environment they provide may not be as loving
and safe as the home I have provided. I worry
that things can go wrong, and the new owners
will not spot the problems in time, or will not
know what to do.
With new owners, I like to show them photos of
the champions in the background of their puppy,
so they know the quality of the bloodlines. I
let them see the parents, or at least the
mother, if the father is elsewhere. This gives
them a clearer picture of what their puppy will
become. I show them books on the breed, and
copies of our breed publication. This gives them
a variety of sources of information specific to
the breed, and places where they can go for
KEEPING IN TOUCH:
I try to maintain contact with the new owners,
especially until the puppy is about six months
old. I insist they take the puppy to the vet
within the first three days for a checkup. (That
protects me as well: it ensures that the puppy
they received is sound and healthy.) That gets
the new owners into a routine of going to the
vet, and giving the puppy the proper care. I can
answer any of their health-related questions, or
help with problems of training or diet. I want
them to know they can always come to me for
By the time they are six months old, and the
ones you are going to place are gone, you can
start to relax. By this time, you’ve put eight
or nine months’ work into the litter. You relax
just enough that you forget all the lost sleep
and the expense. And you decide to breed another