Recently I read Susan Orlean’s interesting biography of Rin Tin Tin (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend). After finishing the book I had a clear understanding of why German shepherds serve well as guide dogs. They were originally bred, in Germany (of course) in 1899, to reflect those qualities that breed founder Max Emil Friedrich von Stephanitz valued. Orlean quoted from von Stephanitz’s book The German Shepherd Dog that he liked dogs who demonstrated “attentiveness, unshockability, tractability, watchfulness, reliability, and incorruptibility.” The final trait they displayed that assured the shepherd’s suitability as a guide dog was their “unique capacity for bonding with human beings,” in particular with their individual masters. That clincher gave me a clear understanding too of why French bulldogs, including my Phil, would never serve well as guide dogs. At least not the traditional kind, and herein lies the lesson.
My dog fact book accurately describes Frenchies as “brave, active, and alert.” So far so good as guide-dog potential, right? But then it goes on to observe, French bulldog puppies for adoption in fabulous understatement, that a French bulldog “doesn’t care much for submission.” HA! When I adopted Phil as a two-and-a-half-year-old, he was a housebroken, beautifully trained show dog, owned and handled by an experienced breeder, Pat Pearce, who said she was placing him as a pet because in the performance ring he “lacked focus.” I now beg to differ. He has focus, so long as it’s on what he wants. I joke frequently that I take Phil for skids, not walks, because he plants his four meaty bulldog paws, plainly just on non-submission principle, and I end up having to drag him to get him anywhere. Once when my husband was doing the same thing, a woman walked up and threatened to report him for abusing a dog by pulling him. (She did not notice that we use a chest harness on him, not a neck collar, to accommodate his hard-wired stubbornness humanely.) My husband asked her, “Lady, have you ever owned a bulldog?”
I’ve learned to work a little better with him by now, but nonetheless I finally get what the vet exclaimed on Phil’s initial visit to the clinic: “You picked a bulldog as your first dog ever?” Yes, and I am heartsmitten.
The fact book also says that a Frenchy “needs plenty of love.” That’s because a Frenchy gives plenty. When I was getting information about the breed from Pat, she asked if I was looking for a watchdog. “No,” I answered, and she said, “Good, because Phil might try to lick someone to death, but that’s the most he’d do to an intruder!”
Phil loves everyone, not just his master a là the German shepherd. Well, almost everyone. There has been the occasional snub, usually just after I’ve gushed, “Sure, you can pet him! Phil adores people.” Embarrassing. But in the entire four years+ I’ve had him, that’s happened perhaps a half-dozen times. Because he’s generally such a people person, he especially likes to take walks (and the random skid) downtown. We live in a small New Mexico city that attracts many tourists and the town’s central plaza is the locus for sightseeing activities. As many times as Phil has had his photo taken by visitors from all over, I believe he himself is one of those activities. I’m no longer surprised when I hear Phil called by name during an outing. A real dog-about-town, he has made many friends. He is adorable, he is loving, he is kind.