Dogue de Bordeaux

Dogue de Bordeaux dog breed
John Walton
Written by John Walton

The Dogue de Bordeaux, alternatively called French Mastiff, Bordeaux Mastiff or Bordeauxdog is a large Mastiff breed originating from southern France, in the region of Bordeaux (thus given its name). It is also one of the oldest French breeds, commonly used as a guard dog, but also kept as an affectionate and loyal companion. Throughout time, it was also put to work by pulling carts and very heavy objects due to his massive, muscular body, or to use his guarding instincts around flocks and, as legends state, the castles of the European elite.

Breed Characteristics

AdaptabilityAbove Average
TrainabilityAbove Average
Health and GroomingHigh
All Around FriendlinessAbove Average
Exercise NeedsAbove Average

Dog Breed Group:Working Dogs
Height:1 foot, 11 inches to 2 feet, 3 inches tall at the shoulder
Weight:120 — 145 pounds
Life Span:5 to 8 years

The French Mastiff  is usually appreciated for his imposing figure and guarding instincts, as well as for his devotion to his family. There’s nothing to worry about when he is around, so you can sleep quietly with him running freely around the house. He is also known to be a «Lap dog», so be careful not to get crushed!

This is a very friendly breed, but needs proper socialization when young, as well as intensive obedience training, for being a really stubborn dog, with a mind of his own.

The Dogue de Bordeaux only needs moderate exercise, but is not quite the best dog to keep in an apartment, given his large body. It would also have a hard time adapting to extremely hot or cold weather, so be very careful while taking him out in these weather conditions. If you live in an area with extreme temperatures, this breed may not be the right choice.

One huge drawback is the short lifespan of the breed, with many dogs dying from cancer or heart failures, even without showing any signs of illness.

Main Highlights
  • This is a very gentle and loyal breed, and very patient as well, so it is also suited for families with children;
  • Dogues de Bordeaux are very sensitive to heat and intense exercise due to their short muzzles, which make it difficult for them to breathe properly. Always watch out for any signs of fatigue or overheating and take your dog to rest in a cool place;
  • They will do fine in an apartment, as they don’t need constant outdoor activity throughout the day. A short walk would be fine for them;
  • The Dog de Bordeaux is an average shedder and a weekly brush is usually enough to remove dead hair and dirt.
Breed History

The French Mastiff has a very long and disputed history, but the breed is certain to have developed in the Bordeaux area in France (hence the breed’s name), in the 14th century. There have been many variations of this breed throughout time, as breeders in each region tried to breed in different specific features, so the standard was only established in the 1900s.

Initially, only dogs with huge heads were bred, but they were soon considered quite useless, as one German pioneer of this breed once wrote: “What am I supposed to do with a dog that has a monstrous skull and is at most able to carry it from the food dish to its bed?” (Werner Preugschat). Breeders paid great attention to maintain the purity of the breed, so they only tried to breed dogs with self colored nose, red mark and lighter eye color. Those with black mask were believed to be a crossing between the French and the English Mastiff.

Some sources assume that the Dogue de Bordeaux predated the Bulldog and the Bull Mastiff, and that the Dogue’s traits can be found in the origin of the Bull Mastiff, according to their common features. Others say that Mastiff breeds and the Dogue were established during the same period.

As for the origin of the French Mastiff, some say that it originated from the Tibetan Mastiff, or that it is closely related to the Greco Roman molossoids that were brought to war. The Neapolitan Mastiff and Dogue de Bordeaux of Aquitaine might be the ancestors of the Dogue according to other breed historians.

Regardless of all theories, it is certain that the Dogue de Bordeaux shares the same genes and ancestors with all modern molossers.

For a brief period, the Dogue de Bordeaux had two varieties: Dogue and Doguin. The Doguin was smaller than the Dogue, but has quickly disappeared without any trace but a few mentions in the breed history.

Throughout history, the Dogue de Bordeaux has had many shapes and sizes, according to the jobs it was required to do and the breeders’ preferences and the area in France it was bred in. It was also split into three varieties: Toulouse, Parisian and Bordeaux. Some had scissors bites, while others had undershot, head-body size ratio was quite different from one specimen to another, as well as coat color, which could have patterns or not.


This is a large breed dog, with males weighing over 150 pounds and measuring up to 23.5 — 27 inches at the shoulder. Females are smaller, with the weight beginning at 125 pounds, and a height of 23 — 26 inches at the shoulder.

Personality and Character

The French Mastiff is a very gentle and loyal family dog, but very hostile and fearless towards strangers. This, combined with his massive body, may seem really frightening in this breed. Still, his imposing stature and alertness make him an excellent guard and watch dog. He is very patient with children, so there’s no fear in leaving him with young ones, as long as you supervise any interaction between them.

These dogs need very early socializing to avoid them becoming aggressive towards other dogs and family pets. Also, pay great attention to obedience training, as the Dogues de Bordeaux are extremely powerful and must be sure the human is the pack leader. These are no dogs for novice owners, they need to be handled firmly, but not with aggression, or they would respond aggressively.

Dogues de Bordeaux respond best to positive training, which enforces good behaviors. Always praise and reward your puppy with meaty treats to let him know he’s done a good thing.

Health and Potential Problems

This large breed would usually suffer from heart and breathing disorders, mostly because of its brachycephalic head (characterized by a very short muzzle, which doesn’t allow for proper ventilation. They may be intolerant to physical exercise, or get tired very fast, so always keep a close eye on your dog to make sure he is fine after a walk or play session.

  • Brachycephalic syndrome: specific to short-nosed dogs, it affects their ability to breathe. Its main features are stenotic nares, elongated soft palate, everted laryngeal saccules and hypoplastic trachea. All these conditions could be life-threatening in situations of extreme heat, stress or intensive exercise, because of the dog’s inability to take deep or fast breaths and blow off carbon dioxide. The distress can be eliminated with sedatives, cool temperatures, rest, extra oxygen, or, in more severe cases, intubation. Always make sure your dog doesn’t get too tired while playing or exercising to avoid any dangerous situations;
  • Stenotic Nares (pinched nostrils): this congenital disorder affects dogs with short muzzles, making it pretty hard for them to breathe. Symptoms include heavy breathing, fatigue and blue gums in dogs which are not getting enough oxygen. Mildly affected dogs may be managed by limiting the amount of exercise and preventing weight gain, but more severe cases will need surgical repair. Using a harness instead of a collar will also be useful. Luckily, Puggles with longer muzzles, inherited from their Beagle parents, are much less likely to suffer from respiratory problems;
  • Ectropion: is a term used to describe an eye irritation caused by the eyelid folding outward. This condition may affect one or both eyes, but it can be repaired by surgical intervention. The symptoms are rarely visible, but you may notice conjunctivitis and excessive tearing. This may also occur  from nerve damage or trauma;
  • Aortic Stenosis: this heart disorder is due to the narrowing of the aortic valve. It becomes obvious with exercise intolerance, fainting, and sudden death. It is not very common in adult  dogs, as most affected ones usually die before reaching one year old;
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy: the heart becomes weakened and dilated and cannot pump blood efficiently. Some dogs may die weeks or months after a congestive heart failure, while others may die suddenly without showing any signs of illness. Dogs that have already suffered a heart failure are usually put to sleep to avoid any further suffering;
  • Epilepsy: these dogs may be prone to epilepsy, a disorder that may cause seizures. It is incurable, though it may be kept under control with adequate medication;
  • Hip Dysplasia: usually affecting larger breeds, hip dysplasia may also appear in smaller ones, deepening with jumping or falling. This condition may not be very obvious, so X-ray screening may be necessary to track it. Arthritis may develop as a dog with this condition ages, so keep a close eye on his joints, especially if you know his parents were also affected;
  • Difficulty in giving birth: dams usually need a cesarian in order to give birth.

Always get your puppy from a responsible breeder, who is able to show you the genetic test results of his breeding stock, as well as any screening test result for inherited diseases, especially predisposition to any heart disease. Ideally, he should also have health clearance of the puppies’ grandparents to prove that they come from a healthy line. Serious breeder will never breed any ill or vulnerable dog just to make profit.

Care Features

Because of their brachycephalic head, meaning they have very short muzzles, Dogues de Bordeaux have a very hard time breathing during intense exercise or extreme heat, so make sure your dog is comfortable and looks relaxed while on a walk or during summertime. If you notice any signs of distress, quickly take him to a cool and shady place, where he can rest and recover.

Being a large breed that grows pretty fast, avoid excessive running and jumping during the first 15 months of the puppy’s life. This way you can  prevent hip and elbow dysplasia, which are usually a common problem among these breeds.

If you keep a French Mastiff in an apartment, make sure he gets enough exercise, to avoid putting on extra weight. However lazy or bulky he may seem, any dog needs exercise to release his energy and keep fit. Muscles that are in good shape would help support bones and joints better.

A great advantage is that the Dogue de Bordeaux is a moderate shedder, so upkeeping his coat won’t be a trouble and won’t take much time.

This devoted dog needs constant human interaction, so make sure someone’s always home with him or, if they have to, leave him alone only for a short while, to avoid separation anxiety. A dog with this disorder may develop destructive behaviors like chewing, digging into furniture and carrying things around the house, which may turn it literally upside down. Give him enough exercise to make sure he releases any energy and stays calm at home.

Feeding Schedule

You can save a lot of money by feeding your dog high quality food that suits his particular needs. Working dogs need a high-calorie diet to help them keep up with their activities. Feeding an adequate diet will prevent them from developing food-related health issues like obesity (which is not a serious threat in this breed, though), allergies, hot spots, etc.

These dogs may have a gassiness (flatulence) problem, but it can be kept under control with a natural diet based on real meat and other fresh foods. If you plan on feeding him dry food, choose a high quality food and feed him about 4 to 5 cups per day (check out the feeding instructions on the package, though, as concentrations may vary), and feed him 2 or 3 servings per day rather than one large meal. This way you can avoid bloat caused by fast ingestion of high food quantities.

Females that are pregnant in late stages or breastfeeding should be given as much food as they want, to allow for proper development of the puppies and to make sure they have enough milk. Puppy kibble is best for them during this time, as it holds more nutrients than regular adult food.

Coat, Color and Grooming

The French Mastiff has a very short and easy to maintain coat, which would only shed moderately. Usually, a normal brush per week would be just enough to keep it looking nice and clean and remove dead hair. Hair trimming is not necessary and one or two baths per year are enough to keep him clean. Only bathe him more if necessary.

The modern standard states that the Dogue de Bordeaux should be of fawn (coppery red) to mahogany (dark red with a brownish hue), with its mask brown, black or red, although the only «original» considered mask color is red. Throughout history, though, French Mastiffs could also have brindle coloration and several markings up to their legs. Nowadays, the standard dictates that only a little white is allowed in a purebred dog, on his chest or the tips of his toes.

Teeth should be brushed at least two or three times a week to prevent bacteria ant tartar from accumulating and to avoid gum disease. Trim his nails as needed, usually once or twice per month if your dog doesn’t wear them down naturally. Usually, you can guess the time to trim them when you hear them clicking on the floor as your dog walks by the house.

Children And Other Pets Compatibility

The Dogue de Bordeaux is usually a peaceful dog, especially if socialized early. Otherwise, he may become fearful, aggressive or shy. He won’t usually start a fight, but will surely end it if aroused. This is why you should socialize the puppy as much as you ca, so that he would become friendly towards other dogs, and focus on obedience training, to make sure he will listen when you tell him to stop or come back.

Luckily, he doesn’t have any hunting instincts, so he won’t try to hunt down any hamsters, pet birds, rabbits or other smaller pets. Even cats are usually safe near a French Mastiff.

Children won’t be a problem with this breed, as it is very peaceful. Just make sure you always supervise young children while playing with dogs to avoid accidental biting because of kids pulling their tails, paws and ears, especially in very young puppies, who are quite powerful at just a few months. Teach them never to touch a dog while sleeping or eating, and especially to not try to take away his food, no matter how good friends they usually are. Food is food and dogs never bargain about it!

A Dogue de Bordeaux would stay loyal to his humans until his last day, rewarding them with love and great care. Most people may get frightened by his massive body, but don’t let yourself impressed by this, as these dogs are in fact quite gentle and well-tempered if well socialized.

Before bringing a Dogue de Bordeaux puppy home, make sure your country or state allows you to keep him, as some governments have banned this breed for its high aggressiveness potential. Of course, this is only due to bad management and lack of proper training.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.