They have been described as looking like 'piglets with bunny ears'. They are also prone to a range of health issues including deafness, hip dysplasia, respiratory problems, heat stress, disc disease and cataracts. And they cost in the region of £2,000. Despite this, last year the French bulldog eased the Labrador retriever out of the top spot as Britain's favourite dog, a position the Lab had held for 27 years.
The French bulldog isn't a new breed – its ancestry dates back to the 1800s and the English bulldog, bred for bear baiting. When that horrific practice died out, the bulldog was bred to be a smaller companion animal. Lace workers from Nottingham, forced out by the Industrial Revolution, moved to Normandy in France, taking their miniature bulldogs with them. Ultimately, this resulted in the creation of the Bouledogue Francais, a breed which has seen a 7500% rise in the number of puppies born since 2003, often to unscrupulous breeders keen to make easy cash.
But the rise and rise of the French bulldog, alongside the growth in popularity of the pug, the chihuahua and the dachshund, comes at a time when many native Scottish dog breeds are on the critical list. The Kennel Club has said that the number of West Highland terrier (Westie) registrations has halved over the past three years, the number of Scottish terriers (Scottie) has dropped by 56% and Cairn terriers by 37%. Even the Border terrier, beloved of Andy Murray, has dropped out of the top 10 of the most popular dogs.
The Gordon setter and the bearded collie are now described by the Kennel Club as 'vulnerable' after registration drops of 60% and 48% respectively since 2015. There are 18 native Scottish breeds and one, the Paisley terrier, is already extinct. The Paisley terrier was bred to be the show dog version of the Skye terrier. It was also the progenitor of the Yorkshire terrier and fell out of favour in the 1800s when the Yorkie became increasingly popular at shows.
The Cairn terrier, cousin of the Westie, itself a close relation of the Scottie, is one of the oldest breeds of terrier and one of Scotland's oldest working dog breeds, originating in the Highlands. It is usually left-pawed, which correlates to a superior performance in tasks relating to scent, and was used to chase quarry from cairn to cairn. Terriers were largely used to hunt foxes and vermin, but otters and badgers were also often quarry for dogs described as independent, rugged, intelligent and, in the case of the Cairn, 'diehard'.
The quintessentially Scottish collies (Border, bearded, rough and smooth-coated), prized for energy, athleticism and intelligence, have been used for herding, usually sheep, for centuries – as far back as the Roman occupation, it is believed. They were also used for guarding homesteads in the 1800s, which has facilitated an easy transition to household pet. A smaller variety, the Sheltie, or Shetland sheepdog, was also originally a hard-working herding dog which has been transformed as the perfect pet, known as a 'shadow' for its strong attachment to family.
Larger dogs include the Gordon setter, used to hunt gamebirds, and the Scottish deerhound, which would have been kept by Picts and Scots to help them supplement their diet with red deer, but both breeds need more than two hours exercise a day, which makes them less than ideal for people who have busy working lives.
But there may be opportunities for revival for some breeds. The Dandie Dinmont terrier, named after a character in Sir Walter Scott's novel 'Guy Mannering', and used for hunting badgers and otters in the past, has been described as Scotland's 'forgotten breed' with the lowest puppy births since records began recorded in 2015.
In June 2017 a statue of Old Ginger, the 19th-century dog from which all modern Dandie Dinmonts are said to be descended, was unveiled at its ancestral home, Haining House in Selkirk, 175 years after Old Ginger was born. This has already had an impact. Although Dandie Dinmonts are still in the top 10 of rarest breeds in the UK, its numbers are gradually rising.
Sadly, a statue didn't work for the Skye terrier. In 1873, a year after the death of Greyfriars Bobby, a Skye terrier who allegedly sat on his master's grave in Greyfriars Kirkyard for 14 years, a drinking fountain topped with a statue of the dog was erected on the corner of George IV Bridge and Candlemakers Row in Edinburgh, opposite the kirkyard. But although the statue is well photographed, the breed is still on the list of most endangered dog species in the UK. In 2012 only 44 puppies were born and breeders reckon 300 births a year is required to maintain a healthy population.
A 2006 film – 'The Adventures of Greyfriars Bobby' – didn't help as filmmakers used a Westie to star as Bobby, arguing that as many of the scenes were shot at night, a white-coated dog would be more easily visible.
But one of the most popular breeds in the world is also of Scottish ancestry. The golden retriever, first developed at Guisachan House, Glen Affric by Liberal politician Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks, the first Baron Tweedmouth, celebrated its 150th birthday last year. In 1858 Marjoribanks established the breed through mating Nous, a wavy-coated retriever, with Belle, a Tweed water spaniel, creating a foundation litter of three puppies – Crocus, Cowslip and Primrose.
The golden retriever is playful, intelligent, well-mannered, great with kids and kindly with strangers, a good watchdog but lousy guard dog because it loves people too much – and though the French bulldog may currently top Britain's list of favourite dogs, the golden retriever remains a fixture in the top five of the world's favourites.