Avoir du chien

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Higgins and Humphrey, our third generation of French bulldogs

The French bulldog became my preferred pet just as France became my country. The first time I saw those perky ears , I thought they were funny looking. The second time I fell in love. By the time I noticed all the imperfections — panting, snoring, farting — there was no going back.

“Avoir du chien” is how the French describe someone with a certain style and elegance. Exactly why “having dog” equates to being attractive is unclear but one thing is sure: the French love their canines. From Paris to province, here is a look at the dog’s life in France.

Sidewalk art. Like so many visitors to the city of light, the first thing I did upon arriving in Paris was to put my foot into a sample of its sidewalk art. This despite the fact that French city streets have a dedicated place for dogs to do their business: le caniveau, the gutter that runs along the side of major streets and which, in Paris at least, is cleaned out daily by running water and troops of street cleaners brandishing brooms. However, most dogs’ interpretation of the caniveau is rather broad, or their aim is off, which makes navigating the city streets rather like sweeping for mines. They recently introduced laws that require you to pick up after your pet, but the French are resistant to such discipline and sidewalk art remains a fact of life. The city of Paris has a whole series of videos designed to train dog owners how to be good citizens.

La promenade. The French verb for walking the dog says it all. Promener le chien is a chance to see and be seen, while buying the daily baguette and taking moderate exercise. Nothing as undignified as jogging (the French don’t like to sweat unless sitting on a beach) but the daily constitutional keeps the bourrelet at bay. If you really want a slice of French life, go to one of its parks or squares and watch the doggies parade their owners around.

Pet friendly. Dogs are welcome most everywhere in France. In restaurants it is not uncommon to dine with one’s dog and most wait staff will cheerfully bring a bowl of water for le toutou. Contrary to customs in North America, pets are allowed in apartment buildings and hotels. However, many parks and beaches do not allow dogs or have a keep-off-the-grass policy.

Well groomed. Dog grooming salons (“salon de toilettage”) are almost as common as beauty parlors in France, where long-haired breeds like poodles and lhasa apsos are popular. Keeping them impeccably groomed is de rigueur and that requires a professional touch.

Pedigreed. The French love their pedigrees as much as they do their protocols. So to ensure order in the breeding world, a strict naming protocol was implemented by the organization responsible for pedigrees, the LOF (Livre des Origines Français). In any given year, a pedigreed pup must be given a name beginning with the same letter of the alphabet (for simplicity’s sake they deleted the k, q, w, x, y, z). Of course you are free to call your pooch whatever you please, but his papers will show the regulation name – and it is so much more chic to call one’s dog by his pedigreed moniker, n’est-ce pas? Note that 2013 is an ‘i’ year, so prepare to hear all kinds of unusual names: Igor, Ivan, Izac…

Well bred. You can tell a lot about a person from his or her choice of breed. Little old ladies tend to prefer the French poodle. Fashion hounds of all ages favor the Yorkshire terrier (“le York”) or other fluff balls that can be carried as fashion accessories. (NB. Have you ever noticed how mean those tiny terriers can be? On the other hand, if someone put a pink bow in my hair, I’d probably growl too.) People with children will often have a beagle, spaniel or some variant. And of course hunting dogs of all description are commonly kept in the country, where la chasse is widely followed in game season.  Oddly, apartment dwellers often have the biggest breeds.

What’s in a name? In a lovely example of synchronicity, the word ‘pet’ actually means fart in French. And the word ‘puppy’ pronounced the French way (“poopy”), accurately describes its primary activity. Also in French: ‘chiot’ (shit – oh!)

Why the French bulldog is, in my view, the only truly French breed. The Frenchie, as he’s known to lovers of the breed, is not quite a dog. He understands the importance of sniffing and chewing his food. He does not know that his place is under the table but insists on sitting at it with you. The Frenchie expects — and gets — attention everywhere he goes. He struts his stuff with innate style. He may not be the most beautiful – crooked teeth, big ears, a stocky shape – but he will win you with his charm. And that, mesdames et messieurs, is 100% French.

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