The breed is popular as a pet: in 2019, they were the second-most popular registered dog in the United Kingdom, and the fourth-most popular AKC-registered dog breed in the United States. They were rated the third-most popular dog in Australia in 2017. In 2019 in the United Kingdom, the French Bulldog had 375 export pedigrees and a total of 33,661 registered dogs. By comparison, the Labrador Retriever had over 35,000 dogs and the Cocker Spaniel fewer than 22,000.
At the same time, lace workers from Nottingham who were displaced by the Industrial Revolution began to settle in Normandy, France. They brought a variety of dogs with them, including Toy Bulldogs. The dogs became popular in France and a trade in imported small Bulldogs was created, with breeders in England sending over Bulldogs that they considered to be too small, or with faults such as ears that stood up. By 1860, there were few Toy Bulldogs left in England, such was their popularity in France, and due to the exploits of specialist dog exporters.
The small Bulldog type gradually became thought of as a breed, and received a name, the Bouledogue Francais. This Francization of the English name is also a contraction of the words boule (ball) and dogue (mastiff or molosser). The dogs were highly fashionable and were sought after by society ladies and Parisian prostitutes alike, as well as creatives such as artists, writers, and fashion designers. There is record of artists named Edgar Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec who have been thought to have French Bulldogs in their paintings. However, records were not kept of the breed’s development as it diverged further away from its original Bulldog roots. As it changed, terrier stock had been brought in to develop traits such as the breed’s long straight ears.
Bulldogs were very popular in the past, especially in Western Europe. One of its ancestors was the English bulldog. Americans had been importing French Bulldogs for a while, but it was not until 1885 when they were brought over in order to set up an American-based breeding program. They were mostly owned by society ladies, who first displayed them at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in 1896. They arrived again in the following year with even more entries, where the judging of the breed would go on to have future ramifications. The judge in question at the dog show, a Mr. George Raper, only chose winners with “rose ears”—ears that folded at the tip, as with the standard for Bulldogs. The ladies formed the French Bull Dog Club of America and created the breed standard which stated for the first time that the “erect bat ear” was the correct type.