French bulldog puppies can cost between $3,000 and $10,000, one expert told us. Their high value makes them susceptible to robberies. Celiaaa/Getty Images Plus

How the demand for French bulldogs has created a black market 

Janet Nguyen Feb 21, 2024
French bulldog puppies can cost between $3,000 and $10,000, one expert told us. Their high value makes them susceptible to robberies. Celiaaa/Getty Images Plus

With their snub noses and bat-like ears, the French bulldog has become the most popular dog breed in America, dethroning the Labrador retriever after a 31-year reign, according to registration statistics from the American Kennel Club. 

Experts point to several reasons behind their popularity: They’re small. They make great companions. They’re social media-friendly. And they’re adorable. 

But the rising demand for these pups, combined with limited supply, has pushed up their value, creating a black market where thieves steal these dogs to make a profit and breeders engage in unethical breeding practices. 

French bulldog puppies can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000, according to Tom Sharp, president and CEO of AKC Reunite, a pet microchip and recovery service. 

In recent years, there have been a slew of dognappings, including a high-profile case involving Lady Gaga’s Frenchies. In 2021, two of her bulldogs were stolen from dog walker Ryan Fischer, who was taking them on a stroll and was shot during the robbery. Her dogs were eventually recovered, but Fischer said his lung collapsed multiple times and that he ended up suffering professionally and personally in the aftermath of the attack. 

In North Charleston, South Carolina, 12 French bulldog puppies were stolen from a home this month, and in Los Angeles, a woman’s bulldog was stolen in January. 

Sharp said pet theft reports to AKC Reunite have increased 140% between 2019 to 2022 and that French bulldogs are the number one breed reported stolen.

Last year, 135 Frenchies were reported stolen, which Sharp said is twice the amount as the next most stolen breed, German shepherds. 

Sharp said that there’s no national reporting organization with comprehensive data, and that they only know the amount that’s been reported to them, meaning that the number of thefts is likely even higher.

The black market for French Bulldogs 

There are a number of unethical, illegal and outright cruel business models when it comes to puppy sales. 

Madeline Bernstein, president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles, said there are backyard breeders who will breed French bulldogs and sell them for less than what they would normally cost.  These dogs end up being born with health issues.

“Nine out of 10 times your dog isn’t going to survive 48 hours,” she said. “Poor breeding practices, whether through puppy mills or backyard  breeders, can negatively affect the health of the dog and their ability to thrive, many times soon after the dog is acquired.”

Bernstein said that in some instances, organized crime rings might steal these dogs and sell them to individuals or pet stores. 

Sharp thinks that the COVID-19 pandemic indirectly contributed to pet thefts. He explained that pet ownership rose during the pandemic as people stayed at home with more time on their hands and decided they wanted companionship. 

“Frenchies are just so popular and people who can’t afford to get them the right way either stole them or looked to disreputable sources to get one,” Sharp said. 

In other cases, puppies might be illegally imported from other countries. Bernstein recalls her organization, spcaLA, taking care of a shipment of French bulldogs from a Ukraine puppy mill in 2014. “The dogs were examined and found to be underage, not vaccinated against rabies, and in urgent need of care. The paperwork did not match the puppies in the container,” Bernstein wrote in her book “Designer Dogs: An Exposé: Inside the Criminal Underworld of Crossbreeding.”

She wrote that her organization ended up receiving the puppies after an officer on duty had to decide whether to send the dogs back on a flight they would not survive or euthanize them because they were not safe to be admitted into the U.S. At the end of the ordeal, spcaLA helped the puppies recover and put them up for adoption. 

Supply and demand

On the supply side, Sharp said that Frenchies might only produce one to four puppies in a litter. Compare that to a German shepherd or a golden retriever, which on average have eight puppies in a litter.   

When it comes to demand, the French bulldog’s temperament and physical characteristics have played a large role, along with its seal of approval from high-profile figures. 

Jim Grebe, historian and archivist for French Bull Dog Club of America, pointed out that a number of celebrities now own them. There’s Lady Gaga, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Megan Thee Stallion and Reese Witherspoon.

But Frenchies have been indiscriminately bred, leaving many of them with a host of health issues, including difficulty breathing, explained Bernstein of spcaLA. In other words, those same traits that Frenchies have been bred  and are prized for have led to health risks. 

A study published in Canine Medicine and Genetic found that French bulldogs were more likely to develop 20 common canine disorders compared to other breeds. Those potential issues include narrowed nostrils, a condition known as Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome, ear discharge, skinfold dermatitis and difficulty giving birth.  

Bernstein said that to breed these dogs, special veterinarians will artificially inseminate them and then give them cesareans to ensure they can give birth because they are typically incapable of delivering puppies naturally.

Frenchie owners might have to spend thousands on surgery because the dog can’t breathe or has pneumonia, Bernstein said.

“So now they’re in it for $15,000, and they haven’t even had the dog a week yet,” Bernstein said. 

The designer dog backlash

French bulldogs have been bred to look the way they do now, and now some are trying to breed them further for rare traits. 

Grebe of the French Bull Dog Club of America said there are French bulldogs with “unusual coat colors, longer coats and other features that don’t fit the AKC standard for the breed.”

The club’s website says that these types of breeders are irresponsible and only motivated to make money. 

French bulldogs aren’t the first dog breed whose popularity and trendy status has led to overbreeding. Concerned animal advocates pointed out that dalmatians faced this issue after the 1985 and 1991 rereleases of  the 1961 Disney cartoon film “101 Dalmatians,” and after the 1996 live-action version, per reporting in the New York Times. 

Activists have said that while these dogs are portrayed as warm in Disney’s films, in real life they can be high-strung and unpredictable with children and strangers, reported The Guardian. The Amanda Foundation, an animal rescue organization, told The Guardian in 2000 that the number of abandoned dalmatians had more than doubled following the 1996 release. 

We’re also seeing a rise in designer dogs, defined as the offspring of two different types of purebred dogs.

Wally Conron, the creator of the Labradoodle, called the dog his “life’s regret” on a podcast from the Australian Broadcast Corporation. He raised the concern that “unscrupulous breeders” are now trying to create their own designer dogs. His aim was to create a hypoallergenic guide dog for a blind woman whose husband was allergic to dogs. 

David Rosengard, managing attorney at the Animal Defense Fund, said that part of the reason French bulldogs are being stolen so often is because people are fixated on the breed, or the label “French bulldog.” The fixation on the French bulldog label makes them highly valued which is why people will resort to illicit methods to obtain one.

He said there are practical ways to try to safeguard your dogs from theft, like microchipping your dog and having your dog on a secure harness attached to your leash. But he noted that one way to combat dog theft overall is to place less value on what breed a dog is, and to focus instead on finding a companion you want to share your life with. 

Bernstein recommends finding such a companion at the animal shelter. 

“We want people to adopt dogs that are already here instead of encouraging people to make more,” Bernstein said. “There are plenty of dogs in the country that need homes that would be wonderful companions.” 

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