However, the wildly fashionable French bulldog, did even better, surging by 49 per cent to 6,990.
The “Frenchie” as it is known to fans, is a kind of bulldog-lite, barely half the size of the English classic but reputedly easier to keep and possessed of a Gallic vivacity some people find irresistible.
Owners of the English variety counter that their animal gets a bad rap, suffering from the fad for “handbag dogs” although they take some consolation from their belief that the “bouledogue française” – as it is known across the Channel – owes its origins to Britain.
According to their version of events, a type of crossbred miniature bulldog was taken to France by laceworkers from Nottinghamshire in the 1850s. It became popular, particularly in Paris high society, and its English roots were expunged.
To some extent the British bulldog’s reputation has been tarnished by identification with the yobbo-tendency’s pursuit of ferocious looking pit bull-types.
But Merlin’s owner Steve Parker insisted: “This dog’s truly chilled,” as the two-year-old beast glowered from a bed of straw beneath a bunting of Union flags.
The 41-year old from Dudley in the West Midlands added: “Bulldogs only look bad tempered; they’re really affectionate and brilliant with children.
The one thing they’re completely useless at is as guard dogs. They’d much rather sleep.” Bulldogs have been a prime adornment of the British dog-o-sphere since the 17th century when they were used for bull-baiting.
The breed was gradually refined, becoming popular with the gentry and finding stardom as the companion of John Bull, a Regency caricature of what was perceived to be the quintessential, patriotic Englishman whose finest hour, ironically, was as a national symbol of resistance against the threat of French invasion during the Napoleonic era.
Isn’t it time to forgive and forget? “I suppose there’s room for both types,” soothed Dawn Law who was showing off her French bulldogs, Lily, Lola and Cracker. “But these dogs are especially lovely.”
The, 63-year-old dog owner from Northants, claimed the Frenchies are “more intelligent” and suffered fewer health problems.
The British bulldog is not the only breed to see its popularity wane: the Skye terrier is now rarer than the giant panda with only 17 puppy registrations last year, and Otterhounds have become ultra-rare since hunting otters was banned in the late Seventies.
Only a few hundred of these dogs — which have webbed paws and can follow a scent underwater — are left. Thomas and Helen Hacking were displaying theirs and Mrs Hacking said: “Their big thing is smell, so they don’t listen very well and don’t look where they are going.”
Some blame the new popularity of the Italian Spinone – an otterhound lookalike. Not that any dog is perfect. On the Spinone stand a sign read: “Beware of flying slobber.” That’
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