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Confessions of a Dogue Breeder

Chelsea Conway of Bruin Bordeaux tells all

When I was asked to write this article, the timing could not have been more ironic: The week before I had honestly thought I was finally going to throw in the towel as a breeder and place my last two youngsters.  

This change of heart was mostly caused by the unexpected passing of our beloved 6½-year-old GCh. Bruin’s Pinkie Pie to a stroke. Pinkie was one of my first home-bred babies; she was the spitting image of her mother in her father’s size ... she was the most charismatic, happy gal who never met a stranger – human or animal. I wasn’t ready, I am never ready. I have been tempted to stop breeding Dogues many times before for a myriad of reasons, but time and again I stuck with it because I truly love this breed, more than any other. Dogues de Bordeaux have a magical quality that resembles the feeling you get when you are in the presence of an exotic creature like a lion or great ape. You feel honored to know them, and desperate to be closer.  

Luckily, I had some of my closest friends and family convince me not to stop, not to give up; I’ve come too far to let go of all that I had sacrificed to get to this point in my breeding career. Currently I have only two Dogues de Bordeaux in my house, and I co-own three more females with close friends. I run a small breeding program that I started in 2005 with my first litter; I have owned and exhibited Dogues since 2003. I’ll be 35 in August, and I am the mother of two beautiful girls: Sutton, who is 8, and Larkynn, who is 4.  

Although many people think of me when they hear the kennel name Bruin Bordeaux, the truth is that without my husband I would be nothing and neither would Bruin Bordeaux. Steve and I have been married for eight years, and we have owned as many as 12 Dogues at one time throughout the years. Dogues de Bordeaux are a large presence in our lives, as you can imagine. My mother often chastises me for having more pictures of my Dogues than I do of my children … I compromise by combining the two most of the time.  


A trio of Bruin Bordeaux puppies.


Breeding Dogues is not a gentle hobby; this breed consumes every aspect of your life, wholly and completely. The Dogue de Bordeaux is a sensitive breed that does not do well in a kennel atmosphere; as a result, we keep our breeding program quite small. Dogues are surprisingly fragile, both mentally and physically, for a breed of such impressive stature. Once you have been owned by a Dogue de Bordeaux you will never be without one; their nature is almost human-like in their intuitiveness and devotion. My Dogues are amazing family dogs with a “high stimulus threshold,” making them quiet and easy to have as housedogs.  

Raising a litter of Dogues is exhausting, intense and amazing. The mothers often need C-sections, and they require constant supervision early on, as it’s best not to leave Mom and babies alone for the first two weeks lest the large, worn-out mother smother the newborns unknowingly. All of that is if you can get them bred! The gene pool is small, and the inconsistency in the breed is enough to make a dedicated breeder crazy.  

I started out by importing a male, Rhodonite Rolex Emberez. “Rolex” paved the road for me and opened many doors. He was the first Group-placing Dogue de Bordeaux in the American Kennel Club, he won the breed at Westminster in 2010 and three Eukanuba Invitationals in a row, and much, much more. Rolex was a massive, impressive dog who stood out in the ring like no other dog I’ve seen to this day. He had a presence that stopped you in your tracks. He was regal, and kind, and he was my heart and soul.  


“Rolex” (Ch. Rhodoite Rolex Emberez) was the author’s first Dogue de Bordeaux.

“Rolex” (Ch. Rhodoite Rolex Emberez) was the author’s first Dogue de Bordeaux.


When I began breeding this magnificent male, I realized there was so much more to breeding than putting one exceptional dog to another! Early on in my breeding career I was often criticized for outcrossing. I was trying every combination of every bloodline I could get my hands on, and I had some of the most winning Dogues in the U.S and even a few that competed overseas successfully – but there was zero consistency. I was searching desperately for a formula that would work. I knew line breeding was ideal … but I had to create a line that I wanted to duplicate. This breed is quite frustrating when trying to create quality and not just something to please the masses … they do not breed true!  

Rolex quickly showed in his offspring that he was not a great producer of type overall, especially not in his male pups.  He was a great producer of substance and strong fronts; he was better known for his masculine daughters, who were good brood bitches.  


“Rolex” (right) at seven years old with his daughter, GCh. Bruin’s Pinkie Pie, then four. Her recent death almost prompted the author to stop breeding.


After a few breedings with Rolex, I was immediately on the hunt for the best female I could find to give Rolex his best shot at producing something close to his own quality. That was when I found one of the most famous and sought-after females in the world at the time, Uxy Pugsy De La Tour Gelee. Remember how I mentioned how difficult this breed could be to get bred? Interestingly enough, it was this very trait that allowed me to purchase Uxy Pugsy. Pugsy’s breeder had tried for almost three years to get her bred; she had used the best Dogue males in the world, to no avail. I took an enormous risk and paid top dollar to import her, and it was the best breeding decision I ever made.  

Every breeder has that “aha” moment, and seeing Pugsy was mine. This was what I wanted to breed. Uxy Pugsy was what we breeders call “dripping in type.” I knew right away on seeing and feeling that bitch that she was everything I wanted in a Dogue de Bordeaux. 

I had to get her bred. Thankfully, it only took Rolex three weeks’ time and I found them tied outside. Pugsy had her first litter at age five, which in Dogue de Bordeaux breeding years is at the very tail end of their prime. 

She went on to have two more litters, and although they were small, I kept or co-owned every daughter she had, and that has been my entire foundation.  

If I could tell a “newbie” in any breed one thing, it would be to save all your pennies and put it into the best female you can find. The Dogue de Bordeaux, like many working breeds, is heavily dominated by males, not just in the ring but in the homes of pet owners and breeders alike. A full-grown male in his prime is indeed a sight to behold; but as a breeder, in my opinion, it’s all about your girls. Following a dam line has proven promising as far as producing consistency. I’m of the belief that it’s the girls who dictate type … so far it has remained true for me in this breed.  


A pregnant “Pugsy” (Uxy Pugsy De La Tour Gelee).


Consistency in the Dogue De Bordeaux is consistently not there! All one has to do is wander over to the Dogue ring and take a quick glance. I have mentored many judges and breeders alike, and they all say the same thing: “Not one looks alike!” And the next thing they say is, “Which one is correct?” My reply is always the same, and that is that you have to look for balance. Why? Well, because our standard quite frankly allows for a great disparity in size, and it is also excessively detailed in some parts and shockingly vague in others. In some aspects our standard offers specific measurements and ratios in reference to the Dogue de Bordeaux head and body proportions, but then in reference to the topline it’s only a three-word phrase: “strong and muscular.”  

Breeders tend to breed the extremes in the Dogue de Bordeaux. This was magnified when the Dogue was accepted into the AKC. After Dogues started to be shown more regularly among other Working breeds and in front of judges who were inclined to compare the breed to a Bullmastiff, some show-focused breeders began breeding a more refined, big-moving, Bullmastiff-looking type Dogue. On the other hand were the breeders who decided to counterbalance the loss of mass and type that was beginning to be common at the AKC shows by breeding Neo-type monsters that were as far from the standard as those floating around the ring! Talk about a disaster for the breed and for breeders.   

There are still a handful of breeders who think a “show Dogue” is operating under a different standard of perfection. I am all too often heard ringside passionately speaking against this idea. There is one standard, and as a devoted breeder it is my job to bring exceptional breed specimens into the ring to keep them from becoming generic. Where I think Dogue de Bordeaux breeders may fail the breed in the AKC world is in less-than-desirable representation. Dogues continuously turn up at shows out of condition, untrained and unsuited for the ring. I wish breeders and enthusiasts truly understood how detrimental that can be to the breed as a whole and for those that take the time to ready themselves and their Dogues to be shown. Where the AKC judges are failing the Dogue De Bordeaux is in faulting a Dogue for proper head carriage and movement in the ring. There is still the tendency to pick a heads-up mover who may lack breed type over a less enthused Dogue who represents the standard.  

For years, each litter we had would start off so promising … there is not much cuter than a fat, wrinkly Dogue de Bordeaux pup; they are so chunky and square at a young age, substantial and beautiful … perfect!  


Dogue puppies can be unpredictable chameleons.

Dogue puppies can be unpredictable chameleons.


Not quite! There is no other breed I know that can change so drastically through its many life stages. Raising Dogues has had me at times believing in UFOs, because there were mornings I was certain that an alien had taken my beautiful puppy and replaced him with the homely creature that sat staring up at me. In the last three years I have bought no less than five males; two were high-priced imports from two of the top kennels in the world. In addition, I’ve grown up at least two male puppies from my own litters searching for what the great horse breeders call a “herd sire.”  

I am perhaps known throughout the Dogue de Bordeaux community as being too critical. I am admittedly very critical, but I honestly don’t see this as a downfall in breeding this breed or any other, for that matter. As breeders of purebred dogs, we are bringing more animals into an already over-populated world of millions of unwanted pets. I cannot and will not further the problem by breeding average Dogues. Furthermore, I fear that breeders of Dogues de Bordeaux have given up on breeding supreme examples and settled on mediocrity. It is understandable to me that this is the case, because average is the norm in our breed. Perhaps it’s even the minority among some very poor examples bred by those stuck on breeding the extreme type and size or color, with no thought toward soundness and structure. As a collective group, we must raise the bar. We will never be taken seriously at the Group level with any consistency if we don’t honestly start to breed for better balanced Dogues de Bordeaux.    

Not only must we up the bar on overall quality, but the devastating short lifespan is what makes most of us dedicated breeders give up. To lose a dog you have raised and loved at five, six or seven years old is not right. Some are even younger. There are those who occasionally live past 10, but they are only a handful. Breeding longer-lived Dogues has become one of my top priorities. As a large breed (not a giant one – a common misconception), they should be living much longer than six and seven years. Sadly, the lifespans are trending in the wrong direction, and it’s heartbreaking. All of this is what had me throwing in the towel very recently. This breed can be just devastating, and often it’s one step forward and three steps back.  


Pugsy with a daughter from her first litter, “CC” (Bruin’s The Uxy Truth).


Almost two years ago I bred what was to be my final litter. It would also be my fourth generation down from “Bruin” girls. The pedigree was one that boasted so much as far as quality, health, and longer-living Dogues. I should have been on pins and needles waiting on this litter, but I have been trained not to get my hopes up. Just before this “final” litter, Pinkie Pie had given birth to three beautiful pups. In this litter were two stunning girls, but one in particular that stood out to me as one of the most classic typed and beautifully balanced pups I had ever had. There was nothing extreme about her; just lovely in every way.  

After Pinkie Pie’s litter was born came my “final” one. Interestingly enough, the theme for the litter was “The Hunger Games.” To start it all off, “Katniss” (Bruin’s Girl on Fire) spit out seven babies all on her own in three hours, which was a big deal in my house since most all of my girls have required C-sections, and seeing as most of them all come down from Pugsy, who only had very small litters, we were not accustomed to seven pups. I was so pleased that maybe I had finally bred into a more fertile line and was trending also toward easier whelpers.

As the two litters grew, I tried to stay unattached and unexcited, as we had decided to stop breeding after these two final litters. I had all but given up on finding a male I thought was worthy of breeding and also showing. I am one of those who doesn’t show just to show … many are happy going weekend after weekend, gaining championships on dogs who should never be bred. I show mostly females; I have a soft spot for them, as all too often they are left in the backyard as the work horses in a breeding program instead of in the limelight of the ring that is heavily dominated by males … And I had had zero luck finding a male who could hold a candle to Rolex. I always kept an eye on the females in a litter to carry on our program. So when the only male in my final litter caught my eye every time I looked in the box, it took me by surprise.  I named him “Finnick” after the charming character in the Hunger Games films known for taking “secrets” for payment on other services.


Ch. Bruin’s Pink Paisley, that special Pinkie Pie daughter that had the author rethinking her exit from the breed.


Another lesson I have learned while breeding Dogues de Bordeaux: Know your line! I have spent years and years in the whelping box scrutinizing every little body part, even on very young pups. You often hear breeders explain, “It’s too early to tell” when describing a new litter or a young dog. I wholeheartedly agree; most are too quick to decide they have a “great” one, but as a breeder you learn to watch certain traits and how they develop. I know what traits are prone to get worse and which ones will change for the better; but it is vital for me to watch them from the start. I really love the challenge of predicting potential in puppies … but baby Finnick had me second-guessing my choice to be done with breeding. After all the years of searching for a male, this one landed in my whelping box in just the nick of time.  


“Finnick” (GCh. Bruin’s Quarter Quell), the male who spurred the author’s hopes again.
This “last” litter created a new beginning for me. I was tired and discouraged with my own breeding program, but also with the breed as a whole. With health declining in this breed after a massive influx of importing and breeding with total disregard for health or the standard, breeders have become even more secretive with one another. It really seemed like this breed was doomed.  
This beautiful, strong breed can be utterly breathtaking in the right form. They are unique; breeders and judges alike should understand that. As a long-time breeder, I was giving up on them, like so many great breeders in the last few years have done. But with my final litter, I realized that it was never the Dogue de Bordeaux that let me down, but our inability as breeders and exhibitors to raise them up. There have been other breeds and breed clubs that have overcome major health deficits that threatened their breed’s well-being or even their existence. I have never been one to take the easy way … I am much more the road-less-travelled kind of gal. I will fail over and over; but not from lack of desire to be better; I’ve come to understand it’s the “nature of the beast,” so to speak.  
I hate gambling; I’m just not a fan of throwing hard-earned money away on something I have no control over. But we as breeders are certainly gambling every day. I have always demanded a lot from myself, and often it leads me to expect too much from others. Perhaps the most vital lesson I have learned from breeding the Dogue de Bordeaux is that its future lies in small miracles. I get too caught up with the big picture, and although I hope to never lose sight of it, it’s a slow process made up of tiny steps and that is OK. I have to allow myself to stay focused on my small program and to resist the thought of the quick fix in order to produce one dog who may win.  
My goal as a breeder is long-term consistency.  I will continue to share my best in the show ring in hopes to have a good influence on the future of this breed, as I believe that is a breeder’s duty.  I hope to broaden my horizons into other canine sports to showcase the Dogue de Bordeaux’s abilities to track as well as its incredible intelligence. I will strive to exhibit Dogues that are well trained, well conditioned and well socialized in order to show them at their very best and to capitalize on the variables that we as breeders and owners control.  
In the end, what kept me from giving up was the choice to allow myself to be a “small time breeder” of high-quality Dogue De Bordeaux … OK, and maybe in part it was that handsome little man in my whelping box! But I’ve learned that balance is key to all things in life, as well as breeding. And I’ve come to accept the idea that it is okay to go through the peaks and valleys of breeding and showing while still enjoying the company of the breed I love ultimately as my life companions.


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