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Sampling the Saga

An excerpt from the definitive book on the Dogue de Bordeaux

If you know Dogues de Bordeaux, then you know Professor Raymond Triquet. You might not have ever met him in person, but his influence on the breed is undeniable: Without him, it is very likely that in lieu of the Dogue snoozing at your feet, you would have nothing but an empty space, adorned with only the occasional dust mote.

Prof. Triquet not only brought the Dogue de Bordeaux back from the brink of extinction, but he authored the modern standard, and exerted a steady hand whenever the breed threatened to slide into extremity, what he describes as dogs that look like "gargoyles." Unlike so many breeds, where pettiness eventually dooms such figures to becoming prophets unhonored in their own land, Prof. Triquet has remained a voice that is heeded. His seminal book, "The Saga of the Dogue de Bordeaux," is a must for any Dogue lover's library. With the kind permission of the publisher, we excerpt a portion of the chapter on temperament here. In Prof. Triquet's tart and lively style, we are given a word portrait of a breed that is both sweet and serious, a great joy or a potential heartache to own, depending mostly on the skill and experience of the owner.    


“With limited intelligence and a cruel tooth ... the dogue tears away what he holds, he bites and never lets go. He’s an ugly customer, in the full meaning of the term. If I had a dog with such a temper, his account would soon be settled. Better kill the devil than have the devil kill you.”



Le chien, Histoire Naturelle, “The Dog, Natural History” (1867).


Such was the definitive opinion of a scientist: Eugéne Gayot, a veterinarian, a zootechnician, director of Haras, a national stud farm, from 1847 to 1852, author of the important book Le chien, Histoire Naturelle, “The Dog, Natural History” (1867).   That was how people thought about the dogue four years after the great first exposition in Paris. A temperament such as that must surely leave its mark on the appearance: “bloodshot eyes, fearsome, threatening look.” Gayot doesn’t resist the pleasure of describing, very enthusiastically, “the comical defeat, suffered by a dogue of the largest size,” belonging to a butcher, at the hands of a small two-bit monkey. Butchers often owned Dogues de Bordeaux, and not so long ago. ... In Gayot’s story, this “little monkey” struck this “Hercules,” an unforgettable volley of blows to his nose with a stick. And the author concludes with humor: “The story is true; by the way, I don’t tell any that are not.”  

His story may be true, but the opinion is false, as on the contrary, the Dogue de Bordeaux can be kindess and fidelity incarnate. ...The Dogue de Bordeaux loves to be stroked. He is “clinging.” He will give a paw ten times to get what he wants. When you let him do as he likes, he will overwhelm you. He will scramble on your lap, on your shoulders, He will stand up when his master or mistress gets up. He waits at the door of the bathroom. He will look fondly in your eyes. He sits on your foot and can stay there for hours. He lies forgotten under the table. He will accompany you on your walk and stay close. In short, he loves you. His fidelity has inspired a poet. As a young breeder, I had the first two lines of this poem by Apollinaire printed on my writing paper (from Alcools, “Beaucoup de ces dieux sont péri, 1913):  

I am faithful as a dogue / Je suis fidéle comme un dogue To the master the ivy to the tree trunk / Au maître le lierre au tronc And the Zaporozhe Cossacks / Et les cosaques zaporogues Drunkards, pious and thieves / Ivrognes, pieux et larrons to the steppes and the ten commandments / Aux steppes et au décalogue



This fidelity lasts until the day he dies. I will never forget how, at the moment he died, Orauch, my most beautiful Dogue de Bordeaux, and also the most dominant and powerful, gave me a paw and a look of infinite sweetness. Nor how Bersée waited till I was up in the morning to take her last breath. People say it is just the death of a dog, but faced with such a look you can’t but ask the question: Why should their death be different from mine? What more am I than they are? Rosine turned round and round the whole afternoon not wanting to give birth till I came home, and then dropped her first puppy, on the lawn, the moment I arrived. Where are they, the “meanness” and the “rotten temper” of which the dictionaries speak? I’ve always taken bones out of the mouths of my dogues. I’ve never seen one (among those born and reared in our house) that objected.


Prof. Triquet with 11-week-old Rosine and Rugby de la Maison des Arbres.


Since I began to judge in 1966, I’ve never been bitten nor seriously threatened by a Dogue de Bordeaux. I must admit I respect the dogues I have in my ring. If they growl, I speak to them softly and I don’t provoke them because I understand them. I reassure the difficult dog. I ask the owner to open the mouth (it would not be right to put my fingers in, when he doesn’t know me). I only send a dogue out of the ring when he is really aggressive. Everybody tells me that I, who can scarcely be called a patient person, show utmost patience when judging Dogues de Bordeaux.  

I myself was asked to leave the ring with my dogue Lotus de la Maison des Arbres, who was impossible to hold. ... He was a dogue that came back to me as an adult, after the divorce of the owners ... He immediately recognized me and adopted me, but he wouldn’t allow anybody to come near me, my children included. That’s contrary to the temperament of the Dogue de Bordeaux, who loves the children of the family. But Lotus wasn’t normal. His litter brother Lutteur had an even worse temperament. When I went to see him, the son of the house was setting off firecrackers around his kennel. What a pity, because he was magnificent. These two were sons of Paname des Démons Noirs and Rosine de la Maison des Arbres, both examples of sweetness and obedience.  

We have had four children, who grew up with three, four or even five Dogues de Bordeaux. During the holidays our dogues were free as there was no fence around our house in the country. Apart from Lotus, who didn’t regain his mental balance, we’ve never had any problems with the relationship between dogues and children. After being severely scolded, one of my sons found refuge under the belly of Rosine, one of my best bitches, in every way, looks, mental stability and health.


Dogue and child 1920s.


She didn’t know why, but she immediately rose to protect him, and grumbled softly, trembling her lips. But be warned, the dogue is so much the protector of “his” children that he may not allow the neighbors’ kids to jostle them. He can’t understand that it’s just “play.” Such a dog shouldn’t be left without supervision when the children’s little friends come to play. Much the same applies to a dogue who lives in a home without children, and then one day in the holidays a grandchild arrives and jumps on him. He may react with threatening behavior and then caution is needed. In our home, when a baby came from the maternity home, I always presented it to the pack, as they did in the past. I showed the baby to the dogues one by one, and then all together, in the house, where they immediately recognized a new smell. I talked to them. I showed them the cradle. They scented it. I caressed them both by gesture and with my voice. They showed their joy by wagging their tails and went to lie down near the cradle, Never do such a thing where you don’t have control of your dogs. There are risks that one has no right to take. I myself knew there was no danger whatsoever. I spent hours with my dogs, feeding them, brushing them, just sitting with them. I still see them, all stretched out on the lawn, the children near them, almost sitting on them. “A comforting sight,” the poet might say. I always allowed my children to hug the puppies when I was there, in front of the mother, without any reaction from her. However, a child should never be left alone with a bitch and her puppies.  


Nano de la Maison des Arbres.


Is the Dogue de Bordeaux obedient? Yes, if you dominate him, but never in the way a German Shepherd is. He must be given some time to reach a decision. That’s what the new standard means by the “stimulus threshold” is high. This is true in the case of obedience but above all it’s true of the response to any stimulus (voice, cry, noise, movement, threat, pushing, etcetera). It means that, generally speaking, the dogue doesn’t go off “half cocked.” (There could be exceptions.) Noise, even a loud bang, doesn’t scare him unduly. When he is provoked, you can see by his attitude and in his eyes that he is asking what is required of him. When he’s ready to attack, the stimulus threshold is not so high. When the provoked dog squats slightly, raises his back, shrinks back, looks at his master as if to ask what’s going on, even whines, don’t be too quick to conclude that he’s afraid. He is asking to be reassured because he is not yet mature and sure of himself. He should be talked to and caressed. This was the first reaction of my bitch Nano de la Maison des Arbres to the provocations of the “agitator.” It didn’t last, as she was very stable and completely reliable. ...


Jip de Fénelon.
New owners of Dogues de Bordeaux often ask: “Should he be trained?” The answer is: “You can train him provided that you go to good teachers who are familiar with molosses.” Otherwise it’s better not, because there are instructors who only know how to make a dog vicious. Philippe Sérouil remembers this: His very beautiful black-masked dog Jip de Fénelon bit rather freely in all directions. For instance, he tore my wife’s coat sleeve as she passed by, fortunately, without touching her arm. But he must be educated, by you yourself or someone else, especially if he is dominant. The master should never lose face.  
Once it almost happened to me. I had not gone to a show because we were awaiting the birth of one of our sons. A bitch started howling. That was Queen, who I had shut in a small isolated kennel because she was in heat and I didn’t want her to be mated. I went to the big kennel and I saw two bitches fighting, silently, in the way I had been told they do. They were on the floor, motionless, one holding the other by the throat (or, rather, by the scruff of the neck) and the other trying to gnaw the paw of the one trying to strangle her.  
Orauch looked at them without intervening and seemed rather pleased. When I appeared in the corridor that led to the paddock, he barred my way; determined, hackles raised, eyes aglow. He wouldn’t allow me to intervene. I had a bucket of water in my hands, as I had read that this was the way to separate dogs when they grip each other. I put down the bucket. I didn’t raise my hand, as that would probably have induced an attack by a dominant male who was, in his way, protecting his bitches. I scolded him: “You bastard, you are not going to attack your boss, are you?” Of course he didn’t understand, but he sensed my intentions were less aggressive than he had first thought. (In reality, I was rather anxious.) His hackles relaxed, and he came to sit at my feet, I put my hand on his head. I opened a kennel. He went in. I had saved face. The bitches let go of each other, the first time of telling. I took care of their wounds, which in spite of everything weren’t too deep.  
The males fought as well: Orauch and Paname, my two champions, and Orauch and Iago, my Boxer who had the courage of a lion but lacked his strength. On those occasions I learned that the trick with the bucket of water was just a joke. Again I filled the bucket (the old-fashioned, galvanized iron type), made a swing and the first attempt landed it on Orauch’s skull. He was semi-conscious (but only semi!). Quickly, I could lead Paname, so gentle and obedient, away. In the fight with the Boxer, when Orauch held him full by the throat, I did what I advise should be done in these cases. I took Orauch by his hind legs, lifted them up (to take him off balance) and dragged the hundred kilogrammes of dog to the corner at the door of the kennel. There — slowly, to avoid hurting, but with all my force, increased tenfold by emotion and necessity — I closed the door on Orauch’s mouth. With the door closed, the dogs were one on either side and couldn’t start over again.
Fortunately for him, the brave Iago didn’t match the standard too well. He had too much loose skin on the neck. It was that which saved him. I must add that even in the heat of battle none of these three males was threatening towards me. Immediately after the fight they came to me to be hugged, just as if nothing had happened. But they never forgot their adversary. Nor did I: I never again put two males together and I do not advise anyone to do so. What’s important to know is that these fights have three main causes. First there is food. It’s crazy not to separate dogues when they have their meal, especially if the master isn’t there to supervise. The second cause, in males, is simple — the girls.   The third is less well known. Dogues don’t tolerate a stranger pressing his face to the bars to look at them or peering at them over a wall. They get nervous and excited, they push each other aside, they nibble and growl at each other and suddenly, there is an attack. This happens not only in our breed. Always accompany a visitor and send intruders away.  
Very curiously, in such cases a dogue can also display an amazing amount of patience. When I lived in Artois, my veterinarian, Pierre Porès, had a Boxer and a Dogue de Bordeaux bitch bred in my kennel, Quetsch de la Maison des Arbres (Mars x Nanouk). Whenever I visited the beautiful house in Houdain, behind the garden rails, I would see the Boxer harassing poor put-upon Quetsch, who never responded. All the same, I would have wished her to give that yapper a lesson!  

Raymond Triquet was born in 1926 in Bruay-en-Artois, into one of those miner families, renowned for their simple, courageous and honest people. He taught English at the Bruay-en-Artois lyceum/grammar school and subsequently phonetics, grammar and lexicology at the Lille (III) University. He has translated many standards, and has participated in the formulation of so many others, that he has become known as “Mr. Standard.” He has been president of the Société des Amateurs des Dogues de Bordeaux (French breed club) for many years, as well as a longstanding member of the zootechnical committee of the Société Centrale Canine (French Kennel Club) and the standard committee of the FCI, and a breed judge. But the title that is probably nearest to his heart is that of “woodsman,” as he loves the forest so much. There was still a task to be done: to write and tell the story of “his” Dogue as he knows and loves him, across this richly illustrated book. With the passion of a dog fancier and the rigor of a university man, he gives us an explanation of this dog, his ups and downs, and those of his ancestors. A must-have book for the Dogue de Bordeaux breeder, judge and fancier.   


© Modern Molosser Magazine. This article may not be reposted, reprinted, rewritten, excerpted or otherwise duplicated in any medium without the express written permission of the publisher.