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The cute French bulldog is set to become our most popular breed... but some people have a bone to pick about it

A survey out this week found the must-have canine could overtake the labrador as our fave pooch, with registrations jumping by 47% from 14,607 in 2015 to 21,470 in 2016, yet not everyone agrees. Linda Stewart talks to four dog owners about what attracted them to the breed they chose.

Mum-of-four Simone Gallagher (27), from north Belfast, owns three French bulldogs, two English bulldogs and a dogue du Bordeaux with her husband, gym owner Stuart. She says:

I've always had dogs since I was young. I've always been a dog lover. Not just that, but we've had guinea pigs, hamsters, cats - we've always loved our animals.

I have three French bulldogs - two girls and a boy. That's Princess who is seven months, Zachary who is four months and Cosmo who is five and a half months. Then I have Mojito and Moloko who are English bulldogs and Lady who is half dogue du Bordeaux and half American bulldog. Lady was bought for me as a Christmas present. There are a lot of French bulldogs coming into Northern Ireland at the minute. They are getting very, very popular.

We saw a French bulldog on Facebook and then I had fallen in love so I wanted one, I got one and from that I've always loved them. A friend of ours has three so he was able to get our first one. The French bulldogs are adorable - they are so cute and such lovable dogs. The colours they come in are outstanding. Zachary is black and white, Princess is fawn and Cosmo is black and tan. We love our colours.

They have a daily routine, but I am used to it. They are all pups at the moment and Zach needs fed four times a day, while the rest are fed three times a day. They are all on good meals - they get tripe and one of them is on mince as well.

The wee French and English bulldogs only need walked once a day.

That's just round the block a couple of times or down the road, or down to the Waterworks.

Their personalities are amazing. They are so loving. They've a really good bond with you. They are like a pup - they want cuddles and kisses and a good rub.

This is our first year of having a French bulldog - we are only starting off with them

With a French bulldog, you know what size it's going to grow to - it's going to be a medium-sized dog. A lot of people out there dress them up as well. One of mine has a wee coat and they have wee diamante collars.

'I changed my working arrangements for him'

Journalist Clare Weir (35), from Co Antrim, took her beautiful German shepherd Geno to compete in the World Championships for Ireland. She says:

"I've been told that when she was pregnant with me, my mother was still out walking our two German shepherds around Ahoghill when I was a week overdue. I attended my first dog show aged two weeks old, so you could say German shepherds are in my blood.

I love how versatile they are - they can turn their paw to any job. They are also intelligent and trainable and are real people pleasers.

The dog I grew up with was called Dexy, after the Midnight Runners, and my current dog is called Geno in her honour, because of the Dexy's song of the same name - I kept the link because I knew that he would be just as important in my life.

I first saw him at a competition in Galway back in 2011, when he belonged to the judge.

At just eight weeks old, and a cheeky bundle of fluff, he was very opinionated and liked the sound of his own voice. I could tell that there was something special about him.

I got a phone call about six weeks later, asking if I wanted to buy him. I had been getting more interested in the working side of the breed and a year earlier had been to Spain to see his father compete for Ireland at the World Championships for German shepherds, so I jumped at the chance.

Thanks to a lot of toil and teamwork, in 2016 Geno followed in his father's pawprints and made the Irish team for the World Championships, the first dog from Ulster ever to do so.

As we came out of the stadium in Germany, people from Hungary, Israel and South Africa came up to us, saying how much they had enjoyed watching him work.

While he is a competition dog, he is still my pet and we are a team - we climb mountains, we run on the beach and explore the forest.

Between training, exercise and travelling to competitions, Geno consumes a lot of time. He is a very energetic dog with a big heart and a huge personality.

I have changed my working and living arrangements to accommodate him, my car is a disgrace and most of my friends think I am mad - even my doggy friends - but I don't regret any of it. He hasn't been an easy dog, but when I see his tail wagging and that cheeky glint in his eye, I can definitely say he's been worth it."

'Archie's comedic, he's the craziest pup I've ever met, but loving too'

Support worker Amber Halligan (20) has a four-month-old French bulldog called Archie. She says:

"My mum and dad had a Tibetan spaniel when I was growing up in Richhill. When I moved out and moved to Bangor, I always wanted a French bulldog.

I just decided to get a dog with my boyfriend Scott. I think they are quite rare - I haven't seen many. There are a couple that run about Bangor and I kept seeing them on Facebook and thinking they were cute.

Archie is like the dog in Marley and Me - he's so disobedient. He's crazy, although he's only a pup of four months.

He's comedic, the way he gets on. He's the craziest dog I've ever met, but he's very affectionate and loving. Archie is obedient in the house but as soon he gets a wee taste of freedom and fresh air, he's away. He spends most of his time when he's out annoying other dogs. He loves mud - he just plods through mud. But if we take him to the beach he can't understand why the water comes towards him and then goes away. When the water runs away, he runs towards it and when it comes back, he runs away.

When we got him, he was just half the height of the coffee table and now he can get onto the coffee table.

He's a menace - you have to keep everything out of his way. Archie doesn't like shoes with no laces, but one day he saw my plimsolls with the invisible pop socks that you wear under them. Archie being Archie, as soon as he saw the pop sock, he had to get it and he swallowed it.

He swallows everything. He can find wee things... you wouldn't notice that they were there. So that was a trip to the vet because he swallowed the pop sock."

'The biggest thing about Mac is his personality'

Jim Deeds, pastoral worker for the Diocese of Down and Connor and an author, has a larger-than-life pal in Mac the Great Dane. He says:

"Sometimes big is beautiful. I know this because a year ago we welcomed what was to become the biggest member of our family into our household. His name is Mac and he is now a 14-month-old Great Dane. He came to us a little over one year ago as a cute puppy.

At two months old he was already about the size of our eight-year-old lab cross Jenny, but he was nothing compared to the size he has become over the last 12 months. Currently he weighs in at 70kg and stands at 35in to his shoulder at the front.

When he stands on his hind legs he stands way over 6ft tall. And he's not done yet; as with most large and giant breed dogs, Great Danes mature slowly and will not reach their full size until around four years old.

As you might expect with a dog that size, everything is bigger - the food dishes, the vet bills and the poo bags.

But the biggest thing about Mac is his personality. He is so affectionate with our family, which often results in slobbery kisses as he rushes to welcome us home from work or from school.

He wants to be in constant physical contact with one of us and this can lead to having 70kg of dog sitting on your knee.

With strangers, though, Mac doesn't rush in for their affection. He seems to understand that he will be the centre of attention and waits for people to approach him. Once they do, he is more than happy to be petted and hugged. Visits to the pet shop or walks round the park can be long affairs because we are often stopped by people who want to be close to "the big dog".

Giant breeds have a shorter life expectancy than smaller breeds and when our last Great Dane, Madadh, died in September 2015 we were broken-hearted and vowed never to get a big dog again. But we didn't last long.

You see there's something about a big dog - they have spirit, a soul about them that smaller breeds don't (I own two smaller dogs by the way - as well as Jenny we have Charley, the ginger Pug cross - and they are lovely too).

When you see Mac playing with a dog the size of his head and still being gentle and full of fun, or when you see him be tolerant of a small child tugging at his jowls, or when you look into his deep brown eyes, you realise that the big dogs are a gift to this world. Good boy, Mac!"

'I'm drawn to mutts ... they've  got character'

Claire McLernon (31), from Moira, works for Sustrans and owns two mongrels with her husband Michael (31). She says:

"I have two mongrels. They're not necessarily rescue dogs, but they have been rehomed. One is a husky crossed with a red setter - quite an unusual mixture - and the other is a cocker spaniel crossed with Labrador.

They're called Betty and Peggy and they're both about six years old. We've had Betty from when she was a pup, so we have experience of raising her from when she was small.

Peggy was two when we got her and she needed a lot of work - she was very shy and timid. She had been treated badly by a previous owner. He used his dogs for hunting and she was no good to him because she was gun-shy, so he was looking to rehome her.

I always had dogs growing up. When I lived with my parents, we always had mutts. My husband always had dogs too.

I tend to like Labrador-type dogs with that temperament - I like proper dogs that you can take up a mountain with you and go walking, dogs that you don't mind getting mucky and that will swim in the sea.

I was never drawn to any specific breed - in fact I am more drawn to mutts. I think they are cute - they've got more character.

Betty is a very loving, friendly dog, extremely good with children and such a character. She's not so good off the lead. If she takes a notion to chase a squirrel or a cat, she will, but she means nothing by it.

The other dog, Peggy, was very loyal once she got to know us. She will do anything to please you. Once you let her off the lead, she just walks along beside you. She is extremely loyal but timid among strangers. She loves a cuddle and she's a real pet.

The rise in French bulldog numbers scares me a little bit because I am afraid there is irresponsible breeding associated with that rise in popularity. I have read that it has been a very quick rise. It seems to be linked to celebrity culture.

I first saw one on the reality TV series Made in Chelsea two years ago and I think this rise in popularity has been scary.

I like them, they're cute - they're great wee dogs. But I think animal welfare needs to be so much more stringent to make sure there is no irresponsible breeding - they tend to come with ill health."

Top dogs

Breed registrations in 2016 (2015 in brackets)

1 Retriever (Labrador) - 33,856 (32,507)

2 Spaniel (Cocker) - 21,854 (22,577)

3 French bulldog - 21,470 (14,607)

4 Pug - 10,408 (10,087)

5 Spaniel (English Springer) - 9,827 (10,246)

6 Bulldog - 7,785 (6,960)

7 German Shepherd - 7,751 (7,783)

8 Retriever (Golden) - 7,232 (6,928)

9 Miniature Schnauzer - 5,437 (5,302)

10 Border Terrier - 5,150 (5,426)

Source: The Kennel Club

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