What Breed of Dog Was Hooch?

In 1989 we laughed, cried, and were utterly inspired by the story of Turner and Hooch. In the unusually dark Disney movie, Tom Hanks plays a highly organized police officer. In an unexpected turn of events, he finds himself the custodian of an extremely messy and smelly dog, Hooch.

Before we get started, exactly what kind of dog was Hooch? He was so big, so unique, and so ugly and cute at the same time! Turns out he was a French Mastiff, otherwise known as a Dogue de Bordeaux.

The Plot of Turner And Hooch

To make matters more interesting, the dog is an intimidating, obstinate, and temperamental French Mastiff. Beasley the dog played an incredible role here, and despite all the previous attributes, we gradually fell in love with the kind-hearted beast. Pretty much as Turner did.

The story starts with Turner at his wit’s end with Hooch. The dog isn’t any more satisfied by the arrangement and actually goes into a deep depression. A friendship starts budding between the odd couple while they were completely unaware of that change of heart.

A little while into the movie, Turner falls in love with the vet and Hooch with her dog. Joyful, playful, and hard times deepen these bonds. And, considering this is a Disney movie, we all expected jingles and a happy ending. However, the events escalate in a different direction.

In the last moments, Hooch gets badly injured, and despite the vet’s dire efforts, he dies. Turner wasn’t the only one devastated by the sad news. It’s a movie moment that I’ve never forgotten. My desire to become a veterinarian and help save dogs like Hooch became even stronger.

Where Did The French Mastiff Come From?

The French Mastiff is an ancient breed with origins that can possibly be traced as far back as Roman Times. While we don’t know for sure where they originate from, they are thought to be related to other Mastiff variations such as the (regular) Mastiff, the Tibetan Mastiff, and the Tibetan Mastiff.

Their large and imposing build made them popular fighting dogs who served as guard dogs during wars in Europe hundreds of years ago. They were so revered for their fierceness that the French nobility used them as such up until the French Revolution. In fact, they are the oldest known French breed of dog.

That usage as a guard/war dog extended into both World Wars that occurred in Europe in the 1900’s and it almost destroyed the breed completely. Thankfully, some did survive but it took decades for the breed to be molded into the look it has today.

In 1969, the first French Mastiff was brought into the United States but it remained a lesser-known dog breed for decades until one was used in the Turner and Hooch movie.

After the exposure that the movie brought the French Mastiff, its popularity exploded and the breed gained AKC recognition in 2008. It currently sits at 67 out of 195 in dog breed popularity within the AKC.

Do French Mastiffs Make Good Pets?

Turner and Hooch did a really good job in highlighting what makes the French Mastiff both a lovable member of the family but also, at times, difficult to deal with.

On the negative side, the French Mastiff can be very stubborn. They are intelligent enough to think they know what is right and big enough to be able to get away with it. They are also excessive droolers and can sling their saliva all over any room (including the ceiling) they happen to be.

If you can get past the drool (and there’s so much of it), the French Mastiff makes a wonderful companion. They are loyal and loving and want to be with you all the time.

They are different from many of the other giant breeds in that they are naturally quite active. If you’re looking for a more laid-back giant breed, the French Mastiff isn’t it.

You also may want to consider another breed if you have young children. While this massive dog still has strong protection instincts, they are not always good to have around small kids due to their immense size.

French Mastiffs need a strong hand to teach them discipline at a young age. They otherwise are prone to challenging authority if they are not properly taught to obey when a puppy.

What Kind Of Health Issues Do French Mastiffs Have?

There are a number of concerns with the French Mastiff. Their bodies are so massive that they don’t seem to be natural. This massive size leads to many health issues:

  • Elbow Dysplasia – This happens when the multiple bones that make up the elbow joint don’t come together exactly as they should. Sometimes it’s because one bone grows faster than the others, or it could just be that in this size dog it’s hard to put together a perfect elbow.
  • Hip Dysplasia – The same rules that applied for the elbow apply here. Many things can contribute to the formation of hip dysplasia, but genetics are the biggest part. Make sure that, if you are buying from a breeder, that the parents (and further back in the line if possible) have been cleared for hip dysplasia.
  • Heart Disease – There is a disease that is somewhat prevalent in French Mastiffs called Dilated Cardiomyopathy. The bottom line of this disease is a weakened heart due to thinning of the walls of the ventricles. This can lead to heart arrhythmias as well as outright heart failure.
  • Osteochondrosis Dessicans (OCD) – Another orthopedic condition that French Mastiffs can have is OCD. This occurs most commonly in the shoulder when the bone doesn’t completely ossify into bone on the humerus (upper arm bone). When this happens, this soft part of the bone (because it’s still cartilage) can easily be torn off the rest of the bone and float around in the joint.

Is my French Mastiff Going To Be Just Like Hooch?

That’s a great question! I think that the French Mastiff portrayed in the movie is pretty close to how the breed typically acts. Goofy, protective, drools a lot…what you see is what you’re likely to get.

That being said, not every dog conforms to their breed standard. There are two ways to go about ensuring (or at least increasing the odds) that the French Mastiff you get is what you want:

  • Adopt an Adult French Mastiff From A Rescue

There is a national rescue organization called the Dogue de Bordeaux Society of America Rescue. They help to coordinate the rescue and adoption of the French Mastiff across the United States.

There’s also a possibility of adopting one of this breed through a local rescue or even a local shelter. However, unless you are very skilled in dog handling, it can be difficult to know if the dog in the rescue is dominant/submissive, etc. There may be a very good reason why that dog had to leave its prior home that has nothing to do with the ability of the owners to care for that dog.

  • Purchase a High Quality French Mastiff From a Reputable Breeder

The best way to find a great breeder is through the AKC site. There’s a puppy finder for French Mastiff dogs here.

Getting a dog like this from a reputable breeder is advantageous because you can see and meet the parents of the puppy. This will help you visualize just how large that pup may be one day.

It also gives you an idea of how sociable (or not) the puppy may be. Interacting with the parents can help you determine this, but also in watching how the puppy interacts with other puppies as well as with several people.

In Conclusion

Hooch was a terrific dog to be portrayed on film. Many of the qualities he displayed in that movie are typical of French Mastiffs. However, before you run out and try to get one of these, make sure you’re fully aware of the health problems and the personality of the breed.