How to say “dog” in French – and other essential French vocabulary for dog lovers

Chien is the most common way to say “dog” in French. But how do you say “doggy”, “puppy”, or even “big dog” in French?

Let’s take a walk through all things “dog” in French!

8 ways to say “dog” in French

A light brown dog that looks like a golden retriever mix sits in the grasses by the edge of a dirt path and looks off somewhere upward and in the distance. His tongue is out and he looks happy.

Here are the eight most common ways to say “dog” in French.

The standard “dog”: un chien

Chien is the most common, standard way to say “dog” in  French. It can be used in formal and informal situations.

There’s a feminine form, chienne, which we’ll talk about in a minute. But chien is often used to refer to any dog, unless there’s a specific reason to specify that the dog is a female…which of course many dog owners might want to to do.

The female dog: une chienne

Chienne is “female dog” in French. This could be translated as “bitch” in contexts like dog shows or discussions with breeders or veterinarians, but in general this word has a much more neutral context and won’t elicit the same reaction that a layperson has when they hear “bitch” in English.

That said, unless you have a particular reason to specify a dog’s sex, it’s usually most common to just use the masculine form, chien.

Some French people will talk about their dog with the neutral chien in a general context – for instance, J’ai un chien. (I have a dog.) But many will prefer to say J’ai une chienne. (I have a female dog.)

Chienne is generally not an insult in French. If you hear someone referred to as un chien or une chienne, it means they’re very sexually active. Sort of like the English expression “You dog!” or “You old dog!”

So, with that in mind, don’t call your French friends or people in general chien or chienne – it will seem like an insult.

That said, chienne is never used to mean “bitch” as an insult to a person. Feel free to check out our article on French swear words to find out how to say the insult “bitch”.

The puppy: le chiot

Chiot in is “puppy” in French.  

Although there’s a male and female form of the word for grown dogs, all puppies are called chiots, whether they’re male or female.

This is especially important to remember because the French words chiotte and chiottes are vulgar terms for the toilet/bathroom, the equivalents of terms like “crapper”, “john” or “dunny”!

So, when talking about a puppy, stick with chiot.

The slang dog: un clébard or un clebs

Clébard is a slang term for “dog” in French. You’ll sometimes see or hear it shortened to clebs.

Like many dog-related words and expressions, it’s kept masculine even if it refers to a female dog.

I’ve seen this word translated as “pooch”, but it’s much more frequently used and “cooler” than the word “pooch” in English.

Whichever form you come across, keep in mind that clébard and clebs are very informal, so avoid using these words in formal, professional, or academic contexts.

The friendly, energetic dog: un cabot

Un cabot is an informal, short word for a small or medium-sized dog that usually has a lot of energy and is friendly. Isn’t it cool that there’s just a single word that sums all of this up?

Usually, un cabot is a bit young or energetic, sort of like the stereotypical friendly dog we might picture. If the dog is older, you might hear it described as un vieux cabot.

Cabot is always masculine, whether it describes a male or female dog.

The intimidating dog: un molosse

You could say the opposite of un cabot is un molosse – that is, a big, intimidating, often mean (or at least, seemingly mean) dog.

Molosse is often translated as “guard dog” in English, but a dog doesn’t have to have this role to be un molosse – he or she just has to be a big dog with an imposing presence.

Note that molosse is always masculine, even if the dog in question is a female.

The “doggy”: un toutou

Taking things back to friendly dog territory, un toutou (another dog word that’s always masculine) is a fond, cute way to refer to a dog. It’s the rough equivalent to “doggy” in English.

Of course, what’s cute is relative, so while you might be thinking of a little lapdog, I suppose you could hear someone refer to their dog as a toutou even if someone else would consider it more of a molosse!

You’ll also see toutou used as a cute, playful way for dog lovers to refer to dogs in general, although it’s a bit childlike. For instance, this online brochure from the city of Albi’s Office de Tourisme is adorably entitled Guide Toutourisme à Albi, a play on words with tourisme (tourism) and toutou. The brochure is about ways dogs and their owners can enjoy the city and surrounding area.

Common types and breeds of dogs in French

Closeup of an Australian shephered, who stares in surprise into the camera. He or she has two different colored eyes: one a bright blue and the other orange.

Now you know some words for dogs in general, but you may be wondering how to talk about specific kinds or breeds of dogs in French.

The most common dog breed in France  is currently the Australian shepherd (le berger australien), followed by the golden retriever (le golden retriever, often just called un golden), and the Staffordshire bull terrier (le Staffordshire bull terrier or le staffie).

The top two have held that place for the past few years.

These are statistics about purebred dogs. But of the roughly 8 million dogs in France, many are of course mixed breed.

Here’s a list of  some dog breeds and types of dogs in French.

As you’ll see, many dog breed names are the same in English and in French.

Also, keep in mind that when talking about a dog’s breed, it’s always masculine, even if the dog in question is female. For instance: Sa chienne est un labrador.  (His (female) dog is a labrador.)

Mixed breed dogs or mutts in French

French dog aficionados have specific terms for dogs who don’t belong to a single breed:

un chien croisé – A mixed breed dog. In this case, the breeds of the dog’s parents are known, differentiating it from a mutt (chien bâtard).

un chien bâtard/un bâtard  – a mutt (dog of mixed or unknown breed). Although the word bâtard (bastard) can be an insult in some cases, when talking about a  mixed breed dog, it usually isn’t. If you feel weird saying it, you could try the phrase un chien sans race (a dog without a breed) instead.

un corniaud  – A dog whose origins can’t be determined at all. This is a very specific, hard-to-translate term. While un chien bâtard or just bâtard is the standard term for “mutt”, un corniaud is the kind of dog you find, say, out in the countryside somewhere, who’s a mix of many generations of very different dog breeds reproducing. According to dog experts, while you might be able to guess at the breeds from which un bâtard originated by looking at it, it’s pretty much impossible to figure this out when looking at un corniaud.  

Of course, whether they’re un chien de race or un corniaud, all dogs are wonderful and deserving of love!

Don’t see your favorite dog breed or type of dog on this list? You can do an online search for “races de chien”. Or go to the breed’s page on Wikipedia in English and switch the language to French.

Essential French dog vocabulary

A black puppy with a white chest and white toes on his two front paws stands in a house with an emtpy paper towel roll in his mouth.

Here are some must-know French words for dog lovers!

  • un animal de compagnie – a pet
  • aboyer – to bark
  • un aboiement/des aboiements – barking. Ex: Les aboiements frequents d’un chien sont souvent une nuisance pour les voisins. (A dog’s frequent barking is often a major annoyance for neighbors.)
  • ouaf – woof. Some variants of ouaf include: ouah and wouf. Whichever word you come upon, you’ll often see it written twice (ex: Ouaf ouaf !), since dogs rarely bark only one time!
  • une patte – a paw
  • la langue – tongue
  • lecher – to lick
  • la bave – drool
  • baver – to drool
  • la queue – tail. Be careful because this word can also mean “penis”, so pay attention to context.
  • remuer la queue – to wag (his/her) tail. You may also see agiter la queue. Another term that you might come upon is frétiller de la queue, but this actually means wagging their entire backside, as many dogs do! Ex: Un chien agite sa queue quand il est content. (A dog wags its tail when it’s happy.)
  • renifler – to sniff, smell something
  • grogner – to growl
  • un salon de toilettage – the groomer’s
  • un os – a bone
  • des croquettes – kibble/hard food
  • de la nourriture humide – wet food
  • une friandise – a treat
  • promener son chien – to walk one’s dog. Note that you might be used to seeing the verb promener in its reflexive form, se promener, but because something else, not the subject, is being walked, the verb is no longer reflexive.  Ex: À certains moments de la journée, on voit beaucoup de Parisiens dans les rues en train de promener leurs chiens. (At certain moments of the day, one sees lots of Parisians on out walking their dogs.)
  • un collier – a collar
  • une médaille pour chien – a dog tag (ID medal attached to their collar)
  • une laisse – a leash
  • tenu en laisse – wearing a leash/on a leash/lead. In many French parks, gardens, and public areas, you’ll come across signs with a symbol of a dog on a leash with the phrase Chiens tenus en laisse (Keep dogs on a leash).
  • stérilisé(e) – spayed or neutered. There are a few other terms for “neutered” that you might come across, including castré and châtré.  
  • une puce  – an ID chip. This chip, implanted under a cat’s skin, allows him or her to be identified at any vet’s office in the country, in case he or she runs away. The chip is scanned and reveals a number and an owner’s name associated with it.
  • un tour – a trick
  • Assis !– “Sit!”
  • Couché ! – Down!/Lie down! You’ll sometimes see this written as Coucher.
  • Donne la patte. – Give me your paw.
  • Fais le mort. – Play dead.
  • Va chercher ! –  (Go) Fetch!
  • C’est bien .– Good boy./Good girl./Well done.
  • Attention au Chien -Beware of Dog.  If there are multiple dogs, this is: Attention aux Chiens.
  • une crotte (de chien) – This is a very important word to know if you visit French cities! A dark side of Paris, for instance, is the fact that despite the threat of a fine if you’re caught, most French dog owners don’t pick up their dog’s droppings…leaving little hazards for unsuspecting pedestrians to walk into . When you live here, you learn to look down very often.
  • le quart d’heure de folie/la zoomie  – The zoomies. As the longer, strictly French term for this (the fifteen minutes of madness) suggests, it’s a short period of time when a dog runs around crazily. The official, scientific term is la période d’activité aléatoire frénétique (English counterpart: frenetic random activity period).
  • Puis-je caresser votre chien, s’il vous plait ? – May I pet your dog, please? This is the most polite way to ask this urgent question of strangers.
  • Je peux caresser ton chien ?  – Can I pet your dog? This is an informal way to ask if you can pet someone’s dog. You’d use this with, say, a friend or family member whose dog you’re meeting for the first time.
  • Bon chien ! – He’s/She’s a good boy/girl

Seven common dog expressions in French

A black and brown dachshund puppy with fluffy, floppy ears, sits on the cushion of a wicker chair and looks at the camera with soulful eyes.

There are many French phrases and expressions that involve dogs. Here are six of the most common from mainland France, as well as a delightful bonus one from Quebec!

avoir un mal de chien. to be very sick (like the English expression “sick as a dog”) or 2. to have difficulty completing a task.  Examples: Il reste chez lui aujourd’hui, il a un mal de chien. (He’s staying home today because he’s sick as a dog.)/Ils ont eu un mal de chien à assembler la chaise qu’ils ont acheté chez IKEA. (They had a hard time putting together the chair they bought at IKEA.)

s’entendre comme chien et chat – to not get along. Literally “to get along like a dog and cat”. Example: Les deux sœurs s’entendent comme chien et chat. (The two sisters don’t get along.)

entre chien et loup – a poetic and interesting way to say “twilight”. This phrase comes from a Latin expression and refers to the fact that when night is falling, you can make out shapes but can’t exactly tell the difference between certain similar things – in this case, a dog and a wolf. Example: La lueur du soleil a presque disparu. On était entre chien et loup. (The sunlight was nearly gone. We were in the twilight.)

Les chiens ne font pas des chats. – The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. (Literally, Dogs don’t make cats.) In other words, a child will be like their parents.

un temps de chien – very bad weather. Example: Je n’ai pas envie de sortir ce soir, il fait un temps de chien. (I don’t want to go out tonight, the weather is really bad.)

Nom d’un chien ! – An exclamation meaning something like For goodness’ sake/Great Scott!/ Darn it/Dammit! This expression is a bit dramatic and old-fashioned, so it’s probably not good to use if you’re trying to convey that you’re very angry and want to be taken seriously.

un chien de poche – A Quebecois expression that means a person who’s always underfoot and annoying. As the useful website Je Parle Québécois explains,  the expression gives an adorable visual of a little dog that you’d carry in your bag (or pocket, as the expression suggests), but in reality it’s an insult and shouldn’t be used lightly, since it describes someone who you don’t really like but who’s always around.

There are lots of other French (and, specifically, Quebecois) expressions and idioms that involve dogs. This list is a good place to find more of these “dog” expressions.

The most popular French dog names

A chihuahua or mix with brown and white fur lies on a fluffy blanket, its head resting on a stuffed animal, and gazes lovingly into the camera.

Now that you know words for dogs in French, and even what to call specific breeds and types of dogs in French, you may be wondering about French dog names.

There is an official system for naming pets in France: Each year is given a letter of the alphabet (it starts over again after “Z”). Pet owners are encouraged to give their pet a name that starts with the letter of the year in which they were born. This will make it easy to remember their age.

But not every French pet owner follows this suggestion. Some may choose a creative name or just one they like.  And many of them will probably end up opting for one of the ones of this recently published list of the most popular French dog names.

The five most popular names for male dogs in France are:

  • Rio
  • Rocky
  • Simba
  • Lucky
  • Marley

And the five most popular names for female dogs in France are:

  • Nala
  • Luna
  • Ruby
  • Maya
  • Naya

You might be wondering if there are classic French dog names, the equivalents of classic (but sometimes a bit old-fashioned) dog names in English like Fido and Rex. A classic, typical, somewhat outdated French dog name like this is Médor.

But come to France and you’ll meet lots of different dogs and their owners. Many of them will have names that don’t fall into this category. For instance, my French mother-in-law’s dog is named Biscotte (biscotti), which I think is very cute!

If you want to find more dog names in French, do an internet search for “nom chien” or “idée prénom chien”.

Do the French like dogs?

We often think of French people as having a dog, whether a little toutou, or an elegantly groomed French poodle.

But as we saw in the list of the most popular dog breeds in France, the most popular dog breeds in France are medium-sized or bigger ones – and poodles aren’t very common. In fact, poodles aren’t even among the top 20 most popular dog breeds.

On the other hand, as you might have seen in popular culture depictions of French life, dogs – especially small ones – are often allowed in cafes. This does seem to have become a little less common over time, maybe for hygiene-related reasons, but you will almost certainly see at least one dog sitting or lying calmly beneath the table at a cafe terrace.

Dogs are a very common sight in France, but another thing that may surprise you is that they’re not the most popular pet! In fact, that honor goes to my personal favorite pet, cats. According to recent statistics, about 7.5% of French homes have at least one dog, compared to 15.1% that have at least one cat.

Sadly, many pets of all kinds are frequently abandoned in France, especially during vacations or moves. Part of this is due to French culture: especially in rural areas, dogs are seen as animals with a role (helping with hunting or guarding the house, etc.), as opposed to a family member, as some other cultures might consider them. Lots of organizations are trying to change this. And of course, there are still plenty of people in France who love their toutous and would never abandon them. You only have to think of that dog-specific tourism guide I mentioned before to know that lots of French people love dogs.

One thing most French dog owners don’t love, though, is picking up after their dogs! So keep your eyes on the ground, especially in a French city. Dog owners are supposed to be fined if they don’t pick up after their dogs, but there aren’t enough police to watch all of them.

Stepping in dog droppings is so common in places like Paris, that many of us even see it as a sort of rite of passage, and will wryly joke to one another that it’s good luck. Not that that makes the reality any better….

Where can I learn more French dog vocabulary?

View from behind a man, seen from the bust up. He is hugging a dog, probably a golden retriever or mix, who looks at the camera with his mouth open and a happy expression on his face.

A good way to learn more French dog vocabulary is by visiting websites about dogs and watching French dog documentaries.

You can find French dog websites by doing a search like “site web chien” or “informations sur les chiens”.

You can watch dog documentaries in French by going to YouTube and searching for “documentaire chien ”, or if you want, swap out the general term “chien” with your preferred breed or type of dog (don’t forget chiots!). You may also be able to find dog documentaries in French or with a French audio version available on streaming services like Netflix.

Another good source of French dog vocabulary are French books and French dog magazines.

For French dog books, you can search for “livre chien” or “roman chien”. If you prefer short stories, search for “nouvelle chien”.

For French magazines about dogs, an online search for “magazine chien” will give you lots of results. Many of these magazines are available online, though often in a limited capacity. Otherwise, you can check our article on French magazines for ways you might be able to subscribe to them from overseas.

And if you’re a fellow cat-lover, you can check out our article on French cat vocabulary to learn some cat-related French words, too.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this exploration of all things “dog” in French! If you have a dog or dogs, please pet them for me and tell them Bon chien ! 

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Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg is an American writer, worrier, teacher, and cookie enthusiast who has lived in Paris, France, for more than a decade. She has taught English and French for more than ten years, most notably as an assistante de langue vivante for L'Education Nationale. She recently published her first novel, Hearts at Dawn, a "Beauty and the Beast" retelling that takes place during the 1870 Siege of Paris. You can read about her adventures here, or feel free to stop by her website.