Every Briard owner has heard it a thousand times:
- What an adorable dog! What kind is it?
- It’s a Briard.
- Is that a Bouvier?
- No, it’s a Briard.
- Is that a Giant Schnauzer?
- No, it’s a Briard!
- Is that an Old English Sheepdog?
- No, it’s a Briard!
- Is that an Irish Wolfhound?
- No, it’s a BRIARD!!
- A *what*?
- A Briard. It’s a kind of French sheepdog.
- Oh yeah, a French Sheepdog–I know all about those!
About The Briard
What are Briards like?
Briards are medium to large in size (bitches 22-25.5 inches, dogs 23-27 inches tall) and have a distinctive long coat that comes in tawny, grey, black, or a combination of those colors. They are a herding/guarding breed, as are German Shepherds, Rottweilers, and Bouviers.
I’ve never heard of that breed before.
Briards are among the more uncommon of the American Kennel Club breeds, with only about 300 being registered per year in the U.S. They are relatively more common in Western Europe, with populations also present in the U.K. and Australia.
His ears are so cute!
In many countries (including the U.S.) the Briard’s ears are typically cropped so that they stand erect. When a puppy is 4 to 7 weeks of age, the breeder has the ear cropped into a round shape (unlike the pointed crop of most other cropped breeds) and the ears are glued together on top of the puppy’s head.
They heal quickly and appear to suffer no permanent trauma from the operation. In the U.K., Australia, and the Scandinavian countries, cropping is illegal and ears are left natural. Sometimes fanciers in other countries choose to leave the ear natural as well.
The natural ear is like an Old English Sheepdog’s ear in that it is not supposed to lie flat to the head but should be mobile and show some expression when the dog is alert.
I didn’t know that it is a cropped breed.
It seems to be one of the better-kept secrets of dogdom and a lot of otherwise knowledgeable dog people seem unaware of this fact. But yes, the ear you typically see on American dogs is the cropped ear.
I know someone who had a Briard cross. We knew it was a Briard because it had long hair and prick ears.
I’ve run into this misconception more times than I can count (even in a respected dog magazine!) A long-haired prick-eared mix is probably NOT a Briard mix, because a Briard’s ears DO NOT naturally stand.
Most of the “Briard mixes” I have seen have actually been Old English Sheepdog or Bearded Collie mixed with something prick-eared like a German Shepherd or Siberian Husky.
They must shed a lot.
Actually, they don’t tend to lose a lot of coat and don’t generally “blow coat” like many of the other double-coated breeds. Puppies will lose their coats once or twice as they are growing their adult coat and bitches will sometimes lose coat after a season or a litter, although this is not inevitable.
And when the undercoat is shed, it stays in the coat (instead of coming out all over your clothes and furniture) and must be groomed out or else the dog will become matted.
For this reason the breed is sometimes said to be “non-shedding”; however, there is no such thing as a totally non-shedding breed.
Do they take a lot of grooming?
Short answer: YES.
Longer answer: it depends a lot on the dog’s coat texture. The ideal Briard coat is hard and weatherproof and doesn’t take much grooming. However, many dogs have softer coats that take quite a bit more care.
To be on the safe side, it is best to assume that any Briard will take one to two hours of grooming a week, which can be taken care of in one or two sessions of grooming a week (daily brushing is not necessary). Also, ears must be cleaned and toenails clipped.
Briards are not low-maintenance dogs.
Do you ever shave your dogs?
Most owners don’t. The coat of the Briard evolved to protect him from the elements in his work as a herding dog. It is a coat that is practical either in cold or in heat. Briards are not typically clipped or shaved.
If you like the temperament of the Briard but prefer a short-haired dog, there is another breed, very similar but with short hair, called the Beauceron.
What’s a Beauceron?
Basically, it’s a short-haired Briard :-).
But the picture I have of a Beauceron doesn’t look anything like a Briard–it looks something like a Rottweiler or Doberman.
Under the coat, Briards and Beaucerons are actually very similar and the breeds share a common ancestry–in fact, dogs show catalogs did not distinguish between the two as separate breeds until 1893, and the two continued to be interbred into the 1900s.
What are those funny things on his feet?
The breed standard for the Briard requires that the dogs have at least two dewclaws (extra toes) on the inside of each back foot, a peculiarity shared with the Great Pyrenees and a few other European dogs.
This characteristic was selected for by breeders in the belief that the dogs with double dewclaws were the best herders. A few dogs might be missing one or more dewclaws, and some owners elect to have them surgically removed, but generally speaking this is one of the defining characteristics of the breed.
Why do all these puppies all have names that begin with “M”?
The French have a convention of giving all livestock born in a particular year a registered name beginning with the same letter. For instance, 1996 was an “M” year. Doing this makes it easy to read pedigrees, tell which dogs were littermates and guess how old an animal is.
Not every U.S. breeder follow this convention, but the majority do.
What color is your dog?
Briards come in three colors: tawny, grey and black. Tawny is the most common color in the U.S. A tawny may have gray or black hairs in its coat but it will still be considered tawny if it is tawny on any part of its body.
One common variant is the dog that is gray or black on its back with tawny legs and feet. This is frowned upon in the European countries but is acceptable according to the AKC standard. Tawny can range from a pale wheaten shade to a deep clear red.
The next most common color is black–approximately 20% of the American Briards are black. In Europe, closer to 50% of the dogs are black. Blacks may have scattered white hairs throughout the coat; this is still acceptable in all countries.
Grey is a fairly rare color. There are only a few grey dogs in the U.S. There are actually two types of grey: grey-born Briards, which are called blue, and black-born Briards, which are called grey. The two types of grey are inherited differently. Blue Briards may not be shown in the U.S., but it is an allowed color in Europe.
It says on this pedigree that my dog’s grandfather was a “Rassemblement Select.” What does that mean?
Every four years or so at its national specialty the Briard Club of America holds a special event called a rassemblement which is based on European dog shows.
A European judge is brought over and performs written evaluations on all dogs, which are later published in book form. The best ones present are designated “select.”
How old is the breed?
The Briard is one of the oldest of the herding breeds. There are depictions of similar shaggy dogs that date from around the year 800 and there are written descriptions from the 1500s. Both Charlemagne and Napoleon are believed to have owned Briards.
The first Briards in the U.S. were imported by Thomas Jefferson, who left detailed records of his breeding program at Monticello and carefully placed breeding pairs with trusted friends; however, the breed did not really catch on in the U.S. until after World War I, when soldiers returning from Europe popularized the breed.
It was recognized by the AKC shortly thereafter.
Where can I read more about the breed’s history?
An excellent history of the breed can be found in the book “The Briard” by Diane McLeroth.
Working Ability and Temperament
What is their temperament like?
Briards are intelligent, sensitive and humorous. They are willing to cooperate with humans but need to see a reason to do so.
They are independent and may try to seize control if they sense weakness on the part of the handler.
They can be pushy if they want something from you.
They are not “love everybody” dogs: once a Briard meets you and observes you for a while, he will decide for himself whether he likes you or not. They are very affectionate to those they love, but most are not particularly interested in petting or attention from strangers.
They tend to have a sense of humor and may be clowns.
You said that this is a herding dog?
Yes; they were originally used to hold sheep in unfenced pastures in rural France. This style of herding is referred to as “boundary” herding. Like most of the other continental herding breeds (Bouvs, GSDs, the Belgians, etc.) the Briard also has a strong guarding instinct. That’s why these breeds are commonly used for police work as well.
Since they are a guarding dog, does that mean they lived outside with the flock of sheep?
You are thinking of a flock guardian. Breeds used for this type of work include the Great Pyrenees, Komondor, Kuvasz, Anatolian, Maremma & similar dogs.
This type of work requires a different temperament than herding does: herding dogs want to boss stock around, whereas flock guardians live with the herd as a member of it.
I have heard of Briards occasionally being tried as flock guardians but they seem to have been less than outstandingly successful at it.
Have Briards been used as police dogs too?
Yes, but while they are suitable to the work, police departments generally prefer breeds with less coat. They are also eligible to compete in Schutzhund and Ring Sport competition.
Do they take a lot of exercises?
While Briards are generally calm dogs indoors and are not “hyper” like some of the other herding breeds, they do need regular exercise.
A daily walk should be considered the minimum. It is a good breed to consider if you are looking for a breed to run or hike with.
I want a dog that will live outside. Would a Briard be suitable?
Generally not. Briards are very devoted to their people and want to be where you are.
If you will spend several hours a day outside working with the dog you both might be happy with the arrangement, but keep in mind that a Briard who does not get enough attention from his people can easily become a problem dog.
Are Briards good with kids?
Many Briards are very gentle and loving with children, but as with any dog care should be taken to avoid problems.
They are large dogs and may be boisterous and have the potential to knock down a small child. Also, as with many other herding dogs, they may need to be taught that nipping is not an appropriate way of getting people’s attention.
That being said, many families have both Briards and small children and are very happy with the combination.
Are they easy to train?
It depends on what you mean by “easy.” They do learn readily. However, they do need to be TRAINED. They are too large, energetic and strong-minded to be allowed to be left to their own devices. A basic obedience class or two is highly recommended.
Also, be aware that heavy-handed training techniques do not usually work well with Briards; positive motivation is generally much more effective with them than force-based methods are.
I have heard that Briards are dog-aggressive. Is it true?
They tend to be dominant with other dogs and may or may not get along with strange ones. Many are fine and trustworthy with other dogs. Your best bet is to ask the breeder you are considering buying from about the dogs in their bloodline.
I want a “protective” dog. Is a Briard for me?
That depends on YOU. Generally speaking, it is a mistake to get any dog that is more assertive than you are. In that case, the dog might begin using his own judgment on what you should be “protected” against, and you may not be very happy with his decisions.
If, on the other hand, you are willing to take the responsibility of teaching the dog proper behavior, you may be very happy with a Briard. Keep in mind that a dog of any size can bark to warn away intruders and any large dog will serve as a deterrent to unwanted attention.
So a “non-protective” dog such as a terrier or Greyhound might serve your needs just as well.
How long do they live?
Their average lifespan is usually around 10-12 years, which is pretty typical for a large breed.
What inherited problems do they have?
Any dog (purebred or mixed-breed) may be carrying genes that cause inherited problems.
The advantage with purebreds is that careful breeding can reduce the incidence of these problems over time. Briards are generally a pretty healthy breed but the following disorders (all of which are known or suspected of having a hereditary basis) can be of concern.
- Hip dysplasia
Briards are among the breeds hard-hit by hip dysplasia, with around 20% of the x-rays submitted to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) failing to pass. It is recommended that all animals to be bred be x-rayed to make sure they are free of dysplasia before breeding.
This has been know to occurs in all deep-chested breeds. The stomach or other internal organs may torsion (twist) and become blocked off.
Symptoms include panting, non-productive retching, and/or a hard, distended abdomen. Bloat is a medical emergency and requires immediate medical attention; surgery is most often needed for the animal to have any chance at survival.
There may be hereditary factors that predispose certain animals towards bloat, but if so the exact mode of inheritance is unknown.
- Poor temperament
Shyness, shy-sharpness, and aggressiveness, unfortunately, do occur in Briards and may have a genetic basis. However, this is NOT correct temperament for the breed: the standard states the temperament should be “wise and fearless, with no trace of timidity.”
While Briards are typically not very interested in strangers, that does not mean they should shy away or be aggressive toward them.
If you are considering buying a Briard, it is a good idea to see both parents if you can and ask yourself, “Do these dogs have the kind of temperament I want to live with?”If there is any question in your mind about the temperament of the parents, DO NOT BUY THE PUPPY.
Also, it might be helpful to question the breeder in detail about the kind of temperament they feel is appropriate for a Briard. If they seem to feel that shyness or aggressiveness is acceptable temperament, it might be better to pass on dealing with that breeder.
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy
There are two forms this disorder which can appear in Briards: central progressive retinal atophy (cPRA) as well as generalized PRA.Both are rare in the US but are more common in other areas in the world–in particular, it has been reported that 5 out of 6 Briards in the U.K. are either carriers or affected by cPRA.
In both cases, the gene that causes this disorder is a simple recessive, meaning that a parent can produce a puppy afflicted with the disorder even although they themselves are asymptomatic.
Dogs affected with either cPRA or PRA will go blind in adulthood. There is no cure.
- Autoimmune Thyroiditis
Dogs with low thyroid levels may be sluggish, have coat problems, and/or have problems with fertility. Treatment consists of daily medication.
- Von Willebrand’s Disease
This is a bleeding disorder that has been reported to occur in a few U.S. dogs. A blood test is available to check for levels of vWD antigen, but it is a somewhat controversial issue among Briard breeders and many do not test for it.
- Stationary Night Blindness
Unlike progressive retinal atrophy, this is a disorder that is present in early puppyhood & is not progressive (thus the “stationary”).
Affected dogs are unable to see in low-light conditions. It is also believed to be caused by a recessive gene. It can not be diagnosed on a standard eye exam (i.e. a CERF examination) although it is detectable by electroretinogram (ERG).
- Allergies and Skin Problems
Some Briards may be allergic to fleas or certain foods. Again, the exact mode of inheritance is not known.CancerUnfortunately too many lovely Briards are being lost to cancer these days; lymphosarcoma seems to be the most common kind.
It is not known at this time whether or not cancer has a hereditary basis in Briards, but this is likely to be an area of interest and research in the future.
Getting A Briard
I want a Briard. How do I want to go about finding one?
The national club can help you find a breeder or a rescue person in your area. Club contacts are listed on the Briard Homepage at http://weber.u.washington.edu/~diannes/briard/clubs.html.
How much do they cost?
Again, it depends. Briard breeders tend to vary quite a bit in what they ask for their pups. I have heard of anywhere from $300 to $1500 being asked for a pet puppy.
Please keep in mind that the most-expensive puppy is not necessarily the highest-quality puppy.
I am looking for a Briard. What questions should I ask breeders?
- Are you a member of the national club? If not, why not? Most breeders in the U.S. are members of the Briard Club of America, which has a code of ethics members must abide by. If a breeder is not a member, especially if it is somebody who is breeding large numbers of litters, this may be a warning sign that something is not right.
- Are the parents of this litter champions? It is usually not very difficult to put a championship on a Briard, and most breeders in the U.S. are involved in showing their dogs. Don’t be too impressed by claims of “champion lines” or by champion grandparents or great-grandparents–if both parents of a litter are not champions or currently being shown, find out why.
- What health tests have been done on the parents? At a minimum, both parents of a litter should have been x-rayed free of hip dysplasia. It is recommended that the hips be certified free of dysplasia by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and that you see the OFA certificate on both parents. Unfortunately, there have been instances of breeders representing their dogs as having OFA certification when they did not, so it is recommended that prospective buyers exercise caution.
- Tell me about the temperament of the parents. See the section about temperament above. It is recommended that you meet both parents if it’s possible. If you are not comfortable with the temperament of either parent, DO NOT BUY THE PUPPY.
What’s a rescue dog?
A “rescue dog” is one that has been “rescued” from one sort of situation or another.
This does NOT mean the dog has necessarily been neglected or abused; often, it’s simply a dog the owners were unable to keep for some reason or another. Rescue dogs can make excellent pets, and may work well for homes where the owners are gone all day.
The cost is generally minimal, usually just enough to cover the rescuer’s expenses for caring for the dog. The Briard Club of America has a volunteer who coordinates rescue efforts; see the web page for contact info.
Briards are so cute, I want one!
Please be very sure that you know what you are getting yourself into before getting a Briard. This is a breed that is not suitable for everyone.
With their requirements for grooming, exercise, and discipline there is definitely a larger commitment from the owner that is required with a Briard than with a lot of other breeds. Also keep in mind that even though the Briard is “cute,” it is first and foremost a working breed.
It may not be the best choice for a first-time dog owner or for a “wimpy” person or someone who is inclined toward spoiling a dog.
That being said–I wouldn’t be without one.