Breed of the Week: The Briard - Simply For Dogs
Briard

Breed of the Week: The Briard

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The Briard is a wonderfully shaggy dog with a high level of intelligence. He was originally bred in France as a herding and guarding dog, and today, he’s more likely to be found in agility or obedience trials as well as conformation, tracking and carting competitions.

Overview

Briards make wonderful family dogs. They are totally devoted to their humans and are more than content to follow you around all day or snuggle up next to you when the winds howl, and it’s not fit to go outdoors.

The Briard is equally at home on a farm out in the country, a suburban home, or even a city lot, provided that you make sure he gets enough exercise.

Briards are easy to train, but can also be a bit stubborn. This means that you’ll have to show him early on that you’re a kind and gentle leader. Otherwise, he might decide that it would be better if he led the pack.

Briards are also a bit wary of strangers, and that makes the Briard a very good guard dog. Socialization is important if you want him to become accustomed to “outsiders.” Of course, socialization is important with any dog, but what I’m saying here is simply that you shouldn’t expect a Briard to walk up to someone he doesn’t know, and go “Oh, hi, new best friend!” That’s not in his nature.

The Briard knows who belongs to him, and since he has a strong herding instinct, he might try to keep you and your kids within the boundaries that he identifies, nudging at you, or barking to keep you in line. Thisisn’t aggression – he’s just trying to arrange you in the way he thinks is best.

For the most part, despite the tendency to herd, Briards are good with kids. There are still some things you’ll have to do to make sure that your Briard and your kids coexist comfortably, but we’ll talk about that later.

History

The Briard dates back to 8th century France. He was originally called the Chien Berger de Brie, as Brie is believed to be where he originated, although he was also prevalent in many other areas in France.

There’s also another explanation for the name, and one that I find particularly pleasing, since I am a big believer in the incredible lengths to which a dog’s love for his humans will take him. In this version of the Briard’s origin, it’s said that Aubry de Montdidier, who was one of King Charles V’s courtiers, built a cathedral to memorialize a Briard who saved the life of his son.

In the final analysis, of course, how the name came about doesn’t matter. We will probably never know the true origin of the name. What we do know, though, is that the Briard goes back as far as Charlemagne. We know this because the Briard was depicted in the tapestries of the time.

Briard

The Briard was also the official breed of the French army at the time of Napoleon.

To add to notable names in history, it’s generally accepted that the first Briards came to America by way of Thomas Jefferson, who imported them. In 1928, the AKC recognized the breed. Oddly enough, though, the breed didn’t reach the United Kingdom until fairly recently – the late 1960s. You’d have thought it would just have been a matter of crossing the channel. Go figure!

Size

Male Briards usually stand 23-27 inches at the shoulder and weigh 70-90 pounds. Females stand 22-25.5 inches and weigh about the same. There really isn’t all that much difference in the weight, although some males have been known to reach 100 pounds.

Personality

Briards are loyal, brave, smart, and good-natured. Although it’s worth pointing out that no dog really belongs out in the back yard, this is especially true of the Briard. He wants nothing more than to be with his family.

When training your Briard, keep in mind that he’ll do best if you use positive reinforcement. This is generally true of all dogs, but with the Briard, it’s very important. If treated harshly, he’s likely to become stubborn.

Selecting a Puppy

When choosing a Briard puppy, keep in mind that temperament and personality have to do with a number of factors – heredity is just one, but it’s very important. So make sure to visit the mother and the litter. If you can see the father as well, that’s great, but don’t count on it being possible. The Briard being a comparatively rare breed, it’s not unusual for the owner of the bitch to send her for outside stud service. Not being able to see the father isn’t a deal-breaker, but if it’s humanly possible, see the bitch and the litter.

Don’t rely on photos or videos unless you absolutely have to. With many rare breeds, there are scammers out there. They’ll send you pictures, sure, but if you use Google’s image search function, you might find that those images show up on multiple websites, or that they’re “canned” images. This is a red flag.

If you’re on one side of the country, and the breeder is on the other, it might not always be practical to view the mother and the litter, but at the very least, insist on time-stamped photos and videos, and watch carefully for photo shopping. There’s nothing more heartbreaking than thinking that you’re getting a puppy, only to find out that there never even was a puppy.

So, back to visiting. If you can visit the Mom and the litter, you’ll have a great idea of the kind of temperament your puppy is likely to have. If Mom is sweet and gentle, your puppy will probably be much the same. Also, don’t pick the puppy that’s bullying his littermates, or the one who’s hanging off in the corner of the whelping pen. You want one that’s middle-of-the-road, getting along with everyone.

Socialization

Socialization is important for any breed, so you want to be sure that you expose your Briard to all kinds of people and experiences, and if possible, other dogs. Invite people over, take him shopping with you to dog-friendly stores, and enroll him in puppy kindergarten. Anything you can do to improve his social skills will lead to a more well-rounded dog.

Health

Briards are typically pretty healthy but prone to a few conditions. Keep in mind that there’s no guarantee that your Briard will develop any of the following conditions, but consider them if you’re contemplating a Briard.

Hip Dysplasia

Let’s get this one out of the way right off. Dog owners, in general, are so terrified of hip dysplasia, but truthfully, it’s not always that bad. People often think, too, that it’s only big dogs that develop the condition, but even a Chihuahua can have hip dysplasia. It’s quite simply a condition that occurs when the hip and thighbone don’t fit properly. Many dogs don’t display any signs of discomfort and can live very long, happy lives with no symptoms at all.

The other misconception about hip dysplasia is that a veterinarian can evaluate your puppy and tell you for sure if he has the disorder. The reality is that often, the symptoms don’t even appear until the dog is 2 or 3 years old.

The condition is hereditary, so the best way to ensure that your Briard puppy is free of hip dysplasia is to ask the breeder if the parents are clear of the condition. Even if they are, that’s not a guarantee that your puppy won’t develop the condition. If he is found to have the condition, don’t breed.

Elbow Dysplasia

This is similar to hip dysplasia but affects the elbow joint, which can be malformed and become weak.  Again, there might be no symptoms at all, and your dog might live a long life with the condition, but free of any pain or discomfort.

With both elbow and hip dysplasia, the condition can be treated using weight management, anti-inflammatory medications, and in rare cases, surgery.

CSNB (Congenital Stationary Night Blindness)

This is another condition that can affect Briards. Sometimes, the condition causes nothing more than a bit of difficulty with night vision – you might have something similar. Think about how often you’ve heard anyone say that they have wonderful night vision, and you have a bit of a handle on CSNB. You might also know people who say they can barely see a foot in front of them at night – that would be similar to serious CSNB in dogs. Rarely, the condition can progress to where the dog can’t see well in any light.

Again, this isn’t a death sentence. You wouldn’t put a blind human to sleep, would you? So just don’t move the furniture around, help your dog up and down the stairs, watch him when he’s outside in conditions where he could run into danger, and let him live out his life.

PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy)

This is another eye disorder. It’s a gradual deterioration of the eye’s retina, and it usually begins with night blindness. As the disease progresses, the dog will also lose his day vision. Again, as long as you keep your home free of surprises, and keep an eye on your dog when he’s outside, there’s no reason why he can’t live a long, happy life.

Hypothyroidism

This is a thyroid gland disorder that can lead to epilepsy, lethargy, obesity, and skin conditions. It’s usually treated by means of diet and medication.

Von Willebrand’s Disease

This is a disease that’s found in humans as well as dogs – it’s a clotting disorder, similar to hemophilia. If you Briard has Von Willebrand’s Disease, he might have nosebleeds, and from time to time, blood in his stool. Bitches may bleed longer than usual when they’re in heat, and when whelping. The condition isn’t curable, but it can be managed.

Bloat

Also known as gastric torsion, this is a condition that can often affect deep-chested dogs. The stomach distends, twists, and the flow of blood to the heart is compromised. Then, the dog’s blood pressure drops, and he goes into shock. The condition can be fatal, so if your dog’s abdomen is distended, he’s retching without vomiting, and salivating more than usual, suspect bloat. Other symptoms of bloat can include a rapid heart rate, lethargy, weakness, and restlessness. If you see any of these signs, get your dog to the vet immediately.

Cancer

Sadly, many large dogs are prone to cancer, and the Briard is no exception. Check your dog regularly for lumps, sores that don’t heal properly, trouble breathing, and bleeding from any orifice. Cancer can be cured, but you need to catch it early on. Treatments include medication, chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery.

I know that this seems like a pretty long list, but keep in mind that there’s no guarantee your Briard will ever develop any of these conditions. By the same token, there’s no guarantee that he won’t. These are just things to keep an eye on.

Care and Feeding

Although Briards are very adaptable and can live in almost any environment, they do best when they get half an hour to an hour of exercise every day. If they’re not exercised properly, Briards can get bored and can be prone to destructive and annoying behaviors like chewing, digging and barking. A couple of vigorous walks each day are definitely a good idea, and if you have a very active Briard, you might want to consider enrolling him in sports like herding trials to expend some of his energy and challenge his mind.

As to feeding, there’s probably no reason why you can’t free feed your Briard if you like. I free feed my Boxers, and I’ve never had a weight problem, simply because thefood isn’t an “event” or a “reward.” It can be much the same with a Briard.

On the other hand, if you do want to feed on a schedule, the recommended daily amount for a Briard is 3-4 cups of good quality food, spread out over two meals. Don’t feed the 3-4 cups all at once, because that could lead to bloat.

The other thing to keep in mind is that the amount of food a dog will eat is going to depend on a number of factors – his age, his size, metabolism, and how active he is. Obviously, a really active dog is going to need more food than one that’s happy to just snuggle up on the couch with you all day.

If you’re not sure whether your Briard is in good shape or not, do the “hand and eye” test. Position him with his butt between your legs, and look down. Do you see a waist? Now, put your hands next to his spine, with your fingers pointing toward the floor. If he’s in good shape, you should be able to see ribs, but not feel them unless you press down. If you see them, then give him more food. If you can’t feel them at all, ease back a bit on the food. It’s that simple.

Coat and Grooming

I hope you like grooming.

Briards don’t shed a whole lot, but they have a very long outer coat, and a soft undercoat. This means that he needs to be brushed every day, and a bath every couple of months wouldn’t hurt either. Keep in mind, too, that long-haired dogs like Briards often pick up things like burdocks in their hair, so if your Briard is very active and outdoorsy, you’re definitely going to have to stay on top of the grooming.

If you find the idea of constant grooming overwhelming, you can always call in the pros. Groomers have equipment and tools that most of us don’t typically keep on hand, like big tubs for bathing, professional grooming tools, and dryers. Visits to the groomer won’t get you out of regular grooming when it comes to a Briard, but if you feel that it’s a bit too much to handle, regular visits to a groomer can definitely make taking care of your Briard’s coat easier.

It’s also a good idea to brush your Briard’s teeth a few times each week. This is for the same reason that you look after your own teeth – to prevent decay and gum disease. If you can do it daily, that’s even better, but realistically, not all dogs react well to having their teeth brushed, so just do it as often as you can.

Since Briards are shaggy, it’s also advisable to check your dog’s ears periodically. Look for sores and redness, and clean them as well. Use a soft cotton ball with a veterinary-approved cleanser – never rubbing alcohol. And don’t use Q-tips – it’s too easy to have one break or become lodged in your dog’s ear.

Also, unless your dog is very active, and walks a lot on hard surfaces, you’ll have to trim his nails. You’ll know it needs to be done if you can hear his nails clicking when he walks across your floors. If you’re not sure how close to cut, have a groomer or your vet show you how. Remember, too, that Briards typically have dewclaws, and they have to be clipped as well.

Kids and Other Pets

Briards are playful and loving and make wonderful family dogs. They’re also very protective, especially of kids – so don’t yell at your offspring when the Briard is in the room!

Despite their wonderful loving nature and affinity for children, though, you have to remember that Briards are dogs, with all the impulse control of dogs. What this means is that you should train your kids at least as much as you train your Briard. Teach them not to take food away from the dog, and not to pull on his ears or tail, or otherwise play roughly with him. Even the best dog can lose it if provoked.

And, as I’m always telling you, don’t leave any dog, of any breed, alone with any young child. It’s your job to supervise in order to ensure that nothing goes wrong.

Briards are usually good with other dogs, and even cats, provided that they’re introduced properly. Keep in mind, though, that the Briard was bred for hunting and herding, so he has a strong prey drive. You may have to teach him that the family cat isn’t “prey.” And you should keep him leashed when he’s out in public in order to avoid his identifying other small animals as prey.

The Final Word

The Briard is a loving, loyal dog, and wonderfully cuddly. Loyal to family, accepting of friends, and highly intelligent. All dogs need to be properly trained and socialized, though, and the Briard is no exception.

Generally speaking, the Briard is an outstanding family dog, and easily trained. He needs a firm handler, but you don’t need a whole lot of “dog experience” to be able to handle this breed. If you’re looking for a loving family pet, you could do a lot worse than the Briard.

About the Author Ash