The Briard, also known as the Berger Briard, the Chien Berger de Brie (Shepherd Dog of Brie) and the Berger de Brie, is an old herding breed that has been working in the French countryside for centuries. It was depicted in tapestries as early as the eighth century and was accurately described in writing by the fourteenth century. This breed is known for its steadfast loyalty and its heart of gold. Some of the earliest Briards to come to the United States were imported by Thomas Jefferson to protect his sheep flock. The Briard was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1928 and is a member of its Herding Group.
The Briard is intelligent and independent, with a fearless personality and a strong need to have constant companionship to reach its full potential. Briards are brave, wise, watchful, faithful and obedient. However, they tend to be reserved with strangers and can be overprotective. Early, consistent and continual socialization, training and positive reinforcement are necessary to bring a Briard successfully into the canine community. These clownish "hearts wrapped in fur" are happiest at the side (or on the feet) of the people they love.
The average Briard stands from 22 to 27 inches at the withers and weighs between 65 and 100 pounds. Smaller dogs and bitches are disqualified. The Briard's distinctive appearance includes prominent eyebrows, a moustache and a beard, giving it an almost comical expression. The double coat should be slightly wavy, of moderate length and rough enough that mud and dirt are naturally repelled. The Briard requires regular grooming to prevent matting. It should have two dewclaws on each rear foot, a trait shared by most of the French sheepdog breeds.
The Briard is thought to have arrived in France during the Middle Ages, perhaps even earlier. It originally was developed to control and protect its owners' charges (usually sheep) against poachers and wolves. Over time, following the French Revolution with the subsequent land parceling and population increase, the breed became used for more peaceful tasks such as keeping sheep within unfenced pastures and guarding its masters' flocks and property. The French shepherds who originally developed this breed were frugal and practical, only keeping dogs with superior abilities irrespective of appearance. Because of their sharp hearing, Briards were used extensively as sentries and on watches during times of war, and were the official French army dog during World War I. The ancestors of the Briard are not entirely known, but apparently they were cross-bred in the 1800's with the Beauceron and the Barbet to standardize their appearance.
Briards were first entered in formal dog shows towards the end of the nineteenth century, with an appearance at the very first French dog show held in Paris in 1863. The original Briard standard was written in 1897 by a club of French sheepdog breeders, and in 1909 the Les Amis du Briard (Friends of the Briard) kennel club was formed in France. This breed club was disbanded during World War I. The Briard's eagerness to please causes them to overwork without regard to their physical or emotional limitations. As such, war service (including seeking out wounded soldiers and carrying food, supplies and munitions to the front) threatened the breed's existence. A number of devoted breeders saved the breed from extinction. The French breed club was reformed in 1923 and adopted a more precise Briard standard in 1925. The Briard Club of America adopted this standard with minor modifications in 1928 and was recognized as the AKC parent club. The breed standard has remained essentially unchanged except for slight elaboration in 1975. Briards did not reach Britain until the 1960s, but thereafter they have attained and retained an enthusiastic following.
Thankfully, the strong genetic characteristics of the Briard have helped the breed withstand the uncertainties of time and the idiosyncrasies of mankind. The traditional attributes of the Briard include keen intelligence, loyalty, obedience and instinctive herding talent. Today's Briards retain their herding instincts, often nudging their owners to direct them or alert them to anything unusual within their realm. They are versatile and continue to serve as tracking, disaster, search-and-rescue, police, guide and avalanche dogs. They also compete successfully in the performance and conformation ring. As few as two or three Briards can still successfully manage a flock of up to 700 sheep and cover upwards of 50 miles daily. Perhaps their best talent is as a loved and trusted companion.
The life expectancy of the Briard is about 10 to 12 years. Breed health concerns may include conditions associated with large breeds such as hip dysplasia and bloat. They also may be predisposed to cataracts, central progressive retinal atrophy, hereditary retinal dystrophy of Briards, congenital stationary night blindness, hypothyroidism and lymphoma. Their long coarse coat should be brushed regularly, but fortunately it is naturally repellant to dirt and debris.
Affectionate but independent, Briards are an ideal choice for an active family. They have a lot of energy, love activity and are great with children. Briards can romp around all day with kids and are happy to hang out and relax along side mom and dad in the evening. This herding breed is alert and vigilant, making them excellent watchdogs. Their individual personalities can vary from clownish to serious, but they all love they are all people-pleasers with hearts of gold.
This sheep herding breed needs lots of physical and mental activity in order to remain happy and healthy. Farms are an ideal environment for them as they take working very seriously and can be counted on to keep flocks in line and to keep predators at bay. Families with large yards to play in are also great homes for Briards, but children should be supervised during playtime, as this breed might take to herding the kids in the yard. Briards herd by headbutting and pushing, so small children could accidentally get hurt by a well-intentioned dog.
Condominiums and apartments are not the ideal living quarters for Briards. They need a lot of space to move around and plenty of room to run, and daily walks won't satisfy their daily activity requirements.
Briards are highly trainable dogs and thrive on mastering new tasks. Training should always be done with a confident but gentle hand, as this breed is highly sensitive and boasts a long memory. A Briard isn't easy to forgive someone who treats him harshly. Establishing leadership should be done as early as possible, because Briards are dominant and will move quickly to take over the role of "pack leader" in the home, unless otherwise put in his place.
This breed is fearless boasts excellent stamina. They can work all day alongside a farmer without losing steam and because of their versatility, trainability and endurance, Troops in WWI used Briards for a variety of tasks including, sentries, messengers and medic dogs.
Brairds can be destructive if not exercised or stimulated enough, and they can make quick work of flowerbeds, furniture or even walls. A strong commitment to a Briard's need for activity can keep houses from being destroyed.
The flock-protecting side of them makes them wary of strangers. This is good from a watchdog perspective, but bad for the neighbor who just wants to stop by and say hello. Early and frequent socialization is important to keep a Briard from becoming aggressive.
While they get along fine with family pets, Briards are often aggressive with other dogs. Again, this is part of their sheep dog heritage. Socialization is important, but new pets probably shouldn't be introduced into a Briard's house.
A dog of handsome form. Vigorous and alert, powerful without coarseness, strong in bone and muscle, exhibiting the strength and agility required of the herding dog. Dogs lacking these qualities, however concealed by the coat, are to be penalized.
Size--males 23 to 27 inches at the withers; bitches 22 to 25½ inches at the withers. Disqualification--all dogs or bitches under the minimum. Proportions--the Briard is not cobby in build. In males the length of the body, measured from the point of the shoulder to the point of the buttock, is equal to or slightly more than his height at the withers. The female may be a little longer.
The head of a Briard always gives the impression of length, having sufficient width without being cumbersome. The correct length of a good head, measured from the occiput to the tip of the nose, is about forty (40%) percent of the height of the dog at the withers. There is no objection to a slightly longer head, especially if the animal tends to a longer body line. Viewed from above, from the front or in profile, the fully-coated silhouette gives the impression of two rectangular forms, equal in length but differing in height and width, blending together rather abruptly. The larger rectangle is the skull and the other forms the muzzle. The head joins the neck in a right angle and is held proudly alert. The head is sculptured in clean lines, without jowls or excess flesh on the sides, or under the eyes or temples. Expression--the gaze is frank, questioning and confident. Eyes--the eyes set well apart with the inner corners and outer corners on the same level. Large, well opened and calm, they must never be narrow or slanted. The color must be black or black-brown with very dark pigmentation of the rim of the eyelids, whatever the color of the coat. Disqualification--yellow eyes or spotted eyes. Ears--the ears should be attached high, have thick leather and be firm at the base. Low-set ears cause the head to appear to be too arched. The length of the natural ear should be equal to or slightly less than one-half the length of the head, always straight and covered with long hair. The natural ear must not lie flat against the head and, when alert, the ears are lifted slightly, giving a square look to the top of the skull. The ears when cropped should be carried upright and parallel, emphasizing the parallel lines of the head; when alert, they should face forward, well open with long hair falling over the opening. The cropped ear should be long, broad at the base, tapering gradually to a rounded tip. Skull--the width of the head, as measured across the skull, is slightly less than the length of the skull from the occiput to the stop. Although not clearly visible on the fully-coated head, the occiput is prominent and the forehead is very slightly rounded. Muzzle--the muzzle with mustache and beard is somewhat wide and terminates in a right angle. The muzzle must not be narrow or pointed. Planes--the topline of the muzzle is parallel to the topline of the skull, and the junction of the two forms a well-marked stop, which is midway between the occiput and the tip of the nose, and on a level with the eyes. Nose--square rather than round, always black with nostrils well opened. Disqualification--any color other than black. Lips--the lips are of medium thickness, firm of line and fitted neatly, without folds or flews at the corners. The lips are black. Bite, Teeth--strong, white and adapting perfectly in a scissors bite.
Neck, Topline and Body
Neck--strong and well constructed. The neck is in the shape of a truncated cone, clearing the shoulders well. It is strongly muscled and has good length. Topline--the Briard is constructed with a very slight incline, downward from the prominent withers to the back which is straight, to the broad loin and the croup which is slightly inclined. The croup is well muscled and slightly sloped to give a well-rounded finish. The topline is strong, never swayed nor roached. Body--the chest is broad and deep with moderately curved ribs, egg-shaped in form, the ribs not too rounded. The breastbone is moderately advanced in front, descending smoothly to the level of the elbows and shaped to give good depth to the chest. The abdomen is moderately drawn up but still presents good volume. Tail--uncut, well feathered, forming a crook at the extremity, carried low and not deviating to the right or to the left. In repose, the bone of the tail descends to the point of the hock, terminating in the crook, similar in shape to the printed "J" when viewed from the dog's right side. In action, the tail is raised in a harmonious curve, never going above the level of the back, except for the terminal crook. Disqualification--tail non-existent or cut.
Shoulder blades are long and sloping forming a 45-degree angle with the horizontal, firmly attached by strong muscles and blending smoothly with the withers. Legs the legs are powerfully muscled with strong bone. The forelegs are vertical when viewed from the side except the pasterns are very slightly inclined. Viewed from the front or rear, the legs are straight and parallel to the median line of the body, never turned inward or outward. The distance between the front legs is equal to the distance between the rear legs. The construction of the legs is of utmost importance, determining the dog's ability to work and his resistance to fatigue. Dewclaws--dewclaws on the forelegs may or may not be removed. Feet--strong and rounded, being slightly oval in shape. The feet travel straight forward in the line of movement. The toes are strong, well arched and compact. The pads are well developed, compact and elastic, covered with strong tissue. The nails are always black and hard.
The hindquarters are powerful, providing flexible, almost tireless movement. The pelvis slopes at a 30-degree angle from the horizontal and forms a right angle with the upper leg bone. Legs viewed from the side, the legs are well angulated with the metatarsus slightly inclined, the hock making an angle of 135 degrees. Dewclaws two dewclaws are required on each rear leg, placed low on the leg, giving a wide base to the foot. Occasionally the nail may break off completely. The dog shall not be penalized for the missing nail so long as the digit itself is present. Ideally the dewclaws form additional functioning toes. Disqualification --anything less than two dewclaws on each rear leg. Feet--if the rear toes turn out very slightly when the hocks and metatarsus are parallel, then the position of the feet is correct.
The outer coat is coarse, hard and dry (making a dry rasping sound between the fingers). It lies down flat, falling naturally in long, slightly waving locks, having the sheen of good health. On the shoulders the length of the hair is generally six inches or more. The undercoat is fine and tight on all the body. The head is well covered with hair which lies down, forming a natural part in the center. The eyebrows do not lie flat but, instead, arch up and out in a curve that lightly veils the eyes. The hair is never so abundant that it masks the form of the head or completely covers the eyes.
All uniform colors are permitted except white. The colors are black, various shades of gray and various shades of tawny. The deeper shades of each color are preferred. Combinations of two of these colors are permitted, provided there are no marked spots and the transition from one color to another takes place gradually and symmetrically. The only permissible white: white hairs scattered throughout the coat and/or a white spot on the chest not to exceed one inch in diameter at the root of the hair. Disqualification white coat, spotted coat, white spot on chest exceeding one inch in diameter.
The well-constructed Briard is a marvel of supple power. His movement has been described as "quicksilver", permitting him to make abrupt turns, springing starts and sudden stops required of the sheepherding dog. His gait is supple and light, almost like that of a large feline. The gait gives the impression that the dog glides along without touching the ground. Strong, flexible movement is essential to the sheepdog. He is above all a trotter, single-tracking, occasionally galloping and he frequently needs to change his speed to accomplish his work. His conformation is harmoniously balanced and strong to sustain him in the long day's work. Dogs with clumsy or inelegant gait must be penalized.
He is a dog of heart, with spirit and initiative, wise and fearless with no trace of timidity. Intelligent, easily trained, faithful, gentle, and obedient, the Briard possesses an excellent memory and an ardent desire to please his master. He retains a high degree of his ancestral instinct to guard home and master. Although he is reserved with strangers, he is loving and loyal to those he knows. Some will display a certain independence.
All dogs or bitches under the minimum size limits.
Yellow eyes or spotted eyes.
Nose any color other than black.
Tail non-existent or cut.
Less than two dewclaws on each rear leg.
White spot on chest exceeding one inch in diameter.
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Sources: American Kennel Club