Here’s another French herding dog that’s slowly gaining popularity outside his native land. A strong, muscular dog, The Beauceron is highly prized in France for his herding ability (sheep and cattle), his proficiency as a guard dog, and his absolute devotion to his family, including children. The Beauceron is the largest of all the French shepherding dogs. Alert and aware at all times, his appearance may strike Americans as that of a mix between a German Shepherd and a Doberman Pinscher.
French novelist Colette reportedly had a great affection for the breed and called him “the country gentleman.” Because he’s a shepherd, this gentleman’s somewhat controlling nature means he will do best with an owner who is gentle, but firm and consistent, and also willing to play with the dog for five to 10 minutes per day.
Like many French herding dogs, the Beauceron lived and thrived almost exclusively within France for centuries, without outside influence. In the late 1800s, dog fanciers elected to separate the long-haired version (“Shepherd of the Brie”) from the shorter-haired Shepherd de Beauce. This split was largely, although not entirely, in response to the regions of France where each dog most commonly lived and worked.
What does a shepherding dog do without a flock? As times have changed in rural France and elsewhere, the need for the Beauceron’s original career specialty has dwindled. Fortunately, the French Central Canine Society saw the need to preserve the breed, and now people have found that Beaucerons excel at military and police work, as service dogs, in search and rescue activities (including the World Trade Center rescue effort in 2001), in agility and sporting events, and of course as the family dog, protecting and entertaining his pack.
In 2008, the Beauceron made his first appearance at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
Beaucerons can stand anywhere from 24 to 27.5 inches from ground to withers and weigh 66 to 100 pounds. The dog should appear muscular and confident, but never heavy. Standard color combinations are black and tan, or harlequin, which is a blending of gray, black and tan. In show dogs, merle coats are permitted if they have more black than gray with no white.
In the black and tan dogs, the tan markings appear in two dots above the eyes, on the sides of the muzzle, fading off to the cheeks, but do not reach the underside of the ears. Also on the throat, under the tail and on the legs and the chest. Tan markings on the chest should appear as two spots, but a chest plate is acceptable under the breed standard. Of course, you don’t need a show-ready example to enjoy a Beauceron! As with most dogs, his flaws make him that much cuter.
The Beauceron’s coat is short, smooth and easy to care for, although he sheds as much as a typical dog and does have a soft undercoat. Regular brushing will keep shedding under control.
While many U.S. breed have dewclaws (a toenail along the inner side of the front paw, which many owners of hunting dogs have removed), the Beauceron has double dewclaws on the rear legs, which the breed standard requires for showing. At the same time, ear cropping is no longer permitted in the U.K. or Europe.
Beaucerons make excellent family dogs, but they need a short introductory period while they grow accustomed to all the new people around them. They enjoy being part of a family and adore playing with children who are old enough to understand how to treat a dog.
The dog’s stern and protective stance matches his determination to “do his job” and keep his family safe. He makes an excellent watchdog. However, those same traits make him cautious and selective around strangers. The dog will usually follow the owner’s lead. If the owner clearly trusts the new person, so will the Beauceron. But newcomers must never make aggressive gestures toward the owner, even in jest, as the dog will do anything to defend his person.
The Beauceron shares with other large dogs a tendency toward two health concerns: gastric torsion (bloat,with or without the twisting of the stomach) and hip dysplasia. There’s not much you can do to prevent bloat except to avoid overfeeding and overwatering your dog, although some owners swear a raw or home-cooked diet, as opposed to processed foods, significantly reduces the risk. If your dog exhibits symptoms, such as restlessness, drooling, pacing, or dry heaving, get him to a vet immediately, because this condition can lead to death very quickly. To monitor your Beauceron for hip dysplasia, visit your vet regularly. A Beauceron’s life expectancy has been estimated at 10 to 12 years.
Beaucerons are fairly low-maintenance dog. Their shedding rate is average. They experience an annual shedding season, during which you may want to brush your dog as usual. You may also want to have a professional trim your dog’s nails, as the nail is entirely black and the quick very difficult to see. Most dogs yelp when their nails are trimmed too short, so if you want to avoid that heart-rending sound, pass off this task to your groomer.
The American Beauceron Club (http://www.beauce.org/rescue.htm) list rescued dogs and those available for adoption. Take a look — you might find your new best friend!