The fluffy Briard is another native of France. Historians report that Charlemagne, Napoleon, Thomas Jefferson, and Lafayette all kept Briards at some point in their lives. The dog is thought to date from the 8th century. She survived the French Revolution and subsequent redistribution of land, living the exhausting yet peaceful life of a sheepdog. The Paris dog show of 1863 was her coming-out party, and there was much public interest in the Briard thereafter.
It is believed that the Beauceron and the Barbet were bred in the 1800s to produce the Briard and standardize her appearance.
As shepherds, Briards were a fine choice for the farms of early France. They could work the field rounding up sheep during the day and guard the family by night.
The original (French) breed standard was written in 1897, and the first breed club was organized in 1909, only to disband after World War I broke out; as happened with many breeds, the Briard faced near-extinction after the war. France called on its Briards for military duties, and they answered, performing such tasks as helping to carry wounded soldiers, food, supplies and munitions. It is thought that the Briard’s eagerness to please made her work longer and harder than other canines. When the war ended, the number of Briards in the world had sharply dropped.
The French formed the breed club in 1923 and set about the business of restoring the breed. They rewrote the breed standard, and it has remained unchanged for all these years except for a minor modification in 1975. The Briard Club of America adopted this same standard in 1928.
Male Briards stand between 23 and 27 inches at the shoulder; females, 22 to 25.5. Males average between 80 and 90 pounds, while females weigh 70 to 80. Their coats can come in black, fawn, and tawny, with the coat gradually lightening over the years.
So what lies under that shaggy coat? Intelligence, independence and a warm heart. Other Briard personality traits include keen loyalty, obedience and instinctive herding talent. If you adopt or purchase a Briard, don’t be surprised to find the dog gently nipping your or your children’s heels to move in a certain direction. The herding instinct was not been overcome in years of herding sheep; the dog simply needs new charges and a job to do.
Briards have been used in hospitals, schools and retirement communities as therapy dogs, providing comfort and a friendly face. Briards are also being trained as service dogs for adults and children with autism and PTSD. Their loyalty and sensitivity make people happy. Just be sure to let any introductions to new people or children happen on the dog’s terms.
They also serve as tracking, disaster, search-and-rescue, police, guide and avalanche dogs, and they can also compete successfully in the performance and conformation ring. And, if you have sheep, as few as two or three Briards can still successfully manage a flock of up to 700 and cover upwards of 50 miles daily.
Possibly the most concerning condition the Briard can acquire is congenital stationary night blindness and hereditary retinal dystrophy, retinal disorders passed down to the dog by a recessive gene. However, a new gene therapy holds great promise for blind dogs. Research performed at the University of Florida, Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania led to the development of a procedure that allowed blind dogs to see for the first time. DNA screening for this gene is common is available for new puppies. Briards can also develop hip dysplasia, bloat, hypothyroidism and lymphoma.
There’s no getting around it, this dog has hair — a shaggy, thick double coat from which her eyes peek out adorably from her face, sometimes. The coat protects her and keeps her warm in wet and cold weather conditions that would send humans rushing indoors.
The Briard’s coat sheds lightly year round, and she blows her entire coat twice a year. For this reason, the Briard will require two to three hours per week of brushing. (This makes an excellent chore for children who want to earn an allowance!) The good news is, the Briard’s coat naturally repels leaves and outdoor debris, so once the brushing regimen has started, it should get easier every time. Briards who are not participating in dog shows can be clipped to make it even easier.
Try not to bathe the dog more than once every six weeks. More frequent bathing deprives her skin of its essential oils, which leads to dry skin, itching, irritation and sometimes infection.
An unusual aspect of the Briard is that she has double dewclaws. They help her to turn on her hind legs in the field without losing velocity. The dewclaws should not need trimming, as she needs them to “work” and she generally keeps them worn down during vigorous running.
The Briard Club of America (briardclubofamerica.org/bca) operates an independent trust to help defray the expenses involved rehoming a Briard.