Bouvier Anyway ?

This is a companion piece to my classic "Don't Buy a Bouvier" : I will desscribe some of the ways to cope with some of the issues discussed in that piece. There are "work-arounds" or "coping strategies" for some issues, but NOT for others.

Bouvier Anyway ?

by Pam Green, © 2009

DON'T buy a Bouvier if you are attracted to the breed chiefly by its appearance.

I know of no real work-around for this issue. I frequently point out to people that if they look around them at human relationships that last, eg marriages, they will soon notice that what makes a relationship last is behavior , not beauty.

I'd like to think that people generally are getting smarter about doing some "homework" researching behavior aspects, health aspects, etc of breeds of dogs before they make a decision.

If you go to any Dog Park, you will probably see that about half the dogs are mixed breeds and some of them are very cute or handsome, but some are very strange looking, and their people obvously love and enjoy them regardless of appearance.

DON'T buy a Bouvier if you are unwilling to share your house and your life with your dog.

Yes, it really IS essential that the dog be a house-dog, and I think that is true for most breeds of dog. However I want to point out that this does NOT mean that the dog has unsupervised access or even supervised access to every square inch of your home. None of us would give a young child such access : we all lock a child out of the medicine cabinet and the cleaning goods cabinet, etc, and we all move our dangeous items and our breakable items out of a child's reach. The same is true for a dog or cat. Wise use of stretch gates or simply closed doors can be used to keep a dog out of those rooms to which you do not want to give access. With puppies, the area made accessible might be only one room that has been carefully "puppy proofed" and has a water-proof floor. With a well educated adult dog, most of the house might be accessible.

To give you examples from my own life, I have a stretch gate to exclude dogs from my office because the floor is always cluttered with books and various paperwork and because I don't want dogs tangling with the multitude of cables from the computer to the periferals. I also hae a stretch gate on my bedroom entry, which I close before taking dogs out for a walk on days when the ground is muddy or the irrigation ditches are running, because I don't want wet or muddy dog hopping up on my bed (gives a whole new meaning to "sleeping in the wet spot") so I exclude them until they have dried off.

I strongly recommend excluding dogs from your garage, as that area so often has containers of dangerous chemicals plus the danger of anti-freeze leaking from a car. Also the uninsulated closed garage can become deadly hot on a hot afternoon or brutally cold in cold weather.

For many people giving a dog access to the house or portion of house becomes much more practical if the dog accessible portion also has a dog-door giving the dog access to a safely fenced yard or potty area. That means that it is easy for the dog to go out to urinate and defecate and most dogs who have that oppertunity will use the outdoors rather than the indoors as their toilet. I will have to write a separate article on the benefits and drawbacks of having a dog door, because over the years I've heard a number of reasons why this doesn't work well for everyone.

I'd also like to emphasize that sharing your TIME with your dog is even more important than just sharing living space. If you are seldom home, you really cannot have a dog. It's true that having two dogs, preferably a spayed bitch and a neutered male, means that they have one another for companionship and play, which somewhat compensates for less interaction with the human family, but they still need real human companionship as well. We've bred dogs to want to be with us and interacting with us for at least 37,000 years (recent archeological finds in Belgium) and it may well be much longer than that. They need us and we need them.

DON'T buy a Bouvier if you don't intend to educate (train) your dog.

Training really IS absolutely essential for every dog, and the larger or more powerful the dog physically and mentally, the more essential training is.

But whereas when I first wrote "Don't Buy", the mode of training class generally available was formal obedience taught mostly by jerking the dog around , a mode many people dislike or find repulsive or that they find boring and that some Bouvs don't respond to all that well, today there are more choices. For most Bouvier I recommend a basic obedience class that is taught primarily with positive reinforcement (reward) but that also includes corrections when needed. (I need to write a long article about the pitfalls of training philosophies that totally refuse to use any kind of correction or aversive, because very few dogs will never need any kind of correction or averive.) In a basic class , your teacher will teach you how to train and maintain a good response to the basic commands, "Come" (and if your dog only obeys one command, this is the one that will keep him alive), "Down" / "Lie Down" (and if your dog only obeys two commands, this is the second one), "Sit" (so many undesirable things a dog cannot do while his butt is nailed to the ground), "Wait" and "Stay", and of course walking on a loose leash. Of course as your and your dog learn each command, you will want to start integrating that command into your everyday life. Eg Sit and Wait at the door, whether you are going for a walk or welcoming a guest.

Now once you have those basics, you are eligible to move to a much more thrilling type of class : Agility. Most dogs and most people find Agility so enjoyable that they don't think of it as "work" but rather as "play".

Another type of class that is much more available today is "Puppy Kindergarten" in which very young puppies are taught the basics in a very rewarding manner. While this does not eliminate the need to maintain this training as the dog enters adolescence ("terrible teens") and adulthood, it's a lot easier to maintain compliance in the adult if he learned it as a puppy. In Puppy classes , your puppy should learn that listening to you and obeying you is enjoyable and rewarding. They learn to enjoy learning. Puppy class is also a place for puppies to get added socialization with other dogs and with humans. It's also a place where you may start to develop a circle of dog loving friends and training buddies to be your helpers in later phases of training.

DON'T buy a Bouvier if you lack leadership (self-assertive) personality.

Ah, this one, "Alphatude", IS still essential. But the concepts of what it means to be a Pack-Leader or Alpha have undergone some evolution in the dog literature.

The absolutely best discussions of dominace, social hierarchy, and pack leadership that I have seen are two chapters in "The Other End of the Leash" by Patricia McConnell, PhD. These chapters are an absolute MUST READ for everyone. The rest of the book is equally valuable.

The idea of "dominance" or being "alpha" have come into some disrepute or disuse by some writers because , alas, some readers easily distort the idea of dominance into domineering and dominating behavior. That's simply wrong. You don't have to bully your dog to be pack leader.

Real pack leadership is about being TRUSTED and RESPECTED. If you are trusted without being respected, you are simply a push-over or a servent to your dog. If you are respected without being trusted , you are simply a bully or a tyrant. (Granted that some timid dogs have difficulty giving their trust, but that means you have to work at that aspect harder. Granted that some dogs are less willing to give respect, but that means you will have to work at that aspect harder and will probably have to utilize some version of a "Nothing in Life is Free" regime .) The true pack leader is both "She Who Must be Obeyed" and "She From Whom All Blessings Flow".

The pack leader should be calm and consistent and always has the benign purpose of leading for the good of those she leads. A good example from the world of TV would be Captain Katharine Janeway from Star Trek Voyager or Captain Jean Luc Picard from Start Trek Next Generation.

DON'T buy a Bouvier if you don't value laid-back companionship and calm affection.

Individual Bouvs , and for that matter individuals of all breeds, vary in the degree to which they are laid back and also the degree to which they tend to "hang out with you", ie just keep you company, rather than actively interact or demand attention. Some Bouvs are more demonsratively affectionate than others and some are more demanding of attention than others. A wise owner both cultivates the dog's affection and enjoyment of petting and massage and also teaches the dog that asking for attention is OK but that sometimes the answer will be "not now, I'm busy". I joke that I teach my dogs the cues that are equivalent to "don't bother me unless someone is bleeding or the house is on fire."

Dogs vary in how much they need from you in terms of training interactions and, play interactions (note that a lot of training is or should be play and a lot of play is or can be training), exercise interactions (for most of us that is taking a walk together), petting and massage interactions, and how much is just being together. Most dogs need at least some of each of these types of interactions.

If you need or want a more demonstratively affectionate dog, you can find Bouvs who tend to be that way. But as group they don't tend to be as much so as some other breeds. This is something that I try to match between adopters and dogs, because a dog who one person might find too "aloof" another person might find "an obnoxious pest".

The degree and style of affection that your dog shows to you may be quite different from that which he shows to strangers. I have known Bouvs who were very aloof with strangers. Chelsea would best be described as being "condescendingly gracious" to adults, clearly regarding them as inferior beings, though she really liked all children. I have known Bouvs who adored being petted by strangers and who would court them for such attention. Bonesy sidle up to strangers, gently lean his head against their leg, gaze up soulfully and tell them that "no one loves me, no one at home pays any attention to me, won't you please give me a crumb of attention before I die of lonliness ?"

DON'T buy a Bouvier if you are fastidious about the neatness of your home.

Good news : there are things you can do that will mitigate this.

I keep the feet of my dogs shaved down (with clippers or scissors) to very short hair. I do this in summer mostly to reduce the risks of foxtails burrowing into their feet, but it has the added advantage of greatly reducing the amount of mud and dirt tracked into the house. Clipping the belly hair also helps, and you can leave the sides of the belly long so the dog's profile looks "normal".

A lot of people keep towels by the door through which dogs return into the house and teach their dogs to wait to have feet and belly and other wet or dirty parts toweled off before the dog goes further into the house.

A little secret for those who don't like wet beards dripping water accros the floor or don't appreciate a wet beard plopped into their lap or wiped against the edge of the sofa : Goddess will not strike you dead if you take scissors and remove most or all of your Bouv's beard.

DON'T buy a Bouvier if you are fastidious about unpleasant odors.

Bathing the dog from time to time does make a difference to body odor. Doing more frequent beard baths, ie shampooing just the beard , can make a big difference.

Keeping the dog combed out frequently makes a difference in body odor.

As to the infamous Bouvier flatulence, well diet can make quite a difference. The more high quality more easily digested dogs foods, preferably without food coloring and artificial preservatives, are likely to produce less flatulence. So you may want to do a bit of experiementing with foods. I've noticed that some treats do tend to result in an episode of flatulence, even "brimstone farts". Brocalli seems to do this to some of my dogs, which is too bad since they love it.

I have to add that any odor that is often present or continually present very soon ceases to be noticed. One's brain just tunes it out. I very rarely notice any doggy odor in my house, though I have no doubt it is still there.

DON'T buy a Bouvier if you dislike doing regular grooming.

Alas this remains all too true. Either you do a little bit each day or a larger bit several times a week, eg while watching TV or listening to music, or else you do a much more thorough job once a week. Having the right tools helps a lot. I like to use a "shedding comb" which is a comb that has alternate long and short teeth. Also the "MatBreakerTM" is just great for preventing and breaking up matts, as well as for bringing out loose or excess undercoat.

The frequency of grooming needed depends quite a bit on the nature of the individual dog's coat. Those who have a very harsh outer coat and only a modest amount of undercoat are the easiest in upkeep. Unfortunately this type of coat is no longer typical of the breed. Those who have a very soft outer coat and loads of undercoat are the ones who matt up quickly and thus require a lot more grooming.

Depending on where you live, ie depending on climate, you may have the option of scisorring or clipping the coat down to a shorter length, which makes combing a lot easier. In hot weather a dog with a shorter coat may be more comfortable and have more exercise endurance.

Do NOT rely on professional grooming to rid you of the need to do your own regular comb outs, not unless you are obscenely wealthy and can afford to have a groomer come several times a week. Groomers object to being presented with a badly matted dog and will either clip the dog down or will demand huge fees for working through the matts. Having a lot of matts pulled out is very uncomfortable or even painful for a dog.

DON'T buy a Bouvier if you also have a cat, unless you are willing to do a great deal of work to ensure peace between them.

I don't think there is any easy fix for this. It is probably somewhat easier if the Bouv is a puppy and the cat a self-confident adult (preferably of the Garfield type of attitude) when the dog enters the home.

DON'T buy a Bouvier if you dislike daily physical exercise.

Exercise really IS crucial for the dog's health and for your health and is even more important for the dog's good behavior. Dogs like people get an endorphin lift and serotonin enhancement from physical exercise. One of the big advantages of living with a dog is that the dog will make you more willing to get off the sofa and go for a walk or other exercise.

The "Springer" bicycle attachment does make having your dog jog alongside your bicycle easier and safer. I'd still recommend that the dog first be well taught to walk beside you on a loose leash and then that you take dog and bicycle to a bike path or other non-automobile area for the first lessons in walking and jogging along beside the bike. Even with the Springer, it is possible (though more difficult) for a sudden lunge by the dog to pull the bicycle over on its side.

Agility is a great way to get some physical exercise and , even more, mental exercise.

Dogs need mental exercise every bit as much as physical exercise, and Bouvs probably more so than most breeds.

Finally, the Dog Park is a godsend to those whose dogs need vigourous phyical and social exercise. Before taking your own dog, go a couple times by yourself and watch and take notes as to whether all or almost all of the dogs there are reliable about "playing nice" with others. Notice whether the owners are keeping enough attention on their dogs and are responsible about preventing trouble before it errupts. Then take your dog. Be willing to leave if someone arrives who seems to be a source of trouble. The Dog Park can also be an enhancement to your own social life.

DON'T buy a Bouvier if you believe that dogs should run "free".

This is even more true today than it was 20 years ago. The dangers for the unsupervised off-leash wandering dog are greater than ever. The legal penalties for letting your dog loose are greater than ever. The social tolorance of people for any dog that seems even remotely threatening to pets or people has gone down to zero.

DON'T buy a Bouvier if you can't afford to buy, feed, and provide health care for one.

This has become even more true than ever. The quality of treatment available at vets and from veterinary specialists is amazing, wonderful, and expensive. Dog food, like people food, is ever more expensive as human overpopulation destroys farmland and increases demand for food.

For vetrinary care you do have the option of buying pet veterinary insurance, thus like any other insurance scheme paying every month against the risk of a big incident. Like any insurance scheme, the average user pays more overall but since it is in predictable installments it is easier to budget for. Be very careful to read any proposed plan's rules very carefully. Be aware that many have exclusions for heritiable conditions (as being "pre-existing") and many will exclude conditions that are considered common to the breed (and they don't always give you a list of these). Many will cease to insure your dog when it passes a certain age, usually the age at which serious problems become increasingly likely.

DON'T buy a Bouvier if you want the "Latest Greatest Ferocious Killer Attack Dog."

Fewer people are looking for a "dangerous image dog" these days, and those who are looking for that will pick a Pit Bull, Rottie, or Doberman as these are the breeds the ignorant fear the most. Breeds with a "bad rap" reputation are increasingly subject to local ordinance banning them entirely, increasingly subject to refusal of Homeowner insurance, and increasingly vulnerable to other forms of discrimination.

DON'T buy a Bouvier if you want a totally unaggressive and unprotective dog.

To some degree this may have changed as many old time Bouv people complain that it's harder to find the old time protective natured Bouvier. In any case, every responsible dog owner needs to make sure their dogs are very well socialized so as to be comfortable and confident around all manner of humans and needs to make sure that the dog is well trained enough to always be controllable. Fear biters and untrained dogs are much more of a risk than any well socialized and owner-responsive dog, wehter protective natured or not.

DON'T buy a Bouvier if you are not willing to commit yourself for the dog's entire lifetime.

Thsi remains an absolute. The good news is that more and more states are honoring owner's testamentary provisions for the care of their dogs should the owner pre-decease the dog.


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site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 3/19/09 revised 3/19/09/td>
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