Introduction to the BOUVIER as a Stockdog

The characteristics of the Bouvier breed come from its origens as an all purpose farm dog and herding dog. This article describes various aspects of the breed and compares them to other breeds which originated as herding dogs. I wrote this short introduction for use at multi-breed herding demonstrations put on by my teacher and her students at the county Fair.

Introduction to the BOUVIER as a Stockdog

by Pam Green, Pied de Boue Bouviers (copyright 1992)

The Bouvier originated in Flanders as an all-purpose farm dog. The farmers couldn't care less what the dog looked like as long as he could WORK. Primary uses were as a herding dog, especially for dairy cattle, and as a guard dog for the property and personal security of the farm family. Secondary uses included draft work. Non-farm uses included gamekeeper's dog, military and police dog, battle-field survivors search dog, Customs (border patrol) dog and smuggler's (border-sneak) dog. The world's first Police K-9 program , begun in Ghent, Belgium over a hundred years ago, used dogs of obvious Bouvier type as well as dogs of Belgian Shepherd type and dogs that look like a mix between these types (actually this was the range of the gene pool from which these breeds developed).

Modern uses include herding sheep and cattle, Police K-9, personal protection, Search & Rescue, Guide dog for the blind, and family friend and companion. More recently the list has expanded to include more and more forms of work as a Assistance Dog (also called Service Dog) assisting people with various physical challenges and as Therapy Dog doing visits to convalescent homes and geriatric facilities to give pleasure to the residents.

Temperament typically is highly stable, self-confident, and self-assertive. Most are calm and "laid-back", tending to take life easy when not actively working. This laid-back quality is in noticeable contrast to the more energetic and restless disposition of such herding breeds as German Shepherd, Belgian Shepherd (= Belgian Sheepdog/Tervuren/Malinois), Australian Shepherd, Border Collie, and Kelpie. Many Bouvs are somewhat socially dominant , thus likely to argue with or take advantage of a handler who lacks "alpha" (= pack leadership) temperament and demeanor. This is in contrast to the more submissive and biddable nature of such herding breeds as Border Collie, Kelpie, Australian Shepherd, and Shetland Sheepdog.

Physically the Bouv is large, powerful, and very very shaggy. Size ranges from 22" to 28" at withers, weight from 70 to 90 pounds. The thick shaggy double coat absolutely requires frequent grooming (combing and stripping), and this requires more effort than many owners are willing to make. (The farm Bouviers of a hundred years ago had much much less coat and the coat was much much harsher; the grooming requirements were thus very modest, yet the dog was well adapted to its climate and prevailing vegetation.) This is in contrast to the modest grooming needs of such herding breeds as the Australian Cattle Dog, the Kelpie, the Smooth Collie, the Belgian Malinois, and the Kelpie, and of those Border Collies who have short to moderate length coats.

Medically the 2 most serious problems in the Bouv are Hip Dysplasia and Bloat (also called GDV = gastric dilation and torsion). The best prevention for dysplasia is to buy only from lines bred for OFA normal hips. The best prevention for bloat is to avoid strong excitement and strenuous exercise just before and for an hour or so after feeding. Hypothyroidism is somewhat common in the breed, but can be compensated easily through oral supplementation.

(Update : the preceding paragraph represents what we understood in 1992. Today in 2003, the medically most serious problems are Sub-Aortic Stenosis, which can kill a dog during its first few years of life, and Glaucoma, which can suddenly and very painfully cause a dog to go blind in one or both eyes. And yes, Hip Dysplasia, Bloat, and Hypothyroidism are still with us, along with some better treatments for HD and better knowledge of prevention for Bloat. There is no question at all that SAS and Glaucoma are much more frightening. Responsible breeders are working hard to avoid creating puppies with either of these problems, both of which are genetically caused.)

As a herding dog , the Bouv's natural attributes are best suited to working sheep, goats, and cattle; however with much self-restraint , they can work ducks. At present it is not known what percentage of the breed has inherited sufficient instinct to herd. A relatively small percentage have been tested, but the sample is sufficient to establish the style typical for those that do have herding instinct. The typical herding Bouv is a gathering (= fetching) dog, very close-running, totally loose-eyed and up-standing, free-moving, and very powerful. The 3 most essential commands for a Bouv are "whoa" (halt in standing position), "walk" (to walk, not trot, towards the flock), and "wide" or "get out !" (to arc further away from the stock, ie to run wider). These are of great importance for cattle work and absolutely critical in sheep work. For all stock, the standing halt is physically easier for the Bouv than is the down position : they just can't hit the deck or re-stand again as quickly and smoothly as can a Border Collie or Kelpie.

As a cattle dog, the Bouv usually has the authority to inspire movement by self-confident demeanor alone, without often needing to grip. Physically the Bouv is not built to be able to bite low on the heel and dodge the ensuing kick; but most are agile enough and bold enough to leap for a nose bite. So when dog-breaking your cattle, send the Bouv to the head to block and turn, then halt the dog for a moment to reward the cattle as soon as they respond and move away from the dog. Soon they will move calmly from the dog's approach towards either end. Don't allow your Bouv to create a rodeo with cattle -- or any other stock -- if you want co-operative stock with good weight gains or good milk production.

If you seek a dog which will herd your stock, guard your home and family, and be your constant companion and family friend, consider the Bouvier.


site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 1992 revised 7/15/03
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