Seven Ages of Bouvier

The purpose of this article is to discuss the various ages and life-stages of the Bouvier from the perspective of the Rescuer (and Foster Home) of abandoned dogs and the prospective Adopter of a rescued dog. All too often the prospective adopter assumes that she/he wants only a "young" dog, when in fact an older dog might well be a more suitable and satisfying choice. This article makes a heart-felt plea for adopters to consider the merits of the middle-aged and older dogs as being highly worthy of adoption and as being especially rewarding to live with.
(Although written for the Bouvier, much of this would apply to all dogs.)





by Pam Green © 1995

The purpose of this article is to discuss the various ages and life-stages of the Bouvier from the perspective of the Rescuer (and Foster Home) of abandoned dogs and the prospective Adopter of a rescued dog. The manner in which dogs become in need of rescue and the problems likely to be presented vary with stage of life. The manner in which adopters view the dog as adoption candidate also varies with life stage, but often unrealistically. All too often the prospective adopter assumes that she/he wants only a "young" dog, when in fact an older dog might well be a more suitable and satisfying choice. This article makes a heart-felt plea for adopters to consider the merits of the middle-aged and older dogs as being highly worthy of adoption and as being especially rewarding to live with.

THE BABY BOUV & THE CHILD BOUV (birth to 18 months)

The baby, aged newborn to 8 or 10 weeks, and the child, aged 8 weeks to 6 or 8 months, are rarely the subject of rescue. Baby Bouvs are cute and highly saleable. Child Bouvs remain cute and saleable for several months, then as size and activity increase, salability begins to decline. A responsible breeder will carefully educate and rear all pups until highly responsible homes becomes available. The irresponsible breeder will begin to bail out of unsold pups as the feed bills and poop piles get larger and larger. The impulsive & ignorant puppy buyer, uneducated by the breeder or unresponsive to such educative attempts, will likewise begin to bail out as the pup becomes independent minded and rowdy, and as the results of grooming neglect accumulate into a horrid hairy mess.

It is relatively easy for a knowledgeable dog person or a vet to judge the ages of these pups with considerable accuracy, as there is a clear schedule of physical signposts along the way from birth to 6 months.

When Bouvs of this age come into rescue , it is usually due to ignorance, irresponsibility, or inadequate care by the breeder and/or from the original puppy buyer. The most common reasons for such pups to need rescue are as follows.

In all these cases, the pups have not had the best start in life, but they may still recover. The prognosis is always more optimistic if the pup has gone directly from breeder/owner to rescuer without having passed through the Pound or Humane Shelter.

The baby Bouv who goes through the Pound or Shelter is , like any other baby pup, at high risk for disease and for mental trauma. At this age they need a lot of health protection and a lot of socialization with littermates and with human beings. The puppy older than 4 months is less vulnerable to damage at the Pound/Shelter, especially if he did receive immunizations and socialization prior to being abandoned. Note, however, that if a pup receives zero or near-zero socialization prior to 16 weeks, the outlook is extremely poor for it ever to achieve normal or acceptable social behavior.

The fosterer or adopter of a baby or child must be prepared to give the same extensive care and education that would be needed by any pup the same age, plus extra socialization to make up for prior deficiencies and any extra medical care needed. The rescuer, foster home, or adopter who acquires a pup younger than 8 weeks will have the serious and difficult task of replacing the essential training the pup should receive from the mother-bitch in how to respect & OBEY his packleader, how to respect her warnings and how to submit to her corrections . Likewise the adopter will be at wit's end to attempt to replace the essential pup-to-pup socializing experience that all pups need to receive from their littermates. It is the littermates who teach the pup how to play without excessive roughness, how to moderate the strength of their bite, how to dominate and how to submit. Without these mother and littermate socializations, the pup is at serious disadvantage for a normal life.

From the age of 2 months to 5 or 6 months, pup raising demands much time and effort ; it is not a job for those who must be away from home (unless pup can go along) for more than a few hours at a time, as "potty breaks" must be frequent, followed by play/education mini-sessions. This is also a time when the pup is a thirsty sponge for learning, and for those who know how to teach, educating such a pup can be a great pleasure. they are usually very willing to please you and very responsive to praise and other rewards. If you are not teaching them what is right (approved, permitted) and what is wrong (disapproved, forbidden), they will be exploring and deciding for themselves not what is right but what is fun --- ie they will teach themselves a lot of "fun" that you will regard as disastrously unacceptable.

From about 5 months onwards, the fosterer/adopter's schedule becomes less and less constrained, as the pup can go longer between "potty breaks". They have a longer attention span for play and education, but from 4 months on are becoming more independent minded. This is the time when you will need to use a long-line (drag-line, check-cord --- various different terms for the same thing) and begin to correct disobedience and disregard for known commands. As with the younger pup, if you don't teach them right and wrong, they will soon learn a lot of "fun" that you will definitely not enjoy.

When baby and child Bouvs are available, adopters eagerly "snap them up" --- even if the pups have been through serious neglect or illness. Rescuers should carefully asses whether or not the adopter's time schedule, lifestyle, family composition, and training ability are adequate and appropriate to puppy-rearing. You need to be every bit as careful in interrogating and educating puppy adopters as is the most responsible of breeders for their most cherished puppies. Be very sure that the adopter understands the nature of the adult Bouvier and the nature and needs of all the younger stages. Especially be infinitely cautious about placing pups in homes with infant or toddler children, as these usually claim all of the parents' available time and energy, and there is too much potential for trouble in any inadequately supervised interactions between pup/young dog and human child. Only the most dog-wise parents are likely to cope, and they will usually be wise enough to ask for a more mature dog. (My own policy is that the age of the youngest child in years plus the age of the dog in years must equal or exceed 5 years. If the adopters are less experienced, that would go up to 7 years.)

THE TEEN-AGER & THE YOUNG ADULT ("social maturity") (18 to 36 months)

Beginning as early as 6 months, the worst of the teen-age period is from 9 months to 18 or 24 months. During this time the young dog will challenge the authority of those whom he previously considered his unquestioned packleaders. From 18 to 30 or 36 months , the young adult dog will achieve adult size and strength, probably thinks of himself as an adult, and begins to settle into adult Bouvie laid-back mellowness. Somewhere in the later part of this period , the dog will reach "social maturity", which is the time when some dogs will seek to promote themselves within the pack's social hierarchy (also called dominence hierarchy).

During this phase, a rescuer familiar with the breed can estimate age with accuracy +/- a few months for the teens and +/- 6 months for the young adults.

Dogs in these age groups frequently come into rescue, usually through the Pound/Shelter, and almost always due to the ignorance, indolence, and irresponsibility of the owner, the original puppy-buyer who has raised the dog from 8 to 10 weeks to the present.

Teen-age Bouviers commonly come into rescue. It is perhaps the single most common time for a Bouv to be abandoned. Almost always the owner has failed to do any worthwhile training during the earlier stages. The dog may appear to be extremely unruly and hard to control, but mostly it is totally uneducated. The dog may never have been taught how to behave properly inside the house, and may have been exiled to the backyard for some months, with resultant bad effects on attitude and behavior (howling, barking, digging, increased unruliness). Generally the owner has also abandoned any pretense of grooming several months ago, or earlier, and the dog is now a filthy matted mess, suffering much discomfort. Pain from matting and ear infections and other consequences of neglect may cause a dog to appear timid, fearful, or hard to handle, when in reality the dog's true temperament and personality are sound. (The relief these dogs exhibit when the rescuer or groomer carves them free of this prison of matted hair is usually extremely obvious.) These dogs are almost always eminently salvageable , given enough knowledge and effort by the foster person and the adopter.

Young adult Bouvs also commonly come into rescue; it is the second most common time for a Bouv to be abandoned. They usually come through the Pound and exhibit similar lack of training and grooming, but it may have been going on a lot longer. Often the poor dog has spent the past 6 months or year exiled to the backyard, possibly on a chain, a life of desperate loneliness and boredom. Virtually all of these dogs are eminently salvageable by a knowledgeable and compassionate fosterer or adopter.

The rescuer, foster home, or adopter of a teen Bouv will probably need to know a fair amount about training (basic obedience, household behavior, and remedial training for common problem behaviors) and may need to have a strongly alpha personality. If the foster home does the "boot camp" job well, the ultimate adopter will have the less difficult job of follow-up in accordance with the fosterer's directions. Housebreaking at this age is usually easy & fast (a week or less if you know what you are doing). Basic obedience is fairly straight-foreward, but may require more correction (and more firm, no-nonsense type of correction) than if the dog had been trained earlier. A few of these dogs are such that "if Bill Koehler had not existed, we should be forced to invent him (his methods)" --- with special blessings to the inventor of the pinch collar ("power steering"). (UPDATE : for many of these dogs some kind of halter works as well or better than a pinch collar.) Common problems : no leash response, doesn't come, jumps on people, barks/howls when left alone, digging, chewing, garbage-can raiding (often a survival skill), fence-jumping/climbing/etc. Chewing (with resultant destruction of household items left within dog's reach) is especially likely to be a problem at this age, as this is the age when dogs have a tremendous need to exercise the jaws. Fosterer should be able and willing to use special tools, eg crate, pinch collar, anti-bark electronic collar, or hot wire (fence climbing, garbage raiding), plus a lot of determination and imagination. For most dogs and most problems , the prognosis for cure is quite favorable. For the dog whose higher level of prey-drive has led him from playful puppy nipping on to more serious chasing and biting (broken skin), favorable result will depend on a strongly alpha and experienced fosterer/trainer and an adopter with similar abilities. In addition to other common problems, a dog in this age range that has not already been spayed or neutered may exhibit problems that are motivated or exacerbated by hormones : bitch-to-bitch fighting, male-to-male aggression, male urine "marking" within the house, male escape-and-roam (ie roaming to romeo). These can be cured readily by prompt alteration, followed by training.

The rescuer, fosterer, or adopter of a young adult will face a situation fairly similar to that of the teen-ager, but dog is often a bit easier to handle as it is not in the "active rebellion" phase of attempting to become packleader, especially if the rebellion failed to result in victory by the dog. (In my own experience, I find the young adults generally easier to civilize than the teens.) Less likely, the dog might be more difficult to handle if in its former home the active rebellion resulted in the dog attaining clear-cut leadership (or tyranny) in the home. Fortunately many such leader-in-old-home dogs quickly accept leadership from a genuinely alpha and experienced fosterer, but the ultimate adopter also should have these qualities. Specific problems are much the same as for the teen, and prognosis remains favorable. Chewing problems should be on the wane, due to natural lessening of the urge with age from 2 years onwards. Any hormone inspired problems of the unaltered dog may be more pronounced and habitual than in the younger teen, but should still be amenable to alteration plus firm training.

Adopters are eager to adopt dogs in the teen or young adult stages : most adopters consider these to be their preferred age range . However the rescuer must assess the adopter's lifestyle, family composition, training ability, and personal "alpha-ness". Pay special attention to natural alpha qualities and training experience if the dog is a bold and headstrong teen. The rescuer should be cautious about placement of teen Bouvs with children under 5 or 6 years, unless the dog has been well tested with kids and proven gentle with them (or has known history of same) and the adult adopters are experienced dog people who have good common sense and prudence. Adopters with less experience should be counseled into a more mature, more laid-back, and definitely non-alpha natured dog; some young adult Bouvs would qualify.

THE MATURE ADULT (3 to 6 years)

Between 3 & 4 years the Bouv becomes fully mature, mentally and physically. Since estimation of age in this range would have an accuracy no better than plus/minus 6 months to 1 year, the rescuer is well justified to state the estimated age as "4+/-".

When dogs this age come into Rescue, some do so due to the same causes of irresponsibility as do the younger dogs; but some do so because the owner has suffered personal difficulties (see below, under Middle-Aged). When it is due to the culmination of prior neglect and irresponsibility, the dog may be in bad shape but usually is still eminently salvageable --- especially if the home started out responsible but then deteriorated. Many of the dogs are in fairly good shape, as the degree of owner neglect is usually not as severe as we see in the dogs abandoned earlier. Most of the more severely irresponsible owners will have "bailed out" long before the dog reaches 3 years. Those who quit on the mature dog are more likely to seek out a Rescue , rather than dumping the dog into the Pound; this usually means less damage to the dog. When it is due to personal difficulties of the owner, the dog is usually a well loved and well cared for pet who exhibits fairly acceptable housedog behavior. These dogs are truly superior adoption candidates, who usually adapt readily to another good home and provide much reward to the adopter. These owners will always come to Rescue (if they are aware of its availability) rather than the Pound/Shelter, and , if it is possible for them to do so, may want to and be able to keep the dog at home until placed in a permanent home --- ie placement by "referral" (=matchmaking) rather than through foster care.

The rescuer, fosterer, or adopter of a mature dog that had a previous good home is really in luck. The problems are few or none, being mostly a matter of the dog adjusting to a different set of house rules. At worst it might be hard (impossible?) to convince the dog that the sofa is now off limits. The adopter of a mature dog that had not had a previous good home is still often faced with a somewhat easier re-training proposition than the adopter of a teen or young adult. the greater laid-backness (lesser need for strenuous exercise) and lesser playfulness of the mature dog tends to tone down some of the otherwise objectionable behaviors, or at least makes them more amenable to training. Chewing & destructiveness have usually ceased, been "outgrown". Hormone-inspired problems in the unneutered dog will, however, be worse with age but may still be ameliorated by neutering and training..

Many behaviorists refer to a stage of "social maturity" occurring at about 3 years old. This is the second time when the dog may test out the pack leadership to see if there is "room at the top" for the dog to promote himself. When there is good leadership in the home, this stage may go unnoticed. Or at least it may go unnoticed as it might affect realtionship between the dog and the human packleader. It may however manifest as a role reversal or attempted reversal between the young dog and some other dog in the household which has up to now out-ranked the younger dog. In many cases the reversal or its failure will occur smoothly and may even go unnoticed; occasionally it may manifest in a sudden major confrontation or fight between the dogs involved. Where the human packleadership has been poor or has become haphazard, this can be the time when the dog overtly challenges the human. In reality , the potential for reversal has been there for some time , but the human has not noticed and identified the signs.

Most adopters seem to want dogs 4 years or younger, and begin to resist the idea of adopting one 5 or older. In this they often do themselves and the dogs a great disservice. I encourage rescuers to strongly advocate the advantages of the 5 year and older dogs, especially for homes with young children or fragile elderly persons, and for homes where no one is home for long hours on typical weekdays. These dogs are also often an ideal choice for the person who already has a dog, as they are usually compatible with dogs several years younger or several to many years older, especially if the other dog is a spayed/neutered dog of opposite sex.

THE MIDDLE-AGED BOUV (6 to 9 years)

Broadly speaking , middle age could be from 5 to 10 years since Bouvs live from 10 to 15 years (comparable to human span of 60 to 90). Somewhere between 6 and 8 most Bouvs hit the true mid-point of their years. For those who have the misfortune to lose their homes and land in the Pound, they may alas find themselves truly "gone astray, and woke to find myself alone in a dark woods." For all too many, the second half of their life will be obliterated by an immediate death in the Pound (most make no attempt to find homes for older dogs, but kill them at the earliest moment legally allowed). Estimation of age within this range is very crude guesswork : the dog is no longer recognizably young and not yet recognizably old. Tooth wear and accumulation of tooth crud are not reliable indicators, as some young dogs have badly worn, cruddy teeth. Cloudiness in the eyes is probably more reliable as a sign that the dog is somewhere in this range. An additional problem in bitches is that it can be difficult to determine whether or not she is already spayed : the surface scar on the skin may well have faded away, but the sutures in the abdominal wall should still be palpatable by the skilled hand. When in doubt, either foster the bitch long enough for a normal complete estrus cycle to run through (it is likely to take this amount of time to find a home for a dog this age anyway) or else restrict adoption to someone you feel certain you can trust to have her spayed promptly should she prove to be intact (I would suggest giving a rebate of 1/2 the adoption fee if such spay is needed).

Dogs this age who come into Rescue almost always do so because the owner has suffered major personal difficulties or disaster. In the extreme case the owner has dropped dead unexpectedly and without having made provision for the dog. The owner may have suffered major health collapse and become incarcerated in a long term health care facility or an old age home. Other causes : loss of home & job, disastrous divorce leaving owner broke or unable to feed both kids and dog. The middle-aged rescue dog has almost always been loved and responsibly cared for prior to the owner's disaster. These dogs are premium adoption candidates. They are generally very well behaved and usually in good health. They still have many years of life ahead of them which they can enjoy in comfortable health and in which they can provide a mature and civilized companionship to their adopters.

Paradoxically, these dogs are very hard to place. The great majority of adopters are sure that they only want a younger dog. Some assume that a middle-aged dog will not bond to a new family. This is definitely not so : having had a loving relationship with a prior owner, these dogs very readily bond to another loving person --- not overnight, but readily enough : "maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life." (In contrast a young dog who was abandoned without ever haveing been socialized to humans may indeed have difficulty bonding to anyone.) Some assume that a middle-aged dog is too set in all its behaviors to learn anything new or adjust to new rules in the new home. Again definitely not so : a dog that has had some education earlier in life (as most of these have) remains very receptive to further education; a dog used to being subject to the alpha/owner's household rules (as most of these have) will be ready to subject himself to a new alpha's rules. In many cases the dog already knows most of what the new owner wants a dog to know, so there is not much need for teaching new tricks.

The most serious concern of most adopters is the lesser longevity and uncomfortable possibility of bereavement in the not too distant future. Time's winged chariot seems to be hovering near. The adopters most concerned with mortality are those who have recently lost a beloved old dog. Their guts scream out "let's post-pone the next bereavement as long as we can!" With this fear one must have the utmost sympathy. And of course it is all too true that older dogs as a group (a group large enough to constitute a statistical population) have a lesser average life expectancy than younger dogs as a group. But within each group, some individuals will die very much sooner than the rest and some will live very much longer than the rest (remember the "bell shaped curve" from statistics class). There is no way to predict how long a particular individual will live (unless already obviously mortally ill) : only God Herself knows and She isn't telling any mortal human (She doesn't answer her e-mail personally and the EPA no longer allows her to use the Burning Bush method. ) A phrase I like to use is "even if you get an 8 week old puppy, you can't know whether this one is destined to be a canine George Burns or a canine Sergei Grinkov" (2 time Gold medalist in Pairs Figure Skating who dropped dead suddenly at the age of 28). Most of these middle-aged dogs still have anywhere from a precious few to quite a few good years of mellow companionship to share with a compassionate adopter.

The middle aged Bouv is highly suitable for all the situations mentioned under the mature Bouv : children, aging grandparents, compatibility with another dog. They are also well suited to an owner who is less active. and/or is older and/or appreciates an especially serene , laid-back, let's hang out together companion.

THE OLD BOUV (10 years and older)

Past 10 years, a Bouv must be regarded as a senior dog. Since Bouvs live anywhere from 10 to 15 years, some of these dogs still have several good years left to enjoy with their adopter, but in honnesty one has to admit that some may have less than a year left. The old dog is recognized by cloudy eyes and stiffened gait, especially stiffened rear end gait. Estimates of age are rough guesswork, and estimates of future longevity are impossible unless your vet finds something definitely wrong (eg failing heart or kidneys, metastasized cancer) indicating very limited prospects. Some of these dogs still have quite a few good years left to share with an adopter, some only a lesser span.

These dogs virtually always come into Rescue because of a disaster in the owner's life. They have been well cared for and are generally extremely well behaved. They are far more interested in being comfortable than in raising hell anyway. They are ideal companions for an adopter who wants an easy-going companion for a low activity lifestyle.

People won't be beating down your door to adopt the old dogs, but a few special people will adopt and cherish them.. The realistic rescuer who accepts such a dog should accept that the dog may need lifetime fostering by the rescuer, with the duty of humane euthanasia when the dog's health eventually fails. However there have been successful placements of very old dogs. In attempting to place such dogs, I would appeal to the adopter's desire to give unselfishly to a worthy and grateful dog. I would also seek out adopters who are themselves old enough and realistic enough to worry that they might pre-decease their dog; for these the old dog's limited life expectancy matches well with their own.


Adopters, please don't limit your thoughts and your love to the younger dogs. Give the middle-aged and older ones a chance !!

If you are as concerned with how much you can give to a dog as you are with how much you can get from a dog, consider that the harder-to-place middle-aged an

d older dogs need your gift of life far more than do the younger dogs.

Moreover your adoption of an older dog is a gift to the Rescue movement generally and to all dogs needing rescue.

Right now the known fact that the chances of adoption for an older dog are low causes Pounds and Shelters to label them as "unadoptable", ie no attempt to place them is made. That means that a stray will be killed the moment its legally required hold-for-owner-reclaim has expired. For the owner-surrender , it can mean death the moment the owner has left the premises.

For any Rescuer or Rescue Group that is over-burdened by sheer numbers of abandoned dogs relative to the number of foster homes available for temporary care pending adoption, the fact that it takes two or three times as long a foster care period to find an adopter means that the Rescuer may have to choose between saving one older dog or two or three younger ones. Inevitably if the total number of dogs needing help becomes too great relative to the foster care available, this means that the Rescuer will have to start refusing to accept older dogs. (Currently a number of rescue groups for over-popularized breeds have had to make the policy of refusing to accept dogs 5 years and older : they are left in the Pound to die.) The Rescuer's only other alternative would be to set some kind of time limit on how long a hard-to-place dog will be fostered before being euthanized. For most Rescuers the notion of euthanizing a dog that they are fostering (other than for serious temperament problems or intractable health problems) is totally unacceptable, so the old unplacable dog remains. If the old dogs are kept in foster care permanently, it inevitably becomes necessary at some point for the rescuer to have to refuse to take in the next new dog, yet it is impossible for the Rescuer to evade knowledge that this is probably a death sentence for the unknown new dog. For sensitive souls these dilemmas become an unbearable burden : they crack up, they burn out, they get out of rescue work altogether.

On the side of what you will get from the dog, the older dog offers a more mellow and serene companionship, a deeper and more sensitive relationship. Those of you who have had some previous deeply loved dog whom you had for all or most of its lifespan, please give some serious thought to the following questions. At what stage of its life was your dog's companionship actually the most enjoyable and problem free ? When you miss and mourn the absence of your dog, how do you envision the dog, ie at what age? If you could have your dog back for just one single day , you might well choose a day of youth so the dog would be at its own highest exhuberance, its own fullest of life; but if you could have your dog back again for one whole year or forever, but permanently at some one chosen age, what age would that be? If you will think seriously, you may to your surprise realize that the best years of your dogs life were the middle years or late middle years, perhaps the latest age at which your dog still enjoyed good health.

In any case, for the wise man the "best years" are the ones you are living right now and those you still have left to live. Since dogs don't mentally dwell in past or future, for every dog the best and most valued years are those of the present. If you can bring yourself to share this doggish view, you will see that the middle-aged and older dog is willing & able to share the best years of its life and of your own with you. Please consider adopting this precious dog and giving it the gift of the best years of its life. !!!!



Update Notes

In the years since this was written, a few changes in intake patterns have occurred. <.p>

One favorable change is that we see a larger proportion of dogs brought directly to Rescue rather than to the Pound or Shelter. That means we get a far better behavioral and health history on the dog, and we also get some chance to educate the surrendering owner and prevent them from making the same mistakes all over again. Another favorable change is that we are seeing fewer "rebellious teenage" dogs coming in, possibly because of the legion of good books on dog rearing and the legion of good Web sites offering realistic breed information and training information.

However a very sad change is that we are seeing more and more middle aged and older dogs and more dogs with neglected health problems. It's hard to understand this trend, but perhaps it is partly due to the increasingly precarious economic position of many American families , ie the combination of the lack of good saving habits and tendency to live on credit beyond one's current income plus the increasingly common occurrance of loss of employment. Increasing incidence of one parent families through divorce (and failure of the non-custodial parent to honor child support obligations) and through single-parent childbearing would also create families in which the finances are subject to sudden total disaster. In all these cases, it is the dog who is the big loser, the dog who is considered "expendable" or "burdensome".


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site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 1995 revised 7/31/03
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