Bouvier des Flandres meaning “cattleherder of Flanders”. 

The Bouvier was known in Belgium, its country of origin, to be a “farm dog” whose job description included the job of herding livestock. The definition of “herding” would be: “to initiate controlled movement of stock from one place to another” and that is one of the things the Bouvier was bred to do and can do. The exact original job description for specific work to be performed by that original farm dog has been lost through the ages but basically would have been to take livestock out to

 pasture and then bring it back and to help perform the daily menial chores needed in farming livestock for dairy and meat production which would include chores such as sorting, penning, movement of herds numbering from a few to many (hundreds) and help in working livestock in pens, doing tasks too numerous to iitemize.

Some speculation has arisen from time to time as to whether the Bouvier moved stock from home to pasture unescorted by shepherd, guarded its livestock, and then brought it back at the end of the day, which in all actuality could be accomplished and useful to the farmer of old. No documentation remains to validate or deny this speculation or to identify exactly what the Bouvier did on the farm. But it remains indisputable that the original Bouvier DID have a place on the farm as a herding dog and shepherd’s companion.

The instincts for the herding abilities needed to accomplish those tasks logically needed on a farm by those long ago forefathers still remain intact in the breed today. They await nothing more than a handler’s knowledge and training to tap them and bring them to the surface.

Herding Style/Traits

The Bouvier is considered an upright, loose-eyed herding breed. Meaning that it does not use the attribute known as “eye” when herding. (“Eye” is an attribute noted in Kelpies and Border Collies where they stare intently at the livestock and seem to slowly stalk it.) Though some Bouviers may exhibit some “eye” it is not as evident or noted as a herding characteristic of the breed. The Bouvier is noted as having a powerful “presence” with livestock and many times livestock, which is well dog broke to other breeds, will overreact or panic upon their first introduction to a Bouvier. A period of introduction is required with many Bouviers until livestock (mainly sheep) realize that the dog is under control and exhibiting proper herding behavior and to allow the dog time to socialize with the herd and establish its control. To put it bluntly sheep seem to think a wolf is in the pen and out to eat them. Thus a complaint of many Bouvier herding enthusiasts is that livestock act very differently to the Bouvier than they do “other” breeds whether “eye” dogs or other “loose-eyed” dogs. Big, black and hairy is often the reason for total chaos in a herding arena during a trial (whether Bouvier or other big, black, hairy dog). If livestock was not properly desensitized to this look and it is the first time its seen a Bouvier, it can appear to be very traumatic to the livestock. Especially sheep. The Bouvier doesn’t help this concept, as their approach/posture toward livestock can be very forceful and deliberate without the finesse of many breeds. The Bouvier does have a lot of panache when herding. They are a breed open to training and can be trained to “finesse” the livestock to a certain degree but it remains that it has been said that, as to herding style, a Border Collie “finesses” the livestock while a Bouvier simply “MOVES” livestock as the Bouv’s presence is such a dominating force. Some Bouvs will tend to be headers (go to the head upon introduction of stock and try to control the livestock from that direction) while others will tend more towards driving (go to the rears of the livestock and try for control from that end). This is a variable in most herding breeds of dogs and is a matter of training to achieve whatever desired result the handler wishes. But the Bouv instinct to control livestock movement is innate and their wish to maintain a “group” remains intact down through the generations. The Bouv is not known as a “long distance” dog (covering great distances to round up and fetch livestock back to a specific place). It exhibits a desire to work closer in to the handler, which can basically be simply within seeing distance, which is still a fairly long way away. Training can enhance the distance issue just like with every other breed. But the breed is not noted for doing naturally round and big outruns. Outruns (the path from start to placement behind the livestock for fetching) can be an inherited talent and the Bouvier does not exhibit the innate skill for big outruns. They have to be taught. How much “talent” (natural ability to group and control) will vary greatly within the breed. The Bouvier seems to show great logic and judgment in its herding prowess and thus will seem to challenge or question the handler’s efforts at training. Refusing to give ground or change its behavior on certain issues. A good handler will simply answer the questions presented by the dog in training. A bad handler will try to dominate his dog into doing his will without proper explanation as to why it should be done a certain way. Therein lies a potentially damaging scenario between handler and dog. The Bouvier wishes to see the logic in all of its endeavors and given such explanation will give its handler 100% to achieve whatever task it is required to do. Unlike some other breeds which are driven to herd to the point of obsessive/compulsive behavior and thus can take dominating/controlling training, the Bouvier is usually “in it” for the handler…….. not for himself. His desire to please is why he continues to work. Not his desire to control the stock. Thus the drive and desire of a Bouvier to work WITH its handler can be destroyed by improper handling or misunderstanding the nature of the breed and how its mind works. This isn’t said to imply that a firm hand isn’t needed. It is said to explain that a firm hand with understanding and explanation is needed instead.

 

 Though the Bouvier’s name indicates it is a cattle dog they are very adept at herding cattle as well as other livestock such as sheep or anything that groups well enough to herd like ducks. It is simply a matter of self-control/confidence for the dog to handle each type of livestock presented before it. The Bouvier tends to like to be “up close” and “personal” with its own livestock which is, in general, excellent qualities for herding cattle as cattle need a pushier/more aggressive behavior in a dog for respect and a dog with more power and presence. Depending on breed of sheep the approach needed for herding can vary greatly but the Bouv can be taught to “rate” or vary its distance from the livestock as needed and in effect reduce the amount of pressure the sheep feels from the Bouvier allowing the livestock to feel less pressure or relax more. Where one specific group of sheep may be able to be worked by a Border Collie just 10 feet away, that same group of sheep may panic if a Bouvier gets any closer than 50 feet away. Thus a need to understand that a different approach to herding may be needed when using a Bouvier as “all things are NOT equal” in the herding world. Livestock’s reactions to Bouvs in general will always be more violent or reactive. Sheep that are dog broke with a Bouvier will become used to the fierce, wolf like looks of the Bouvier and the Bouvs desire to “touch somebody” and become heavier to work (remain calm while allowing a dog to work up close). Research as to the original types of livestock the Bouvier was bred to work has led to the belief that they were used on smaller herds of dairy cattle and/or beef cattle in Belgium where the stock was more docile in nature and worked by the dogs every day. Wool sheep combining the attributes of wool and meat would have been the most likely type of sheep seen on Belgium farms. Such types of livestock would have been perfect for the Bouvier to handle. Some animals could be challenging and contrary but the Bouvier with its dominating presence would have quickly put any uncooperative livestock in their place and thus the herd would have remained respectful of the dogs and easily manageable.

The Bouvier has a very trainable temperament for herding…………. once you get past the prey drive so many Bouvs exhibit and the handler gains control. Sometimes starting a Bouv can be an eye-opener for the owner/handler as the Bouv will try to dominate the livestock into submitting to its will. This is the Bouv way. They wish to get personal and teach each and every individual in a herd that THEY are ruler of this realm. The Bouvier will meet individuals in a herd that run or challenge with immediate and absolute force. It is up to the handler to communicate with the dog and EXPLAIN to the dog that there is a certain way in which the handler wishes for things to be done. Force is not always needed. Some dogs will be more headstrong than others in how they wish to handle the challenges perceived from the livestock. But it always remains for the handler to simply explain through training the proper way to control the situation.

Today, the future of the Bouvier as a herding dog is bright. There are several herding organizations offering programs and titles to herding breeds and the Bouvier is welcome to show in all of them. Though the vast majority of Bouviers are now companions and are not asked to perform the duty of herding, a small percentage of Bouviers are still noted as being shown in the different herding associations as well as there are some Bouviers which still live and work as their forbearers did on small farms or ranches across the U.S.A. Doing the jobs needed and required of a herding dog.

 

 

Gail @ 6 months, just a little introduction ~ Gail is a granddaughter to our WTCH Lark out of Solo SchH2

 

Piper at HiC - winter 2009

Trouble HiT at the ABdFC All Breed National Specialty

Kathy and 8 month old Sophie Rose JHD - autumn 2007

Kathy and 6 mo old SophieRose - summer 2007

Sunny and Lark ~ spring 2007

          

WTCH Briarlea Lark CD TD PT,  multi - HiT Sheep and High Combined from the started classes Canadian HI

Briarlea Riley CD RN RA in Pennsylvania testing the tester!

Pam's pup Briarlea Rytar RA

 

Briarlea Tularosa Jewel RN, RE  2 years old, herding training in New Mexico with Beth

Briarlea Cutter CD earning his HT at the 2005 Bouvier Nationals and with owner Pam Harder working him in Minnesota

Sunny and Zonnetje HT working in Wisconsin

Stephanie's Briarlea Freya at Ewetopia as a pup

 

Briarlea Ulta Ajax BH as a pup working sheep with Lori in Massachusetts

Fan and our sheep at 5 months

Nora and her turkeys

Got a picture of your Briarlea Bouvier working stock?  Send it on and we'll add it!

Saskatchewan Stock Dog Association article about herding with Bouviers (photos of Briarlea Bouviers used to illustrate)