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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Animal & Veterinary

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by Estella Z. Jones, D.V.M.
FDA Veterinarian Newsletter September/October 1998 Volume XIII, No V

Bouvier des Flandres is French for "cowdog of Flandres". He originated in Flandres, a former province of France and was used as a guard, cartpuller, cattle protector and drover. During World War I, the Bouvier pulled supply carts, delivered messages and detected the living-wounded from the dead on the battlefield. World War II was a difficult time for the Bouvier, especially in France, where long-term breeding programs were lost to a large extent. The World War II Nazi atrocity is illustrated by the fact that registration levels in Belgium during the 1930’s were estimated at 1,000 dogs per year, and were not approached again until the 1960’s. The modern Bouvier evolved out of Belgian reconstruction after the war because French breeding was predominantly an offshoot of the Bouvier des Roulers lines. Mysteriously, the American Kennel Club recognized the Bouvier in the late 1920s, although the first two Bouviers in AKC records were Belgian imports that did not appear until 1931. From 1943 through 1948, only eighteen Bouviers were registered in the United States and the breed was considered almost unknown. The first American standard for the breed was not approved until 1959 and revised in 1975.

Modern times find him as a Seeing Eye Dog, Guard or Police Dog, as well as a family friend, guardian and protector. His intelligence and initiative enable him to also perform as a tracking dog. He loves water and can easily be taught to retrieve. The Bouvier is a rough-coated dog of notably rugged appearance. He is a compact-bodied, powerfully built dog of understated carriage and alert intelligent expression. The Bouvier is loyal, gentle, and carries himself with power and self-confidence. The breed is extremely hardy and males can measure between 24½ to 27½ inches, weighing about 75 to 115 pounds. Although Bouviers can make very good outside dogs, you will miss the strong bond of affection that develops between the Bouvier and its owner when they live together. Since their guard and protective instinct are strong, they will not roam far away from home. They are very calm and will not pace inside the home. Their calm and rational personality, coupled with the fact that shedding is minimal, makes him an excellent in-the-home companion. Although he needs exercise and is willing to work or play to the extent of your energy, he is generally quiet and non-destructive in the house, easily fitting into the domestic routine. One very desirable attribute of the Bouvier is minimal shedding, because the loose hair is held in the rough coat. The Bouvier needs the rough outer coat to provide protection from the elements and the undercoat to provide insulation.

The Bouvier is not -- and should not be -- a dog for every family. There is certainly nothing wrong with doing your research and concluding that you would rather own a Rottweiler, a Labrador Retriever, a Standard Poodle, or a cat. As with other strongly protective breeds, such as the Rottweiler and German Shepherd, the Bouvier should go to a home where he will be taken seriously. Bouviers require from their owners extra commitment, a willingness to work with and train the dog, and especially the assertiveness and confidence necessary to gain and maintain the animal’s respect. Strangers are cautious of their appearance and their bark, but owners can enjoy their faithful behavior and trustworthiness. Although the Bouvier must not be obnoxiously aggressive, a stranger approaching home or automobile will be watched and announced, and any act of overt aggression will be confronted. This keen balance between aggressive protectiveness and respect for other creatures in the routine social context is a key characteristic of the breed. The Bouvier is known for his ability to discriminate — to use his instinctive ability to sense the intent of a potential adversary and then respond accordingly. Most Bouviers are known for having excellent capacity to react appropriately to the situation. Bouviers are accepting of family members and guests, but are also known as dogs that will give a potential troublemaker something to think about. Beyond the protection element, most people obtain a dog to provide companionship, because they expect living with a dog to be a fun, enjoyable experience. The properly bred and raised Bouvier can be a fearless protector, a competitive sport dog, a guardian of livestock, and a most faithful companion.

Much of the character of the adult Bouvier is the consequence of his environment and upbringing. Assertive, strong dogs - like fast and powerful automobiles - are among life’s greatest pleasures but are potentially dangerous when treated as casual diversions. There is simply no more loyal and loving a companion than these unique beasts. Changes in technology have created new work for the modern Bouvier. It is a simple but significant fact that the emphasis for the Bouvier breed must be work, even with a practical modern application (i.e., protection, tracking and searching). Breeding communities must come to the realization that such protective-heritage working breeds must be maintained through selection based on the working test as well as on conformation.