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Briard devotees describe him as “a heart wrapped in fur.” This French herding breed is large and protective; he’s an excellent watchdog and will guard his family and property just as carefully as he guarded his flocks. He is both independent and devoted to his people.
Briards have made a variety of big and small-screen appearances, most notably in the series “Married With Children” and the soap opera “All My Children,” as well as the movies “Top Dog” and “Dennis the Menace.”
The Briard an unusual-looking dog, characterized by his eyebrows, beard, double dewclaws on each hind leg and a J-shaped tail. The Briard has a long history in France as a guard dog and herding breed.
These days, the Briard is primarily a family companion or show dog. He has many good qualities, but he is not the easiest dog to live with. If you want the calm, dignified, good-natured dog that is the Briard at his best, be prepared to do a lot of homework to find him and put in plenty of effort training and socializing him once you bring him home.
The breed standard says that the Briard will display a certain independence. The breed has something of a reputation as a rough, tough, aggressive working dog, but proper Briard temperament is better described as outgoing, sweet and willing to please, with strong guarding instincts, able to discriminate between situations that call for protective action and those that don’t. There is a difference between protectiveness and aggression, and careful breeders work to avoid producing Briards with an aggressive temperament.
Early, frequent socialization is essential to prevent a Briard from becoming overly suspicious or fearful of anything new or different. Purchase a Briard puppy from a breeder who raises the pups in the home and ensures that they are exposed to many different household sights and sounds, as well as people, before they go off to their new homes. Continue socializing your Briard by taking him to puppy kindergarten class, visits to friends and neighbors, and outings to local shops and businesses.
Begin training as soon as you bring your Briard puppy home, while he is still at a manageable size. Use positive reinforcement training techniques such as praise, play and food rewards, and be patient. The Briard can be independent and willful, but he learns quickly and will respond to kind, firm, consistent training. Don’t make him repeat the same action over and over again. He’s smart and becomes bored easily, so keep training sessions short and interesting.
While you might think of him as an outdoor dog, nothing could be farther from the truth. Briards are guardian dogs, devoted to their people and especially the children in the family. (Parents, be forewarned. The Briard may not permit corporal punishment.) It’s been said that they need people more than they need food. A Briard should certainly have access to a securely fenced yard, but when the family is home, he should be in the house with them. Chaining a Briard out in the yard and giving him little or no attention is not only cruel, it can also lead to aggression and destructive behavior.
The Briard’s shaggy coat sheds little and doesn’t hold dirt or water, but expect to spend a couple of hours a week grooming it, more if you have let it go for too long and it develops mats or tangles. Other grooming requirements include cleaning the ears and trimming the nails as needed, and bathing the Briard when he’s dirty.
When a Briard is right for you, the reward is a dog that his fans describe as “a heart wrapped in fur.” Be sure that you are also right for him.
The Briard has a long history in France as a herding breed and guard dog, protecting flocks from wolves and poachers. His reputation is that of a brave and heroic protector. In addition, the breed has been used to track and hunt game, as a sentinel in war time and as a pack dog to carry items.
The breed probably descends from rough-coated sheepdogs that came to Europe in the Middle Ages. Dogs that resemble the Briard are depicted in eighth-century tapestries, and the dogs are mentioned in 12th-century records. A breed standard was written for the dogs in 1867, and a French breed club was formed in 1909.
Both Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette brought Briards to the United States, but it wasn’t until 1922 that a litter of Briards was registered with the American Kennel Club. The AKC recognized the breed in 1928. The breed currently ranks 125th among the breeds registered by the AKC, down from 110th in 2000.
The breed standard waxes poetic about the Briard’s temperament, saying he is a dog of heart, with spirit and initiative, wise and fearless with no trace of timidity. The Briard should also be intelligent, easily trained, faithful, gentle and obedient, with an excellent memory and an ardent desire to please. He has an instinct to protect his people and home. Reserved with strangers, he is loving and loyal toward his family and friends. Note that he doesn’t like discord in the home. He has been known to step in to protect children who are getting a spanking. Like every dog, he comes in a range of personalities: some are stubborn, some are serious, some are silly.
Whatever his personality, the proper Briard has an inherent good nature with a sweetness and willingness to please. A Briard can be outgoing and friendly toward people, yet still have strong guarding instincts. Briards who have been properly socialized can recognize when guarding behavior is appropriate and when it’s not.
He has the potential to be a wonderful dog, but he doesn’t come that way automatically. He needs plenty of early socialization and training, as well as strong leadership from an owner he can respect. Because he is an independent thinker -- a vestige of his heritage as a herding dog -- he is not necessarily the best choice for a first-time dog owner.
Train the Briard with positive reinforcement techniques: praise, play, treats and other rewards. Force will only make him dig in his dewclaws and resist you.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
If you have cats or other pets, or would like to someday, be sure the Briard grows up with them or is exposed to them frequently while he is young. This breed has a strong prey drive and may not be friendly toward cats or other critters unless he has learned that lesson at an early age.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality. Whatever you want from a Briard, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.
Health problems that can affect Briards include panosteitis, a painful condition that can cause limping in young dogs. Eye conditions such as progressive retinal atrophy and congenital night blindness are potential concerns. Other health problems that may affect the Briard include cutaneous lymphoma and hemangiosarcoma; von Willebrand disease, a bleeding disorder; and hypothyroidism, a common hormonal disease in dogs in which the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroxin.
Not all of these conditions can be tested for and some don’t appear until later in life. At a minimum, ask the breeder to show an OFA thyroid clearance and certification from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation that the eyes are healthy.
Not all of these conditions are detectable in a growing puppy, and it is impossible to predict whether an animal will be free of these maladies, which is why you must find a reputable breeder who is committed to breeding the healthiest animals possible. They should be able to produce independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for common defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries come in.
The Briard Club of America participates in the Canine Health Information Center, a health database. Before individual Briards can be issued a CHIC number, breeders must submit hip evaluations from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and eye test results from the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF), plus genetic test results for congenital stationary night blindness. PennHIP, GDC, OVC and FCI hip evaluations are also accepted. Optional CHIC test results that can be submitted are OFA elbow evaluations and OFA certification of thyroid health.
Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. A dog need not receive good or even passing scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease, but all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents. If the breeder tells you she doesn't need to do those tests because she's never had problems in her lines and her dogs have been "vet checked," then you should go find a breeder who is more rigorous about genetic testing.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live a good life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Briard at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
The Briard’s double coat is long and slightly wavy, with a fine, dense undercoat. On the plus side, it doesn’t hold dirt or water, and usually it doesn’t shed much if it is brushed regularly. On the down side, the coat mats easily. Keeping it beautiful and tangle-free takes at least two hours a week. The reward is a dog who is both beautiful and comfortable.
Grooming a Briard also means keeping his beard clean. There will be food in it after he eats, and it will be wet after he drinks. Be prepared to brush and clean the beard frequently if you don’t want to be grossed out by its condition.
Briard puppies are easy to groom, and that is the time when you need to accustom them to standing still for grooming. Teach your puppy to stand and lie down nicely while you brush and comb him. This is essential because when he’s six months to a year old, his coat is going to start changing. During the time that his adult coat is growing out, he can become matted very easily, so stay on top of his grooming needs. If you slack off even a bit, he can develop a solid mass of tangles seemingly overnight. If you have made grooming time special, your Briard will love the attention and this period of coat growth -- not to mention your Briard’s lifetime -- will be much easier for both of you.
About shedding: some Briards shed more than others, but they all shed to some degree. Frequent brushing will keep shedding to a minimum. Besides hair, your Briard will shed any dirt and debris that he picks up in his coat while he’s outdoors. If you have a mudroom or garage, it might be a good idea to brush him off there before you let him back in the house.
How often you bathe your Briard is strictly a matter of personal preference as well as the individual dog’s coat type. If you show him, you might bathe him twice a week. If you are good about brushing him regularly, he might need only one bath a year, if that.
The rest is basic care, with a few caveats. First, those nails. Lots of dogs have nails that are white, so it’s easy to see the quick, the blood vessel that feeds the nail -- you know, the one that causes your dog to scream in agony when you accidentally cut it. Briards, unfortunately, have black nails, so the quick is not visible. That means you have to trim very carefully. Try trimming just a little bit at a time, or ask your dog’s breeder to show you how to trim the nails. Some people use a tool called a Dremel, sort of an electric sander for dog nails. Again, ask a breeder or groomer to show you how to use it so you don’t get the dog’s hair caught in it.
Last but not least, keep the ears clean and dry to prevent bacterial or yeast infections and brush the teeth frequently for good overall health and fresh breath.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a good breeder is the key to finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as is possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than in making big bucks.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes take to avoid those problems. A breeder should want to be a resource for you throughout your dog’s life.
Look for more information about the Briard and start your search for a good breeder at the website of the Briard Club of America. Choose a breeder who has agreed to abide by the BCA’s code of conduct, which prohibits the sale of puppies to or through pet stores and calls for the breeder to test dogs for genetic defects before breeding them.
Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. Breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical and should be reported to the BCA and the American Kennel Club. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Many reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of a Briard puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. Expect to pay $1,000 or more. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) and, ideally, working titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. If you are offered a puppy at a cut-rate price, it’s wise to wonder just where the breeder cut corners. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Briard might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Briard in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Briards available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter.org can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Briard. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Networking can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. Most people who love Briards love all Briards. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Briard Club of America’s rescue network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Briard rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a Briard home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a pup. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Briard, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, take your Briard to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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