- Height: 21.5 to 25.5 inches
- Weight: 55 to 70 pounds
The breed’s appearance in the film catapulted it to, well, not stardom, but it did put it on the path to American citizenship. In the nine years since the movie’s release, fans of the Picard imported dogs for themselves, formed a breed club, and began breeding and exhibiting the dogs. The Berger Picard achieved AKC recognition in 2015.
If the Picard looks familiar and you haven’t watched "Winn-Dixie," it may be because you’ve seen the breed in the Animal Planet show “Treehouse Masters,” the movies “Daniel and the Superdogs” or “Are We Done Yet?” or in J. Crew advertisements or a Verizon commercial.
People who live with the Picard describe him as comical, smart and athletic. He’s often described as having a humanlike gaze — one that says “I love you.”
These active dogs tend to have lots of stamina. Once you get the go-ahead from your veterinarian, this dog may be the ideal companion for jogging, hiking or running alongside your bicycle. Many love to swim and can hardly be dragged out of the water. At a minimum, the Berger Picard needs several brisk walks daily. He does have an "off switch," though, and will lie quietly in the house once you’re back from your outing.
Dog sports? He excels at herding, of course, and is also capable of succeeding in agility, obedience and rally, to name just a few of the events in which you might find him competing.
Is the Picard parfait? No breed is. He can be a digger and may be destructive if he’s bored. But if you and your family are active and loving with a strong sense of humor, he could be the perfect choice.
- Berger is the French word for shepherd, and Picardy is the region in France where the breed originated.
- One of the Picard’s distinctive characteristics is his J-shaped tail, reminiscent of a shepherd’s crook.
- Picard puppies typically go to their new homes at 12 weeks of age, but breeders may place them earlier depending on the individual puppy and family situation.
- The Berger Picard’s coat may be fawn or brindle. Some fawn-colored dogs have charcoal-gray trim on the outer edges of the ears and gray shading, or underlay, on the head and body. Brindle dogs can be any base color, ranging from light gray or fawn to black, with stripes or small patches of black, brown, red, gray or fawn.
The History of Berger PicardsImagine going to a movie theater and falling in love with Brad Pitt, then going home and finding out that you can actually buy Brad Pitt. That’s how Betsy Richards, president of the Berger Picard Club of America, describes her introduction to the breed, which first came to her attention when she saw the movie “Because of Winn-Dixie.”
Using the Internet, she tracked down a breeder in France and flew there in September 2005 to pick up her new dog. Almost as soon as she arrived home, she realized she needed a second one because her three sons monopolized the new puppy. That was the beginning of the breed’s formal history in this country. Although some Picards had been imported earlier, no one had ever made a successful effort to establish them here.
But long before the Picard immigrated to America, he herded sheep in northern France and is thought to be the oldest of the French sheepdogs. The concept of pure breeds didn’t exist until the mid-19th century, but dogs resembling the Picard have been depicted for centuries in tapestries, engravings and woodcuts.
The Berger Picard made an appearance in a French dog show in 1863 and participated in herding trials but was not especially popular. The French Shepherd Club did not officially recognize the breed until 1925. The American Kennel Club began registering the breed with its Foundation Stock Service in 2007 and recognized the Picard as a member of the Herding Group in July 2015.
Many of the dogs did not survive the ravages of two World Wars and approached extinction, but dog lovers in the 1950s worked to bring them back. Picards are now found not only in their native France but also in other European countries, Canada and the United States.
Berger Picard Temperament and PersonalityThe Picard is a character, no doubt about it. When he cocks his head and looks at you, you can’t help but laugh. This is a dog with a sense of humor. Picards are comedians and will do anything to make you laugh.
Picards are known for being ready and willing to perform. One is known to sing twice daily as the church bells ring. He does an excellent rendition of Ave Maria. When they’re not in choir practice, Picards generally bark an alert if they see or hear something unusual.
Herding breeds are highly observant, and the Berger Picard is no exception. He’s good at reading people and responding to their needs, whether emotional or physical.
Picard expert Betsy Richards describes the dogs as "teenage Prozac." When her sons would come home sullen from school, it took only 10 minutes with the dog to chase their bad mood away. Another Picard lives with a youngster who has diabetes. If his blood sugar drops during the night, the dog alerts the boy’s mother. The dog wasn’t trained for the role; he just picked it up. Picards can be great companions for active teens, but they can also do well in homes with infants or toddlers when properly supervised. They tend to be good family pets but often choose a single person as their favorite.
Picards like to give hugs, and they can get physical in the process. If you’re not prepared for 50 to 70 pounds of dog to jump up and wrap his paws around you, it can be a shock. Some people are floored by the experience — literally. Teaching a Picard to give hugs only when asked is probably a good idea, especially if he will be around young children or seniors.
Give a Berger Picard time to assess visitors. He’s a herding breed, so he has strong protective instincts and a spirited suspicion of strangers. He’ll be aloof or cautious at first until he decides they’re all right. It’s one of the characteristics that make him a good watchdog. On the whole, the Picard is lively, alert and confident. With good, early socialization, he should not be aggressive or threatening toward people. Without it, he can become skittish or unfriendly.
If a Picard is raised with cats, he’s more likely to be friendly toward them. But close observation is recommended, especially while you’re still getting to know the dog and his individual personality.
This is an intelligent and trainable dog. Like many smart dogs, though, the Picard can become bored with repetitive activities, such as obedience routines. Mix things up to keep his interest.
Like every dog, purebred or mixed breed, the Berger Picard can exhibit unwanted behaviors such as nuisance barking or digging if he doesn’t have a good way to occupy his time. Watch “Because of Winn-Dixie” to get an idea of what it might be like to live with one. Even though the trained canine actors are performing a part, the movie calls for them to howl and bark and run away, so it’s a realistic portrayal of some of the difficulties of owning a Picard.
Start training your Picard puppy the day you bring him home. 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 of age, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like the one for kennel cough) to be up-to-date, and many veterinarians recommend limiting exposure to other dogs and public places until the puppy series of vaccinations (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 his puppy vaccinations are completed.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see their puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality.
The perfect Picard doesn’t spring fully formed from the whelping box. He’s a product of his background and breeding. Whatever you want from a Picard, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
What You Need to Know About Berger Picard HealthThe Berger Picard is a generally healthy breed with an expected life span of 12 to 15 years. The oldest Picard in the United States is currently 13.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit particular diseases. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on her 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.
The main concern in Picards right now is an eye disease called progressive retinal atrophy (PRA). Hip dysplasia is also seen in the breed.
The Berger Picard Club of America participates in the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC), a health 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.
Health certifications your pup’s parents should have:
- Hip dysplasia: Hip evaluation, with results registered with the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or CHIC.
- Eyes: Examination by a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist, with results registered with the OFA.
- DNA repository: Blood sample stored with the OFA or CHIC.
- Optional: It’s a plus but not a must if your pup’s parents have had one or more of the following tests: OFA cardiac (heart) evaluation, OFA elbow dysplasia evaluation, or OFA thyroid evaluation from an approved laboratory.
If a breeder tells you she doesn’t need to do the tests because she’s never had problems in her lines, that her dogs have been vet checked or gives any other excuses for skimping on the genetic testing of her dogs, walk away immediately.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the more common canine health problems: obesity. Keeping a Picard at an appropriate weight is one of the easier ways to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
The Basics of Berger Picard GroomingThe Picard’s coat stands out for its tousled appearance and rough texture. It’s 2 to 3 inches long, enough to protect the dog but not so much that it hides the outline of his body. Completing his distinct look are rough eyebrows, a beard and mustache and a slight ruff framing the head. Together, these accents are known as “griffonage.”
Even a shaggy dog needs grooming. Brush the coat weekly to keep it clean and remove dead hair. You’ll need a coat rake to remove the undercoat during the twice-yearly shedding seasons in the spring and fall. Ask your dog’s breeder to show you how to pluck or strip the long hair edging the ears.
Frequent baths aren’t necessary unless you show your dog, but if you have a water-loving Picard, give him a thorough freshwater rinse to remove chlorine, algae or salt after a dip in the pool, lake or ocean. When you bathe him, use a dog shampoo formulated for a harsh coat.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails every week or two, and brush the teeth often — with a vet-approved pet toothpaste — for good overall health and fresh breath.
Finding a Berger PicardWhether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Choosing a Berger Picard BreederFinding a good breeder is a great way to find 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 possible. She is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than 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 to avoid those problems.
Start your search at the website of the Berger Picard Club of America. Its code of ethics specifies that members must never sell their puppies to or through pet stores, and it maintains a breeder referral service and tips on finding a healthy, well-bred puppy.
Look for a breeder who is active in her national breed club and a local club, too, if possible. She should regularly participate with her dogs in some form of organized canine activities, such as conformation showing, obedience or other dog sports, or therapy dog programs. She should sell her puppies with written contracts guaranteeing she’ll take the dogs back if at any time during their lives the owners cannot keep them.
Ask the breeder to provide you with documentation that your prospective puppy’s parents were cleared for hip and elbow dysplasia and for eye problems by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals.
Avoid breeders who seem interested only in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from a website that offers 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 and frustration in the long run.
Lots of 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. Quickie online purchases 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 the 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-percent 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.
And before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Berger Picard 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 Picard 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. You can find adult dogs to adopt 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.
Adopting a Dog From a Berger Picard Rescue or ShelterThere are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here’s how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Picard in your area in no time flat. The sites allow you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Berger Picards available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter.org can help you find animal rescue groups in your area.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a Picard 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 Picard. 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 Rescues
Most people who love Picards love all Picards. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Picard is a rare breed, so few dogs are available through rescues, but the Berger Picard Club of America has a rescue group that works to place dogs when they are in need of a new home.
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 Picard home for a trial 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 dog. Those 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?
Puppy or adult, breeder purchase or adoption, take your Picard to your veterinarian soon after you get him. 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.