The Bouvier originated in Flandres. These
Flemish farm dogs were influenced by Dutch, Belgian, French and American
breeding. Bouvier is French for "cattle worker."
The breed was strongly influenced by both
world wars. Many dogs were lost because of limited food and poor living
conditions. They became military dogs at this point in their history.
The bouvier were distinguished from smaller
sheepdogs as being "bigger, fiercer, more aggressive and has a bolder
look. He accompanies livestock sellers in their wanderings through
villages to fairs and markets and directs the herds along the roads…In all
the small farms the cow dog has a guard role to fulfill. At night he
becomes a watch dog." (from the book, Les Races de Chiens (The Breeds of
Dogs), published in 1894 in Belgium.)
Most Bouviers who are inclined to work are
gathering, fetching dogs with good balance and power to spare. When I test
a large number of Bouviers, or observe, I see more diverse styles of
working than in similar groups of some other breeds. This may reflect the
diverse gene pool as well as many years of selection. Soundness is a basic
consideration for physical characteristics and guard behaviors rather than
Testing dogs on well dog-broke sheep in a
small, well fenced round pen (60 ft. diameter) is a good method of
assessing Bouvier instinct. This first experience on stock may be very
enthusiastic, or tentative. Some dogs will bark. A percentage of dogs will
show no interest. Some dogs that show no desire to move the stock at first
may "turn on" with repeated introduction to stock. I have encountered a
number of dogs who only want to chase and select individual sheep,
apparently for dinner rather than to control the movement of stock. These
dogs are more suited to other dog activities. Some Bouviers who start
tentatively will become very enthusiastic with repeated opportunities to
My training experience has been primarily
on sheep. Other trainers tell me that their Bouviers wil readily switch to
cattle. Some dogs do an excellent job with ducks or geese. When
considering herding as an activity for Bouviers, there are several factors
Soundness is the basic
consideration. Dogs with unsound hips or other skeletal problems may
experience pain with running and quick turning. These dogs may not want to
work at all, or perhaps may grip inappropriately as they tire.
Body type may also be an influence.
Large, heavy-bodied dogs may have difficulty holding up to much work. I
recommend that herding dogs be kept very slender. Overheating may be a
Dogs whose coats are being kept groomed for the breed ring may damage
their coats, depending on ground cover where they are worked. However,
there are many dogs who do herding on a regular basis while being shown.
Before undertaking serious herding beyond an instinct test, Bouviers
should have good basic obedience: Sit, down, stay and come. They need to
clearly understand that people, not dogs, are to be in charge of
Bouviers seems to enjoy real farm work.
Many talented dogs reflect their "all purpose farm dog" heritage and
understand the tasks involved. They are kind to the lambs, firm with the
ewes, and careful of the horses. They have plenty of power to load
trailers and push the stock through the chutes. At night, they will put
the chickens and geese away. These dogs will willingly bring a large flock
in from the pasture, although their outrun may not be picture perfect.
Bouviers that abound with stock sense and
have the trainability to retain the necessary control are a joy to use in
a farm situation. Unfortunately, because of their size, lack of speed and
intolerance to heat, many Bouviers are not well suited to working for long
periods of time.
Choosing a Pup
If you are looking for a Bouvier to
do farm work, or competitive herding, you need a sound, athletic pup with
good solid temperament. Selecting a dog from a breeding of dogs who work
stock in a desirable manner is a good choice.
Training Bouviers is best started
in a small (60 ft. diameter) contained area with dog-broke sheep. If a dog
is slow to turn on, lighter sheep may be helpful.
Allowing the Bouvier to control the stock
and learn balance seems to work best. Guarding the sheep and frustrating
the dog leads to problems. If you are new to herding, find a trainer who
is comfortable with big dogs. Once you have the basics in a small area,
move to a larger area, more sheep, walkabouts, harder tasks, etc.
Bouviers seem to get bored easily, and tend
to make wrecks so they can fix them. Some will quit working if they work
is too boring and predictable.
Herding with your Bouvier is a challenging
and rewarding experience the dogs really enjoy.
Bouvier des Flandres: The Dogs of
Flandres Fields. James R. Engle. Alpine Publications 1991.
The Complete Dog Book. Howell Book House 1992.