Function & Purpose of the Bouvier
© Copyright 2018. This article is copyrighted by the American Bouvier des Flandres Club (ABdFC) and may not be reproduced without the expressed written permission of the ABdFC.
The Bouvier is a unique breed whose cobby body, rough coat and beard set it apart from other herding breeds. Theirs is a spirit forged on the fields and in farm work done in their homeland. This essence has its roots in the working partnership between stockman and drover. The herd-guarding function is the key to the Bouvier soul. This is the heritage of the breed. Above all else, he was a dog, evolved purposefully from other dogs, that could do varying kinds of work on the farm. This is what led to the versatility of the modern Bouvier.
The Bouvier’s character is to be calm, rational, discriminating — prudently bold. He can be stubborn but still he is quite intelligent and very trainable. Because they have a high level of trainability, responsibility and discrimination, they are suited to modern police-style working functions. They can excel at tracking, search and rescue, drug detection, are extremely agile for their size and have an excellent capacity to react appropriately and only to the degree a situation requires.
Although a Bouvier should not be obnoxiously aggressive to the stranger approaching his home or automobile, he should be watchful and alert and announce the approach, responding in kind to only the level of the threat. This balance between aggressive protectiveness and respect for other creatures in routine social situations is the key characteristic of the breed.
Much of the Bouvier’s character is the direct consequence of his original herding function, where, after initial direction, working without human supervision was often the norm. Consider the herd dog threatened by a marauding wild animal or person — the correct Bouvier strategy is to ward off the intruder and break off the encounter when they flee. The Bouvier must be shrewd enough not to be drawn away from his charges, leaving them alone and vulnerable. His natural inclination should be to protect rather than punish; he comes to know that his responsibility is the survival of the herd or his family, rather than the pursuit and defeat of an individual offender.
The herding and farming needs of societies where the Bouvier evolved required that each dog have interaction with his people. In contrast, many of the hunting breeds, for example, were and still are pack oriented, working as a group rather than as individuals. Generations would be bred, kept and worked, still useful in their labor, but without real human contact.
Many herding breeds, including the Bouvier, did not work primarily at the constant direction of the shepherd or cattleman, but rather took on much individual responsibility. If a predator threatened, it was routinely driven off. If a young animal strayed, it was returned to the herd. Even when it wandered out of sight the dog’s keen olfactory and hearing capabilities made it possible for him to find and return it.
Among the herding breeds, there are differences in the relationship between dog and herd. Herding dogs serve two broad functions. One is to control and move stock; the other is to protect from predators. Some breeds perform one function exclusively, and others are more versatile. Relatively large central and eastern European sheep dogs such as the Komondor essentially become surrogate herd members.
By their very nature they adapt well to living with the sheep as virtual members of one extended family. Because of these loyalties, they drive off any predator — human as well as animal that poses a threat, but they do not direct or control the stock. Other breeds, such as the Border Collie, have strong control over the stock. They keep the herd together and move them into or out of pens or elsewhere at the direction of the shepherd. This breed has a close relationship with their human partners, but such breeds are not necessarily inherently protective of either the animals or humans. They evolved to meet a set of specific needs — assisting the shepherd in controlling the sheep and moving them long distances.
Neither of these molds exactly fit the Bouvier. As is evidenced by history and his structure, he is primarily a cattle dog, with not only strong protective instincts, and the ability to move and direct stock as well. Regarding the movement and control of stock by the herding breeds, there are two specific styles or predispositions for type of herding work: Driving-moving the stock out in front of the handler keeping them together as they go, and Gathering-rounding up the stock and bringing them to the handler.
The Bouvier is primarily a ‘drover’ in herding style versus a ‘gathering’ dog. Some may have a clear preference for one style or another, but most have the ability to do whichever the situation calls for.
The Bouvier is generally a free-moving dog, who runs fast and close in first encounters with stock. Deliberate training teaches slower pace and distance in the approach. He exhibits strong body language even body-blocking, anticipating movement with ‘heading off’ and an ability to focus and concentrate in controlling his charges through intimidation. He moves with confidence and a bold, steady, stable calmness. His upright carriage and self-assuredness contribute to the overall sense of power the dog conveys.
An understanding of the Bouvier’s herding characteristics gives insight into his behavior and interactions in social situations and with other animals. Although an intelligent, independent (and remember, sometimes stubborn) thinker capable of evaluating a situation and making up his own mind, the Bouvier is readily responsive to appropriate control — looking to his owner or handler for cues. He is sensitive to both his ‘person’s’ feelings and to the demands of a situation.
Owning a Bouvier like many a dog requires patience, a commitment to coat grooming and a desire to have a loyal companion that follows you around the house keeping a watchful eye on his family.