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rec.pets.dogs: Briards Breed-FAQ


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                                  Briards
                                      
            Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About Briards
                                      
Author

   Copyright 1997 by Dianne Schoenberg.
     _________________________________________________________________
   
Table of Contents

     * The Dialog - How It Usually Goes
     * About The Briard
     * Working Ability and Temperament
     * Health
     * Getting A Briard
     _________________________________________________________________
   
The Dialog - How It Usually Goes

   Every Briard owner has heard it a thousand times:
   
   What an adorable dog! What kind is it?
          It's a Briard.
          
   Is that a Bouvier?
          No, it's a Briard.
          
   Is that a Giant Schnauzer?
          No, it's a Briard!
          
   Is that an Old English Sheepdog?
          No, it's a Briard!
          
   Is that an Irish Wolfhound?
          No, it's a BRIARD!!
          
   A *what*?
          A Briard. It's a kind of French sheepdog.
          
   Oh yeah, a French Sheepdog--I know all about those!
          *sigh*
     _________________________________________________________________
   
About The Briard

   What are Briards like?
   
     Briards are medium to large in size (bitches 22-25.5 inches, dogs
     23-27 inches tall) and have a distinctive long coat that comes in
     tawny, grey, black, or a combination of those colors. They are a
     herding/guarding breed, as are German Shepherds, Rottweilers and
     Bouviers.
     
   I've never heard of that breed before.
   
     Briards are among the more uncommon of the American Kennel Club
     breeds, with only about 300 being registered per year in the U.S.
     They are relatively more common in Western Europe, with populations
     also present in the U.K. and Australia.
     
   His ears are so cute!
   
     In many countries (including the U.S.) the Briard's ears are
     typically cropped so that they stand erect. When a puppy is 4 to 7
     weeks of age, the breeder has the ear cropped into a round shape
     (unlike the pointed crop of most other cropped breeds) and the ears
     are glued together on top of the puppy's head. They heal quickly
     and appear to suffer no permanent trauma from the operation. In the
     U.K., Australia, and the Scandanavian countries, cropping is
     illegal and ears are left natural. Sometimes fanciers in other
     countries choose to leave the ear natural as well. The natural ear
     is like an Old English Sheepdog's ear in that it is not supposed to
     lie flat to the head but should be mobile and show some expression
     when the dog is alert.
     
   I didn't know that it is a cropped breed.
   
     It seems to be one of the better-kept secrets of dogdom and a lot
     of otherwise knowledgeable dog people seem unaware of this fact.
     But yes, the ear you typically see on American dogs is the cropped
     ear.
     
   I know someone who had a Briard cross. We knew it was a Briard because
   it had long hair and prick ears.
   
     I've run into this misconception more times than I can count (even
     in a respected dog magazine!) A long-haired prick-earred mix is
     probably NOT a Briard mix, because a Briard's ears DO NOT naturally
     stand. Most of the "Briard mixes" I have seen have actually been
     Old English Sheepdog or Bearded Collie mixed with something
     prick-eared like a German Shepherd or Siberian Husky.
     
   They must shed a lot.
   
     Actually, they don't tend to lose a lot of coat and don't generally
     "blow coat" like many of the other double-coated breeds. Puppies
     will lose their coats once or twice as they are growing their adult
     coat and bitches will sometimes lose coat after a season or a
     litter, although this is not inevitable. And when the undercoat is
     shed, it stays in the coat (instead of coming out all over your
     clothes and furniture) and must be groomed out or else the dog will
     become matted. For this reason the breed is sometimes said to be
     "non-shedding"; however, there is no such thing as a totally
     non-shedding breed.
     
   Do they take a lot of grooming?
   
     Short answer: YES.
     
     Longer answer: it depends a lot on the dog's coat texture. The
     ideal Briard coat is hard and weatherproof and doesn't take much
     grooming. However, many dogs have softer coats that take quite a
     bit more care. To be on the safe side, it is best to assume that
     any Briard will take one to two hours of grooming a week, which can
     be taken care of in one or two sessions of grooming a week (daily
     brushing is not necessary). Also ears must be cleaned and toenails
     clipped. Briards are not low-maintenance dogs.
     
   Do you ever shave your dogs?
   
     Most owners don't. The coat of the Briard evolved to protect him
     from the elements in his work as a herding dog. It is a coat that
     is practical either in cold or in heat. Briards are not typically
     clipped or shaved. If you like the temperament of the Briard but
     prefer a short-haired dog, there is another breed, very similar but
     with short hair, called the Beauceron.
     
   What's a Beauceron?
   
     Basically, it's a short-haired Briard :-).
     
   But the picture I have of a Beauceron doesn't look anything like a
   Briard--it looks something like a Rottweiler or Doberman.
   
     Under the coat, Briards and Beaucerons are actually very similar
     and the breeds share a common ancestry--in fact, dogs show catalogs
     did not distinguish between the two as separate breeds until 1893,
     and the two continued to be interbred into the 1900s.
     
   What are those funny things on his feet?
   
     The breed standard for the Briard requires that the dogs have at
     least two dewclaws (extra toes) on the inside of each back foot, a
     peculiarity shared with the Great Pyrenees and a few other European
     dogs. This characteristic was selected for by breeders in the
     belief that the dogs with double dewclaws were the best herders. A
     few dogs might be missing one or more dewclaws, and some owners
     elect to have them surgically removed, but generally speaking this
     is one of the defining characteristics of the breed.
     
   Why do all these puppies all have names that begin with "M"?
   
     The French have a convention of giving all livestock born in a
     particular year a registered name beginning with the same letter.
     For instance, 1996 was an "M" year. Doing this makes it easy to
     read pedigrees, tell which dogs were littermates and guess how old
     an animal is. Not every U.S. breeder follow this convention, but
     the majority do.
     
   What color is your dog?
   
     Briards come in three colors: tawny, grey and black. Tawny is the
     most common color in the U.S. A tawny may have gray or black hairs
     in its coat but it will still be considered tawny if it is tawny on
     any part of its body. One common variant is the dog that is gray or
     black on its back with tawny legs and feet. This is frowned upon in
     the European countries but is acceptable according to the AKC
     standard. Tawny can range from a pale wheaten shade to a deep clear
     red.
     
     The next most common color is black--approximately 20% of the
     American Briards are black. In Europe, closer to 50% of the dogs
     are black. Blacks may have scattered white hairs throughout the
     coat; this is still acceptable in all countries.
     
     Grey is a fairly rare color. There are only a few grey dogs in the
     U.S. There are actually two types of grey: grey-born Briards, which
     are called blue, and black-born Briards, which are called grey. The
     two types of grey are inherited differently. Blue Briards may not
     be shown in the U.S., but it is an allowed color in Europe.
     
   It says on this pedigree that my dog's grandfather was a
   "Rassemblement Select." What does that mean?
   
     Every four years or so at its national specialty the Briard Club of
     America holds a special event called a rassemblement which is based
     on European dog shows. A European judge is brought over and
     performs written evaluations on all dogs, which are later published
     in book form. The best ones present are designated "select."
     
   How old is the breed?
   
     The Briard is one of the oldest of the herding breeds. There are
     depictions of similar shaggy dogs that date from around the year
     800 and there are written descriptions from the 1500s. Both
     Charlemagne and Napoleon are believed to have owned Briards. The
     first Briards in the U.S. were imported by Thomas Jefferson, who
     left detailed records of his breeding program at Monticello and
     carefully placed breeding pairs with trusted friends; however, the
     breed did not really catch on in the U.S. until after World War I,
     when soldiers returning from Europe popularized the breed. It was
     recognized by the AKC shortly thereafter.
     
   Where can I read more about the breed's history?
   
     An excellent history of the breed can be found in the book "The
     Briard" by Diane McLeroth. There is ordering information at
     http://weber.u.washington.edu/~diannes/briard/resources.html.
     _________________________________________________________________
   
Working Ability and Temperament

   What is their temperament like?
   
     Briards are intelligent, sensitive and humorous. They are willing
     to cooperate with humans but need to see a reason to do so. They
     are independent and may try to seize control if they sense weakness
     on the part of the handler. They can be pushy if they want
     something from you. They are not "love everybody" dogs: once a
     Briard meets you and observes you for a while, he will decide for
     himself whether he likes you or not. They are very affectionate to
     those they love, but most are not particularly interested in
     petting or attention from strangers. They tend to have a sense of
     humor and may be clowns.
     
   You said that this is a herding dog?
   
     Yes; they were originally used to hold sheep in unfenced pastures
     in rural France. This style of herding is referred to as "boundary"
     herding. Like most of the other continental herding breeds (Bouvs,
     GSDs, the Belgians, etc.) the Briard also has a strong guarding
     instinct. That's why these breeds are commonly used for police work
     as well.
     
   Since they are a guarding dog, does that mean they lived outside with
   the flock of sheep?
   
     You are thinking of a flock guardian. Breeds used for this type of
     work include the Great Pyrenees, Komondor, Kuvasz, Anatolian,
     Maremma & similar dogs. This type of work requires a different
     temperament than herding does: herding dogs want to boss stock
     around, whereas flock guardians live with the herd as a member of
     it. I have heard of Briards occasionally being tried as flock
     guardians but they seem to have been less than outstandingly
     successful at it.
     
   Have Briards been used as police dogs too?
   
     Yes, but while they are suitable to the work, police departments
     generally prefer breeds with less coat. They are also eligible to
     compete in Schutzhund and Ring Sport competition.
     
   Do they take a lot of exercise?
   
     While Briards are generally calm dogs indoors and are not "hyper"
     like some of the other herding breeds, they do need regular
     exercise. A daily walk should be considered the minimum. It is a
     good breed to consider if you are looking for a breed to run or
     hike with.
     
   I want a dog that will live outside. Would a Briard be suitable?
   
     Generally not. Briards are very devoted to their people and want to
     be where you are. If you will spend several hours a day outside
     working with the dog you both might be happy with the arrangement,
     but keep in mind that a Briard who does not get enough attention
     from his people can easily become a problem dog.
     
   Are Briards good with kids?
   
     Many Briards are very gentle and loving with children, but as with
     any dog care should be taken to avoid problems. They are large dogs
     and may be boisterous and have the potential to knock down a small
     child. Also, as with many other herding dogs, they may need to be
     taught that nipping is not an appropriate way of getting people's
     attention. That being said, many families have both Briards and
     small children and are very happy with the combination.
     
   Are they easy to train?
   
     It depends on what you mean by "easy." They do learn readily.
     However, they do need to be TRAINED. They are too large, energetic
     and strong-minded to be allowed to be left to their own devices. A
     basic obedience class or two is highly recommended.
     
     Also, be aware that heavy-handed training techniques do not usually
     work well with Briards; positive motivation is generally much more
     effective with them than than force-based methods are.
     
   I have heard that Briards are dog-aggressive. Is it true?
   
     They tend to be dominant with other dogs and may or may not get
     along with strange ones. Many are fine and trustworthy with other
     dogs. Your best bet is to ask the breeder you are considering
     buying from about the dogs in their bloodline.
     
   I want a "protective" dog. Is a Briard for me?
   
     That depends on YOU. Generally speaking, it is a mistake to get any
     dog that is more assertive than you are. In that case, the dog
     might begin using his own judgement on what you should be
     "protected" against, and you may not be very happy with his
     decisions. If, on the other hand, you are willing to take the
     responsibility of teaching the dog proper behavior, you may be very
     happy with a Briard. Keep in mind that a dog of any size can bark
     to warn away intrudors and any large dog will serve as a deterent
     to unwanted attention. So a "non-protective" dog such as a terrier
     or Greyhound might serve your needs just as well.
     _________________________________________________________________
   
Health

   How long do they live?
   
     Their average lifespan is usually around 10-12 years, which is
     pretty typical for a large breed.
     
   What inherited problems do they have?
   
     Any dog (purebred or mixed-breed) may be carrying genes that cause
     inherited problems. The advantage with purebreds is that careful
     breeding can reduce the incidence of these problems over time.
     Briards are generally a pretty healthy breed but the following
     disorders (all of which are known or suspected of having a
     hereditary basis) can be of concern.
     
   Hip dysplasia
          Briards are among the breeds hard-hit by hip dysplasia, with
          around 20% of the xrays submitted to the Orthopedic Foundation
          for Animals (OFA) failing to pass. It is recommended that all
          animals to be bred be xrayed to make sure they are free of
          dysplasia before breeding.
          
   Bloat
          This has been know to occurs in all deep-chested breeds. The
          stomach or other internal organs may torsion (twist) and become
          blocked off. Symptoms include panting, non-productive retching,
          and/or a hard, distended abdomen. Bloat is a medical emergency
          and requires immediate medical attention; surgery is most often
          needed for the animal to have any chance at survival. There may
          be hereditary factors that predispose certain animals towards
          bloat, but if so the exact mode of inheritance is unknown.
          
   Poor temperament
          Shyness, shy-sharpness and aggressiveness unfortunately do
          occur in Briards and may have a genetic basis. However, this is
          NOT correct temperament for the breed: the standard states the
          temperament should be "wise and fearless, with no trace of
          timidity." While Briards are typically not very interested in
          strangers, that does not mean they should shy away or be
          aggressive toward them. If you are considering buying a Briard,
          it is a good idea to see both parents if you can and ask
          yourself, "Do these dogs have the kind of temperament I want to
          live with?" If there is any question in your mind about the
          temperament of the parents, DO NOT BUY THE PUPPY.
          
          Also it might be helpful to question the breeder in detail
          about the kind of temperament they feel is appropriate for a
          Briard. If they seem to feel that shyness or aggressiveness is
          acceptable temperament, it might be better to pass on dealing
          with that breeder.
          
   Progressive retinal atrophy
          There are two forms this disorder which can appear in Briards:
          central progressive retinal atophy (cPRA) as well as
          generalized PRA. Both are rare in the US but are more common in
          other areas in the world--in particular, it has been reported
          that 5 out of 6 Briards in the U.K. are either carriers or
          affected by cPRA. In both cases, the gene that causes this
          disorder is a simple recessive, meaning that a parent can
          produce a puppy afflicted with the disorder even although they
          themselves are asymptomatic. Dogs affected with either cPRA or
          PRA will go blind in adulthood. There is no cure.
          
   Autoimmune thyroiditis
          Dogs with low thyroid levels may be sluggish, have coat
          problems, and/or have problems with fertility. Treatment
          consists of daily medication.
          
   von Willenbrand's disease
          This is a bleeding disorder that has been reported to occur in
          a few U.S. dogs. A blood test is available to check for levels
          of vWD antigen, but it is a somewhat controversial issue among
          Briard breeders and many do not test for it.
          
   Stationary night blindness
          Unlike progressive retinal atrophy, this is a disorder that is
          present in early puppyhood & is not progressive (thus the
          "stationary"). Affected dogs are unable to see in low-light
          conditions. It is also believed to be caused by a recessive
          gene. It can not be diagnosed on a standard eye exam (i.e. a
          CERF examination) although it is detectable by
          electroretinogram (ERG).
          
   Allergies and skin problems
          Some Briards may be allergic to fleas or certain foods. Again,
          exact mode of inheritance is not known.
          
   Cancer
          Unfortunately too many lovely Briards are being lost to cancer
          these days; lymphosarcoma seems to be the most common kind. It
          is not known at this time whether or not cancer has a
          hereditary basis in Briards, but this is likely to be an area
          of interest and research in the future.
     _________________________________________________________________
   
Getting A Briard

   I want a Briard. How do I want to go about finding one?
   
     The national club can help you find a breeder or a rescue person in
     your area. Club contacts are listed on the Briard Homepage at
     http://weber.u.washington.edu/~diannes/briard/clubs.html.
     
   How much do they cost?
   
     Again, it depends. Briard breeders tend to vary quite a bit in what
     they ask for their pups. I have heard of anywhere from $300 to
     $1500 being asked for a pet puppy. Please keep in mind that the
     most-expensive puppy is not necessarily the highest-quality puppy.
     
   I am looking for a Briard. What questions should I ask breeders?
   
     * Are you a member of the national club? If not, why not? Most
       breeders in the U.S. are members of the Briard Club of America,
       which has a code of ethics members must abide by. If a breeder is
       not a member, especially if it is somebody who is breeding large
       numbers of litters, this may be a warning sign that something is
       not right.
     * Are the parents of this litter champions? It is usually not very
       difficult to put a championship on a Briard, and most breeders in
       the U.S. are involved in showing their dogs. Don't be too
       impressed by claims of "champion lines" or by champion
       grandparents or great-grandparents--if both parents of a litter
       are not champions or currently being shown, find out why.
     * What health tests have been done on the parents? At a minimum,
       both parents of a litter should have been xrayed free of hip
       dysplasia. It is recommended that the hips be certified free of
       dysplasia by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and that
       you see the OFA certificate on both parents. Unfortunately there
       have been instances of breeders representing their dogs as having
       OFA certification when they did not, so it is recommended that
       prospective buyers exercise caution.
     * Tell me about the temperament of the parents. See the section
       about temperament above. It is recommended that you meet both
       parents if it's possible. If you are not comfortable with the
       temperament of either parent, DO NOT BUY THE PUPPY.
       
   What's a rescue dog?
   
     A "rescue dog" is one that has been "rescued" from one sort of
     situation or another. This does NOT mean the dog has necessarily
     been neglected or abused; often, it's simply a dog the owners were
     unable to keep for some reason or another. Rescue dogs can make
     excellent pets, and may work well for homes where the owners are
     gone all day. The cost is generally minimal, usually just enough to
     cover the rescuer's expenses for caring for the dog. The Briard
     Club of America has a volunteer who coordinates rescue efforts; see
     the web page for contact info.
     
   Briards are so cute, I want one!
   
     Please be very sure that you know what you are getting yourself
     into before getting a Briard. This is a breed that is not suitable
     for everyone. With their requirements for grooming, exercise and
     discipline there is definitely a larger commitment from the owner
     that is required with a Briard than with a lot of other breeds.
     Also keep in mind that even though the Briard is "cute," it is
     first and foremost a working breed. It may not be the best choice
     for a first-time dog owner or for a "wimpy" person or someone who
     is inclined toward spoiling a dog.
     
     That being said--I wouldn't be without one.
     _________________________________________________________________
   
   
    Briard FAQ
    Dianne Schoenberg, diannes@teleport.com
    
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