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The Bouvier des Flandres

Breed Profile by Nick Nicholaides

Champion Avice Fearless
Courtesy Mrs H J Nicholaides

Until the beginning of the 20th century Bouvier des Flandres were mainly seen on farms in the area of Flanders, (Northern France through Belgium to Holland) and were kept purely for their working abilities. Their primary use was as cattle dogs but they were also used for guarding purposes, cart pulling or indeed any other task that their size and strength suited them for.

World War I nearly caused the breed to completely disappear, due to the devastation that descended upon the region and that the breed was used for military purposes. Indeed, Nic de Sittengen, a male trained as a trench dog that served during the war and was a perennial winner at dog shows after the war, is considered to be the founder of the early Bouvier des Flandres breed.

A unified Bouvier des Flandres standard was created in 1936 by a joint French - Belgian committee, however, World War II once again endangered the breed's existence. Due to these setbacks, progress was slowed, and it was not until 1965 that the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) breed standard, as agreed to by several kennel clubs, was adopted.

For many years the Belgians were leading breeders of the Bouvier, the most well known being Monsieur Justin Chastel who is generally considered to have had the biggest influence in creating the modern Bouvier type.  The type was achieved by breeding animals with a more profuse coat as opposed to the early examples that had a flat harsh coat that was not considered attractive. The heads of the dogs eventually became squarer and short muzzled to compliment the square body.

Since these formative years the Bouvier has gained immense success all over the world especially in Holland where they are amongst the most numerically popular breeds. The breed has retained much of its working abilities and the modern Bouvier fills a wide variety of jobs ranging guard dog, watchdog, police/military dog, guide for the blind, search and rescue or as a fine family pet.

The Bouvier is a large powerfully built, compact, rough coated dog of rugged appearance.  The breed standard states that adult dogs should be between 62-68cms (24˝-27ins) at the shoulder and weigh between 35-40kgs (77-88lbs) with bitches being between 59-65cms (23-25˝ ins) at the shoulder and weighing 27-35kgs (59-77lbs).

Whilst Bouviers give the impression of size and strength, having well sprung ribs, strongly muscled limbs and a powerful and driving movement they are an agile breed without being clumsy or heavy. Perhaps the breed’s most notable features are its impressive head which is accentuated by a heavy beard, moustache and bushy eyebrows.

Despite their forbidding appearance, Bouviers possess steady, sensible temperaments with amiable dispositions that make them excellent family dogs. They show great devotion and affection to their owners being calm and sensible in the house.   Bouviers are well known for their empathy with children and possess a sense of humour and love to play.

They are not an overly demanding dog requiring extreme amounts of exercise to keep them happy however as companionship is very important to them they are definitely not a yard or kennel dog.

Naturally possessing a strong guarding instinct a Bouvier, if required, can and will fearlessly protect their families and homes. Unlike some animals bred for their aggressive nature and power however the breed often displays its undoubted intelligence by its ability to quickly assess a situation, determine the degree of threat and respond, or not, with the required level of response.

If socialised early on, they will accept other dogs and household pets however dominant individuals can be dog aggressive if their owners are not sufficiently assertive or do not adequately communicate to the dog that fighting is not acceptable.  Although they tend to be aloof and somewhat reserved with strangers they are rarely aggressive. 

Obedience training should start at an early age as although the breed is slow to mature in both body and mind the breed learns commands relatively quickly.  All training should be well balanced and consistent as it is important that an owner makes their dog aware, without being harsh or rough, that they are, and will remain, the boss.  It is suggested therefore that the breed is better suited to the more experienced owner.

The Bouvier has an abundant coat that should be kept approximately 6cms long and it is so thick that when separated by hand the skin is barely visible.  The outer coat which is unkempt looking should not be woolly or curly and should always be harsh whilst the undercoat should be dense and close grained. 

Bouviers therefore require a thorough grooming at least once a week to ensure that their coats do not become matted.  Particular attention should also be paid to their beards and moustaches to ensure that they are kept clear of food particles indeed one of the Dutch nicknames for this breed is ‘Vuilbaard’ (Dirty Beard)!

Coat colours range from fawn through, salt and pepper and grey to black including brindle. It is not unusual for individuals to have a white star on the chest.  White or chocolate brown predominating is regarded as being undesirable as are light washed out shades.

The thick bushy tail is carried gaily when moving and until April 2007, in the UK, Bouviers were customarily docked to two to three vertebrae since that date Bouviers are no longer docked.  Bouviers may occasionally be born tailless.

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