Here is some basic information about Briards as a breed, their long history, and how they became the wonderful pets we know and love today. This page is a great place to start if you are learning about Briards for the first time.
A History of the Briard
The Briard, or Chien Berger de Brie, is an ancient working breed of France whose origin dates back to the eighth century. Early tapestries depict these large shaggy dogs with Emperor Charlemagne. And Napoleon was also reported to have kept Briards. The Briard has been used since early times as a guardian of the flocks and a herding dog.
He has been the official dog of the French army and is somewhat rare today because so many Briards were lost in both world wars. Briards carried supplies to the front lines and served as sentry dogs due to their keen hearing, reputed to be the most acute of any breed. He was used by the medical corps to search for wounded soldiers. Reports stress the amazing ability of the Briard to lead the corpsmen to those soldiers who still had a spark of life in their bodies. It was said that any man the Briard passed by was beyond assistance.
Brave French Herding Dog
Bravery, loyalty, and intelligence form the basic character of the Briard. Herding instincts and well-balanced temperament make him an ideal family dog and guardian of the home. He is never too old to play and is especially devoted to the children in his family. He has even been known to protect “his” children from parental spankings.
Bred for centuries as a guard and herding dog, the Briard is naturally aloof with strangers. This instinct will have a strong influence on him as an adult dog but you can do much to determine his disposition. To train a dog of an overly-friendly breed as a watchdog, you would have to discourage him from being handled by strangers during his growing-up period. With the Briard, the opposite is true. As a pup, the Briard should be taken with you as often as possible.
Encourage people to pet him so he will become accustomed to strange people and familiar with the outside world. This socialization should begin as soon as you receive your puppy and continue throughout the first year or so of his life. Don’t wait until he is six months old. This important early training will do much to assure you of have a Briard with a good disposition: calm, aloof, and dignified. This is very important if you plan to show your Briard. You will not destroy his natural instinct to be a guardian but you will mold him into a dog you will be proud to own.
Help Briards Be Briards
To develop the many remarkable qualities of the Briard character, his owner must be willing to devote time and affection to the dog’s early training. Each Briard has an individual personality, different from all others. Some love to tease, some are dignified, some are show-offs, some love cats, some enjoy parties, most are clowns, and occasionally one seems to develop the attitude of a reserved philosopher. You may not see these traits in the young puppy, but you may be confident that attention and love will bring unexpected rewards.
Although he has the physique necessary for an outdoor life, the Briard is, at heart, a house dog. He is happiest when he can be at his master’s side, and this devotion should dictate whether he is indoors or out. A companion who loves to heel down a country road, pushing at your knees, then running ahead, checking back constantly, he also has a deep capacity to join in the family rituals, and will follow you from room to room as you go about your business.
The Briard is one of the few dogs that lives life with an air of independence and is apt to look on you more as a companion than a master. Like all companions, there will be times when you will have different opinions. On these occasions, the Briard can be quite stubborn. As a sheepdog, he was relied on to make decisions… and he still does. You cannot successfully convince a Briard of your superiority with a thrashing or harsh treatment any more than you could successfully use such methods with a friend.
Consistent, gentle persuasion and praise are advisable, and much more effective. Intelligent and obedient, the Briard learns quickly, has an excellent memory and an ardent desire to please those he loves. He can understand an enormous range of commands (a 200-word vocabulary is not unusual) as well as tonal qualities and body language.
A Heart Wrapped in Fur
There are many other bonuses with this breed. He is quiet in the house and adapts quickly to its emotional climate. While large, he is agile and active–amazingly fast when he is going places–but has none of the constant motion of smaller breeds or some large breeds. The Briard seems equally at home in the city or the country, providing that he can be with his family. An excellent watch dog without being vicious, nothing gets by him unnoticed. The instinct to protect in time of danger comes naturally. Even then, he is more likely to throw the trespasser off his feet than bite him.
Friends of the Briard call him “a heart wrapped in fur.” His picturesque coat is coarse and strong, a true “goat’s coat.” Dirt and water do not readily cling to it, and if well-groomed it sheds very little. The joy of owning a shaggy companion is diminished if you neglect his coat. You will have to take time for grooming to have an attractive and healthy dog. Expect the minimum time required to be two hours a week and much longer if you have been remiss. The well-groomed Briard is a beautiful animal, and, more important, a comfortable one.
Briard Love Starts at Home
As a sheep-herding dog, the Briard demonstrates an uncanny ability to keep his flock within the unfenced boundaries of his master’s property. This instinct is strong, and the well-raised Briard is not inclined to wander from home. Of course, no dog should be permitted to roam the neighborhood at will, in danger of being hit by a car, poisoned, destroyed as a dangerous animal, or, at the very least, unpopular with the neighbors. A controlled dog is a good neighbor, and not as subject to these dangers.
If you have time and love to give, the Briard puppy will grow up reflecting every minute of kindness you have given and will return it to you many times over.