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Originating in Flanders (Belgium), the Bouvier des Flandres is a large herding dog that was used to round up cattle and sheep, as well as for pulling carts. Today the Bouvier is a popular pet and can also be found being used as a police or a guard dog.
The earliest examples of the Bouvier were bred by monks - supposedly by crossing imported dogs including the Irish wolfhound and deerhounds, with Belgian herding animals. The resulting breed is able to work tirelessly due to its strength and steady temperament, and its heavy coat means it can also stand whatever the weather throws at it.
Until the early 20th Century the Bouvier breed was still not standardised as proponents of other breeds including the Briard, and variants including the Paret and the Roselare, held the development of the Bouvier back.
Indeed, during the First World War the breed nearly disappeared due to its use as a military dog. The foundation of the modern Bouvier des Flandres is credited to a military dog called Nic, which served in the trenches and enjoyed great success in the show ring following the war.
Despite the breed suffering further setbacks during the Second World War, the breed standards were eventually finalised in 1965.
Average height to withers: 23"-28" (dogs) 22"-27" (bitches)
Average weight: 36-54kg
Despite its ungainly appearance, this large, rough-coated dog is surprisingly nimble. The Bouvier is immediately recognisable due to its large head with its slightly comical beard and moustache. The ears and tail are usually cropped - although the practice of tail docking is now outlawed by the American and UK Kennel Club and throughout Europe.
A muscular dog, the Bouvier's very thick, rough coat makes it look a lot more powerful and much larger that it actually is. Recognised colourways include black, fawn, 'salt & pepper', grey and brindle and the dog is often considered non-shedding, but they do of course lose some hair, just like all dogs. Any hair they do lose can get caught in their thick coat and could cause matting so a regular grooming routine should be established at an early age so the animal gets used to being brushed.
If the dog is to be used for showing the coat should be trimmed by a qualified groomer every 3-5 weeks.
Protective by nature, the Bouvier is a calm, sensible and gentle dog which makes him an ideal pet. He also makes an excellent guard dog and displays some very sophisticated traits such as control and accountability that set him apart from other traditional guarding breeds.
Although they are large and may look rather intimidating, the Bouvier des Flandres is a loyal, gentle animal whose looks belie a pleasant and obedient nature. They are an intelligent breed and can be easily trained, however repetition in training should be kept to a minimum as they can easily tire and become bored.
The Bouvier requires an experienced owner as they do have a tendency to be bossy and must be trained consistently so they know exactly who's in charge. Training should start at an early age, as should socialising, as if not socialised properly the Bouvier can become fearful which may lead to aggression. Equally, guarding the family will not need to be taught, however it must be remembered that this protective instinct cannot be 'trained out'.
As with most large dogs the Bouvier is prone to hip dysplasia and strenuous exercise should be limited for the first 12 months of life. Hip dysplasia can account for a number of conditions such as regular dislocations and joint abnormalities.
Cataracts and other eye problems are also reported in the breed. Another problem that presents itself with the Bouvier is its unusually high pain threshold. They are able to work around the feet and legs of cattle without feeling the kicks and stamps and because of this they can prove difficult to diagnose when under the care of a vet.
Due to close breeding after World War II, there are genetic traits in the breed that cause conditions such as endometriosis and ovarian cysts. Lymphosarcoma, a form of cancer that attacks the lymphoid system and hypothyroidism have also been documented in the Bouvier.
A placid dog the Bouvier has moderate exercise needs, but thrives on human company so an invigorating daily walk, or even running beside a bike, will keep him healthy and happy. When out walking ensure he stays at heel as the pack leader walks in front and your pet certainly isn't the pack leader!
Although calm in the house, his enthusiasm for the outdoors can be channelled into lots of activities including agility, herding, carting, obedience and tracking events and he will enjoy them all the more if he can participate alongside his owner and family.
The importance of family to the Bouvier should not be underestimated. Even though he isn't an overly affectionate dog, he will want to be where his owner is and will be found at your heels wherever you are. His aloofness should not be mistaken for indifference - his loyalty will be unswerving and he will form a deep bond with his owners.
As already mentioned, the Bouvier does require a grooming routine. It has been said that a Bouvier's natural look is that of an 'unmade bed' so brushing once or twice a week and bathing only when necessary will keep his coat in tip-top condition. When wet they do give off a 'swampy' odour so keeping him outdoors until he dries off may be advisable - as long as it's not too cold. If he is to be shown regular trimming will be required but even a pet will need a visit to the hairdressers three or four times a year.