by Doris Donnerman
(last updated April 6, 2009)
In attempting to trace the Briard to its origin the researcher is faced with considerable difficulty. While the various authorities agree in basic detail, there remains much that must be left to surmise.
How far back the Briard went in France is unknown. Records dating back to the twelfth century mention Briards bred by Charlemagne. These records mention the dog as the Sheep Dog of Brie, or Berger de Brie. From this it might be assumed that the dog originated in the old Province of Brie and spread to adjoining provinces and, finally, all over France. There is considerable reason to doubt that assumption. Long-haired sheep and cattle dogs have been known for centuries in all of the nations of Europe.
In basic conformation, size, and coat, the Briard must have come from the same foundation stock as the Bearded Collie, the Hungarian Komondor, Kuvasz, Puli, Russian Owtcharka, and the Old English Sheepdog. In detail these dogs vary somewhat in size and in their coloring and quality of coat, but it seems impossible to believe that they did not have common ancestors. Even today the Hungarian Puli appears to be a miniature Briard to such an extent that at one show an experienced judge was quite insistent that an adult Puli standing near the ring be brought into the Briard puppy class.
One surprising point in all this is that the Kerry Blue Terrier now rated as belonging to a totally different group looks like a miniature Briard when not clipped. Some historians claim that within memory of living men there are tales of "big, black dogs being imported from France" to be bred to native, blue-coated Irish dogs. It is said that even today Kerry Blues are used for herding in Ireland. It would follow that any attempt to trace the Briard to its origin would become involved with most of the long or medium-coated working dogs.
Turning to more recent history the Briard was "discovered" by American troops serving in France during World War I. The dogs were the most satisfactory of the breeds used by the French Army. It appears that they had several points of advantage for battle service. Their strength made it possible to wrap machine gun ammunition belts around them and send them up to gun emplacements. The thick coat protected them from the extremes of weather, acting as an insulator in summer and as a protection in winter. Their large feet made it possible for them to work over the inevitable muddy ground. Their amazingly acute sense of hearing gave them top billing as guardians against a surprise attack. A further virtue, much extolled by Allied troops, was the uncanny ability of the dog to distinguish between a wounded man who was in desperate need of care and one whose wounds were so severe that help would be of no avail.
One of the reasons for the increasing demand for Briards is the adaptability of the dog to the varied climatic and family conditions found in America. In few other nations will there be found so wide a variation in climate as, for example, the perpetual summer of our extreme southern states or the eight month winter of some of the districts along the Canadian border. Yet Briards are kept and bred in both extremes without difficulty. The answer lies in the typical Briard coat.
In fact the Briard really has two coats; the medium-long outer coat which, under normal conditions, does not shed. It is as permanent as the hair on the human head. In the fall a dense, felt-like under coat known as the pelage appears. In the black dogs this is usually a dark gray; in the tawnies, a brownish color. Coupled with the outer coat the pelage acts as a protection against the extreme cold. The outer coat sheds rain and snow, the pelage protects from the bitter winds. In summer the outer coat acts as an insulator against the heat, much on the same principle as the loose garments of desert dwellers. Some of the best known Briards in America are kept in a section where winter temperatures often go well below zero. Not only are the kennels unheated but they are simply sheds, open entirely to the south. Semi-enclosed sleeping boxes are provided but the dogs refuse to use them. Some of them sleep, by preference, in snow drifts during the bitterest of nights. Yet dogs raised under such Spartan conditions are shipped to Florida and California and experience no difficulty in becoming acclimated to temperatures that seldom go below fifty degrees.
If some attention is not given the coat, especially in the spring, the mats resulting from the loosened pelage will prove stubborn. Another feature of the Briard is that it should never be bathed. Most of the top-flight Briards in America have never had a soap and water bath from the day of their birth. Thus the dog requires the minimum of attention. There is no clipping, no bathing, and only a minimum of necessary combing.
Temperamentally the Briard is quiet as befits his size. He seldom dashes aimlessly from point to point. Those who like the typical Terrier disposition, the constant activity, may readily consider the Briard as too stolid. He is the opposite extreme to the "flea on-a-hot-griddle" type. His attitude towards guests is usually one of dignified acceptance. Seldom will he break down to lavish affection or become kittenish except when alone with his intimate family. As a guardian he combines the virtues of acute hearing with a deep and rather frightening bark. Briards can be taught to attack, but they are more inclined to be companions and guardians rather than dogs that spring automatically to the attack. With his family, and with children, he is apt to forget his dignity in the joy of playfulness, but he hates to be laughed at or to be forced to be a clown. All in all he takes himself quite seriously when strangers are about.
The general appearance is that of a strong and substantially built dog that is fitted for field work. He is lithe, muscular, and well proportioned as well as alert and active. The height at the shoulders of the male is twenty-three to twenty-seven inches and the female stands twenty-two to 25-1/2 inches.
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