Basque Shepherd Dog

Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Basque Shepherd Dog

Originating from the Basque country in northern Spain, the Basque Shepherd Dog, or Perro de Pastor Vasco, is a rare and unique breed. Originally utilised by Spanish shepherds to help tend their flocks of sheep and cattle, these are working dogs that also possess the ability to adapt well to modern family life and are renowned for being particularly understanding with young children.

Medium-sized, with a typically golden coat, the Basque Shepherd Dog is unquestionably intelligent and high energy to the point that some may call them ‘hyper’. These dogs require a firm and experienced owner who will be able to get the best out of them. With incredibly high exercise tolerance, they flourish when provided with an active, outdoor lifestyle.

About & History

The Basque Shepherd Dog is classically described as a ‘Landrace breed’, because of the natural course their development has taken. Unlike many modern breeds, the Basque Shepherd Dog was not selectively bred for certain traits or characteristics, and instead was allowed to naturally reproduce, without human intervention. It is thought that the original Basque Shepherd Dogs derive from sheepdogs brought over from mainland Europe to the Basque region of Spain many thousands of years ago.

It is a commonly held belief that the sheepdog is one of the most ancient breeds of dog in existence. In fact, remains of what is thought to be ancestors of today’s Basque Shepherd Dog were found in 12,000 years old caves from the Neolithic period. This finding provided essential information to historians studying the ancient Basque people, and they were able to deduce from the type of dogs they worked with, that the people worked as shepherds. The breeds’ more modern popularity is apparent in their depictions in Fresco paintings as early as the 16th century.

It was not unusual for the Basque shepherds, some with their dogs, to travel to western America to work. As not many Basque dogs travelled with their shepherd, those that did were inevitably bred with the local American dogs. It is widely thought that these dogs gave rise to the Australian Shepherd. In 1952, an act was passed in America that allowed immigrants to enter America if there was a job available to them that could not be filled by the local Americans. Because such a vast number of Basque shepherds took advantage of this offer and travelled to the United States, the law was sometimes affectionately known as ‘The Sheepherder Bill’.

Known as the euskal artzain txakurra in Basque, the Basque Shepherd Dog has traditionally been divided into two categories:

  • The Smooth-Haired Gorbeiakoa : This is the more ancient strain of the breed, with a soft coat that is relatively short on the forelimbs and head. Typically, they are a fawn or red colour.
  • The Rough-Haired Iletsua: With a coarser coat, the Iletsua tends to be a lighter colour (fawn or cinnamon). Unlike the Gorbeiakoa, its ears are not typically erect. They tend to be more territorial in their nature.

Appearance

Basque Shepherd Dog Large Photo

A well-built, strong, medium-sized handsome sheepdog, the Basque Shepherd Dog is in many ways similar in appearance to the German Shepherd dog. Their coat is a medium length, with shorter fur on the head and longer plumes on the tail than on the body.

While their coat is most commonly a yellow or gold colour, they can come in a variety of other shades, including:

  • Copper
  • Red
  • Blue
  • Black
  • Fawn

The male stands at 52 to 58cms at the withers, while the female is noticeably smaller at 46 to 53cm. They weigh between 17 and 36kg when fully grown.

Their endearing oval-shaped eyes range in colour from amber to brown. Their mischievous ears may be floppy or may stand vertical (or anything in between). Their nose should be black, and the fur on their face should be the same as, or a darker shade than, their body. Their body is often described as ‘rectangular’ in shape and should be solidly built. Their neck is relatively short, and their head not too heavy or imposing.

Character & Temperament

Like other sheepdogs, the Basque Shepherd Dog is extremely bright and notoriously quick and able to learn. They enjoy being outside and active and can often be found circling their territory; a habit that is clearly difficult to break from their shepherding days. Keen to please their master, they make a rewarding pet for a dedicated and involved owner. Their eager nature however, can be a double-edged sword, as they rarely tire and need adequate stimulation, including both mental and physical.

Known for being particularly good with young children due to their sweet and gentle nature, they are commonly used in the Basque region as family pets. They can be protective of their family and are classically good guard dogs, being generally wary of strangers. They will, however, quickly warm to a stranger once their sense of threat has been allayed. They can usually get along well with other pets if socialised with them from an early age.

Trainability

Photo of Basque Shepherd Dog puppy

The Basque Shepherd dog will truly thrive when mentally stimulated and is always willing to follow commands. When paired with a good trainer, this dog’s abilities are vast. They are highly adaptable, and can be used successfully for herding trials, obedience, agility, flyball and many other disciplines.

Like with many dogs, positive reinforcement is the key with this breed. Care must be taken, particularly during the early training days, as it is not unknown for the Basque Shepherd dog to test boundaries. Coupling their, at times, impish nature, with their boundless energy, it becomes evident that they need a firm hand and consistent training if they are to excel to the best of their ability.

Health

No doubt, the fact that the Basque Shepherd Dog is a Landrace breed has meant it is far less prone to the genetic diseases of many of today’s modern breeds. They have a good life expectancy of 12 to 15 years, but they can be prone to some of the following:

  • Hip Dysplasia – A disease common to many breeds of dog, this condition affects the hip joints, resulting in chronic pain and lameness. Due to the failure of the joint to form adequately, there is a deterioration in the health of the joint over time. This disease is commonly managed with medication, weight control and exercise programs. Surgery is indicated in the most severe cases.
  • Chronic Ear Infections – Breeds with floppy ears, like the Basque Shepherd Dog, will be more prone to developing ear infections throughout their lifetime. The humid environment and lack of airflow within the ear canal gives the causative yeast and bacteria an ideal place to thrive. To prevent infection, ears should be kept as clean and dry as possible at all times. Wax should be cleaned out when needed, and ear canals must be thoroughly dried after swimming or bathing.
  • Bloat – Also known as gastric dilatation, this life-threatening condition is most common in larger, deep-chested dogs. The stomach will fill with gas, resulting in a stressed and uncomfortable dog who will pant and drool excessively, and will not be able to settle. The abdominal bloating will be easily visible to the human eye and is an indication that the dog needs immediate veterinary attention. In some cases, a tube can be passed by the vet into the stomach to relieve the pressure. If the stomach has flipped over, a surgery will be necessary to correct the problem. A case of untreated bloat can result in a rapid death, so any bloating symptoms must be taken very seriously by the owner.

Exercise and Activity Levels

This is certainly not a breed of dog that would suit a sedentary lifestyle. Always keen to exercise, and rarely tired out, the Basque Shepherd Dog is the perfect companion for a dynamic family who love the outdoors. Ideally, they should live in a rural or farm setting, where they have ample access to the outdoors off-lead and can roam to their hearts content. Alternatively, long and frequent walks, as well as a variety of games and activities, will be necessary.

Without adequate exercise, boredom will soon set in, and behavioural problems can quickly become an issue.

Grooming

Their medium-length, wavy coat requires moderate grooming. A quick daily brush will be adequate. Frequent bathing is not advised as it can cause the dog’s natural oils to dry out, resulting in a poor-quality coat. Teeth should be brushed daily, and this is an activity, which ought to be introduced when the dog is young, increasing the likelihood that they will accept it.

Their ears should be kept clean, and particular attention should be paid to those of the breed with pendulous ears, as these are more prone to becoming waxy and infected.

Famous Basque Shepherd Dogs

The Basque Shepherd Dog has yet to make a Hollywood debut. Though the breed is well known in the Basque region, they are not popular outside of northern Spain. Anyone researching the breed, however, may be interested to see photos of the breed taken by Basque Shepherd Dog owners on Instagram.

Cross-Breeds

There are currently no recognised cross breeds of the Basque Shepherd Dog.

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