Bouvier des Ardennes

Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Bouvier des Ardennes

Occasionally, and perhaps unfairly, referred to as ‘the other Bouvier’, the Bouvier des Ardennes is smaller than the Bouvier des Flandres, with a different coat-type, erect ears and (usually) a shorter tail. Of the original five Bouvier dogs, only the Bouvier des Flandres and the Bouvier des Ardennes remain.

A rare breed, particularly outside its native Belgium, the Bouvier des Ardennes was originally used as a cattle-herding dog that directed the cows from field to field within the farm, and then eventually to market. Devoted and loyal, the Bouvier des Ardennes is very people-orientated and will form a close bond with its family members. Wary of strangers, this breed makes an excellent watchdog, and requires good socialisation when young.

About & History

Thought to have originated in the Ardennes region of Belgium before record-keeping began, best guesses are that the breed was first developed in the 17th century. A working dog through and through, the Bouvier des Ardennes was developed by farmers, who focused on the dogs’ abilities rather than their physical appearances. While traditionally only used for herding cattle, they were later also successfully employed as hunting dogs, tracking the likes of wild boar in the countryside. Equally, they were utilised as watchdogs, and still today make vigilant livestock guards.

Belgium was hit hard by World War I, and the Bouvier des Ardennes became a valuable companion, used to hunt game and feed hungry families. Subsequently, they were recognised by the Belgian Kennel Club in 1923. For several decades after this, particularly due to the decline in local dairy farms, the numbers of the Bouvier des Ardennes dwindled to the point where their existence was questioned.

Remarkably, after they were thought to have vanished into history, a small population was unexpectedly discovered. According to the popular story, there was a group of scientists examining the milk on a Belgian farm, who happened to recognise the farmer’s dogs as Bouvier des Ardennes. Subsequently, there began a concerted effort to re-populate the breed. Another similar small community of the breed was found in 1996 on another farm, further strengthening the population. Sadly, other than the popular Bouvier des Flandres, the remaining Bouvier breeds were not so lucky, and the Bouvier des Roulers, Bouvier de Moermon, and Bouvier de Paret are now completely extinct.

Today, the Bouvier des Ardennes continues to be used on Belgian farms, carrying out its original cattle herding duties. In fact, it is rarely kept as a companion dog alone.

Appearance

Bouvier des Ardennes Large Photo
Томасина / Wikipedia.org

Medium-sized, and not particularly attractive, one of the first things you will notice when you see a Bouvier des Ardennes is its unusual, wiry double-coat. Suited to a dog with an outdoor lifestyle, it should be thick and waterproof, with the inner layer being particularly dense all year round. The dog will have both a short beard and a moustache.

The coat colour is neither here nor there, and any colour or pattern is accepted. This is, of course, due to the emphasis that was placed on the dog’s working ability, and the lack of regard given to its physical looks, when bred. Commonly seen coat colours of the Bouvier des Ardennes include:

  • Fawn
  • Grey
  • Black
  • Brindle
  • Red

They have a relatively small head when compared to their body, a short muzzle and small, triangular ears that should stand erect. Their eyes are small and oval and should be very dark brown to black. Their body should be square in proportion, with long, lean limbs, suitable for running. The body itself is highly muscled, although this is not immediately obvious, due to its long coat. The male will stand between 52-62cm, and the female noticeably shorter at 52-56cm. The male will weigh 28-35kg, and the female 22-28kg.

Character & Temperament

A working dog, rather than a companion by nature, the Bouvier des Ardennes is both determined and obedient. Despite its propensity for hard work, this breed can be affectionate towards their owners. In fact, it is relatively common for a Bouvier des Ardennes to form close connections with their family, and if left alone for too long can suffer from separation anxiety.

Great care must be taken when near small animals, as it is in the nature of this breed to hunt smaller prey. Equally, chasing and nipping at the ankles of young children is not uncommon and needs to be discouraged from an early age to avoid ongoing issues.

Failure to adequately socialise this dog when a puppy will almost inevitably result in a distrust of strangers, and potential aggressive tendencies. Wary of people that are not its family, the Bouvier des Ardennes will bark to make you aware of a new person entering their property, and can become particularly hostile, unless taught to do otherwise. They are notoriously courageous and will not hesitate to confront even the largest of threats.

Trainability

When it comes to herding, it is hard to find a breed that outperforms the Bouvier des Ardennes. Naturally intelligent, this is a task that comes easily to them. One of this breed’s main attributes is its desire to obey its master, which makes for a very pleasing dog to train.

Despite the above, the Bouvier des Ardennes does not come without its challenges, and can sometimes question authority; particularly, if their trainer is not consistent. Known for its versatility and intellect, there is no reason to doubt that the Bouvier des Ardennes would make a good competitor in the more modern canine activities, such as flyball, agility and obedience.

Health

The rareness of the breed means that it has not yet participated in any health studies, and so actual data on the overall health of the Bouvier des Ardennes is hard to come by. There are several diseases that they are likely to be more prone to than the average dog, and, as many of them can be screened for in breeding populations, they are worth mentioning. The screening out of these diseases is of paramount importance in such a small gene pool.

  • Hip Dysplasia – A debilitating condition affecting a dog’s ability to walk and get around, due to the failure of the hip joint to form properly. While this condition can be managed with lifestyle changes and medication, it is one which significantly impairs an animal’s quality of life. Hip-scoring, in the form of x-rays, must be performed on any dog before deciding to breed from it.
  • Elbow Dysplasia – Similar to the equivalent disease in the hip, this is a bony condition that results in painful and poorly-formed elbows.
  • Epilepsy – A condition in which the dog will suffer from neurological seizures without any known underlying cause. Often requiring lifelong medication to treat, this disease can sometimes be debilitating.
  • Eye Conditions – Progressive Retinal Atrophy, Retinal Dysplasia, Entropion and Ectropion are all potentially genetic conditions of the eye, which must be checked for before an animal breeds.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Typical of most working dogs, this is a breed that does not tire easily and will work continuously for hours without a break, rarely seen standing still. It is thus evident that they are not suited to apartment life and need an adequate outlet for their bounds of energy. A vigorous walk of at least an hour each day is needed at a minimum, and off-lead exercise is preferred.

Adventurous and enthusiastic, the Bouvier des Ardennes will happily accompany you and your family on a vigorous hike, perhaps even stopping off for a refreshing swim on the way. Failure to adequately exercise this breed will inevitably result in nuisance behaviours, such as constant barking or destruction within the home.

Grooming

With a relatively long and scruffy outercoat and a dense inner-coat, this breed benefits from daily brushing. Failure to adequately groom the fur will inevitably result in tangles and matting. Some owners will choose to clip the coat in the summer, which can decrease shedding. Introducing tooth brushing and claw trimming from a young age will help to ensure the dog accepts them as part of their normal grooming routine.

Famous Bouviers des Ardennes

Extremely rare, there are not yet any famous examples of the Bouvier des Ardennes in popular culture, especially as they are rarely spotted outside of their native country, Belgium. Perhaps the most famous, however, were those of the breed who hunted game and helped to provide food to families during WWI.

Cross-Breeds

No cross-breeds of the Bouvier des Ardennes exist to date.

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