Bouvier des Flandres

Gemma Gaitskell
Dr Gemma Gaitskell (BVetMed MSc MRCVS, Royal Veterinary College, London)
 
Photo of adult Bouvier des Flandres

The Bouvier des Flandres is a large, loyal breed of dog that belongs to the working group of breeds. It originates from Flanders in Belgium, where it was used as an all round farm dog – specifically, for driving cattle and sheep. Today, the breed is more commonly used as a police, guide, guard and search and rescue dog. The Bouvier des Flandres has an exceptionally thick and abundant coat, which requires brushing on an almost daily basis and occasional professional grooming.

The Bouvier des Flandres has a calm and sensible character but is also extremely intelligent and quick to learn what is required of it. This means that it is usually quick to pick up on training, but needs variation to prevent it from becoming bored. The Bouvier des Flandres is an energetic breed of dog that requires plenty of exercise and is therefore suited to an active lifestyle. Its loyal nature means it can make an exceptional guard dog. The breed can suffer from some health problems, so it is important to select a healthy family line when choosing a puppy.

About & History

The Bouvier des Flandres, also known as the Flanders Cattle Dog, is a large breed of dog that belongs to the working group of breeds in the UK Kennel Club. The word ‘Bouvier’ refers to any dog that was used for driving cattle and there were originally many different types. The breed originates from Flanders in Belgium, where it was used as an all round farm dog; herding sheep and cattle, guarding and even pulling carts. There is some disagreement about the origin of the breed, but the earliest examples are thought to have been bred by monks in Flanders.

It is likely that the Schnauzer, Irish Wolfhound and Scottish Deerhounds crossed with farm dogs from the area were used to create the first examples of the breed. Until the 1900’s, there were different variations of the breed but these were united under one breed standard in the 1930’s. Both the First and Second World Wars nearly caused the Bouvier des Flandres to become extinct, but a small group of breeders, particularly a vet from the Belgian Army, Captain Barbry, managed to maintain a breeding programme.

The Bouvier des Flandres became renowned for its excellent working abilities, and great stamina and strength. Today, the breed is less commonly used for its original purposes but is used as a police dog, a guide dog, for guarding, as a search and rescue dog in modern dog sports and as a pet.

Appearance

Bouvier des Flandres Large Photo

The Bouvier des Flandres has several coat colours that are accepted for registration by the UK Kennel Club:

  • Black
  • Black & Brindle
  • Blonde
  • Brindle
  • Brown Brindle
  • Dark Brindle
  • Dark Grey Brindle
  • Fawn
  • Fawn Black Mask
  • Grey Brindle
  • Light Brindle

The Bouvier des Flandres should stand between 59 and 68 cm high at the withers and weigh between 27 and 40 kg. Female dogs should be smaller than males. The length of the body should be roughly the same as the height to the withers. The neck should be strong, and thicken as it reaches the shoulders, which should be long, well-angled and muscular, but not heavy leading to the front legs which should have plenty of bone. The body should be short and compact with a strong appearance and a deep chest. The back should be level and wide and the back end is typically wider in female dogs compared to males. The back legs should be powerful and muscular with tough rounded feet. Some Bouvier des Flandres may be born without a tail and this is acceptable, but otherwise the tail should be carried above the horizontal when the dog is alert.

The breed should have a head that is proportionate in size to the rest of its body, but it should give the impression of power and character that is reinforced by the breed's distinctive eyebrows and beard. The skull should be longer than the muzzle and flat. The muzzle should be wide and square with a large nose. The jaws should be particularly strong with a perfect bite and flat cheeks. The breed should have medium sized, dark, slightly oval shaped eyes and high set ears that fold over to form triangles.

The Bouvier des Flandres should appear to have a powerful movement with plenty of drive. The gait should appear loose and effortless. An amble is allowed but not desirable.

Character & Temperament

The Bouvier des Flandres is a calm, sensible breed that is characterized by being audacious and intelligent. The breed is very loyal and protective of its family, making it an excellent guard dog. This means it is important that it is well socialised from a young age, as it may be naturally suspicious of strangers.

The Bouvier des Flandres is usually good with children but, as with any large bouncy breed of dog, should be supervised around young children. The breed does not typically suffer from separation anxiety, although as with all dogs, it should not be left alone for long periods of time.

Trainability

Photo of Bouvier des Flandres puppy
Franz27 / Wikipedia.org

The Bouvier des Flandres is intelligent and quick to pick up on training recall and obedience, however, it can be independent so it is important to keep training varied and ensure the breed has plenty of mental stimulation. Some dogs may be more assertive than others so firm and consistent training with positive reinforcement from a young age is essential.

This means it is not a breed suited to inexperienced owners. The breed is usually quick to pick up on house training if it is given adequate access to outside space. The Bouvier des Flandres should be socialised from an early age with other dogs and animals if it is going to be expected to get on well with them later in life.

Health

The Bouvier des Flandres has an average life expectancy of 10 to 12 years of age and is classed as a Category 1 breed by the UK Kennel Club with no specific points of concern. There are currently no veterinary screening schemes or DNA tests available or recommended for the breed, however, it can still suffer from some health problems:

  • Hip Dysplasia (HD) – Hip dysplasia is when the hips develop abnormally. This abnormal development can be caused by several developmental problems or abnormalities combined, and commonly leads to joint problems in older dogs. Dogs over a year old should have their hips x-rayed and scored by experts. The maximum score is 106 and the lower the score the fewer signs of dysplasia are present. Hip dysplasia has a large genetic component but can also be influenced by environment.
  • Elbow Dysplasia – Elbow dysplasia is caused when the elbow joints develop abnormally. This leads to joint problems and pain later in life caused by osteoarthritis. There is a large genetic component to the condition and ideally only dogs without any signs of the condition should be used for breeding.
  • Subaortic Stenosis – Subaortic stenosis is caused by a narrowing in the area near the aortic valve in the heart, which reduces the blood flow through the heart. This narrowing can be more or less severe. The more severe the narrowing, the harder the heart has to work, and the worse the symptoms. These include weakness, breathing problems, collapse and, in severe cases, even death. Treatment options depend on the severity of the condition and range from medical management to surgery, but there is no cure. Dogs affected by this condition should not be used for breeding.
  • Glaucoma – Glaucoma is caused when fluid builds up in the eye, causing an increase in intraocular pressure. This eventually affects sight and also causes pain and discomfort. Regular gonioscopy testing can be used to monitor whether the condition is developing.

Exercise and Activity Levels

The Bouvier des Flandres needs around an hour to an hour and a half of walking a day to stay happy and healthy. Ideally, as much of this time as possible should be spent off the lead to allow dogs to investigate their surroundings and run freely. In addition to plenty of physical exercise, the Bouvier des Flandres thrives on mental stimulation and is often happiest when it has a purpose, either in the form of a working role or participation in an activity, such as a dog sport.

Grooming

The Bouvier des Flandres has an extremely thick, double layered, medium length coat, which is rough and coarse to touch. The coat should have a shaggy appearance but should not be curly. The breed needs regular brushing on a daily basis but also requires professional grooming to clip the coat at least a few times a year.

The typical cut gives the breed a distinctive look with a long beard and expressive eyebrows and longer hair around the neck and body. Brushing is an important part of caring for the breed as its abundant coat is prone to easily forming mats and knots and does not shed.

Famous Bouviers des Flandres

Some examples of famous Bouvier des Flandres include:

  • Patrasche from the novel A Dog in Flanders.
  • Lucky, the Bouvier des Flandres who belonged to Ronald and Nancy Reagan.
  • Max and Madchen from the Presidential Agent series by William Griffin.

Cross-Breeds

There are few popular Bouvier des Flandres cross-breeds, but one example is:

  • Flandoodle – Cross between an Bouvier de Flandres and a Poodle

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