Griffon Nivernais

Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Griffon Nivernais
Alephalpha / Wikipedia.org

The Griffon Nivernais is a rare and ancient French Scenthound that was 'recreated' in the 1920s from similar dog breeds, including the Grand Griffon Vendeen. They are best recognised for their hound dog features and their grizzly, shaggy coat. They can pursue and hunt a wide variety of game and have made a name for themselves on the field by being able to successfully work in a variety of conditions.

An independent dog that can be obstinate at times, the Griffon Nivernais is not a good choice for the novice owner. Poorly suited to city life, they require access to nature and plenty of daily exercise. Though they can be a challenge to train and a dog that becomes easily bored, this breed makes a superb household addition given the right circumstances.

About & History

The original Griffon Nivernais is known to be an ancient dog that was developed over 700 years ago in the former Nivernais region of France. Breed members are often grouped together with the other Bleu de Gascogne dogs: the Petit Bleu de Gascogne, Grand Bleu de Gascogne and the Bassett Bleu de Gascogne. These four French breeds are recognised for their ability to hunt both small and large game, as well as their willingness to work alone or in a pack.

With a touch of royalty in their history, it is often stated that the Griffon Nivernais dogs were a favourite of King Louis IX and were even known as Chien Gris de St Louis at one stage in times past. The origins of the breed are widely debated, with some arguing they descended from the ancient Gallic Hound while others suggest their ancestors are, in fact, the Bulgarian Barak dogs, which are coarse-coated hunting dogs from Bulgaria.

It is thought that the Griffon Nivernais dog was traditionally used to hunt boar and wolves. They were used widely by noblemen, and so their popularity understandably declined after the French Revolution. Luckily for the breed, they were also utilised by peasants and farmers, hunting for them and protecting any livestock they owned. Despite this, the breed came close to extinction, and experienced somewhat of a renaissance in the 1920s when related dogs, such as the Grand Griffon Vendeens and the Otterhound, were allowed to interbreed and bolster numbers, leading to the 'reconstruction' of the breed.

It was not until the late 20th century that there began a consorted effort to protect the breed and increase population numbers. In the 1990s, the UKC recognised the breed within their scent hound group, and several Griffon Nivernais dogs were exported internationally, to countries, such as Canada and the USA. While still considered a rare breed, there has been a renewed interest in this French hound in recent years.

Appearance

Griffon Nivernais Large Photo
Alephalpha / Wikipedia.org

Perhaps the most recognisable physical characteristic of the Griffon Nivernais is its long, shaggy and unkempt coat. They should have hairy ears, as well as a moustache and bushy eyebrows. Their fur may be grizzle, wolf gray or blue gray. They are permitted to have tan and fawn markings, as well as some white and black fur. Males stand at 55 to 62cm at the withers, while the female of the breed will reach heights of 52 to 60cm. Both sexes weigh between about 22 and 25kg.

Breed members have a long and flat head, with a large black nose and dark brown, alert eyes. Their delicate ears are pendulous, and should reach the front of their face. Their rectangular body is moderately muscular with a deep chest and a slight arch in their back. They should have long, oval-shaped feet, which are darkly pigmented. Their tail is covered in plenty of rough fur and is carried somewhat over their back.

Character & Temperament

A hunting dog to its core, the Griffon Nivernais is best known for its endurance on the field and its top-notch scenting abilities. They should be courageous, facing their prey with confidence at all times. They are never intimidated when working and even when encountering a large wild boar, the Griffon Nivernais will diligently perform their hunting duties. They are largely praised for their melodic voice when on the hunt.

Having worked in packs for so long, the Griffon Nivernais is very tolerant of other dogs, and will often co-exist contentedly with them. The same cannot be said for smaller pets such as rabbits and cats, as only in exceptional circumstances will they tolerate them well.

Despite having worked to make their living for many centuries, the Griffon Nivernais is a friendly dog that gets on well with families and will become devoted to its owner. Caution should be exercised with young children, and it is essential that a young Griffon Nivernais is exposed to people of a variety of ages, encouraging their acceptance.

Frustratingly, the Griffon Nivernais can be predisposed to developing nuisance habits if under-stimulated when at home. They will often use their energy to bark for hours on end, dig up gardens and scratch at doors. These unpleasant behaviours can be avoided by ensuring this dog receives plenty of mental and physical stimulation on a daily basis.

Trainability

Training a Griffon Nivernais to scent and trail is a walk in the park, however, asking them to perform tasks that are foreign to them, such as obedience training or agility, can yield varied results. This breed is known for having an independent streak and they can often be reluctant to follow commands that they do not enjoy. These wilful tendencies mean that they are best suited to those firm trainers that have experience with similar hound breeds.

An intelligent dog, they will respect a trainer that is consistent and clear with their instruction. If not respected, a trainer will find that their requests are commonly ignored; the Griffon Nivernais being happy to take no notice of the direction given and to continue doing whatever they please.

Health

A breed of dog that will live to be around 12 years of age, the Griffon Nivernais does not suffer from poor health. The following conditions should be monitored:

Hip Dysplasia

A relatively common orthopaedic condition, hip dysplasia results from the development of hip joints that are not formed correctly. Affected dogs will become progressively lame and uncomfortable on their hind limbs.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)

PRA is a progressive loss of vision that occurs due to the destruction of the rods and cones within the eye. It is an inherited disease that currently has no treatment or cure. Usually dogs will show signs of 'night blindness' early on in the course of the disease before going completely blind.

Ear Infections

It is the fate of many hunting dogs, particularly those with long and droopy ears, that they are more prone to developing ear infections than the average canine. In the first few days of an infection, an owner may notice the dog shaking his head more than usual, or scratching at his ear from time to time.

As the condition progresses, it is likely that the owner will become aware of a bad smell and, on examination, will see that the dog’s ear is red and full of discharge or waxy debris. Some dogs may even seem unwell and go off their food. Most ear infections can be promptly treated with a course of medicated drops.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Failing to provide a Griffon Nivernais with the large amount of exercise they require will be a decision an owner will live to regret, as they will inevitably rebel within the house with incessant barking and the destruction of household items. They need access to the outdoors, and relish the opportunity to roam off lead, picking up on scents here and there. Apartment life is not advised, and instead, this breed would prefer a rural lifestyle, preferably with ad lib access to nature.

Grooming

The resistant coat of the Griffon Nivernais rarely gets dirty or matted. It requires infrequent bathing and brushing no more than once a week. It may frustrate some owners that the coat will continue to look unkempt, even after a long and thorough brushing session! Most importantly, the ears of the Griffon Nivernais need to be checked and cleaned on a regular basis. Without this, they are likely to develop ear infections (otitis externa).

Famous Griffons Nivernais

There are currently no well-known individual Griffon Nivernais dogs but plenty of great every day examples on Instagram if you search the hashtag #GriffonNivernais.

Cross-Breeds

The Grand Bleu de Gascogne and the Griffon Nivernais were bred together to produce the Griffon Bleu de Gascogne.

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