Picardy Sheepdog

Stuart Fitzgerald
Dr Stuart Fitzgerald (MVB MANZCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Picardy Sheepdog

The Picardy Sheepdog, aka Berger Picard, is a rare French pastoral breed, long used to herd and protect flocks of sheep in northern France and other parts of Europe. An engaging and intelligent character, it is very devoted to its people, and is often considered one of the “velcro” breeds, almost glued to its owners throughout the day. Picardy Sheepdogs, in general, are wary of strangers, with females in particular being sensitive to uninvited attention. Though rarely aggressive without provocation, they will willingly protect themselves or their family when necessary, and it is important that they are adequately socialised throughout their formative puppyhood to ensure they are not unduly nervous in company. Like many of the herding breeds, the Picardy will treat children like lambs, being very patient and gentle towards them, and so it makes an excellent, reliable family pet.

However, not all individuals mingle well with other dogs, and the breed also has quite a strong hunting instinct, so those with smaller pets should perhaps steer clear. The Picardy’s low-shedding coat, which is famously scruffy and tousled, needs little care, but owners do need to be prepared to devote a lot of time to exercise, for this is a high-energy dog that needs to be kept stimulated. Picardy Sheepdogs kept purely as pets are at risk of behavioural disorders arising out of boredom, and in the absence of having a job to do, should be kept busy through other means, whether performing chores around the home or competing in canine sporting events. In general, the breed enjoys very good health, and the small community of Picardy breeders around the world take great pains to prevent inherited disease. As a result, this hardy dog has an average life expectancy of 12 to 14 years.

About & History

While it is often claimed that this is the oldest of the French herding breeds, in fact it is very difficult to be sure of its origins. Although medium-sized dogs with long, rough coats have been employed by continental shepherds for many hundreds of years, it is unclear at what point one could definitively point to the Picardy Sheepdog as a distinct breed. Certainly, it appears to be closely related to other dogs of a similar type, most notably the Briard and the Beauceron. It is believed that the ancestors of all of these breeds arrived in modern-day France with the Franks around the ninth century, and each would have evolved and been selected to best suit its native region. For the Picardy Sheepdog, this was the area stretching to the north of Paris, and it was here that the breed was first granted a standard, and subsequently gained official recognition in the 1920s. Prior to this, it had first been competitively shown in France in 1863, but it was indeed placed under the same classification as the Briard and Beauceron.

It appears that even up to the early 1900s, Picardy Sheepdogs were not kept in great numbers, and the impact of the two World Wars on their native region was such that the breed was almost wiped out entirely by the mid-twentieth century. Ironically, this was to prove the Picardy’s salvation, for its status as an endangered breed stoked interest in its breeding and preservation. Since the 1940s, its population has climbed steadily, though painfully slowly, and it is believed there are still no more than 4000 Picardy Sheepdogs registered in France, with less than 1% of that number in the United Kingdom.

Appearance

Picardy Sheepdog Large Photo
Cufleadh / Wikipedia.org

The Picardy Sheepdog is a medium-sized dog with a solid but elegant build. It carries itself with dignity, and is lively and animated in its movement. It has chiselled facial features that are accentuated by distinct eyebrows, a moustache, and beard. Its skull, which is slightly domed when viewed from the front, is equal in length to the muzzle, and the two run along parallel lines when viewed from the side. Although the muzzle tapers slightly, it is not pointed, and ends in a large, black nose. The lips are tight and thin, and run along strong jaws. The Picardy’s oval-shaped eyes are dark in colour, and its reasonably large ears are wide at the base and carried erect, almost bat-like.

Its body is well-proportioned and athletic, with a muscular, elongated back and wide chest. The abdomen is slightly tucked up, and the tail is long, slender, and carried with a curved tip. The limbs are well-muscled, but not bulky, and they have a supple and easy motion, with good reach in the forelimbs. One of the Picardy Sheepdog’s defining characteristics is its coat, which is moderately long and coarse, with a crisp feel. It is some shade of fawn in colour, with black or grey markings and a small amount of white considered acceptable. Males are 60 to 65 cm in height, and weigh 28–32 kg, while females measure between 55 and 60 cm, and weigh 24–28 kg.

Character & Temperament

The Picardy Sheepdog, when relaxed, is a cheerful, easy-going dog with a penchant for mischief. It is sometimes described as a people-loving breed, but in reality, it is its own family it loves, not necessarily anyone beyond it. Wary of strangers, it can be somewhat sensitive and easily spooked by people (and dogs) it does not know well, and visiting friends and family should take their time before attempting to lavish their affections upon this irresistibly scruffy-looking breed.

As a shepherd’s dog, the Picardy will often bond most strongly with one particular family member, and will be a constant fixture by their side. The breed is dependably gentle with children, but does not always mix well with other pets, and has the hunting instincts to put cats and other small animals in jeopardy.

Trainability

For some dog owners who take their obedience and agility competitions seriously, the Picardy is the breed of choice. It is an extremely clever dog, but is also an independent thinker, and novice dog owners will soon discover that it does not do well with rote learning, needing variety and stimulation to maintain its interest. Nonetheless, the Picardy Sheepdog can be trained to a high standard by anyone able to apply the necessary patience, enthusiasm, and consistency.

Health

The Picardy Sheepdog, or Berger Picard, is a generally healthy dog. Like many sheepdogs, it is prone to several eye disorders, but the other problems listed below are quite uncommon. Part of the reason this remains a rare breed is that breeding is fraught with difficulties, from a reluctance to mate to a high incidence of birthing problems, often as a consequence of uterine inactivity. Anyone considering breeding from their Picardy would do well to seek the advice of an experienced breeder in preparation for the process.

  • Elbow dysplasia – Malformation of the elbow joint, usually not be apparent in young pups, but which manifests as lameness before one year of age. Radiographic screening of breeding adults should help avoid this problem in most cases.
  • Hip dysplasia – Inherited deformity of one or both hip joints, also causing lameness in juvenile dogs, and also largely preventable through screening programmes.
  • Lupoid onychodystrophy – Inflammatory condition affecting the nail beds, leading to the growth of weak, brittle nails. This predisposes to nail breakage and nail bed infection, but treatment with anti-inflammatory medications usually results in good long-term control.
  • Multifocal retinopathy – Condition causing (usually partial) sight loss in adult dogs through the degeneration of nerve cells at the back of the eye.
  • Progressive retinal atrophy – Genetic condition seen in many herding breeds that leads to more profound sight loss as a result of generalised retinal degeneration. A blood test to detect PRA carrier status should be used to select breeding adults.

Exercise and Activity Levels

While the Picardy can like a very contented life as a pet, it remains, deep down, a working dog, and has the energy levels to match. It needs regular exercise, an hour a day at a minimum, and at least some of this should be at a high intensity level – chasing a tennis ball or accompanying its owner on a run or cycle, for example.

Grooming

The breed’s coat is remarkable for its ease of care, with many Picardy owners insisting that a single brushing session every month is all that is required. Likewise, it needs only very infrequent baths, and it does not require the attentions of a professional groomer for clipping. As with any dog, the Picardy Sheepdog’s nails are likely to need occasional clipping, and this should ideally be done carefully by the owner, as many individuals dislike having their paws handled by strangers.

Famous Picardy Sheepdogs

The breed remains relatively unknown outside France, and can’t yet claim celebrity status for any of its members.

Cross-Breeds

As a rare breed, the Picardy is generally owned by people who prefer to preserve its genetic integrity, and there are currently no Picardy Sheepdog cross-breeds available.

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