The Briard is an ancient breed of large herding dog, originally from France. A Briard-type dog appears in Gaston Febus' Livre de chasse ("Book of the Hunt"), written in the late 14th century. According to legend, about the same time, a Briard fought a judicial duel with Robert Macaire to avenge its owner's murder, Aubry of Montdidier. Charlemagne, Napoleon, Thomas Jefferson, and Lafayette are all said to have owned Briards. It became popular after the Paris dog show of 1863, after the breed had been fixed, with crosses with the Beauceron and the Barbet. During the First World War, the Briard was used, almost to the point of extinction, by the French army as a sentry, messenger, and to search for wounded soldiers. The Briard's modern-day roles include police, military and search-and-rescue work, as well as companion dog.
The Briard can be tawny, black, grey or blue however there are variations in each color. Briards stand 58 to 69 cm (22 to 27 inches) at the withers. Ear cropping has been common in the breed, although more breeders are leaving the ears in their natural state since ear cropping is becoming illegal in most European countries, including the Briard's land of origin, France. When cropped, the ears should stand erect and parallel with the base being wide and tapering to a rounded point with hair covering the opening. Their long coat requires an extensive amount of grooming. The outer coat is coarse, hard and dry (making a dry rasping sound between the fingers). It lies down flat, falling naturally in long, slightly waving locks, having the sheen of good health. On the shoulders the length of the hair is generally six inches or more. The undercoat is fine and tight on all the body. The head is well covered with hair which lies down, forming a natural part in the center. The eyebrows do not lie flat but, instead, arch up and out in a curve that lightly veils the eyes. The hair is never so abundant that it masks the form of the head or completely covers the eyes. Briards come in a variety from different colors.
The breed characteristics of the Briard, are of a medium-sized, rugged, agile dog, having harsh coat and double dewclaws mounted low on each rear leg, resembling additional toes. Each double dew claw should have bone substance and nail, giving the appearance of a wider rear foot. Bred for centuries to herd, the additional digits on each rear foot give the Briard the ability of pivoting on one foot for quick turns and complete turn-arounds, which are necessary when herding and guarding their flocks. Throughout history, the Briard has retained an appropriate balance of size and build that is required for both herding and protection of their flocks. They are not too large to tire during herding yet large enough to fend off predators such as foxes and wolves.
The Briard is a very loyal and protective breed, and is sometimes called "a heart of gold wrapped in fur". Once they have bonded to their family members, they will be very protective. They can be aloof with strangers - new introductions should be on the dog's terms, including furniture or the addition of a new baby into the household. They require showing that the new intrusion is friendly and free of conflict. They must be taught that it is a good thing and not harmful. They have proven to be a very good breed to have around children of all ages. Indeed, these dogs rapidly develop an affection to their owners. They are very emotional, capable of crying for a long time after their owners' departure and celebrate their return in a very enthusiastic way.
It is also important that the Briard be introduced to several different individuals of all ages and in all types of situations. Socialization starting at a very young age is mandatory. Briards should be walked as often as possible, to many different places, and they will develop into a well rounded animal. Pet stores, city parks and malls are a good place to start.
The Briard has been bred for centuries to herd and to protect their flocks. To domesticated briards, their family is the flock and all strangers may appear to be predators. Letting them know that the public in general are friendly and not harmful will help them establish a lifelong socialization pattern which will result in an outgoing and happy dog. This socialization with the public in general will not diminish their capacity for protecting and guarding their family.
The Briard has a very good memory. Once a lesson is learned, good or bad, the knowledge will be retained for a long time to come. Sometimes they may appear to be strong minded and stubborn but these are a few of the Briard's characteristics. They were bred for centuries to think for themselves and to act upon their conclusions, sometimes to the point of thinking what the "flock" will do ahead of time.
These are some of the traits that the Briard has retained throughout history. Even if a Briard is a city dweller, they have a degree of herding ability within them. If ever, during their lifetime, they are introduced to sheep or cattle, they will automatically start doing what they were bred to do, herding. They will even herd humans by nibbling on their ankles or guiding with their heads and guide them to his master if ordered.
Service and therapy roles
Briards have been used in a variety of service and therapy roles to help those with disabilities and comfort those in hospitals, schools and retirement communities. Briards are also being trained as autism service dogs and PTSD service dogs for both adults and children. With their keen intelligence, tactile coat interaction, and loyalty, they make a huge difference in the quality of life for those with disabilities or in recovery.
Briards can compete in dog agility trials, obedience, showmanship, flyball, Schutzhund, tracking, and herding events. Herding instincts and trainability can be measured at noncompetitive herding tests. Briards exhibiting basic herding instincts can be trained to compete in herding trials.
Study on blindness using Briards
This breed is also commonly screened for congenital stationary night blindness (SNB) with a DNA test. SNB is inherited through recessive genes. Progressive retinal atrophy PRA, is a disease that causes nerve cells at the back of the eye to degenerate. The condition usually begins in older pets and can lead to blindness. Progressive retinal degeneration or atrophy (PRD/PRA) represents a group of inherited eye diseases characterized by abnormal development or premature degeneration of the retina. There are two types of photoreceptors in the retina and these are the light-sensitive rods and cones. They are responsible for detecting light and converting it into an electrical signal that travels to the brain. When the photoreceptor cells deteriorate, vision is lost because the animal has no way to generate an image from the light reaching the retina. Puppies are usually blind before one year of age. For the first time ever, animals (Briards) that were born blind gained the ability to see after undergoing gene therapy, according to research from the University of Florida, Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania. UF researchers had established that the apparently harmless adeno-associated virus can carry healthy copies of a gene into the cells of the retina, which is composed of layers of light-sensitive nerve cells. The healthy gene's mission: to produce a protein critical to translating light waves into nerve impulses that can be interpreted as images by the brain. The study was successful and the puppies could see in the eye that was treated. Officials from the Foundation Fighting Blindness, which supported the study with grant funds, said the success in reversing blindness in dogs is an important advance.