BOUVIER DES FLANDRES

From the October 1980 AKC Gazette

More on the Bouvier - Temperament

E. F. Bowles with Bruce Jacobsohn

I have received many requests to discuss and amplify my concerns for the future of the Bouvier and shall do so, dealing first with temperament. Emanating in major part from the advent of numerous unknowledgeable puppy producers holding themselves out as "breeders" and the attempts by some to secure great monetary benefit from their dealings with the Bouvier, the threat to temperament and character strikes me deepest since it is these special qualities that drew me to the breed in 1932 to protect my family's estates in Belgium and have defended me time and again. My work with "Dogs for Defense" and my half century of breeding in Belgium and in America have served to reinforce the belief that the intertwined elements of character, temperament and intelligence are the most important components of the breed.

The present deterioration in temperament can be attributed in part to the current vogue of two extreme but antagonistic misconceptions held by many North Americans concerning the Bouvier's basic character and moral nature: The first, that the Bouvier is merely a show dog and doesn't work anymore; and the second, that the Bouvier is mainly an "attack" or "guard" dog -the emphasis being placed on the dog as a "loaded gun" not on its prudently aggressive nature.

The "true Bouvier" -- an often horridly over and/or misused term -falls well within the two flawed poles of opinion. Even the often turgid American standard grasps the basic concept. "he is agile, spirited and steady, resolute and fearless character . . . by nature he is an equable dog.''

There now appears to exist an unfortunately fallacious belief on the part of many instant "expert breeders" and exhibitors that merely because their dog is a Bouvier in name or has good tempered (even obedience or protective trained) ancestors he must have good character and will transmit it to its progeny. These beliefs are usually coupled with the equally fatuous assumption that breeding a top winning American/Canadian show dog will automatically produce good tempered animals. The requirements of the show ring here do not necessarily commend itself to proper temperament, character or intelligence. This is not to say that a show dog may not have or produce good tempered get; but all too often this is not the case. Almost as inane is the notion that simply because a dog was imported from Europe he must be imbued with good temperament. A review of the evaluations and critiques from Europe of their own stock would belie this idea. However, if the dog was from stock that had been selected for proper character (distinguished by working degrees, C.Q.N., "Selecte," etc.) the probability of its possessing or transmitting the desirable traits would be increased.

Those of us who know the Breed's history and development and understand the intricacies of Bouvier temperament realize that one must be ever vigilant, constantly reinforcing the Bouvier's moral aspects and prudently aggressive nature to maintain it. Merely speaking of its existence does not make it so or perpetuate it.

As to the other extreme view, an understanding of the breed would reveal that many apparently well trained attack or guard dogs are not necessarily imbued with proper Bouvier temperament. The many-faceted Bouvier is required to manifest so much more than a mere demonstration of man-aggression work.

The Franco-Belgian Standard and Commentary sets forth the breed's desired qualities. His intelligence, fidelity to his master and attachment to all that belong to the family with whom he lives, the Bouvier is an extraordinary guard dog. He can defend with all his energy the house, factory, garden or car. Formidable guardian and protector of children and family he is, at the same time, their friend and playmate.

It is this well-balanced nature that reveals the Bouvier as it was intended to be: bold, yet prudent, completely submissive to his master, but capable of independent judgment; at first, standoffish but later a milling playmate, courageous in defense, but biting only when necessary to and then without meanness -- he does not maul.

From the above discussion it is obvious that we must work for more than a one dimensional caricature -- an attack dog, to be a "breeder" of Bouvier. The concerns cited herein are mirrored by many in Europe as can be seen from excerpts from a Commentary of one of Europe's most respected breeders of Bouvier, Justin Chastel (de la Thudinie) in the Bulletin of the Bouvier Club of Belgium:

"Among Bouvier and Belgian Sheepdog Fanciers (breeds whose development I follow very closely) everyone knows that this problem (character) gives rise to such discussion. No one with any sense can deny that this is an important matter, for conformation and character are two parallel matters which are side by side, but which have one and the same goal. We could find numerous examples of breeds which have attained a high level of anatomical perfection but which have, in the meantime, lost all their working aptitude, the latter quality having been their claim to fame in the past.

"We could also point to highly prized breeding animals being shown who have no character and have transmitted this defect to their descendants, to the perdition of the breed. We are all aware of this problem, but we often refuse to address the matter forthrightly. To say that nothing has been done would certainly be an exaggeration. Our leaders have indeed taken some steps. In Belgium, to acquire a championship, it is necessary to have obtained a certificate of "natural qualities" (C.Q.N.).

"Quality breeders have the obligation to employ as breeding stock only those animals who have passed the character test (part of the selection process denoted by "selects" on the pedigree). I would like to add a word in passing on this much discussed C.Q.N. (Certificate of Natural Qualities). Some think it is too easy to acquire, others too difficult. I believe it should be a well thought out test, for, above and beyond the biting and the ability to defend his master, the dog must be tested for flexibility, judgment, for his instant obedience, for his ability to work. He's expected to be a wise judge of the situation, and rightly so, rather than a ferocious beast, hurling himself indiscriminately upon the agitator. Are all of these trials sufficient? I doubt it. Some countries have adopted stricter measures.

"Last September the Swedish Bouvier des Flandres Club honored me with the invitation to judge their Breeders' Specialty. When the winners of the various classes there recalled to the ring for judgment of the CAC, I saw the ring steward checking the pedigrees of the dogs, and those who had not passed the character test were eliminated; they could not compete in the finals. The dog which I had to select was thus not only the best looking, he was THE BEST DOG. Therein lies a very important point

"In France, at the time of the 1977 Breeders' Specialty, a dog who failed the character test was unable to reach the CAC level of judging, for he would lack a qualifying score. The details of the regulations are different, but the result is the same.

"Will we not have to take similar measures in Belgium? I realize that such decisions will cause an uproar among those who are for relaxed rules. Do you know of other means to overcome it? Leaders of specialized clubs and well-known breeders have a great responsibility, will they be brave enough to take it on? "

It should be noted that since the publication of Chastel's article, several steps have been taken by the Belgian breeders along the lines noted above. In North America only rudimentary steps have been taken to ascertain the quality of a dog's behavior. The American Temperament Test Society headquartered in Monterey Park, California performs an invaluable function in evaluating qualitatively the temperament-soundness of a dog and should be utilized whenever possible. However, since the A.T.T.S. evaluation is not geared to a particular breed, it can only be used to eliminate the least specimens. As commendable as the test is it cannot assist in selecting the best specimens or eliminate marginal animals. Much more is required of all who are involved with the breed if we are to retain the moral qualities of the Bouvier that drew us to the breed. Now is the time to consider the utilization of a test geared particularly to the Bouvier and to try it out at a Bouvier match show/seminar or similar type affair. Our fellow fanciers in Europe have begun this work and we can learn from their successes and failures.

From the October 1980 AKC Gazette

Jim Engel Notes:

Edmee Bowles was the preeminent breeder of the Bouvier in America, having been active since 1932 in Belgian and a consistent producer of ever better Bouviers at Belco Farm near Philadelphia since the mid 1940s.

Justin Chastel is the creator of the modern Bouvier, there is simply no other way to characterize his contributions. Starting immediately after the Second World War, de la Thudinie Bouviers are the foundation of the breed in France and the Netherlands as well as Belgium.

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