Every man and every culture comes into this world destined to die. In nature it is the species that is of paramount importance, and the individual and the regional culture are only of transitory and secondary value. We say that we value life, but we live foolishly and throughout history those who have held power, from the pharaohs of Egypt to the elected leaders of modern Britain, France and Germany, have hurled young men into the abyss by the million for small reasons of personal vanity and weakness as well as for great causes. Cultures such as the classic Greek and Roman had a life of their own, and thus were predestined to die. Sometimes, as in the middle ages, civilization can fall to a much lower level, only to later reemerge in a more vigorous form after a mysterious healing and regeneration process.
So it is with the canine. Our partnership has existed throughout history, at least ten to twenty thousand years, but individual dogs die and individual types or breeds, developed for specific function and purpose, have from time immemorial disappeared back into the morass of life. We think of the "breed" as something fundamental and immutable, think of the German Shepherd or English Setter as long standing features of life, but in fact most breeds have existed less than a century, only a transient few moments of history.
Now we must pay tribute to the Bouvier des Flandres, and to the men and women who created and nurtured him. My introduction, my personal link to the founders, was through Edmee Bowles. When we first became involved, in the late seventies, Bowles was already being written off, dismissed as an old woman living in the past, irrelevant to current affairs. But I went and I listened, for when Miss Bowles began in Europe in the early thirties the founders were still young men actively engaged in the act of creation. Her values became my values, and the Bouviers du Clos des Cerberes provided a flesh and blood model for the ideals and principles of the founders. And it was only after many years of traveling throughout the Bouvier world that I finally came to fully realize the quality of her line and her work, built up one dog at a time. In this era others were spending money, but Verbanck wisely advised Bowles to use the dogs of the rich because her knowledge and dedication would in the end outshine their money. And so it was.
For Bowles the character of the dog was fundamental. Her accounts of the early years, of her dogs in Belgium, focused on training with a natural emphasis on the protective heritage of the breed, on agility and power. Other Belgians, such as Paul DeRycke, held to these same values.
Thus from the beginning the Bouvier has for me always been the working dog, powerful, agile and resolute. Bowles was my inspiration, and I still remember the kennels du Clos des Cerberes, the square dark gray or black dogs with excellent top lines and beautiful movement.
When I began training it was in the American obedience style; but I was dissatisfied, hungered for something more, to train in the way of the homelands and to have for myself Bouviers des Flandres fulfilling the vision of the founders. And I became obsessed and stubborn, forever unable to accept the show ring alone as the arena of validity, convinced to the depths of my soul that a dog who can not do real work cannot in truth be a Bouvier des Flandres.
Today the Bouvier is for many, including leaders of Bouvier organizations world wide, only a show and "pet" dog, his working heritage merely a quaint myth. For these people he need be nothing more than a surrogate teddy bear, an affection appliance, his work no longer of use or value in our modern society. Stories of the olden days provide a romantic background in pet dog marketing, and it is slightly fashionable to pretend that today's show dogs really could perform should the need arise. Fools prattle incessantly about "show wins" and dogs never worked, in all likelihood incapable of work, are spoken of as "top Herding Dogs" because "working dog judges" profoundly ignorant of canine work or its requisite structure have pointed a finger in a show ring.
I can not abide this. Even though the objective truth is that the Bouvier is in his death throes as a working dog, that the candle is flickering out, for me the Bouvier des Flandres will always be a working dog, need be nothing more for nobility and certainly can be nothing less without desecrating the work of the founders. When this working culture finally flickers out, as it most probably will in my life time, then for me the Bouvier des Flandres will cease to exist.
Although the Bouvier des Flandres is universally spoken of as a working dog, the meaning is not well defined, or rather is twisted without mercy to meet convenience and justify lowered standards. On the face of it, it seems quite simple. Since in French "bouvier" means cattle dog, just as "berger" means a Shepherd's dog, is not the working function then well defined by the very names of these breeds? And it is true that the Bouviers, of Flandres and the Ardennes, and the Belgian Shepherds, the Malinois, the Groenendael, the Tervueren and the Laeken, evolved as working farm and pasture dogs in an era of unfenced common land.
But while it is true that in Scotland and in Germany the age old herding way of life continues to this day, in the Low Countries, Belgium and the Netherlands, it disappeared, beginning in the nineteenth century. This was a fundamental turning point for the farm and pasture dogs of these regions. In order to understand this era, it is necessary to know that all of these breeds and varieties ( the Belgian Shepherds are four varieties in one breed ) were drawn from the same broad, indigenous population of working dogs. The shepherd's dogs were more numerous and the efforts to formalize them into a breed began about 1890, although for many years only a very few dogs were actually registered. It was 1920 before more than a bare handful of Bouviers were officially taken note of by registration. Furthermore, the men involved in the founding of the Bouvier or in recording his history, such as Louis Huyghebaert and Felix Verbanck, were in many cases primarily Belgian Shepherd breeders and enthusiasts. The bouviers and bergers were in many ways opposite faces of the same coin, having a different face but sharing the same base.
A most valuable reference on this subject and this era is "Hundred Years of history of the Belgian Shepherd Dog" by Jean-Marie Vanbutsele. In this book he quotes Adolphe Reul, founder of the Berger Belge, as follows:
"There was a time when Belgium possessed, according to its relatively small territory a considerable large number of dogs used for the guidance and guard of the flocks of sheep, and even flocks of geese, because in the whole country sheep were bred and used for their wool.
"As a result of the prices of wool and mouton falling down, an inevitable consequence of the ruthless competition that Argentina and Australia offer our own producers, as a result of the given extension to the production and the use of cotton and of the realized progress in the agricultural domain that has brought it the suppression of the out of date system of untilled land, the decrease of the number and the importance of the flocks is emphasized."
Vanbutsele goes on in his own words: "Following the general counting, 969,000 sheep were enumerated in 1836, 583,000 in 1856 and 365,000 in 1880. The sheep were mainly bred in Campine and the Walloon provinces."
It is on "untilled land," what we in America would call open range, that husbandry is difficult or impossible without the herding dog. When the sheep and open range cattle approach to agriculture became obsolete, the need for such dogs disappeared In order to preserve these dogs and to meet the emerging social needs of urbanization, men such as Louis Huyghebaert created new sports, the so called "dressage" or obedience, which with new emphasis on practical police style application quickly evolved into the Belgian ring sport. The evolution of these sport activities and the invention of the "police dog" were part of the same process, for amateur breeding and training has always been an essential part of the police and defense application in Europe.
Because of the dedication of these men, whom we can not honor enough, the time for the Berger Belge and the Bouvier des Flandres to die had been pushed into the unknown future and the heritage preserved for a generation. The shepherd's dogs and cowherd's dogs had been preserved, even as the shepherd and cowherd disappeared into the pages of history.
Even before the 1800's, social change in Europe was a driving force in canine evolution. For many hundreds of years, with sparse population, the animal herds tended to be in large, open grass land where the primary function of the dog and the stockman was to keep the flock or herd together and to protect the animals from predators. Such conditions still exist in Turkey and similar eastern areas today.
But the expansion of crop farming to fill all available land, driven by and helping to cause expanding populations, put pressure on the herdsman, for now he had to find food for his animals in close proximity to actively tilled land, which meant he and his dogs had to keep them out of the tempting fields. Thus the evolution of the tending breeds, from which, apparently, the modern bouviers and bergers emerged.
Some will speak of the draught dog or the cart dog, and ask is that not the work of the Bouvier des Flandres. Let us again look to the words of Mr. Vanbutsele:
"The shepherd dog, dog of defense and attack, is an invention of man; in its nature it is at most a guard dog. Some have also been draught dogs, but this last function was better performed by the Belgian draught dog, also frequently called the Flemish Mastiff, to whom the professor A. Reul was also devoted. The Mastiff was a very powerful dog, built like an athlete and with an imposing muscular system. It was about 67 to 80 cm ( 27 to 32 inches) high and its weight varied between 45 and 50 kilograms. (100 pounds to 110 pounds) These dogs have disappeared because the Belgian law prohibits the use of harnessed dogs. Since the war of 1914-18, this admirable breed was beginning to disappear, and probably because the Mastiff was a big eater and its keep became very expensive. It was also a known fact that the biggest Mastiffs collapsed very fast by the heat. It is undeniably a great loss of our genetic patrimony."
Here we see a breed or type, the Flemish Mastiff, whose time to die came, and which thus disappeared as a small footnote in the pages of canine history. Every breed will die, just as every man and every nation will disappear. The life span is in part according to the courage, intelligence and perseverance of the advocates. But beyond that the unforeseen flow of larger events can cut short a worthy life or grant a long life to the selfish, the stupid or the morally degenerate by pure blind luck. Such is the nature of life.
The truth of the matter is that the use of dogs for draft work was often cruel and abusive, leading to its rejection by society, its becoming illegal. Also, with the development of the bicycle, automobile and tractor the use of the dog and the even the horse as a means of practical transport became obsolete. Furthermore, the progenitors of the Bouvier, and the breed itself, as a medium size dog with a rough coat and robust character, would not be the natural candidates for draft work.
This is not to say that a Bouvier cannot be hitched to a cart and taught to work. Indeed, diligent searching and training would no doubt yield a Bouvier capable of taking a point on a hidden bird or retrieving a dead duck. But those interested in such things are well advised to search out the suitable breeds. Is, after all, not the very concept of a "breed" to create a race of dogs with special aptitude and desire for specific work? And would it not be logical, were we to claim that this breed or that breed is "good for all work" to simply give up our registries and breed all the dogs together?
The work of the Bouvier des Flandres, the reason for which he was created, is police style search and protection work. In his creation, the founders melded the native cattle dogs with the larger native regional guard dogs, a natural response to the population shift to cities and industrial work that the agricultural revolution of the last century was causing all over Europe, and in which Belgium was among the earliest and most strongly effected. The words of the founders and guardians testify to this fact. As Verbanck said:
"The breeders do not forget that the Bouvier is first of all a working dog, and although they try to standardize its type, they do not want it to lose the early qualities which first called attention to its desirability. For that reason, in Belgium a Bouvier cannot win the title of Champion unless he has also won a prize in a working competition as a police dog, as a defense dog or as an army dog."
Herding is not mentioned for the simple reason that there was no longer any herding to do in Belgium, that along with draft work, it was rapidly becoming obsolete.
All of the traditional Bouvier working tests in Belgium, the Belgian Ring Sport and the "Certificate of National Qualities" (CQN), the working requirement for the Belgian championship, have their primary focus on serious protection tests.
A dog ot capable and willing in serious protection work is not a Bouvier des Flandres. It cannot be denied: this is the credo of the founders, this is the heritage of the men - and a few involved women such as Miss Bowles - who took the breed seriously in Belgium, the Netherlands and in France, men such as LeLann, Moreaux, Semler and Chastel.
In America there are those who seek to revive the Bouvier des Flandres as a herding dog, to reclaim that part of the heritage after a 100 year lapse. In a theoretical sense this is certainly feasible, for herding relies on fundamental canine drives selected and honed according to regional needs of real stockmen, farmers and shepherds. The modern police and protection applications of the Bouvier are adaptations of these drives, so pronounced and reliable in the western European herding dogs, to what were the emerging modern applications in the Low countries. Breeds, such as the German Shepherd, which have a viable reservoir of real herding stock, have an immense advantage, a genetic reserve potential.
Certainly, a case could be made that herding is more fundamental, that police and protection applications are perhaps better preserved and ensured for future generations through a serious, viable herding functionality. Real herding establishes stamina, and the hard core of real stand up mental toughness and stability, that is very hard to prove in trials, either police or herding. In order to pass a trial, some defects can to a certain extent be concealed through clever training and handling.
In order to establish a program for this "herding revival," it seems appropriate to survey the background, structure and function of the cattle dogs in practical service in American agriculture today. It is apparent that the dogs doing real cattle work are the bigger and more robust Border Collies, which have always had a tremendous variation in size, the Australian Shepherds and cattle dogs and all kinds of mixtures, which are just as legitimate as the formal breeds in this world of real work. The Australian origin of so many of our real herding dogs is not surprising when you consider that the American west and much of Australia are based on large area, low density agricultural operations.
It would seem reasonable that "herding Bouviers" will have to take their place in this world for real credibility, that trial systems are suspect until they show a relationship to practical work. The Dutch Police (KNPV) system has been so successful primarily because the trial is literally the certification for real work; most of the dogs can make a direct transition to on the street service if their owners should so choose. Herding trials will be a serious factor when farmers and stockmen are willing to purchase the successful dogs and put their demonstrated capacities and training to work.
One of the fundamental reasons for the variety among the canine population is that different physical and moral types emerged according to the specific region and working function. When modern man began making records of parentage and only breeding those dogs "registered" the concept of the breed emerged. This seems straightforward, but the reality was no doubt much more complex.
Suppose an angel were to descend to select ten of us to be transported back into time, say to 1825, equip us with appropriate clothing, the ability to speak Flemish and French and pockets full of cash so that we could stay at nice inns and wonder around the countryside seeing dogs at work. (Since Engel is simply German for Angel, certainly I would be among the chosen few.)
What would we see? It would certainly have been a society in turmoil, for Napoleon would have been defeated at Waterloo, in the middle of Belgium, only a few years before. There would have been a much lower population and more open land. There would have been a lot of dogs in rural areas, and the whole nation was much more rural then. When the sun went down there was no electricity for light and no telephone to call the police. A good guard dog would have been a necessity, not an esoteric play thing. Dogs would have been essential for the cattleman and the shepherd, but were we to approach a farmer and ask "Excuse me sir, is that dog a Bouvier des Flandres" he would have had no idea what we were talking about. The very concept of a "breed" would perhaps have been difficult to explain to the farmer, for if he spoke French the dogs which tended the sheep were "bergers" and those assisting with the cattle were perhaps "bouviers" just as in the American west a "cowboy" could be a black man or a white man.
From what written records we have, we are led to believe that the dogs working cattle would have tended to have a lot in common with the dogs working sheep, but in general were larger and more fierce or aggressive. The problem is, what did "working cattle" really mean? Was there a distinction between beef cattle and dairy cattle? Was the drover's dog a separate specialty? If so, which of these working populations predominate in today's Bouvier des Flandres? Were cattle grazed in proximity to unfenced tilled fields, requiring the tending style of herding, as were the sheep?
Were the farm dogs behind the modern Bouvier des Flandres really drawn exclusively from among specialized cattle herding dogs? Or did "Bouvier des Flandres" simply have appeal as a neat name for another breed, since there were already a half dozen varieties, based on coat color and texture, of "Berger Belge" or sheep dog?
If the Bouvier is to reemerge as a serious herding dog, then a specific, commercially viable functionality will need to be defined and we will need to produce an active population showing competence in this area of work, and producing pups at competitive prices with a high natural working propensity. A few dogs passing an amateur test, one not used to demonstrate real working herding dogs, will be seen for what it is, an exercise in myth building, a transparent scheme to pass of show dogs as real working dogs.
Practical herding tests must have a plausible and believable relationship to real work, and thus must require of the dog initiative, intelligence and decision making functionality rather than rote performance of a prescribed ceremony. For these reasons, I have a fundamental distrust of the AKC herding system, the suspicion that it will inevitably be turned into "herding obedience" geared to the amateur rather than seeking to become a truly valid arena to prove real on the job herding capability.
At best five to ten percent of Bouviers are capable of a credible Schutzhund or Ring performance. Those who begin training with "show lines," and most of us did, even if we manage to get a title, wind up looking for subsequent dogs in the working lines. A quarter century ago dogs of the Bowles line and out of certain European lines did in fact have quite good working potential as well as the classic Belgian type which was quite appropriate for a working dog. Indeed, looking at the pedigrees, I would expect that many of Clair McLean's French and Belgian imports probably were of good potential. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case, the Bouvier has almost universally fallen into "show breeder" hands and the character is only a pale shadow of the heritage.
As a common sense test, it seems reasonable that if Bouviers taken from the eighty or ninety percent experience has shown to be inadequate in character succeed in amateur trials without seeing spill over into real work, then nothing will have been established beyond an artificial sport geared to the low working potential typical of most dogs in most breeds. In order to reestablish the Bouvier as a herding dog, it will be necessary to rise above this and breed with herding functionality as a fundamental factor in selection. In particular, a virtually maintenance free "all weather" coat would be essential, for it seems highly improbable that real stockmen are going to load the Bouvier herding dogs into the pickup and run them into town for a bath and grooming.
What is the realistic likelihood of the Bouvier emerging from all of this as a credible herding dog, that is, one used as a part of practical stock production programs? Unfortunately, it would seem to be a real long shot, as credibility and practical utilization will take a long time to build up with other breeds already serving so well.
My impression is that the people involved today on the whole are not committed beyond a token level of success in herding trials. To succeed in a meaningful way, they would have to be breeders willing to select primarily on the basis of herding structure and aptitude in order to produce dogs with the stamina, drive and a practical coat. This would for all practical purposes mean moving away from the show lines, just as has been necessary for protection style sport and service.
Those of us seeking to restore the Bouvier as a credible police style protection dog, an effort which has been ongoing in America for twenty years, have for all practical purposes abandoned the show lines, which have become increasingly soft over this time period, and sought out dogs from the remaining European working lines, with a few ties back to the lines of Edmee Bowles. In spite of these efforts, we are doing little more than treading water. As things stand now, there is a significantly less than even chance that the Bouvier will even exist as a police style working dog in twenty years.
Restoration of a breeding base of serious herding dogs would be an incredibly lengthy and difficult process. There is no doubt that it is practical in that the breeding base is there, as long as some good police level breeding stock remains to blend in, but I just don't see the people with commitment. Seeking to obtain an occasional herding title on dogs more or less randomly selected from show lines without intensive selection for stamina and drive as primary breeding prerequisites is not going to be of any practical long term significance.
It goes without saying that nothing would please me more than to be proven wrong, for not only would a revival of the Bouvier des Flandres as a serious herding dog be a good thing in and of itself, it would be an enormous asset to the gene pool for those interested in the bouvier in the derivative Police style search and protection role.
The Belgian Ring is the original Belgian national protection dog sport, is to Belgium what Schutzhund is to Germany. When you examine the records of the Belgian Ring Championships (St. Hubert) during the 1920's and 1930's the Bouviers were there. In 1928 for instance the placements went to a Malinois, Groenendael, Bouvier, Belgian herder, Malinois, Bouvier, Groenendael, Malinois, not noted, Malinois, Malinois, Tervueren, Bouvier in that order. The Malinois was the most numerous, but not predominant as it would become after the war. As far as I know, the Groenendael has since been reduced to an ornamental dog.
Belgium suffered grievously during the second world war, which created enormous economic hardship that lasted well into the fifties. For some five years in the early fifties fewer than 100 Bouviers per year were registered in Belgium; the breed did indeed very nearly flicker out. (Numbers were similar in the Netherlands) In subsequent years, financed to some extent by purchases by American show breeders, the breed began to recover, but unfortunately with emphasis primarily on conformation competition.
After the sixties the Belgian Ring gradually became almost exclusively a Malinois sport, and the Belgian Bouvier training became less and less fashionable in favor of the show dogs. Dr. Andre LeLann did train two of Justin Chastel's Bouviers, Uberty de la Thudinie and Ksar de la Thudinie who became Campagne champion in France, and Gerard Gelineau took a couple of his du Clos des Jeunes Plantes Bouviers to the French ring finals. It will be no surprise for knowledgeable working Bouvier enthusiasts to see Edmund Moreaux's de l'Ile Monsin kennel prominent in this pedigree:
Fricko de Belgique '56
Donatienne des Coudreaux
Karl de l'Ile Monsin '61
Urmin du Gratte-Saule '46
Florida de l'Ile Monsin
Barlette de l'Ile Monsin
Quarl du Clos des Jeunes Plantes FrRing III
B Ch Ely '55
Iraky de l'Ile Monsin
Elma de l'Ile Monsin
Ninon des Casseaux '64
F Ch Gredin du Maine Giraud '57
Jassy du Maine Giraud '60
Dulcinee du Maine Giraud
Quarl, born in 1967, was a French Ring Finalist from '72 to '75
( The French Ring sport is significantly different from the Belgian, but still puts great emphasis on the protection exercises. Ring trials are generally conducted in a stadium or closed field, while Campagne takes place a more rural and rustic setting. )
In spite of the success of a few dogs, the over all situation in Belgium and France in the 1970s was grim. Breeders were increasingly conformation oriented, and the newer generation, lacking the working roots of the founders, were much less concerned about structure as it relates to work and more focused on the show win. Felix Grulois fell into this category, and the conflicts between the work oriented originators and the new generation of exhibition breeder was certainly a key factor in the increasing rift between Chastel and Grulois.
Under the leadership of Justin Chastel, Belgian Club president, efforts were made to rectify this situation. Chastel himself had made great efforts to improve the character of his own lines and the fact is that he produced two French working champions in this era. Chastel, who was also vice President of the principle national Belgian canine organization (St. Hubert), also was involved in the establishment of the CQN ( Certificate of Natural Qualities ) as a working requirement for the Belgian conformation championship, necessary for all of the protective heritage working breeds.
In a late 1970s article, translated by Edmee Bowles, from the bulletin of the Belgian club Justin Chastel said:
"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? "
Clearly, Chastel knew that the CQN was a relatively easy test, a much lesser standard than breeds such as the German Shepherd were being held to, and hoped that in the future a more worthy standard would evolve. Failure of these hopes to materialize was to cast a pall over his declining years.
Under Chastel's leadership, character tests were introduced and emphasized in the Belgian "selection" process conducted to identify the young dogs most suitable for breeding. Although this did apparently have some positive effect, by the time I witnessed the test at Meerhout, Belgium in 1989 the standards had sunk to a very low level. Part of the problem is that most of the judges were primarily conformation judges and/or Bouvier breeders rather than serious working trainers. (The evaluation was for conformation and character by the same judges, in retrospect a serious mistake.) What I saw, and several other Americans were present, was dogs pass who would not even think of engaging the helper, let alone taking a firm and sincere bite. (Apparently there is some technicality in the rules requiring the dog to touch the helper, so if all else failed the dog was more or less drug into contact.)
Shortly thereafter Justin Chastel, after more than half a century as a member, and two decades as president, had resigned from the Belgian Bouvier club. I had heard that, among other things, he was embarrassed by what had gone on at Meerhout and especially by the fact that many foreigners had been present.
In the fall of 1993, I made the pilgrimage to the village of Thuin in Belgium where he had bred the Bouvier des Flandres for sixty years, crossed the river Sambre and spent an early afternoon in conversation with Mr. Chastel. My purpose was of course to pay respect to the senior figure of the breed, and indeed this was to be the last time I would see him alive. But I also wanted to ask him about what I had been told, needed to hear it from the man himself.
Mr. Chastel told me that his resignation was because the Belgian club had abandoned real concern for the working character of the breed. Specifically, he openly expressed the belief that the Belgian selections, the character and conformation evaluations intended to designate the best breeding stock, are virtually without credibility, in his own words "a scandal."
Most men would have avoided this issue, been too tired to create conflict, pretended that they just didn't see. But even as the end of his own life was a lengthening shadow on the horizon he acted according to his convictions, regardless of the consequences or the influence of his friends and associates.
This episode had a profound emotional effect on me, for the sadness in the voice of that great old man over what was being done to his breed will echo in my mind until the day I die.
In Belgium, the Bouvier has become a minor breed, less popular than the German Shepherd or Doberman, and almost irrelevant as a serious working dog. There are only about one hundred members in the original Belgische Club Belge Bouvier des Flandres. In the early nineties, largely because of disillusionment with the commitment of the mother club to working character, Justin Chastel and other well known enthusiasts, such as Alphonse and Annie Verheyen and Dr. Andre LeLann, abandoned the mother club to found an alternative. The formation of a second club, predominantly by long term Flemish Bouvier people, was of course in many ways tied to conflicts between the Flemish and French speaking Belgians. But Chastel, who was a Walloon (French speaking Belgian), certainly would have stayed with the original club had that been his fundamental issue.
In the Netherlands, even before the second world war, men such as Coen Semler were training Bouviers for the Dutch police dog ( KNPV ) trials. Mr. Semler trained and obtained certificates on 22 Bouviers, including three national KNPV champions. The first Champion, a Bouvier called Loef, was subsequently donated to princess Juliana, who later became Queen of the Netherlands. Mr. Semler was perhaps the best known of these police trainers, but there were many others.
There had always been a separation between the Dutch conformation orientated breeders and the working breeders whose arena was the KNPV trial. Through the sixties there was some general commonality of background even if there were philosophical differences. Some kennels, such as Baakenstein, had always been primarily orientated to work, and there were many trainers who bred on a small scale.
Beginning in the sixties, with the introduction by Coen Semler of Belgian breeding stock on a massive scale, there was a radical change in the Dutch Bouvier world. The dogs became more massive, ponderous, much lighter in color and much more popular. By the mid 1980's the Bouvier was the number one breed in Holland, with as many as 10,000 yearly registrations, about 15 percent of the total. This surge in popularity brought forth a quasi commercial mentality and an emphasis on soft dogs for the casual pet owner. These "new Bouviers" were for all practical purposes a different breed from the old line KNPV stock, so much so that those not involved would not recognize them as one breed. The Dutch club was more than ever the club of the show breeder and pet owner and the KNPV community, with what were perceived to be old fashioned Bouviers and old fashioned values, was increasingly isolated and frustrated.
The banning of ear cropping by the Raad van Beheer in the early nineties, and the natural breaking of an artificial bubble, brought about a quick reduction in the Bouvier breeding rate. The dogs at the national conformation specialty in Hilversum dropped from about 600 toward 200. Although the Doberman club attempted to resist, the leadership, or shall we say the office holders, of the Bouvier club meekly submitted to the ban on ear cropping.
Going back to the Bobby Abady era, a few vocal North American working enthusiasts have had a propensity to make up comforting myths and believe that there were vast reservoirs of strong Bouviers in Europe. In more recent years, some have claimed, perhaps even believed, that the Bouviers in the KNPV are a predominant force, just waiting to be tapped.
While at one time there was real substance to the police lines, in the 1990s it is my sad duty to report that the Bouvier des Flandres is a very minor player, little more than a myth, in the KNPV world. For a variety of reasons, the number of Bouviers in the KNPV had been declining, and is now down to about ten a year, out of a total of about 800 KNPV titles yearly. (The vast majority of the KNPV titles go to the Malinois, or Malinois mixes without papers.)
Beginning in the year 2000, it will no longer be possible to register or show Bouviers with cropped tails in the Netherlands. In taking this action the Raad van Beheer (Dutch kennel club) will probably reduce the Bouvier to a minor breed in the show dog and pet dog world. The show Bouvier popularity in the Netherlands always was a mile wide but an inch deep in terms of real dedication.
A prominent KNPV trainer told me several years ago that were the ban on tail docking to become reality his Bouvier activity would cease, that it was beyond what he could abide. (Many police trainers work Malinois as well as Bouviers, so the transition, while painful in one way, does not isolate them from police training. ) Recently in talking with KNPV trainers, several old acquaintances, the general expectation was that the ban on tail docking would be the final nail in the coffin of the Bouvier as a KNPV competitor.
With about ten Bouviers obtaining a KNPV certificate in a year and the serious IPO dogs, directly derived from the KNPV stock, remaining a small and diminishing population, the outlook in the Netherlands is grim. If things go on without serious change, the Bouvier may well be gone as a serious working dog in ten to fifteen years.
Beginning in the 1970s, serious Bouvier interest began to emerge in Germany. Willie Reisloh, through his von der Stadt Homberg kennel, began to produce dogs based on Coen Semler's Dutch lines, as can be seen in this pedigree of one of the dogs who visited America briefly in the fall of 1980:
Ch Marc de la Thudinie '63
Noup de la Thudinie W'66 HD-
Iatte de la Thudinie
Lurando Noup v Dafzicht
Borinus KNPV m.lof'66 HD- '63
Yulca v Dafzicht
Falko v d Stadt Homberg SchH III, FH
Ch Marc de la Thudinie '63
Noup de la Thudinie W'66 HD-
Iatte de la Thudinie
Assy v d Stadt Homberg
Bucko van Dafzicht '67
Tosca van Dafzicht
Anja v d Ockenburg '68
In 1980 the Germans began the "Deutsche Meisterschaft fur Bouvier des Flandres", that is, the annual Bouvier working championship. In that year, Egon Herrman won with Fido von der Stadt Homberg. This set the precedent, for in the eighties one of Willie Reisloh's von der Stadt Homberg dogs won five times, with Hans Brust and Golf, who had been in America for our first working championship in Missouri, winning twice and Herman Rolke winning twice with Marschel von der Stadt Homberg.
Marschel has been very influential as a stud dog, for his progeny include:
Cayenne v d Pappelranch SchH III - German Championship Winner
Banjo vom Schwarzen Baren SchH III - NAWBA winner
Bram Bowie Casa de Mandingo's IPO I- Two time Dutch Champion
Ben v Sosegrund SchH III - Four Time German Champion
When I was in Germany in 1993 the winner, for the fourth time in a row, was Udo Funke with Ben v Sosegrund. This was of course an excellent record for this team. But, unfortunately, I must report that beyond this dog, Cayenne v d Pappelranch and one or two others the quality of the dogs was not championship level. This was a great disappointment for me, for the Germans had been an emerging presence, a force to be reckoned with. But today their blood lines are very thin, and when these great old dogs are gone, who will replace them?
The German club originally emulated the methods that have been so successful for the German Shepherds, that is, instituted rigorous character and conformation tests for breeding eligibility. Unfortunately, those who wanted to import Dutch show dogs and crank out "winners" just started another club, upheld in the German courts, and then another. The Dutch working people remark "the Germans have the rules and the program, but we have the dogs" and there is a lot of truth in this. The Shepherd people did not just make up their rigorous rules out of thin air, but rather gradually tightened up over eighty years.
At this time, in 1997, the German renaissance has slid into decline, with the working championships being dominated by a few Dutch dogs and the conformation breeding being more or less a Dutch colony. A primary causative factor has been the activity of the breed clubs in establishing very weak character requirements for breeding but stringent conformation and structure requirements that tended to lock out the best working lines. There probably was not a secret plot to drive out the working lines so that they could function only as ornamental and pet breeders, but that was the practical effect of their actions. A sad story indeed.
Thus, as we moved toward the end of the 1980's the Bouvier as a working dog was in steep decline everywhere in Europe.
Those of us who seriously train the Bouvier in America share a common experience: many of our fellow trainers wonder why we don't just buy a good European Schutzhund III and get competitive in the sport. Although many people in other breeds have a hard time grasping this, naturally assume that Europe has an endless reservoir of good working dogs in all breeds, the answer is that there are virtually no competitive working Bouviers available to purchase. In the entire world there are almost certainly not 20 working championship level Bouviers, dogs which would not be out of place at the Schutzhund USA nationals. Virtually none of these dogs are for sale, and to my knowledge we have never had a competitive level Schutzhund III or IPO III import. Perhaps a dozen Bouviers receive the KNPV certificate each year in the Netherlands, and a few of these have been imported and converted to Schutzhund.
The Shepherd fanciers naturally tend to equate European lines with working breeding, and in spite of the fact that there are major differences between German show and working lines virtually every German Shepherd pup has a Schutzhund III sire and at least a Schutzhund I dam. Although many Americans cling to the myth of European working breeding, the fact is that the vast majority of European Bouviers are bred with no more concern about working character than AKC shepherds. There are absolutely no working or character requirements for breeding in the Netherlands, and very limited and ineffective requirements in Belgium and France. The only really good dogs today are increasingly dependent on the Dutch Police blood, which is small in quantity and narrow as a gene pool.
Looking for working Bouviers among American (or European) show lines is about as effective as looking for dogs in American Shepherd lines; you might just as well go down to the pound and take your chances on a mixed breed. It is true that years ago a few good dogs came out of Belgian lines, but this is getting to be twenty years in the past and recent developments have not been encouraging. (A lot of these dogs went back to the same Chastel lines that had produced a French "Campagne" champion and some of the other French lines which produced some Championship level Ring dogs. But again, this is a quarter century and more ago.)
Although Miss Bowles, having escaped the Nazi onslaught, began her breeding program in America in the early 1940's, the Bouvier was a very unusual breed in North America until the 1960's. In addition to du Clos des Cerberes, the other prominent early kennel was Deewal, founded by Fred Walsh, with the kennel name going to Claire McLean after the passing of Mr. Walsh and his wife.
Although Bowles shared the then current European attitude toward the functionality of the breed, there were in America no serious canine sports for the protective heritage breeds. A few other Belgians shared the heritage, such as Paul DeRycke who had been a trainer in Europe and went on personal protection training his Bouviers in Canada.
In the late sixties and early seventies, Bobby Abady on the east coast imported dogs from Chastel and Grulois and promoted the Bouvier as the protection dog extraordinary, much to the displeasure of the American Bouvier establishment. For many years, "that article" was a reference to an incredible article Abady managed to get into Sports Illustrated magazine portraying the Bouvier as the wonder dog of the protection world. In reality the Abady pitch did not ring true, for his anecdotes tended to portray simple defensive responses, not requiring great courage and drive, as evidence for the new found super breed. In one example the human evil doer put a hand into the car and was bitten. In reality this was not a big deal, for many Poodles would perform just as well; almost any dog with a little bit of suspicion and fear will bite when cornered.
In the late seventies and early eighties, a number of us began breeding and training the Bouvier as a serious working dog, participating in the Schutzhund sport, as the Belgian, Dutch and French sports were not available in America. Mike Reppa had taken his dog to Schutzhund III in the late seventies and we had been inspired by the two German Bouviers Erik Houttuin had brought to Labadie, Missouri in the fall of 1980 for the first working championship: Golf and Falco von der Stadt Homberg. We read the reports of the German Bouvier Schutzhund championship with ten or more top rate Schutzhund III entries. Ria Klep brought Donar to Niagara on the Lake in 1982, and we had never seen anything like it. Halvar Bretta van der Boevers Garden, winner of the Dutch conformation specialty, had been Schutzhund III. We of course all knew that the Bouvier was a real working dog in Europe, it was just a matter of becoming familiar with the right breeders, trainers and lines and we would build a working heritage in America, just as we saw our German Shepherd friends doing.
But we were wrong. We had taken a few good dogs for the tip of the iceberg, while in reality we were seeing the remnants of a heritage, what may turn out to be the final bright flame before the candle flickers out. For at that very time, in the mid 1980s, the Bouvier des Flandres was in rapid decline throughout Europe. There would be, and still are, a few good dogs, but there was not and may never again be a self sustaining nucleus of a true working breed.
In America the AKC has always been hostile to the work of the protective heritage breeds; their agenda has always been to water them down for convenience in marketing as pet and ornamental dogs. Although this has to a certain extent been covert, the iron fist comes out when necessary to protect establishment interests. In the late seventies the German Shepherd Dog Club of America was becoming increasingly involved in the Schutzhund sport when the AKC steeped in. The direct result of this was the formulation of Schutzhund USA as a vital and independent working dog association, and the beginning of serious working dog breed and training organizations outside of, and in fundamental ways opposed to, the AKC.
In the June of 1990 the AKC formally banned affiliated entities from holding Schutzhund trials, demonstrations or any related activities, or in any way promoting protection sport or work. This was more or less in response to the establishment of the American Working Dog Federation, and especially the movement within the AKC affiliated national Doberman club. The most telling effect was that it provided an excuse, for now the American Bouvier Club, indeed all of the AKC breed clubs, can pretend that they "really" believe in work, but unfortunately there is this little technicality that prevents them from actually doing anything.
Even before these events, there was serious opposition to any manifestation of the protective heritage of the Bouvier, especially among the East Coast establishment Some of the negative emotional response was to the German origin of the sport, for even at that time many prominent Bouvier people, in Europe and in America, had suffered grievously under the Nazi atrocities.
In the 1980's, Claire and Charlie McLean lead the charge, establishing with great fanfare the "International Behold the Bouvier Organization" ( IBBO) which was a call to all right thinking Bouvier enthusiasts to band together and oppose the protection training perverts.
A few vintage words from Chairman Claire:
"Schutzhund training is for German Shepherds and Rottweilers, not for Bouviers. Like the Beardie, Old English, Pulik, Cardigans, Collie, the Bouvier has never had anything but a trustworthy, loving nature. (Except for the old Dutch and Roulers type who were known as mean and good protection against the Nazis.)"
Notice that the "nice" dogs are English, while the presumably "not so nice" or nasty dogs are German. This is actually a direct carry over of AKC attitudes, patterned after the English Kennel Club and always fundamentally hostile to the protective heritage working breeds, none of which evolved in England. ( Their specialty was fighting dogs for entertainment and gambling. ) The joke, of course, is on Claire, for virtually all of today's Bouviers are in reality direct descendants of dogs first registered in Belgium as Bouviers des Roulers.
Historically, the American Bouvier breeders have fallen into two broad classes, the first of which holds true to AKC dogma and believes that this is America and that all dogs should be big teddy bears, useful only as "pets." As we have seen, Clair McLean has been perhaps the most consistent and vocal advocate of this philosophy.
The second group, typified by Marion Hubbard, has been more interesting. While they have never shown any real interest in work on a personal level, they have an almost mystic need to believe that their show dogs really are the brave and steadfast defenders of the Flemish plain. The problem is that the myth and the aura were always more important than the fact, and the obviousness of the gradual deterioration in character was something more and more difficult to explain away or excuse.
The potential for conflict is apparent, and the famous McLean and Hubbard conflict of the mid 1980s, involving legal entanglements and lengthy, unsigned diatribes mailed from distant cities to conceal origin, provided entertainment for a number of years. There was of course more to it than that, but the fundamental differences in philosophy no doubt played their part.
The key to the preservation and enhancement of a working breed is an inclusive standard of excellence, one which incorporates both working or character requirements as well as physical evaluation for the dogs to be honored, especially when that involves a direct or implicit breeding endorsement. In the early nineties the NAWBA board proposed, and requested membership input for many months, that a companion dog test become the prerequisite for the select conformation designation, for the reasons cited above. This test, the BH or "Begleithund Prufung" in German, is an obedience and character examination prerequisite to Schutzhund competition, often referred to as "the B." (There is a detailed discussion of the B in the section on temperament testing, below.)
There was no opposition to this new test, and it went into effect in 1994. For a long time before the first show, there was no comment. Apparently the show breeders were not concerned, confident that the working test was just a minor inconvenience. After all, were they not Breeders of the Bouvier des Flandres, the world famous Belgian working dog? Marion had endorsed the new requirements many times, in person and in print, and sent one of her dogs out to be trained for the "B."
And then reality set in. The Northern California show breeders began to complain. Perhaps they had actually tried to train a dog or two and encountered difficulties. Did they find out that too many of the show dogs are dumb as a post? Did the dogs run from the gun? Lots of the Dutch show lines exhibit big time dog aggression in the show ring, did it spill over into training? (One of the most interesting aspects of the Dutch specialty is to watch the order and control in the working male class and then go see the circus in the open class.)
Shortly thereafter, caving in to show breeder pressure, Mrs. Hubbard reversed gears and began an incessant campaign to do away with the B requirement. The personal dilemma is of course understandable, for Marion's breeding and social roots are entirely in the show world; and were it not for her estrangement from the American Club over the Clair McLean affair and the subsequent legal entanglements she would most likely never have become involved in NAWBA. In retrospect it is quite apparent that Marion never had any real, gut level understanding of or belief in the Bouvier as a serious working dog.
This is of course the age old story of the Bouvier; the fatal betrayal coming not at the hands of his overt enemies, those who openly champion his emasculation, but by the enemy within, those who strut and posture and pretend, but who at the moment of truth are reduced to making transparent excuses and conjuring up comforting little fairy tails rather than taking the necessary steps for working dog breeding. Not only was Judas a member of the inner circle, an apostle himself, he was by far the best educated and most sophisticated of them all.
Many of us will remember that the core of the accusation against Claire McLean, leading to the legal entanglements, was that Claire was "too commercial" in promoting herself and selling dogs. Is it not ironic that Sylvia Hammarstrom and others, who Marion has incessantly promoted, is an order of magnitude more commercial and a much larger scale puppy seller than Claire ever dreamed of being? And is it not the ultimate irony that in the end it would be the "play work" philosophy as exemplified and promoted by Marion Hubbard rather than the fundamentally more honest "only a show dog" culture championed by Claire McLean which represented the real threat to the working integrity of the breed ?
Throughout our lifetime most of us have grown accustomed to a parade of labor saving devices, the washing machine, the power saw and more recently the personal computer. Whether or not our lives are richer is a question for the philosophers, but certainly our expectation that there is always a way around the drudgery of labor has been seldom disappointed.
Historically, working dog breeding has progressed by training so as to identify those dogs worthy to carry on the race, to be bred. Although for many of us this is a rewarding and agreeable pastime, others have sought out the short cut, a way to certify breeding stock without the time and effort necessary for training. Many of these people are those with money, who through the professional handler system have purchased prominence and glory in the show dog world without ever getting their hands dirty, often with dogs which they simply purchase and send off to the handler, dogs which have never been in their homes or physical possession.
The labor saving device has inevitably been some sort of a "temperament test," a brief exercise in which the supposedly untrained dog is exposed to a number of situations and an "expert" or a panel of experts make observations and evaluate the dog. Typically, the dog, accompanied by his owner, is approached by a friendly stranger and perhaps a passive stranger and expected to show confidence and no overt aggression. There is usually a gun test and some sort of device to startle the dog, such as an umbrella. There will be some sort of mild agitation to see if the dog will turn on to an aggressor, in which a bite may or may not be expected.
In and of itself, as an exercise to observe the dog, there is nothing inherently wrong with this process. But when substituted as a real test, as a certification of character rather than a superficial and preliminary evaluation, serious questions emerge.
For one thing, the testers are generally not experienced trainers, are in fact drawn from among those seeking to avoid the necessity of training. Serious trainers are generally reluctant to participate, to lend credence to what is an obviously insufficient test being presented in a false light. Thus, the "panel of experts" is often surprisingly light on real experts, that is, those with extensive training experience and solid credentials. The problem, in a nut shell, is that those who would be qualified by experience and accomplishment to serve by and large will not serve precisely because they understand that it is fundamentally and grievously dishonest to participate when such a test is presented as a working character certification.
Another fallacy of the temperament test is that the fundamental premise - that you are looking at the reactions of untrained dogs, a pristine picture not clouded by human interference - is fundamentally and routinely violated. The fact of the matter is that when the results will be recorded and published all serious people will rigorously prepare their dogs, and not present them until virtually certain of success. But the training negates the fundamental premise, for the dog which can be trained to go "woof, woof" at the agitator with the peculiar mannerisms will pass and become a "certified working dog" in the eyes of his owner and those unfortunate enough to buy puppies on the basis of such a test.
Although it has recently again become fashionable to put forth some sort of ill defined "temperament test" as a quick and easy way to promote the breed, this is not a new phenomena. Indeed, each generation has seen its own myth builders come forth to hold out the promise of a simple process to identify and certify dogs as of "working character" without the necessity of training. For those of us who have actually trained dogs the absurdity is profound; but the desire to believe, the attraction of the simple solution, blinds each successive generation.
Perhaps the most fundamental and obvious fallacy is the implication that training in and of itself is without importance. The working willingness, the inborn propensity to form partnership bonds with the human species, to accept training and make work a way of life, is what the working dog, especially those drawn from herding stock, is all about. How can you know if a dog is a working dog without training, putting him in the crucible of the trial and seeing the truth emerge? Tracking or search work demand enormous desire and willingness, are fundamental aspects of the Bouvier as a working breed, yet are totally beyond the scope of temperament tests. Indeed, a twenty minute test cannot because of brevity alone bring forth and make obvious drive and perseverance, offer the steadfast dog no opportunity at all to stand tall in the presence of the pedestrian mass.
Another fundamental failure of the character test is that dogs which will bark and lunge at a mildly offensive agitator are passed, declared to be of working character, without ever truly facing the test for courage, proving the ability to press an attack against a determined, threatening aggressor.
Among serious breeders, more demanding working tests serve as the breeding prerequisite, the test of breeding suitability. These tests vary by nation, with Schutzhund being the German standard, the IPO the very similar test in much of the rest of Europe and the KNPV or Ring trials being the tradition among various elements of the Dutch, Belgians and French. In the Schutzhund world, a dog is required, prior to a trial with protection test, to demonstrate stability and trainability in the test refereed to as the BH or "Begleithund Prufung" in German. The BH is an obedience and character examination with many similarities to the temperament tests as well as fundamental differences.
The BH is of course not an adequate standard as a breeding criteria, in that it does not have a protection exercise to test courage and discipline under stress, nor a tracking or search test to demonstrate olfactory capacity, working willingness and persistence. The Bouvier des Flandres is a second rate working dog precisely because his breeders have not held themselves to a higher standard. But it is a first step back on the long road to redemption, important in a symbolic as well as a practical sense.
The BH has two parts, a formal obedience test, quite simple and elementary, and a more realistic test in circumstances meant to show the dog's stability in the practical world. In the practical test, the dog must walk on a loose leash and be passed by a jogger, a person on a bicycle and perhaps a slow moving vehicle. The dog must walk on a loose leash past another dog laying beside the path and not show aggression or fear. The judge has some discretion on how the test is structured, so that while you can train for the test, you do not know exactly what your dog will be presented with. The "B" involves a simple obedience exercise, since as a prerequisite to serious protection training it is important to demonstrate that the dog can be taught to obey, that there is a certain level of intelligence and working willingness.
A drawback to the temperament only test is that a stupid or dull dog can usually pass. It may not be a pretty sight, but the dog does not really have to do anything to pass, just not behave badly. A further problem is that it is relatively easy to use drugs to turn a spooky or sharp-shy dog into a simply dull dog and thus pass the test.
For this reason, the obedience exercises, elementary as they are, are essential in that they show the dog can actually respond to handler direction. While one dog is on a long down, the other dog must demonstrate an on lead healing pattern, a walk through a group of people on lead, and then a repeat of the group and healing exercises off lead, during which there is a gun test. Then the dog must demonstrate a walking sit, a walking down and a recall. That's all there is to it, no go out, no retrieve, nothing especially difficult or demanding.
My experience is that temperament tests tend to favor and bring forth the "happy-stupid" dog, the dog who is boisterous, likes everybody and is willing to play the bark and lunge game with the mildly aggressive agitator. He does quite well in the social tests, is oblivious to the gun, indeed is in many ways too stupid to be afraid of anything, and in general is willing to play and enjoy any of the games the temperament test people conjure up. But he is not trainable in a practical sense, is incapable of taking responsibility or exercising judgment and generally is deficient as a protector when the going gets tough, as it from time to time does in the real world. In short, such tests bring forth and promote dogs profoundly deficient in the characteristics and propensities for which our protective heritage breeds were developed, preserved and protected by the founders and succeeding generations of working dog breeders.
Is the time at hand for the Bouvier des Flandres? Surely the ornamental dogs will remain and be pandered, but when the working culture is gone will they not be a pure parody, a mockery of the heritage?
From the very beginning the existence of the Bouvier as a working breed has been tenuous. The Berger Belge, whose formal existence began about 1890, had a twenty to thirty year head start on the Bouvier, and many dogs and trainers were active in the Belgian Ring, more accessible to recognized breeds, when the Bouvier came on the scene in the 1920s. The first world war did indeed come at an inopportune moment, further delaying the advent and popularity of the breed.
In Adolphe Reul the Belgian shepherd's dogs had a founding father, a man comparable to von Stephanitz who did so much to solidify the German Shepherd culture and heritage. No such predominant figure came forth to play a role in the emergence of the Bouvier des Flandres. In the forties, fifties and sixties it was Verbanck who was the leading figure, but he was only a foster father, a man whose personal passion was the Malinois. His service was selfless and noble, but the all consuming fire and passion of an obsessed leader was missing. Justin Chastel was such a man, but he labored under immense hardship, some of it perhaps of his own making.
In Belgium today the mother club numbers a hundred or less breeding ornamental dogs, and on the whole second rate ones at that. In the Netherlands, the Raad van Beheer in its crusade against cropped and docked dogs has with a flick of the pen disposed of the breed, for if a dog does not have the type, the typical appearance, of the Bouvier des Flandres, and if he is devoid of the character of the breed, will it not be self deception to pretend that they still breed the Bouvier des Flandres? In Germany the breed clubs have suffocated an emerging working heritage and driven out the working enthusiasts, many now training the Malinois.
Virtually every Bouvier organization, world wide, is in the hands of those who on one level or another pretend allegiance to the working heritage, but whose real agenda is to promote the breed as an ornamental and pet dog and to falsify or pretend to working credentials as an aid to myth building and puppy sales.
Each of us who value the Bouvier as a working dog face a fundamental question, must decide for ourselves whether it is worthwhile to carry on, or whether we should simply live out our lives with a few good dogs, our remnants of the heritage, knowing that we shall become the generation that finally allows the candle to flicker out. Were the last Romans, those under whose stewardship the empire slipped away, less noble than the empire builders?
Over the past two decades a number of us have put enormous effort into what we called the working Bouvier movement. This work has been in vain, for the breed is in much poorer condition as a working dog than when we began, and we have squandered our chance for an American revival by presenting ourselves to the working dog world as a Mickey Mouse club, dedicated primarily to myth building for the show dog breeders, unable to establish the most elementary standards of a true working dog association, putting forth play work as real work as a diversion for the pet owners. We have been infiltrated and used by those who only pretend belief in working dogs, who - to be perfectly candid - are quite satisfied to own, breed and sell pretend working Bouviers. It is not the overt show only people who are ushering the Bouvier to his grave as working dog, it is those who prattle on about the character of the Bouvier des Flandres but comprehend nothing beyond fairy tales who are digging the grave and carrying the casket.
In the beginning we believed, or tried to believe, that the way to "save the breed" was to be inclusive, to "get the show people interested," to convert existing breeders and pet owners into working enthusiasts. Those of us who had seriously trained a dog or two knew full well that the show lines were at heart no longer working dogs. In the past two decades the situation deteriorated, and the Bouvier has for all practical purposes become two breeds.
The show breeders were never going to train, were never going to change a breeding program to improve character, certainly never going to dump their "champion lines" wholesale, as would be necessary, to breed working dogs. And we were blind stupid to pretend that this was going to happen, it really is as simple as that.
Did we really think these people were going to wake up one morning, have a cup of coffee, ponder the state of the breed, wander out to the kennel and be struck down like St. Paul and see the light? Somehow, they never quite get to the point of exclaiming "Why these dogs are crap, I am going to send them to the promised land and seek out some working dog stock and become a real Bouvier breeder!"
Sure they like to hang out, pick up a little macho man dog talk about "prey drive" and "defense drive" and have their dogs play tug of war with a sleeve. Promotional photos are popular, so as to have ads depicting the show dogs "biting the sleeve" under the slogan "show dogs can do it too!"
The simple truth is that working breeds are created and exist by the blood, sweat and tears of those with an inborn passion for the dogs, one which can not be created but which can easily flicker out from frustration or be deflected to another breed.
But "blood, sweat and tears" are not fashionable today. Somehow everything has to be made easy and convenient. The founders knew well that to breed working dogs one must work the breeding stock to gain the insight which is the base of breeding selection. But today we are told of "temperament tests" in which the guru spends a few minutes watching a dog and proclaims him fit to breed, avoiding the necessity of training and testing. Show breeders hang around and pretend that because they pay dues and lip service their dogs can do it too, and they really don't even know what "it" is.
The problem is that when people buy a Bouvier from show lines and find that it can not or will not work they do not go looking for working Bouviers, they move on to a Malinois or Shepherd, lost forever to the breed.
The people involved in Bouvier breeding today for the most part have no real conception of nor interest in serious work. Their motivation is to collect trophies and be on some level "important" in the world of pet and show dogs. Their interest in work is limited to what myth building can do to serve these pedestrian ends. Trying to inspire a passion for working dogs among the disinclined is destined for failure, is like trying to teach a pig to sing: not only is it an exercise in futility, in annoys the hell out of the pig and puts him ( or her ) in a foul and vindictive mood, as we have seen.
Experience has shown that building a working Bouvier renaissance by trying to make believers out of existing show breeders and pet owners is stupid and futile. Sure, some of these people will come to believe, most of us started out as pet owners who came to want something more. But the fire in these bellies will ignite regardless of what we do or do not do; our real need is to make sure those seeking more find it in a Bouvier des Flandres rather than a Malinois or German Shepherd, and to let the others fall by the wayside. If we build it, they will come......
We must value correct physical structure and correct type because these things are essential to excellent work and because the uniform and handsome appearance is an fundamental facet of the breed. But we must remember that structure and form for the working dog must follow function; those ignorant of the work of the breed must be denied a voice in its structure. There is no such thing as a working dog "show" breeder, although pretenders are legion. Working character comes from the heart of the breeder, from men and women obsessed with the character of their dogs above all else. You can not tack on working character by every once in a while buying an IPO I dog or breeding occasionally to a dog with a title in its lines, for all this produces is working dog shells, empty replicas devoid of the soul.
The tragic mistake of the Dutch must not be perpetuated; we must bring working character together with uniform and handsome appearance in one dog. "I don't care what it looks like as long as I get my working certificate" may lead to a certain kind of personal satisfaction, but it becomes the credo of the living dead when we all live by it. Conformation must come second, but it must be a strong and demanding second for the breed to reemerge as a serious player in the working dog world.
"I will only breed dogs for the top sport competitor" is an equally self defeating motto. In order to restore the serious Bouvier to vitality and life, most of our dogs must go to selected homes who will seek out and value such dogs. We must produce dogs which succeed in this environment or we shall perish.
We must seek excellent structure and appearance only in conjunction with proven working character and willingness, which always must come first. Above all else, we must never recognize or honor "show" dogs and their breeders, that is dogs without proven working character, with the expectation that "down the road" they will see the light. Experience has shown time and again that the "show breeders" are always willing and anxious to be associated in order to build the myth without actually making any effort to understand and breed working dogs.
If the Bouvier is to come back from the brink as a working dog, serious steps will be necessary. For a product to be viable, there must be a market. There is no market at all for carting dogs, therefore carting is not work. There is certainly a market for good herding dogs, but there are also many breeds with current credentials fulfilling this function very well. The expectation that Bouviers are going to be bred in the future as working herding dogs is small. Were it to happen it would be a good thing, for herding lines and guard lines are complementary, and there would be better prospects for the survival of the Bouvier as a guard or protection dog if a viable herding function were to reemerge.
Bouviers as a force in the police market is not out of the question, indeed the only thing standing in the way is a reliable source of supply at a competitive price. Unfortunately, price is to a large extent set by European exports, and the German Shepherds and Malinois coming over from Europe will in the short run be very hard to compete with on a price and performance basis. ( This is true for breeds other than the Bouvier also.)
Where there is a good potential market, a real opportunity for a working renaissance, is in the home and family protection market. There is an enormous demand in America for a handsome family companion with real protection potential. Social unrest, the state of America, ensures that such demand will exist into the foreseeable future. In order to address the more sophisticated and higher priced segment of this market, it will be necessary to produce consistently excellent dogs that the typical family can work with and maintain with discipline.
Some may say that it is inappropriate to speak in these commercial terms, of marketing and sales, that it denigrates the nobility of the breed. I say that if we are to breed working dogs we must produce dogs which have value, which serve mankind, which people are willing to pay money for precisely because of their functionality.
It is necessary to differentiate the true working Bouviers from the show lines, for all practical purposes to present it as a distinct and superior breed. The show breeders will of course recite their lies and fairy tales, but they must be denied, must once and for all be stripped of the opportunity of living off of the heritage while shirking their responsibility of carrying it forward.
Death is the inevitable outcome of life, for the man, for the dog, for the nation and for the breed. But some nations and some breeds will live long and in prosperity, while others expire short of maturity. As a serious working dog, the Bouvier des Flandres is at this moment accelerating toward the point of no return, and will cease to exist within our lifetimes unless fundamental new initiatives are undertaken in his behalf.
The establishment, the national clubs in all nations, is in the death grip of the conformation breeder. In order to step in and change the course of history at the last moment, it will be necessary to establish an international cooperative among working Bouvier breeders and trainers, excluding existing organizations and individuals without solid commitment to the principle that the breeding of the Bouvier des Flandres is the breeding of a protective heritage working dog.
Such an association, its exact form and format is not important, must disdain pretend work and play work, the fairy tails of the conformation establishment. Every true KNPV trainer, every real IPO trainer, every Ring trainer believes in his heart that the dog which will not attack in the face of a determined human adversary is not worthy of the name "Bouvier des Flandres." Yet time and again we have surrendered this basic belief, stood mute while our national organizations bestowed the mantle "champion" on dog after dog devoid of the character of the breed. Peter denied Christ three times and then herd the cock crow, and yet went on to found the church. In the end he found courage and forfeited his life in service. The fate of the Bouvier depends upon whether among his advocates are those who, even having failed grievously, are willing to make an all out effort in the face of adversity.
If the working Bouvier passes into the pages of history, it would be comforting to blame the "system" and the "establishment" and the "show breeders." But those not afraid to read the epitaph will know it to say "In Memorial to the Bouvier des Flandres, gone because his advocates were insufficient in courage and hardness."