Plain Truth About the Bouvier des Flandres

Jim Engel, June 2004

Most discussions of the essence of the Bouvier are pointless exchanges of meaningless rhetoric because fundamental precepts are not acknowledged as a basis for the discussion.  The Bouvier des Flandres created by the founders was to be a police style protection and service dog.  Period.

Any discussion not based on this principle is meaningless rhetoric.  This is a very demanding role, and any compromise, any consideration in breeding and training not directly contributing to the capability for police style service is just another nail in the coffin.

The police service dogs of today come from Malinois or German Shepherd lines bred according to this principle, and any breed aspiring to this elite status must also be bred with incessant focus on the requisite attributes and qualities.

Therefore, in order to know what the Bouvier was to be, it is necessary to know what he was not to be.  The Bouvier was not, is not and can not be a serious herding dog.  The founders knew that this role was obsolete; that is the fundamental reason for the founding of the breed.  No serious person in Belgium, France or the Netherlands doubts this.

A Bouvier can run the herd, milk the cows, balance the books and serve tea on the veranda to the “farmer” who has nothing to do because the dog does it and still be a piece of crap in a Bouvier suit if he is not capable of the police service role.

The Bouvier is not a draft dog.  This canard seems to have arisen from the famous, or perhaps infamous, book “A Dog of Flandres.”  In point of actual fact, the “dog of Flandres” was not a Bouvier at all, but a short coated, yellow, bulky dog of the common Belgian draft dog type.  Justin Chastel, among others, pointed out the differences in the requisite physical structure and temperament.

The Bouvier is not fundamentally a “companion dog.”  It is true that for many individuals and families the Bouvier des Flandres, and the German Shepherd among others, can provide excellent  personal dogs, companions and guardians.  This requires careful matching of the dog to the situation and a commitment to adequate training.  It is true that the majority of all serious working breeds wind up as personal dogs rather than in actual service.

But breeding selection must always, without compromise, be for the police service role.  Breeding selection pandering to an ever lowering expectation of companion ownership, in order to broaden the market, is the fundamental reason that only selected lines of German Shepherds and Malinois remain today as serious police service dogs.

Most breed standards are elaborate physical descriptions of mythical dogs, mostly ignored.  The “character clauses” are more or less like the old Boy Scout oath, that is, a long strings of noble sounding words  – “trustworthy, loyal…brave, clean, reverent, etc. etc. etc.” – meaning essentially nothing.

In order to define the Bouvier, we must first define his work and the requisite drives and character attributes and only then define the physical attributes necessary in order to realize this functionality.  Form must truly follow function rather than the candy ass fashions of the conformation ring.

So, now that we have established the frame work, what, exactly, is a Bouvier ?

First and foremost this must be a dog of fighting drive.  Hurt him and he will hurt you more and then see if you want to go another round.  Gambit on one occasion responded in the courage test with a roar and drove the helper back a full ten feet with pure physical drive.  He had bitten the sleeve with one fang fully through the lip, and the harder he bit the more pressure he felt, which he no doubt attributed to the helper.  There is no substitute for this.  You breed for it, for you can not train it.  This is why the working test must bring true pressure upon the dog.  This is why there are stick hits in the trial. 

Second, the dog must have a practical olfactory capability effectively usable for search, tracking and substance detection.  Although some Bouvier ‘working enthusiasts’ are interested only in the aggression, the one dimensional police dog is today useless and pointless.   (Actually, unaggressive breeds serve quite effectively in the drug detection role where the fundamental lack of aggression is appropriate in many situations.  But the dog capable only of aggression is really useful only as a junk yard dog, a role fast becoming obsolete because of technology such as surveillance cameras, intrusion detection equipment and civil liability. )

Schutzhund tracking may not be the ideal way to train and test for the olfactory capability; but to see the breed purely as a biting machine, a penis extension for insecure males of the human type, is just as unbalanced and destructive as the most despicable human class, the infamous “show breeder.”  ( I have good information that Hitler, Stalin and Napoleon are so deep in Hell that the only newly dead beings they ever see are conformation handlers, show breeders and little old lady office holders on their way to an even deeper level of Hell.  Perhaps there is a just god.)

Third, the dog must have the potential to  be civil.  This means that you must be able to walk him on a loose lead or off lead among a group of people and train and work him in the presence of other, similar dogs.  Unlike fighting drive, the civil dog is the product of appropriate socialization at the critical development periods and training as well as genetic predisposition.  Because fighting drive is so hard to maintain in working lines, and because it is the first attribute neglected or selected against by the show breeder, it is necessary to maintain in breeding programs individual dogs less than ideal in civility as a source of the requisite hardness and fighting drive in future generations.  There are many instances of excellent, widely used studs marginal or less in civility because of their fundamental fighting drive and trainability.  In a perfect world this would perhaps not be so, but it is the reality in every serious working line today.

Fourth, the dog must be trainable.  This means that he must accept the fact that he will perform exercises that seem perfectly silly to him because his leader or handler makes the command.  The KNPV dog must find a couple of coins or other metal objects thrown into a lawn and bring them to the handler.  From the dog’s point of view this is no doubt silly because there is no pleasure in eating, biting or having sex with a quarter dollar coin.  But he does it because he is the dog and the handler is the boss. 

Finally, we come down the physical structure.  The Bouvier, drawn from the cattle herding heritage, needs to be a compact, agile, quick, powerful dog.  In terms of American Football, he would be the natural line backer, not as massive as the line men and not as fleet as the wide receivers and running backs.  He will not win a long distance race or predominate because of sheer bulk and surliness.

The Bouvier is to be quick and agile rather than to have the speed and great endurance of the Belgian or German Shepherds.  He must have power in his bite, but it must come from his agility and intensity rather than the simple mass of the Mastiff type dog.  The head and jaws must be large and powerful in order to deliver the effective bite.

The Bouvier must stand in the square.  He is not as long as the more fleet shepherd’s dog and he is built for agility and power rather than endurance.  The top line is relatively straight, short and flat, but not to extreme.  Some rounding of the croup is appropriate and the tail set is an extension of the top line, not a flag sticking up in the air.

Angulation of the limbs is moderate.  The gait is smooth and powerful without excess effort, but is not the floating trot of the shepherd’s dog.  The typical open class at a national specialty consists of overly massive dogs with insufficient stride because of the premium placed on the massive appearance and extreme shortness of back.  Power and quickness have been perverted into ponderousness and impressiveness based on mass rather than power. 

The coat is harsh rather than elaborately groomed.  The dog has strong pigment and is not light in color or washed out in appearance.  Dentition is complete and the teeth are strong, large and correctly aligned. 

Copyright Jim Engel, June 2003

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