There are 4 French sheepdog breeds: The Briard, Beauceron, Picard and Berger des Pyrenees. Of these, the Briard and Beauceron are the oldest.
The Briard is a very ancient French breed of dog developed over many years to be of help to the farmer in driving and guarding his sheep as well as general purpose help. The first apparent mention of the breed was in the 8th Century, in the time of Charlemagne, where tapestries were supposedly made depicting him with large briard type dogs. Emperor Napoleon was also believed to be a lover of the breed, and was reported to have owned two of them.
The first document relating to the existence of a sheepdog breed with long hair, called a Berger de Brie, appeared in an 1809 Agriculture Show organized by the Abbott Rozier, who had become interested in the breed.
It wasn’t until 1863, when Paris held its first dog show in the Bois de Boulogne, that our first more definite evidence of the breed came, with a section included, called “Varied French Sheepdogs”.
The “type” for the breed still wasn’t fixed. A little after this, it was decided to split the various types into individual groups, the smooth coated type (becoming the Berger de Beauce) and the longer haired. We would have to wait until 1888, with the appearance of a black male called Sans Gene, to see a Berger de Brie type of dog. He served as the model for the breed for the first breeders.
In 1896 The Club des Chiens de Bergers Francais was founded. This was the beginning of the “selection” of the Berger de Brie breed with the establishment of the first standard of the breed. Not an “official” standard, but more “selection” of dogs of a certain type made by fanciers, and owner/users of the dogs – actual farmers. At one of their shows in 1897 a description of the ideal Briard was used for the first time.
From this time on the breed became much more established, with the Club des Amis du Briard being formed in France in 1909 and the first proper "standard" for the breed established in 1925. With their intelligence and willingness to work, Briards soon became more numerous in France. As guard dogs they had a good knowledge of the boundaries to their land, so fences were not needed. Guarding and moving their stock was a natural occupation for them, but they could also happily pull carts and help around the farm.
Their working ability was so admired that during the First World War many were drafted in for active service. They acted as messengers right along the Front Line; were included in teams of dogs to pull sleighs over the snow covered mountains loaded with ammunition and supplies. They also searched among the bodies in the battlefield for those soldiers who were injured and still alive, a job at which they were amazingly reliable. It was said that any man a briard passed by was beyond assistance. As a result of their extensive use during the war, the numbers became so depleted that the breed nearly ceased to exist.
The first recorded Briard to arrive in England came from a kennel in Ireland and was owned by Nancy Tomlin. He was called Leon Hubert and was born in 1966. His parents had been imported to Ireland directly from France. He was bought as a pet, but Nancy eventually decided to take "Hubert" to shows. He, of course, gained many admirers, and from then on the popularity of the breed grew, until we reach the present day.
To this day, the Briard retains his intelligence and willingness to please. But in hand with this they can be stubborn and use their own initiative. They have kept their guarding instinct, but of course are not now worked on farms to the extent that they used to be. As part of his need to “guard” his sheep and use his “initiative”, the Briard will also have a sense of independence and can be reserved with strangers. As with some other sheepdog breeds, the very nature of their work means that they can be dominant and “pushy”. They have to “dominate” the sheep to make them do what they wish i.e. drive them along a road. So don’t be surprised on a walk if a briard “nose butts” you to hurry up if he is frustrated and corrected to come back to heel. Also, in present day living, they can have a “chasing” instinct. This stems from a strong “prey drive” associated with their guarding instinct, so do not be surprised if your Briard chases birds, chickens, cats or cars etc.
Another common trait which can be evident from an early age is a Briard’s “nosiness”. He wants to learn about everything around him, and you will find that he will want to be involved in everything a family does. He will follow you everywhere, even to the bathroom at times. A sign of his intelligence and keenness. Having very acute hearing also means that nothing escapes him.
Being a large and strong dog, and part of a family, it is imperative that they must be trained. Firm, consistent but fair is the key. Socialisation is also extremely important from a very young age. Without proper guidance a Briard will automatically assume it is in charge, even at a young age. Not a happy situation for either dog or owner. The Briard is not the dog for everyone, but with his strong devotion and loyalty to his family, in the right hands he is a companion like no other.
Please read the "Briards as Pets" page for further insight into the character of a briard.