Originally used for farm work like herding, the Bouvier des Flandres originated in the area of Flandres, in medieval Belgium. Also known as Flemish Cow Dogs, Cattle Drivers, or “vuilbaard” (dirty beard), this large, loyal dogs sport powerful muscles and thick, curly coats to complement their brains.
- Used as farm dogs, police dogs, and service dogs
- Strong prey drive
- Muscular and big boned
- Very intelligent with a strong work ethic
The Bouvier des Flandres was bred to work on the farm, and to be able to perform many different tasks. Instead of having different dogs with different specialties, farmers and breeders preferred to have one dog that could accomplish a variety of jobs, like cattle and sheep herding as well as cargo pulling. For this reason, the Bouvier des Flandres was bred to be muscular, energetic, and loyal to its master. It was also bred to have a thick double coat that would protect it from the weather conditions of the area.
Despite its dependability and versatility, the Bouvier didn’t attract attention from kennel clubs until the 1900s. Up until then, the breed standard for the Bouvier was not well defined, and there were considered to be 3 variants, called the Paret, Moerman, and Briard. Just before World War I began, local kennel clubs wrote up a more defined breed standard for the Bouvier.
When WWI began, however, the farmlands were the Bouviers were bred and lived were destroyed, and the dogs began to be used in the military. One famous Bouvier includes Nic, who worked as a trench dog during the first world war. However, the casualties of war unfortunately left few of the breed to remain.
The breed found a small resurgence up until WWII, when it was in danger of disappearance once more. The Bouviers showed their natural resilience, however, and in 1965 a breed standard was finally agreed upon.
Appearance and Vital Stats
The Bouvier des Flandres has a thick, curly double coat to protect it from harsher weather, and sport impressive beards. They can stand up to 27.5 inches tall. Their musculature, coat, and size make them excellent working and herding dogs.
Traditionally, their ears and tails were docked to prevent unintentional amputation while working in the field.
Dog Breed Group
The Bouvier des Flandres is a versatile breed but, is officially grouped in with other herding dogs. Their prey instinct, energy levels, and resilience make them perfect for working on the farm herding sheep or cattle.
Nowadays, the Bouvier des Flandres makes a wonderful family companion. The Bouvier and other herding dogs are also often used for police work, or as service dogs. As loyal, tough animals, the Bouvier excels in this field.
Males generally weight somewhere between 80 to 120 pounds, with females weighing slightly less. A male Bouvier will stand somewhere between 24.5 to 27.5 inches, and females range between 23.5 to 26.5, making them a very large breed.
Like most larger breeds, Bouvier des Flandres have shorter life spans than their smaller counterparts. A healthy, well cared for Bouvier will live about 10 to 12 years.
Coat and Colors
The Bouvier’s thick, luscious coat protects it from harsh weather as it works. You’ll find them in a range of colors, like fawn, black, grey, or brindle. They shed seasonally, with most of the shed fur getting caught in their double coat.
A Bouvier’s tail is usually docked. As working dogs, especially in farms or as military dogs, dogs with long tails are in danger of having their tails injured. For this reason, many people chose to dock their Bouvier’s tail when the breed was still in its infancy.
If you look today for Bouviers in their area of origin, Flanders, you’ll find them undocked, as the practice was made illegal in 2006. In other parts of the world, the Bouvier’s tail continues to be docked, though today this is largely for aesthetic purposes rather than the preventative measure it originally was.
Undocked Bouvier tails curve upwards and are long with thick, curly fur.
Like their tails, long ears can get caught and hurt on working dogs. Having upright rather than floppy ears also helps a dog’s hearing, which is one of their strongest senses. As working dogs, this led to the breed standard for the Bouvier having cropped ears. You’ll likely see a Bouvier with small, pointy ears.
Uncropped, the Bouvier des Flandres’ ears are slightly longer, and flop over instead of standing upright.
Herding dogs have strong, protective personalities, and the Bouvier des Flandres is no exception. Bred and trained to keep the flock safe, the Bouvier is incredibly loyal, brave, and territorial.
Bouviers are highly intelligent, which makes them amazing working dogs whether it be on the farm or in the trenches. This can also be a detriment, however, as not keeping them busy can lead to destructive behavior. If a Bouvier isn’t getting enough stimulation, he might start barking excessively, chewing up furniture, or paying more attention to their natural prey drives. For this reason, they require lots of exercise as well as mental stimulation to keep them from getting bored.
Luckily, because of their high intelligence, they are very trainable. They love to please their owners, and like it best when they have a task to accomplish. While this desire to please is strong, Bouviers can also show a stubborn side. They work best with experienced owners, who know how to work through this stubbornness and stay assertive.
The Bouvier is not an especially playful breed. As long as it is kept busy with work and is well exercised, this breed will likely prefer to calmly lie next to you rather than play a game of tug-of-war.
While many people believe a dog’s ability to live comfortably in an apartment depends only on its size, it really depends more on the dog’s energy levels and personality. The Bouvier des Flandres, as a calm, stoic breed, can be well suited to apartment life. However, since they are still fairly high energy and may resort to undesirable behavior if they aren’t stimulated enough, they should have daily vigorous exercise to keep them calm and happy.
Children and Other Pets
Though they are high maintenance dogs who require a lot of exercise and originally bred for work on the farm, the Bouvier des Flandres still makes a great family pet. As long as they are properly socialized, they get along well with children and other animals.
With proper introduction, the Bouvier will love and be gentle with any kids in the household. However, you may find that their herding instincts kick in, and they will try to herd children with gentle nudging or barking. This behavior can be trained out of the dog, and as long as you also teach your kids how to treat the dog, he’ll be a loyal member who treats both adults and children kindly.
The same is true for the Bouvier’s feelings about other animals. The best practice is to socialize your dog with other dogs as soon as possible. Otherwise your dog may show signs of aggression towards others.
While specifics depend on each individual dog and their activity levels, the Bouvier des Flandres generally requires 3 to 5 cups of dog food per day. It’s best to divide these into two meals, since the Bouvier can be prone to gastric torsion. Choose high quality dry or raw dog food. Since the Bouvier can also be prone to being overweight without enough exercise, it’s also important to track your dog’s caloric intake and their activity levels.
Because of their thick, curly double coat, the Bouvier des Flandres requires brushing minimum one to two times per week. The Bouvier sheds, but because of their double coat the shed fur can remain stuck. This can lead to matting, which is very painful and uncomfortable for dogs.
Use a slicker brush, which is made primarily for removing dirt from a dog’s coat. Trim your dog’s nails every one to two weeks, and make sure to brush their teeth two or three times per week for his oral health.
As the name “vuilbaard” or “dirty beard” implies, the Bouvier’s dignity can be somewhat lessened by food or dirt getting stuck in his beard. You’ll have to carefully brush out his beard fur to remove any debris that’s gotten stuck.
While the Bouvier sheds naturally, he should have his fur trimmed every 3-5 weeks. This is especially true if this is a show dog.
You can brush and trim your dog’s fur at home, but it might be wise to consider bringing him to a professional groomer who knows how to work with a thicker coat.
The Bouvier des Flandres is a highly energetic breed. They’re a great breed for people who are physically active. Because they are so loyal and extremely trainable dogs who like having jobs to do and love pleasing their owners, they are great dogs to bring on long walks, hikes, or jogs. You can also consider getting your Bouvier involved in dog sports.
Because of their high intelligence levels, it’s also very important to exercise your Bouvier’s mind as well. They can be destructive when bored, so their brains have to be put to good use. Give them toys that require thinking, like Kong toys filled with treats, or play hide and seek around the house.
As long as your Bouvier is properly exercised, he will be a calm, happy companion for your home.
Like all breeds, the Bouvier des Flandres can run into some breed-specific health problems. Good breeders will always keep an eye out for potential health issues in dogs. However, not everything can be caught in advance, and there are a few breed-specific health conditions to be on the lookout for with your Bouvier.
Many large and barrel-chested dogs are prone to bloat. Bloat is a twisting of the stomach that can be life threatening. Dogs are most likely to get bloat if they eat too much and then exercise vigorously immediately afterwards. Keep an eye on your dog for symptoms like excessive salivation, their abdomen becoming enlarged, restlessness, or pain if you press down on their abdomen. If you think your dog has bloat, get to your vet immediately.
Hip and Elbow Dysplasia
As a large, active breed, the Bouvier can be susceptible to hip and elbow dysplasia. If you notice your dog limping, your vet will probably want to x-ray to check for dislocation. In the case of hip or elbow dysplasia, your dog’s leg bone might move upwards and forwards.
If your dog’s joint become dislocated, there’s a good chance it can happen again. Watch out for re-injury, make sure your dog takes the proper time to rest and recover after the injury, and discuss rehabilitation and post-operative care like hydrotherapy with your vet.
Glaucoma is a medical condition of the eye, in which the pressure in your dog’s eye increases. This is often due to an injury which, as active dogs, the Bouvier des Flandres is prone to. If you notice watery discharge coming from your dog’s eye as well as itchiness or sensitivity. You may also notice swelling, or cloudiness in the cornea. If your dog starts exhibiting these symptoms, take him to your vet for treatment.
While the Bouvier des Flandres is a unique looking breed, it does share characteristics with other breeds. The Giant Schnauzer, for example, shares much of the same coloring as well as the big beard. Giant Schnauzers, however, have thinner frames.
The Bouvier is also comparable to the Briard in coloring and stature. The Briard’s coat, however, is longer and silkier. The Briard also does not shed as frequently as the Bouvier, and generally has a lower energy level.