Bouvier des Flandres
The Bouvier des Flandres was created in Belgium to be a multipurpose farm dog. His jobs included driving cattle, pulling carts and serving as a watchdog, and he’s still capable of doing all those things today. He’s an unusual-looking dog, characterized by his bushy eyebrows, walrus mustache and full beard (contributing to his nickname of “dirty beard”). These days, the Bouvier is primarily a family companion or show dog. He has many good qualities, but he is not the easiest dog to live with.
Is the Bouvier des Flandres the Right Dog for You?
Only if you are willing to put in the time he needs daily for socialization and training as a puppy and exercise and attention throughout his life. The Bouvier is smart, but like any dog with a working background he is an independent thinker. You must begin early to teach him to think of you as his leader.
It’s also important to give him a job to do, from his daily training exercises to pulling your gardening tools around the yard or participating in a dog sport such as agility, carting, herding or tracking. If you are outdoorsy yourself, consider getting training for the two of you for search and rescue work. Bouviers are active and athletic, and they enjoy long walks, jogging and hiking, always on leash. Plan to take yours for at least a 20-minute walk twice a day, at a good pace.
A Bouvier is not right for you if you prize a clean, good-smelling house. His beard will drip water after he drinks and will need to be cleaned after meals. His rough coat picks up all kinds of dirt and debris, which is then deposited throughout your home. The Bouvier is also known for flatulence, so you may frequently smell an unpleasant odor wafting through the air.
A proper Bouvier is serene, but with strong guarding instincts, able to discriminate between situations that call for protective action and those that don’t. He doesn’t come that way automatically, though.
Early, frequent socialization is essential to prevent a Bouvier from becoming overly suspicious or fearful of anything new or different. Purchase a Bouvier puppy from a breeder who raises the pups in the home and ensures that they are exposed to many different household sights and sounds, as well as people, before they go off to their new homes. Continue socializing your Bouvier by taking him to puppy kindergarten class, visits to friends and neighbors, and outings to local shops and businesses. And remember that there is a difference between protectiveness and aggression. A Bouvier should never be aggressive.
Begin training as soon as you bring your Bouvier puppy home, while he is still at a manageable size. Use positive reinforcement training techniques such as praise, play and food rewards, and be patient. The Bouvier can be stubborn, but he learns quickly and will respond to kind, firm, consistent training accompanied by lavish praise when you like what he has done. Don’t make him repeat the same action over and over again. He’s smart and becomes bored easily, so keep training sessions short and interesting or he will wander off to find something better to do.
The Bouvier is best suited to a home with a large yard surrounded by a solid fence that is at least five or six feet high. Do not rely on an underground electronic fence to keep him contained. The shock it provides is nothing to this tough dog, and he won’t let it deter him from leaving the yard if that’s what he wants to do. Bouviers have a high prey drive and will chase other animals, but if they are brought up with them they can learn to live peaceably with indoor cats.
Don’t choose the Bouvier if you like the way he looks in the show ring. That appearance takes hours to achieve. At home, the Bouvier is your typical shaggy dog. His coat doesn’t shed much, but it does develop mats and tangles if it isn’t thoroughly brushed once a week. This takes about an hour.
Here’s a secret: it’s okay to trim the Bouvier’s beard and coat for easier upkeep if you don’t plan to show him. Other grooming requirements include cleaning the ears and trimming the nails as needed, and bathing the Bouvier when he’s dirty.
While you might think of him as an outdoor dog, nothing could be farther from the truth. Bouviers are guardian dogs, devoted to their people. A Bouvier should certainly have access to a securely fenced yard, but when the family is home, he should be in the house with them. Chaining a Bouvier out in the yard and giving him little or no attention is not only cruel, it can also lead to aggression and destructive behavior.
5 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Bouvier Puppy
- Finding a good breeder is more important than finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. A breeder referral list can be found on the website of the American Bouvier des Flandres Club.
- Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health and behavior problems in Bouviers aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an older dog, most of them can be ruled out. Since a Bouvier can live to be 10 to 12 years of age, even an adult dog will be with your family for a long time.
- Puppy or adult, take your Bouvier to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
- Don’t ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store or Internet site that offers many breeds and popular mixes, or that ships with no questions asked. If you buy a puppy from these sources, you’ll be more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to house-train puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills.
- Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Health Issues Common to Bouviers
All purebred dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.
Bouviers have some health conditions that can be a concern, especially if you aren’t cautious about whom you buy from. They include orthopedic problems such as hip and elbow dysplasia; eye diseases, including glaucoma; a heart condition called subaortic stenosis; autoimmune thyroiditis; and bloat, also known as gastric torsion. Not every Bouvier will get all or even any of these conditions, but knowing about them beforehand will help you in your search for a breeder
At a minimum, ask the breeder to show evidence that both of a puppy’s parents have OFA or PennHIP clearances for hips; an OFA heart clearance; and certification from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation that the eyes are healthy. A plus would be OFA elbow and thyroid clearances.
Do not purchase a puppy from a breeder who cannot provide you with written documentation that the parents were cleared of health problems that affect the breed. Having the dogs "vet checked" is not a substitute for genetic health testing.
Pet Insurance for Bouviers
Pet insurance for Bouviers costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Bouviers are much more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.
Embrace pet insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Bouviers are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Bouvier is when he’s a healthy puppy. You can’t predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can’t get when you need it the most.