If you know the Briard at all, it's most likely from his roles on television's "Married With Children" and soap opera favorite "All My Children," as well as the movies "Top Dog" and "Dennis the Menace." He's an unusual-looking dog, characterized by his prominent eyebrows, beard and J-shaped tail. The Briard has a long history in France as a guard dog and herding breed. These days, the Briard is primarily a family companion.

Traits, Personality and Behavior

The breed standard says that the Briard will display a "certain independence." The breed has something of a reputation as a rough, tough, aggressive working dog, but proper Briard temperament is better described as outgoing, sweet and willing to please, with strong guarding instincts and able to discriminate between situations that call for protective action and those that don't. There is a difference between protectiveness and aggression, and careful breeders work to avoid producing Briards with an aggressive temperament.

Early, frequent socialization is essential to prevent a Briard from becoming overly suspicious or fearful of anything new or different. Purchase a Briard 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 Briard by taking him to puppy kindergarten class, visits to friends and neighbors, and outings to local shops and businesses.

Begin training as soon as you bring your Briard 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 Briard can be independent and willful, but he learns quickly and will respond to kind, firm, consistent training. 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.

While you might think of him as an outdoor dog, nothing could be farther from the truth. Briards are guardian dogs, devoted to their people and especially the children in the family. (Parents, be forewarned. The Briard may not permit corporal punishment.) It's been said that they need people more than they need food. A Briard 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 Briard out in the yard and giving him little or no attention is not only cruel, it can also lead to aggression and destructive behavior.

The Briard's shaggy coat sheds little and doesn't hold dirt or water, but expect to spend a couple of hours a week grooming it, more if you have let it go for too long and it develops mats or tangles. Other grooming requirements include cleaning the ears and trimming the nails as needed, and bathing the Briard when he's dirty.

When a Briard is right for you, the reward is a dog that his fans describe as "a heart wrapped in fur." Be sure that you are also right for him.

Be patient. The Briard is an uncommon breed, so you may experience a wait of six months or more before a puppy is available.

Health Issues Common to Briards

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.

Briards are generally healthy, but they have a number of 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 cataracts, progressive retinal atrophy and stationary night blindness; lymphosarcoma; von Willebrand's disease; bloat, also known as gastric torsion; autoimmune hypothyroidism; and skin and allergy problems. Not every Briard will get all or even any of these conditions, but knowing about them beforehand will help you in your search for a breeder.

Not all of these conditions can be tested for and some don't appear until later in life. At a minimum, ask the breeder to show evidence that both of a puppy's parents have hip and elbow scores of Excellent, Good or Fair from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals or OVC or PennHIP scores; an OFA thyroid clearance; and certification from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation that the eyes are healthy.

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.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Hip Dysplasia Medium $1,500-$4,000
Elbow Dysplasia Medium $1,500-$6,000
Bloat Medium $1,500-$7,500

5 Tips to Bringing Home a Healthy Briard Puppy

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.

Find a good breeder who 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. Start your search for a good breeder with the Briard Club of America. Choose a breeder who follows the BCA's Code of Ethics.

Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health and behavior problems in Briards aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an older dog, most of them can be ruled out. Since a Briard 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 Briard 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.

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.

Pet Insurance for Briards

Pet insurance for Briards costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Briards are more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.

Embrace dog insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are preexisting) to which Briards are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Briard 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.