Friday, July 20, 2012

History of the Bouvier des Flandres > From Woef magazine,1993

The Bouvier Des Flandres: Grim of Outward, Warm of Heart
Nora Snyers

The official appellation of this breed - the Bouvier Des Flandres - makes me a bit peevish. It's an artificial definition invented by some French speaking citizens that has nothing in common with the original name of the breed, nor with the language of the people who created it. The breed Schipperke can praise himself lucky that he's called Schipperke & not 'Little Sherperd of Brabant' or something like that... .

The cynological authors write that the Belgian farmers did not even understand the term 'Bouvier'. The 'Pikker' or 'Piekhaar', yes, that dog they knew. An ignorant Flemish cynological author heard the name 'Picard' in that and suddenly our cattle-drover had a southern nephew:  the Picard who had that harsh coat, too. The explanation is more simple and our Dutch Van Daele-dictionary gives the answer. 'Pikken' or 'pieken' means 'sting, prick'. 'Pikken' also means speaking snappy; 'pikker' is not only something that 'stings or pricks' but also a 'strong guy'. This is the definition of our Bouvier. His hair picks & his temperament does that, too. It's correct that his coat has softened thru the years, as did his character... . Maybe he's not that real 'pikker' anymore. 'Vlaamse Koehond' ('Flemish Cow-dog') or 'Vlaamse Veedrijver' ('Flemish cattle-drover') are more honest definitions but a bit softer & characterless.  No, I think he should have kept the old and sturdy name 'Vlaamse Pikker' or 'Vlaamse Piekhaar'.  A mix of ignorance, politics and arrogance decided something else.

All over the world people created dogs for their needs.  Where there are lots of cows, men needed sturdy cattle-drovers to keep the cattle on the field, drive the cattle to and away from the stable, bring it to the abattoir ... . Why the cynological people focused their eye on the cattle-drover and recognized it as a breed is unknown.  For sure, is that there were a lot of cattle-drovers in Brabant (Northern part of Belgium), but not a word is written down about them. The Ardennen (Southern part of Belgium) surely had their Bouvier, that's written in old texts, but the one, today, who can find one of these (with full pedigree) can come to me and show it.  Seriously, only the Flemish Cowdog made 'history'... Why? Was he a better working dog than the others?

I think that most of the cynological people did not look at the dogs function in the first place. Something else must have caught their attention. The rough appearance? The solitary nature of the dog, alone in the grandiose Flemish fields? When they found him in towns and hamlets of the 'Westhoek' (Northern coast part of Belgium), he must have looked less civilized than he does now. He had real 'piekhaar', a harder, shorter & pricking coat. The eyebrows and beard were shorter, as was the hair on the legs and that made him look much bigger. They didn't treat him softly. He could never come inside, not even into the stable. He had to work, night and day. During the day on the fields; at night he had to guard the farmyard. He didn't even have a kennel: a sloping plank against a tree or wall was his only shelter against rain, cold and wind. Most of the time he was chained and laid permanently in mud. About his food, I haven't read anything.  It wasn't much. Although he had to be strong, because a farmer who couldn't afford a horse put him in front of the milkcart, or he had to turn around the heavy churnwheel.  He had a real 'dogs life'. Of course the 'piekhaar' had to show authority, because cows are more difficult to manipulate than sheep and can be dangerous, too. You have to be a dexterous jumper to avoid a hoof beat. A 'piekhaar' had to be strong, quick, imposing, dexterous, fearless and authoritarian; could never be ill; had to work in every weather; and had to be willing and docile, ready to obey his boss.  Conclusion: he had to be perfect... .

Other countries have their cattle-drovers. Let's mention some... the small British Welsh Corgi, the German Rottweiler, the Swiss Sennenhunde.  With his harsh coat the Bouvier is an exception. Where did he get that 'piekhaar'? Just look at him and you will see that he is broader, more powerful and built heavier than the 'normal' shepherd. That quality you can only get in one group: The Mastiffs. In our region the mastiffs were represented by the 'Brabantse Bullenbijters' (Bull-biters of Brabant) and the 'mâtins' or 'rekels', who chased big wildlife and were cartdogs, too. Our famous Belgian cartdogs (who were never recognized as an official breed) surely gave some chromosomes to the gene-pool of the Bouvier. That explains the differences in temperament between the Bouvier and the 'normal' shepherds.

The Bouvier is not a pure mastiff. He's too 'willing' to be a mastiff, his 'will to please' is not a mastiff-quality. About the other ingredients of the gene-dish, there are a lot of stories going around. Mostly the Briard and Picard (already mentioned before...) played the main role in these stories. I don't think the 'stay-at-home-farmers' made far and expensive trips to get a dog. You could of course get that rough coat from the 'Laekense Herder' (Laekenois or Laeken Sherperd). Brussels was closer to their farm...

It can be found closer or farther. At the border of the 'Westhoek', in Koksijde stood the 'Abdij ter Duinen' ('Abbey of the Dunes'). There is nothing left from it now other than some walls and a magnificent stone dog kennel, on a strategic place and fitting for a big dog. The monks, so the chronicles tell, had a good relationship with the British Island, especially with Scotland. Don't they have the Irish Wolfhound and his Scottish nephew, the Deerhound? With a rough coat, mostly grey and brindle? We know that the abbeys exchanged dogs and that these dogs were not so celibate as their owners.  I bet on some Celtic contribution of the Abbey, some strong local 'rekels' and a bit of shepherd blood. After some centuries, that cocktail could give us the 'piekhaar'. Just around 1910, there was something written down about the 'piekhaar' by French speaking citizens who had cynology as a hobby.  They named him 'Bouvier'... .

When I look at the official history of the Bouvier, it's obvious that it has been nothing else but a quarrel: about the color, the head, the height, the coat, the type. At one moment there were two types: the type 'Moerman' and the type 'Paret'. New 'cynological people' bought some Bouviers in farms and did some experiments with them. There were some judges who named themselves 'specialists' of the breed. It seems to me that at a certain moment there were more judges than dogs. All of them with their own opinion.  The biggest quarrel was about the color: One group said that the Bouvier had to be big and black, the other group said he had to be neither black, nor big. The craziest thing is that none of them asked the owners and breeders of the animals what they thought... .

The Dutch got into the quarrel, also. Before we come to that point, let us return to the color. Since ancient times a guard dog had to impress and thus most were dark. That isn't to say that he has to be completely black. I think that the original owners of the Bouviers knew exactly how big and heavy a Bouvier had to be to impress; and how quick he had to be to avoid the hoofs. They searched for a coat that protected the dog against rain and cold, as well as hot weather. The coat of the Bouvier now, doesn't seem to reach that goal: it doesn't stop the rain anymore... .The Bouvier-fanciers can comfort themselves: the rough coat is the most difficult, and mostly all of the harsh coats tended to soften, due to a selection for longer beards and eyebrow hair and more coat on the legs.  The result is that a Bouvier needs a more regular grooming, good news for the grooming business... .

The drama of the first World War did not spare the Bouvier. He not only saw his homeland in gun-fire, trenches and barbed wire for four years, he was also shot down, starved, taken by the Germans. A part of the population went to more safe Belgian regions, to France and the Netherlands (here we are...). With the result that more Bouviers are to be found there! That's not unusual, Belgium is a small country, and all of our breeds are better represented abroad then they are here. The Bouvier, an immigrant, even took the Number 1 of the list of the most popular breed in the Netherlands! We can be proud of our creation, the world is fond of it.

It took quite a long time to make the Bouvier into a uniform breed. That is shown by the heterogeneous origin of the breed.  In 1912 there were two standards. The first recognized the black color, the second didn't. After the first World War the Bouvier was unemployed, the barbed wire of the trenches was now used to keep the cows in the fields. His only task was now to guard the farmyard. The farmers didn't need the Bouvier that much anymore, they became unfaithful to him and his survival became dependent on the fanciers, who didn't look at his functional criteria anymore, but at his appearance. Happily there were few people who understood that this working criteria was one of his biggest trumps and began to test him for defense. Gradually, the Bouvier evolved from a suspicious yard dog to a calm, self-confident dog with a high provocation-threshold (or should we say 'pik-threshold'). It took the breed a long time to get there: he carried the odium of the chained dog a long time with him.

In 1921, the first Bouvier Club was established and two years later, in 1923, the new standard appeared. The Bouvier inspired some of our countries biggest breeders to a life-long passion and devotion.

In 1932 Justin Chastel showed his first Bouvier, the first of a whole series, that didn't stop until recently.  Hopefully, we will be able to see Bouviers descendants from 'de la Thudinie' at all shows. Chastel is called 'the father of the modern Bouvier', and is recognized in the whole world. He's one of the few breeders of our small country who built a reputation which stood more than 60 years. Dogs of 'de la Thudinie' are on every pedigree of any Bouvier who proved himself.  Chastel worked so consistently and seriously on the building of a uniform Bouvier family that the quarrel about color and type stopped and everyone took his idea of the ideal Bouvier. A great performance.

His breeding method? A dose of inbreeding with relentless selection. Chastel thinks it's wrong to mate different families frequently. It can give some good results but it is futureless. In the first place he looked at fundamental qualities: character, type and movement. He was convinced that a good breeder must be a 'user', that he should work with his dogs, otherwise he can never get a good overview of the temperament
and character.

The character is as complex as the appearance and a good breeder should keep that in mind when mating two dogs. If a breed looses an eminent character quality, the breeders are responsible for that.The goal is not only to breed the exceptional animal that wins a lot of titles, but breeding a bloodline that passes on the normal breed character. These were some ideas in the book that Chastel published. He adds that "the owner of a Bouvier should not expect his dog to be a hero, but that he should be really disappointed if his dog wouldn't defend him when he's in danger".

A second kennel, also a pillar in the construction of the breed, is certainly 'Du Posty Arlequin' of Félix Grulois.

The definitive standard of the breed is the one from 1965*. We could say that the breed is only recently recognized.  The quarrel about the ideal appearance lasted for years and this standard is probably the golden mean. The real cradle of the breed - de Westhoek, Roeselare and Ghent - is in Belgium, but also in French-Flandres (where people still speak Flemish), where people said the breed was 'theirs'.  The French didn't want a black Bouvier, the Dutch (here they are again), who adopted the breed during World War I and bred it, liked the black. The Bouvier who didn't have to jump for a hoof anymore, could be bigger and stronger. The case was ended with a big compromise, like everything in the Belgian tradition: the breed was Franco-Belgian, got the pompous name of 'Bouvier Des Flandres', could, if needed, be purely black, with a maximum height of 68 cm. The type that Chastel created was the ideal for the showring. All's well that ends well, you can't turn back history... .

She's dark, wrapped in a mass of rough and dark hair. Once in a while when the sun comes from behind the clouds, you can see one of her dark eyes. Her name is Noska and her breeder got the title 'Topfokker van het Jaar 1992' (Topbreeder of the year 1992) thanks to her. Her small and cropped ears move above the mass of hair and her big feet are jumping in the air, all four together. She has a charming pink tongue. When she likes you, she lies down trying to give you her feet. You can touch her strong ribs.  She's frank and friendly, without suspicion, the opposite of the rough appearance a Bouvier has. That doesn't mean she can't throw herself at the agitator.  She bites the sleeve with all of her teeth. Her silhouette has something compact, shortly built, like the standard wants it. 'Cobby' they call that. The small tail that she kept, is moving funnily in all that hair. When you see her eyes under her eyebrows, she gives you the look of an honest, rustic dog.

Noska - she was the figurehead of her kennel in 1992 - is almost black.  Manno, the older male, is slate-colored and has more prizes than the little lady.  He's a real 'manneke' ('guy'), with strong and big hips, a broad back, a short body, a great coat and both fierce and kind-hearted eyes, a dancing movement and the quality of turning very quickly. He likes defense and bites very well. Don't tease him. But I can touch him, throwing my arms around him. A darling of a 'piekhaar'. I ask the breeder about the qualities of these two dogs: 'A good pigmentation, good teeth, a closed eye, a parallel skull and muzzle, a strong back, a good ear and tail set, a frank movement, good coats, a fierce attitude in the ring, they score high points in the character test and the CQN and are HD free'.

It's difficult for a Belgian dog to become a champion, they have to get a working certificate, where the Dutch dogs 'only' have to be beautiful... .

The breeder works with his dogs and that takes a lot of his time, but he thinks it necessary to keep beautiful and good Bouviers. That way he can show his dogs in Working Class. We visit the kennel, where 11 bitches are jumping. With Manno the kennel has 3 males and two pups. They stay in neat kennels, near a green grass field. There's also a special maternity where mom and pups spend the first days after birth. It's spotlessly clean out there and I admire the special floor, used in clinics too that keeps contaminations out. What surprises me is that I can put my fingers thru the wiring. The Bouviers bark, but leave my fingers whole, and they are curious. The pups are not shy at all, they jump and are extremely curious. I like all the dogs here, small and big. I see that they are each in a separate kennel: there has to be a good reason.

The breeder looks to the future: in one of the kennels I see a bitch with small uncropped ears, well laid on the head and hanging down. The breeder bought her in the Netherlands (where ear cropping is forbidden for a long time now), she comes from the famous Dutch kennel from which three-quarters of the bloodlines of his dogs come.  She will, if needed, add the good, uncropped hanging ears into his kennel. The dogs out of this kennel come from a cocktail of the 'de la Thudinie' and Dutch dogs with working temperament (special working-bloodlines). When the breeder started in 1975 he saw the problem of the movement. Even now he has to be careful to keep the working temperament and the strong, correct back.

What is the character of the typical Bouvier? There are many words for it: kind, social, friendly for kids, willing to work, frump, good guard dog, honest, quiet, affectionate, can adjust himself, is a late-flowering dog. You can't work with him too much, when he's young. This element is clear in his learning-process, where the owner should be very patient. A high percentage of the dogs out of this kennel succeed for the working tests, especially the bitches (!). These dogs and bitches are suitable for both Obedience and 'Veldwerk' ('Fieldwork'). They work a bit slower than a Malinois (who doesn't?) and don't like the heat at all. They are good jumpers, willing, too, so Agility is also a sport.

The pups are born very dark, the breeder selects them at 6 to 7 weeks.  The pups have such strong characters then, that this is very easy. Playing is all they are interested in! Most of the pups come back for grooming, that way it's easy for the breeder and his wife to see the results of their selection, they learn everything about the positive and negative points of a combination. An important advantage for a serious breeder. A lot of buyers here want to work with their dog. The breeder is very happy about that, because every breeder is dependent of what the owners will do with their dogs. He starts to breed the bitches at the age of 5 (after conformation and the CQN) and 2 or 3 litters are more than enough.

The Bouvier is a strong, healthy and vital dog who can easily reach the age of 10, sometimes even older and stays normal until the end. Like in every breed there are some hereditary problems, but these are rare and a good breeder selects carefully and tests the parents.

The Bouvier, the 'piekhaar', a dog from our country: solid, reliable, grim of outward, warm of heart... . The club announces: Belgische Club Belge du Bouvier Des Flandres. Connected at the KKUSH (Koninklijke Kynologische Unie St. Hubertus - Royal Cynological Union St. Hubertus) with number 70. The Bouvier is first mentioned with the Belgian breeds by Prof. Dr. Ad Reul of the veterinarian school in Kuregem in the year 1894.  Around 1912 they appeared in the North of France and the region of Roeselare. Charles Huge published the first detailed description of  the Bouvier in 1919 under the name 'Bouvier Belge'. In 1921 Ph. Gryson of the kennel 'de la Lys' established the Club du Bouvier des Flandres in Ghent. In 1937, a common standard was created by the Belgian and French Club. The Belgian Club changed its name in 1947 into 'Club National Belge du Bouvier Des Flandres' with Florimond Verbanck, Félix-Eugène Verbanck and August Fransket in the committee, all three well-known cynologues and breeders. Félix Verbanck made the Bouvier what he is today. The most important Belgian and Northern France breeders selected their Bouviers and bred them with his good advice.

A new common standard for Belgium and France was approved by the FCI (Fédération Cynologique Internationale). In 1974, Justin Chastel, owner of the kennel 'de la Thudinie', became president. He had promoted the type of Bouviers that we know now for 40 years, with great success.  In 1990, Leo Goyvaerts (Topbreeder 1992 with the kennel Von Gewdraa Oel) became president, a true fancier of the working dog with attention to his beauty.

The official club name is now Belgische Club Belge du Bouvier Des Flandres. The members pay attention to the character of the Bouvier. His use as guard-and-defense dog is an important quality for them. To keep that quality they organize selection tests (character tests), CQN (Certificat de Qualité Naturelle - Certificate of Natural Qualities) for defense and tracking, and specialty shows.  Every serious and sporty fancier and/or breeder is welcome as a member.  Warning: there's another club for the Bouvier Des Flandres ('Vereniging voor Vlaamse Koehonden') but that one is not recognized by the KKUSH.

* Please note a new standard was approved  in 2001

This article first appeared in Woef magazine in 1993.  We thank Mrs. Van Royen of Woef, the Belgian magazine for dog lovers, <> for her assistance and permission, and Mrs. Nora Snyers for her permission to reprint this article.   We truly appreciate your generosity.  Please note that the Committee of the Belgische Club Belge du Bouvier des Flandres has changed since this article was written in 1993.  The new committee in 2003 is:'Belgische nat. club Belge Bouvier des Flandres' Mr. J.P. Votquenne phone 0032/2-652.59.55. Secretary: Mr.Philippe Henry phone 0032/ 67-45.89.21 Website: <>