Although written about the American dogs, this article is as true for
the British dogs, and indeed all Bouviers wherever they may be.
I first wrote this article nearly 10 years ago. Since then it has
become a classic of Bouvier literature, reprinted many times. Since then
I have spent nearly 5 years in Bouvier Rescue, personally rescuing, rehabilitating,
and placing 3 or 4 per year and assisting in the placement of others.
Very little has needed revision in this new addition.
(This article, written many years ago, has become a notorious classic
in Bouvier circles. It has been reprinted many times by clubs to use for
the education of prospective Bouvier owners. I give my permission freely
to all who wish to reprint and distribute it in hopes of saving innocent
Bouviers from neglect and abandonment by those who should never have acquired
them in the first place.)
Interested in buying a Bouvier? You must be or you wouldn't be reading this.
You've already heard how marvelous Bouviers are. Well, I think you should
also hear, before it's too late, that BOUVIERS ARE NOT THE PERFECT BREED
FOR EVERYONE. As a breed they have a few features that some people find
charming, but that some people find mildly unpleasant and some people find
There are different breeds for different needs. There are over 200 purebred
breeds of dogs in the world. Maybe you'd be better off with some other
breed. Maybe you'd be better off with a cat. Maybe you'd be better off
with goldfish, a parakeet, a hamster, or some house plants.
DON'T BUY A BOUVIER IF YOU...
DON'T BUY A BOUVIER if you are attracted to the breed chiefly by
The appearance of the Bouviers you have seen in the show ring is the
product of many hours of bathing and grooming. This carefully constructed
beauty is fleeting: a few minutes of freedom, romping through the fields
or strolling in the rain restores the natural look. The natural look of
the Bouvier is that of a large, shaggy farm dog, usually with some dirt
and weeds clinging to his tousled coat. His esthetics are those of an
unmade bed. Remember that the Dutch nickname for the breed, "Vuilbaard"
means "dirty beard". The true beauty of the Bouvier lies in
his character, not in his appearance. There are many other breeds whose
natural beauty of appearance far exceeds that of the Bouvier. Some of
the long-coated and most of the short-coated breeds' appearances are less
dependent on grooming than is that of the Bouvier. (See also the section
on grooming below.)
DON'T BUY A BOUVIER if you are unwilling to share your house and your
life with your dog.
Bouviers were bred to share in the work of the farm family and to spend
most of their waking hours working with the family. They thrive on companionship
and they want to be wherever you are. They are happiest living with you
in your house and going with you when you go out. While they usually tolerate
being left at home by themselves (preferably with a dog-door giving access
to the fenced yard), they should not be relegated to the backyard or kennel.
A puppy exiled from the house is likely to grow up to be unsociable (fearful
and/or unprovokedly aggressive), unruly, and unhappy. He may well develop
pastimes, such as digging or barking, that will displease you and/or your
neighbors. An adult so exiled will be miserable too. If you don't strongly
prefer to have your dog's companionship as much as possible, enjoying
having him sleep in your bedroom at night and sharing many of your activities
by day, you should choose a breed less oriented to human companionship.
Likewise, if your job or other obligations prevent you from spending much
time with your dog. No dog is really happy without companionship, but
the pack hounds are more tolerant of being kenneled or yarded so long
as it is in groups of 2 or more. A better choice would be a cat, as they
are solitary by nature.
DON'T BUY A BOUVIER if you don't intend to educate (train) your dog.
Basic obedience and household rules training is NOT optional for the
Bouvier. As an absolute minimum, you must teach him to reliably respond
to commands to come, to lie down, to stay, and to walk at your side, on
or off leash and regardless of temptations. You must also teach him to
respect your household rules: eg., is he allowed to get on the furniture?
Is he allowed to beg at the table? What you allow or forbid is unimportant;
but it is critical that you, not the dog, make these choices and
that you enforce your rules consistently. You must commit yourself to
attending an 8 to 10 week series of weekly lessons at a local obedience
club or professional trainer and to doing one or two short (5 to 20 minutes)
homework sessions per day. As commands are learned, they must be integrated
into your daily life by being used whenever appropriate and enforced consistently.
Young Bouvier puppies are relatively easy to train: they are eager to
please, intelligent, and calm-natured, with a relatively good attention
span. Once a Bouvier has learned something, he tends to retain it well.
Your cute, sweet little Bouvier puppy will grow up to be a large, powerful
dog with a highly self-assertive personality and the determination to
finish whatever he starts. If he has grown up respecting you and your
rules, then all his physical and mental strength will work for you. But
if he has grown up without rules and guidance from you, surely he will
make his own rules, and his physical and mental powers will often act
in opposition to your needs and desires. For example: he may tow you down
the street as if competing in a sled-dog race; he may grab food off the
table; he may forbid your guests entry to his home.
This training cannot be delegated to someone else, eg., by sending the
dog away to "boarding school," because the relationship of respect
and obedience is personal between the dog and the individual who does
the training. This is true of all dogs to a greater or lesser degree,
but definitely to a very great degree in Bouviers.
While you definitely may want the help of an experienced trainer to teach
you how to train your dog, you yourself must actually train your Bouvier.
As each lesson is well learned, then the rest of the household (except
young children) must also work with the dog, insisting he obey them as
Many of the Bouviers that are rescued from pounds and shelters show clearly
that they have received little or no basic training, neither in obedience
nor in household deportment; yet these same dogs respond well to such
training by the rescuer or the adopter. It seems likely that a failure
to train the dog is a significant cause of Bouvier abandonment.
If you don't intend to educate your dog, preferably during puppyhood,
you would be better off with a breed that is both small and socially submissive,
eg., a Shetland Sheepdog. Such a dog does require training, but a little
bit goes further than with a Bouv. In the opposite direction, if your
goals in obedience training are oriented towards success at high level
competition (HIT, OTCh, and Gaines), please realize that the Bouv is not
among the half dozen breeds best suited to such highly polished performance.
(Bouvs can, with adequate training, excel at such working competitions
as agility, carting, tracking, protection and herding.)
DON'T BUY A BOUVIER if you lack leadership (self-assertive) personality.
Dogs do not believe in social equality. They live in a social hierarchy
led by a pack-leader (Alpha). The alpha dog is generally benevolent, affectionate,
and non-bullying towards his subordinates; but there is never any doubt
in his mind or in theirs that the alpha is the boss and makes the rules.
Whatever the breed, if you do not assume the leadership, the dog will
do so sooner or later, and with more or less unpleasant consequences for
the abdicating owner. Like the untrained dog, the pack-leader dog makes
his own rules and enforces them against other members of the household
by means of a dominant physical posture and a hard-eyed stare, followed
by a snarl, then a knockdown blow or a bite. Breeds differ in tendencies
towards social dominance; and individuals within a breed differ considerably.
Bouviers as a breed tend to be of a socially dominant personality. You
really cannot afford to let a Bouvier become your boss. You do not have
to have the personality or mannerisms of a Marine boot camp Sergeant,
but you do have to have the calm, quiet self-assurance and self-assertion
of the successful parent ("Because I'm your mother, that's why.")
or successful grade-school teacher.
If you think you might have difficulty asserting yourself calmly and
confidently to exercise leadership, then choose a breed known for its
socially subordinate disposition, such as a Golden Retriever or a Shetland
Sheepdog, and be sure to ask the breeder to select one of the more submissive
pups in the litter for you. If the whole idea of "being the boss"
frightens or repels you, don't get a dog at all. Cats don't expect leadership.
A caged bird or hamster, or fish doesn't need leadership or household
Leadership and training are inextricably intertwined: leadership personality
enables you to train your dog, and being trained by you reinforces your
dog's perception of you as the alpha.
DON'T BUY A BOUVIER if you don't value laid-back companionship and calm
A Bouvier becomes deeply attached and devoted to his own family, but
he doesn't "wear his heart on his sleeve." Some are noticeably
reserved, others are more outgoing, but few adults are usually exuberantly
demonstrative of their affection. They like to be near you, usually in
the same room, preferably on a comfortable pad or cushion in a corner
or under a table, just "keeping you company." They enjoy conversation,
petting and cuddling when you offer it, but they are moderate and not
overbearing in coming to you to demand much attention. They are emotionally
sensitive to their favorite people: when you are joyful, proud, angry,
or grief-stricken, your Bouv will immediately perceive it and will believe
himself to be the cause. The relationship can be one of great mellowness,
depth and subtlety; it is a relation on an adult-to-adult level, although
certainly not one devoid of playfulness. As puppies, of course, they will
be more dependent, more playful, and more demonstrative. In summary, Bouvs
tend to be sober and thoughtful, rather than giddy clowns or synchophants.
A number of breeds retain into adulthood a more puppyish and playful
disposition, eg., Australian Shepherds, Malamutes, and others. Quite a
few are far more dramatically demonstrative and/or more clingingly dependent,
eg., the Golden Retriever.
DON'T BUY A BOUVIER if you are fastidious about the neatness of your
The Bouvier's thick shaggy coat and his love of playing in water and
mud combine to make him a highly efficient transporter of dirt into your
home, depositing same on your floors and rugs and possibly also on your
furniture and clothes. One Bouvier coming in from a few minutes outdoors
on a rainy day can turn an immaculate house into an instant hog wallow.
His full beard soaks up water every time he takes a drink, then releases
same drippingly across your floor or soppingly into your lap. (It is of
course possible to cut the beard off and to keep the feet clean-shaven
year-round to reduce mess.)
Although it is technically true that Bouviers do not shed, you will find
that the grooming process usually results in balls of pulled out hair
tumbleweeding their way about your house, unless you deposit same directly
from comb into a trash basket. I don't mean to imply that you must be
a slob or slattern to live happily with a Bouv, but you do have to have
the attitude that your dog's company means more to you than does neatness
and you do have to be comfortable with a less than immaculate house.
While all dogs, like all children, create a greater or lesser degree
of household mess, almost all other breeds of dog (except the Old English
Sheepdog) are less troublesome than the Bouvier in this respect. The Basenji
is perhaps the cleanest, due to its cat-like habits; but cats are cleaner
yet, and goldfish hardly ever mess up the house.
DON'T BUY A BOUVIER if you are fastidious about unpleasant odors.
Bouviers are one of the more flatulent breeds of dog. While the volume
and aroma of the emissions depends partly on the diet, about half an hour
after his meal your nose knows! (As the period of maximum emissions lasts
only half an hour to an hour, it would not be unreasonable to put the
dog outdoors in a fenced yard for this period.) The Bouvier coat, when
damp, tends to smell rather swampy. A wet Bouv confined to a car or small
room for an hour or so can create an aroma even the least sensitive will
perceive. Some people consider the Bouvier beard to have noticeably unpleasant
body odor even when dry and recently groomed. The Bouvier beard tends
to retain particles of food, which soon become offensive if the beard
is not washed frequently.
Almost all of the short-haired breeds, other than hound breeds or a field-bred
(oily coated) Chesapeake, are less likely to offend the nose through general
coat/body odor. I'm sure many other breeds are less flatulent, but it
is difficult to get reliable information on this as few owners care to
discuss the issue.
DON'T BUY A BOUVIER if you dislike doing regular grooming.
The thick shaggy Bouvier coat demands regular grooming, not merely to
look tolerably nice, but also to preserve the health of skin underneath
and to detect and remove foxtails, ticks, and other dangerous invaders.
For "pet" grooming, you should expect to spend 10-15 minutes
a day (eg., while listening to music or watching television) on alternate
days or half an hour twice a week. Of course any time your Bouv gets into
cockleburrs, filigree, or other coat-adhering vegetation, you are likely
to be in for an hour or more of remedial work. During "foxtail"
season, (Western U.S.), you must inspect feet and other vulnerable areas
daily. In Lyme disease areas during tick season, you will need to inspect
for ticks daily. "Pet" grooming does not require a great deal
of skill, but does require time and regularity. Keeping the dog in a short
or semi-short "working clip" substantially reduces grooming
time, but does not eliminate the need for regularity. "Show"
(beauty contest) grooming requires a great deal of skill and considerably
more time and effort or expensive professional grooming.
Almost every Bouvier that is rescued out of a Pound or Shelter shows
the effects of many months of non-grooming, resulting in massive matting
and horrendous filthiness, sometimes with urine and feces cemented into
the rear portions of the coat. It appears that unwillingness to keep up
with coat care is a primary cause of abandonment.
Many other breeds of dog require less grooming; short coated breeds require
very little. The Rottweiler has a temperament and personality similar
to the Bouvier, yet requires little grooming.
DON'T BUY A BOUVIER if you dislike daily physical exercise.
Bouviers need exercise to maintain the health of heart and lungs and
to maintain muscle tone. Because of his mellow, laid-back, often lazy,
disposition, your Bouvier will not give himself enough exercise unless
you accompany him or play with him. An adult Bouvier should have a morning
outing of a mile or more, as you walk briskly, jog, or bicycle beside
him, and a similar evening outing. For puppies, shorter and slower walks,
several times a day are preferred for exercise and housebreaking.
All dogs need daily exercise of greater or lesser length and vigor. If
providing this exercise is beyond you, physically or temperamentally,
then choose one of the many small and energetic breeds that can exercise
itself within your fenced yard. Most of the Toys and Terriers fit this
description, but don't be surprised if a Terrier is inclined to dig in
the earth since digging out critters is the job that they were bred to
do. Cats can be exercised indoors with mouse-on-a-string toys. Hamsters
will exercise themselves on a wire wheel. House plants don't need exercise.
DON'T BUY A BOUVIER if you believe that dogs should run "free".
Whether you live in town or country, no dog can safely be left to run
"free" outside your fenced property and without your direct
supervision and control. The price of such "freedom" is inevitably
injury or death: from dogfights, from automobiles, from the Pound or from
justifiably irate neighbors. Even though Bouvs are home-loving and less
inclined to roam than most breeds, an unfenced Bouv is destined for disaster.
Like other breeds developed for livestock herding, most Bouvs have inherited
a substantial amount of "herding instinct," which is a strengthened
and slightly modified instinct to chase and capture suitable large prey.
The unfenced country-living Bouv will sooner or later discover the neighbor's
livestock (sheep, cattle, horses, poultry) and respond to his genetic
urge to chase and harass such stock. State law almost always gives the
livestock owner the legal right to kill any dog chasing or "worrying"
his stock, and almost all livestock owners are quick to act on this! The
unfenced city Bouv is likely to exercise his inherited herding instinct
on joggers, bicyclists, and automobiles. A thoroughly obedience-trained
Bouvier can enjoy the limited and supervised freedom of off-leash walks
with you in appropriately chosen environments.
If you don't want the responsibility of confining and supervising your
pet, then no breed of dog is suitable for you. A neutered cat will survive
such irresponsibly given "freedom" somewhat longer than a dog,
but will eventually come to grief. A better answer for those who crave
a "free" pet is to set out feeding stations for some of the
indigenous wildlife, such as raccoons, which will visit for handouts and
which may eventually tolerate your close observation.
DON'T BUY A BOUVIER if you can't afford to buy, feed, and provide
health care for one.
Bouviers are not a cheap breed to buy, as running a careful breeding
program with due regard for temperament, trainability, and physical soundness
(hips especially) cannot be done cheaply. The time the breeder should
put into each puppy's "pre-school" and socialization is also
costly. The "bargain" puppy from a "back-yard breeder"
who unselectively mates any two Bouvs who happen to be of opposite sex
may well prove to be extremely costly in terms of bad temperament, bad
health, and lack of essential socialization. In contrast, the occasional
adult or older pup is available at modest price from a disenchanted owner
or from a breeder, shelter, or rescuer to whom the dog was abandoned;
most of these "used" Bouviers are capable of becoming a marvelous
dog for you if you can provide training, leadership, and understanding.
Whatever the initial cost of your Bouvier, the upkeep will not be cheap.
Being large dogs, Bouvs eat relatively large meals. (Need I add that what
goes in one end must eventually come out the other?) Large dogs tend to
have larger veterinary bills, as the amount of anesthesia and of most
medications is proportional to body weight. Spaying or neutering, which
costs more for larger dogs, is an essential expense for virtually all
pet Bouviers, as it "takes the worry out of being close", prevents
serious health problems in later life, and makes the dog a more pleasant
Bouviers are subject to two conditions which can be costly to treat:
hip dysplasia and bloat. (Your best insurance against dysplasia is to
buy only from a litter bred from OFA-certified parents and (if possible),
grandparents. Yes, this generally means paying more. While bloat may have
a genetic predisposition, there are no predictive tests allowing selective
breeding against it. Your best prevention is not to feed your dog too
soon before or after strenuous exercise.) Professional grooming, if you
use it, is expensive. An adequate set of grooming tools for use at home
adds up to a tidy sum, but once purchased will last many dog-lifetimes.
Finally, the modest fee for participation in a series of basic obedience
training classes is an essential investment in harmonious living with
your dog; such fees are the same for all breeds, although conceivably
you will need to travel a bit further from home to find a training class
teacher who is competent with the more formidable breeds, such as the
Bouvier. The modest annual outlays for immunizations and for local licensing
are generally the same for all breeds, although some counties have a lower
license fee for spayed/neutered dogs.
All dogs, of whatever breed and however cheaply acquired, require significant
upkeep costs, and all are subject to highly expensive veterinary emergencies.
Likewise all cats.
DON'T BUY A BOUVIER if you want the "latest, greatest ferocious
killer attack dog".
Although the Bouvier's capability as a personal protection dog and as
a police dog have been justifiably well publicized, and occasionally dramatically
over-stated, the Bouvier is not any more capable in these respects than
are half a dozen other protection breeds. Nor are all Bouviers equally
capable: some are highly so and some moderately so, but many have insufficient
natural capacity for such work. Due to his laid-back disposition, the
Bouvier is, if anything, a bit slower to respond aggressively to a threat
than are most other protection breeds. For the same reason, however, the
Bouv is perhaps somewhat more amenable to control by the handler and somewhat
more willing to refrain from biting or to stop biting when told to do
Whatever the breed, before the dog can be safely protection trained,
he must have great respect for the leadership of his handler and must
be solidly trained in basic obedience to that handler. Equally essential,
he must have a rock-solidly stable temperament and he must also have been
"socialized" out in the world enough to know that most people
are friendly and harmless, so that he can later learn to distinguish the
bad guys from the good guys. Even with such a dog, safe protection training
demands several hundred hours of dedicated work by the handler, much of
it under the direct supervision of a profoundly expert trainer. Please
don't buy any dog for protection training unless you are absolutely committed
to the extreme amount of work that will be required of you personally.
Also talk to your lawyer and your insurance agent first.
In contrast to the protection-trained dog, trained to bite on direct
command or in reaction to direct physical assault on his master, the "deterrent
dog" dissuades the vast majority of aspiring burglars, rapists, and
assailants by his presence, his appearance, and his demeanor. Seeing such
a dog, the potential wrong-doer simply decides to look for a safer victim
elsewhere. For this job, all that is needed is a dog that is large and
that appears to be well-trained and unafraid. The Bouvier can serve this
role admirably, with the added assets of generally dark color and shaggy
"beastial" appearance adding to the impression of formidability
and fearsomeness. If the dog has been taught to bark a few times on command,
eg., "Fang, watch him!" rather than "Fifi, speak for a
cookie," this skill can be useful to augment the deterrent effect.
Other breeds of dog which are equally suitable for protection or for
deterrence include the Doberman, Rottweiler, German Shepherd, Briard,
Belgian Sheepdog, Belgian Tervuren, and Belgian Malinois. Of these the
first 3 are recognized by the general public as "police dogs"
and are probably far more feared by most potential criminals than is the
Bouvier. The Malamute, though not suitable for protection, is quite effective
for deterrence due to his highly wolf-like appearance.
DON'T BUY A BOUVIER if you want a totally unaggressive and unprotective
Most Bouviers have an assertive and confident personality. When confronted
with a threat, a proper Bouvier will be somewhat more ready to fight than
to flee. Thus he may respond aggressively in situations where many other
breeds back down. Most Bouviers have some inclination to act aggressively
to repel intruders on their territory (ie.,your home) and to counteract
assaults upon their packmates (you and your family). Without training
and leadership from you to guide him, the dog cannot judge correctly whom
to repel and whom to tolerate. Without training and leadership, sooner
or later he may injure an innocent person who will successfully sue you
for more than you own. With good training and leadership from you, he
can be profoundly valuable as a defender of your home and family. (See
also remarks on stability and socialization above.)
If you feel no need of an assertive dog or if you have the slightest
doubts of your ability and willingness to supply the essential socialization,
training and leadership, then please choose one of the many breeds noted
for thoroughly unaggressive temperament, such as a Sheltie or a Golden
DON'T BUY A BOUVIER if you are not willing to commit yourself for
the dog's entire lifetime.
No dog deserves to be cast out because his owners want to move to a no-pet
apartment or because he is no longer a cute puppy or didn't grow up to
be a beauty contest winner or because his owners through lack of leadership
and training have allowed him to become an unruly juvenile delinquent
with a repertoire of undesirable behaviors. The prospects of a responsible
and affectionate second home for a "used" dog are never very
bright, but they are especially dim for a large, shaggy, poorly mannered
dog. A Bouvier dumped into a Pound or Shelter has almost no chance of
survival unless he has the great good fortune to be spotted by someone
dedicated to Bouvier Rescue. The prospects for adoption for a youngish,
well-trained, and well-groomed Bouvier whose owner seeks the assistance
of the nearest Bouvier Club or Rescue group are fairly good; but an older
Bouv has diminishing prospects. Be sure to contact your local Bouvier
club or Rescue group if you are diagnosed as terminally ill or have other
equally valid reason for seeking an adoptive home. Be sure to contact
your local Bouvier club if you are beginning to have difficulties in training
your Bouvier, so these can be resolved. Be sure to make arrangements in
your will or with your family to ensure continued care or adoptive home
for your Bouvier if you should pre-decease him.
The life span of a Bouvier is from 10 to 15 years. If that seems too
long a time for you to give an unequivocal loyalty to your Bouvier, then
please do not get one! Indeed, as most dogs have a life expectancy that
is as long or longer, please do not get any dog!
If all the preceeding "bad news" about Bouviers hasn't turned
you away from the breed, then by all means DO GET A BOUVIER! They are
every bit as wonderful as you have heard!
If buying a puppy, be sure to shop carefully for a responsible
and knowledgeable breeder who places high priority on breeding
for sound temperament and trainability and good health in all matings.
Such a breeder will interrogate and educate potential buyers carefully.
Such a breeder will continue to be available for advice and consultation
for the rest of the puppy's life and will insist on receiving the dog
back if ever you are unable to keep it.
However as an alternative to buying a Bouvier puppy, you may want to
give some serious consideration to adopting a rescued Bouvier.
Despite the irresponsibility of their previous owner, almost all rescued
Bouviers have proven to be readily rehabilitated so as to become superb
family companions for responsible and affectionate adopters. Many rescuers
are skilled trainers who evaluate temperament and provide remedial training
before offering dogs for placement, and who offer continued advisory support
afterwards. Contact local Bouvier breeders or Bouvier club members to
learn who is doing Rescue work.