Living with a Bouvier is often amusing, routinely challenging and occasionally confusing. The Standard describes the Bouvier as agile, spirited and bold, yet serene and well behaved. That doesn’t come close to telling the whole story.
The Standard calls for a double coat. This coat protects the Bouvier in inclement weather and in rough terrain but, the Standard leaves this out, insures that the dog will bring the great outdoors indoors. The owner has the joy of burrs, mud, snowballs stuck in leg furnishings, leaves, poison oak oil and so much more carried into their living room. A suggestion…replace your white carpet with tile.
For those seeking a dog that does not shed, the Bouvier fits the bill; however, deep underneath the furniture, where it is back wrenching to reach, you will discover a mound of dust bunnies he has deposited instead.
The Standard describes the heavy and rough beard. No mention there that their nickname is ‘des preux vuilbaard’, translated at ‘dirty beards’. Immediately following dunking their big heads into dirt, snow or the water bucket, a Bouvier will search you out (and this includes the bathroom) to plop that filthy head in your lap. Invariably this will occur when you are dressed to go out to dinner!
If you thought that only the Hounds had great noses, you would be wrong. Our Standard does indeed call for olfactory abilities but doesn’t share that the Bouvier’s big black nose is specially adapted to periscope its way along kitchen counter edges until a tasty morsel such as a leg of lamb is detected. The Bouvier then uses his called-for agility to pop up onto the counter to retrieve said item. However, please note that the ability to leap up effortlessly upward does not extend to the bathtub or the grooming table.
With a strong desire to please their owners, Bouviers can be quite helpful around the house. They make an excellent ‘pre-wash’ cycle for the dishes stacked in the dishwasher. They are quite good at sorting socks. One Bouvier was discovered with 11 socks stuffed in his powerful jaws (to quote from the Standard). Underwear is routinely eaten to save the owner from having to wash it. This activity is generally followed by surgery.
His large brown eyes can be used to inspire forgiveness, instill guilt or attempt to levitate food off of the table. None of this is noted in our Standard.
The Standard also forgets to mention that Bouviers are stubborn. They were bred to be independent thinkers. This does not always work in your favor… especially if you are looking for reliable obedience in your dog. The challenge is to convince a Bouvier that whatever you ask of them is their idea because if they think you are wrong, they won’t do what you want. They may lie down and roll over with all four feet in the air if they don’t wish to go where you wish them to go… such as their kennel. A simple technique to insure compliance is to grab the front legs and drag them across the floor to the destination. This method of dealing with their insubordination is effective but may require a chiropractic appointment. A Bouvier is quite smart and will learn in a single session that when you hit the ice dispenser on the refrigerator, you are then headed to the bar where the dog cookies are stashed as well as the vodka. Pavlov would be proud! However, after three years of intensive obedience training, the word ‘come’ may still remain a mystery no matter how many rewards they have received. To complicate matters, they have a wicked sense of humor. Should a Bouvier agree to comply with your wishes, he will do what you want but put his own spin on it. The story goes that a Bouvier performed the “Annie crawl” to find shade under the Obedience Judge’s table during a long down-stay in the warm California sun. He did the part that made sense to him!
To quote, “His origin is that of a cattle herder”. In reality this extends far beyond livestock. The Bouvier’s motto is “If it runs, I will chase it!” to include bicyclists, squirrels, cats and automobiles. Running children are often viewed as bowling pins.
Once puppyhood is past, the Bouvier can be counted on to take up space on the sofa. Or lie quietly in a doorway, facing out, to protect his family. But, every now and then he will get it into his head to exercise on his own by doing butt tucks at full throttle around the yard. Also, Bouviers play hard employing body slams and open mouth play fights. Should you happen to be in the yard while this is occurring, pay special attention. At some point this speeding locomotive of a canine will spot you. There is a moment of eye contact between the two of you. At this point, you know you’re the target. The Bouvier will hurtle your way and either slam into your knees or, as you turn sideways to avoid the collision, he will leave the ground and fly by you at eye level nipping the soft flapping flesh of your underarm as he goes.
Have we mentioned the ‘butt bite’? This little nip is used when you turn your back. If you’re loved, it says “Gotcha! TeeHee!” or, in the case of a stranger, “Don’t do anything stupid, I’m watching you!” Their guard ability is particularly evident when a man in uniform appears. Don’t be surprised when you find the UPS man pressed up against your front door with your dog sitting serenely directly in front of the guys’ crotch! There won’t be a mark on the UPS man but he won’t be back! Ever!
The large rounded, compact front feet of the Bouvier are used as hands. A sharp whap of a paw on the arm is a reminder to continue petting them or, when raised in slow motion to rest on you’re kneed, that the food on your fork really should be forked over to them. Their big rough pads are also employed to stand on your foot and put the entire weight of the dog onto your big toe.
Bouviers have long memories and never forget a face…human or canine. They will recognize a dog that ‘done ‘em wrong’ or a person they adore even after many years apart. They make great pillows for the grandkids in front of the TV. They will give you a hero’s welcome every time you come home even if you have been gone only ten minutes. This welcome may involve vaulting over the couch to get to you but it’s a small price to pay for the devotion written all over their hairy mugs! Once the welcome is over, they will retire quietly to the same room that you are in. They’ll snuggle when you’re blue and levitate in the Bouvier Bounce when you’re ready to go out and they are lobbying to go with. To sum up, they are the perfect dog to live with…except when they’re not.
While this is a humorous look at the Bouvier, the breed can be a challenge to own. They require training and grooming. Please have a conversation with a knowledgeable breeder before adding a Bouvier to your family.
Comments are welcome and can be directed to the American Bouvier des Flandres Club (www.bouvier.org).
Published by The Canine Chronicle, July 8, 2013.