The Breed History
In the region of Flandres in Belgium, and perhaps in Northern France also, this dog was bred strictly as a working dog. Though not well documented, the old Beauceron and Griffons may have contributed to breed genesis. Though records of a dog of this type date back to the 1600s, the first breed standard was drawn up in 1912. Their numbers were decimated during WW1, but the breed was carefully regenerated from a sire, Ch. Nic de Sottegem. The first recognition of the breed by the AKC occurred in 1929.
Breeding for Function
Driving cattle and pulling carts on the farm were their original purposes and now they serve as companion dogs and watchdog (or guard dogs). They require a working award as a defense or police/ army working dog before being awarded championship status in their native Belgium, which attests to the continued emphasis of the breed as a working dog. They have also proved well suited to tracking, as war messenger dogs, and as guide dogs for the blind.
Height at Withers: female 23.5-26.5" (59.5-67 cm), male 24.5-27.5" (62-70 cm).
Weight: 60-88 lb (27-40 kg).
Coat: The rugged double coat consists of very harsh hard matte wavy hairs of about 2.5" (6 cm) length, standing out. The undercoat is dense, soft and wooly. Colors include salt and pepper, black, brindle, and gray. Only a small white marking on the chest is accepted (star). Grooming needs are moderate, shedding is average.
Longevity: 10-11 years.
Points of Conformation: The large, square and powerful dog is noted for the shaggy unkempt appearance and large head held in high head carriage. The gait is smooth, agile, and ground covering, The expression is intense, and eyes are colored dark brown and are oval. Palpebral margins are dark and bushy brows are prominent. The nose is large and black. Ears are high set and triangular, rounded at the tips and are sometimes cropped. Large moustache and beard sit at the end of a long slightly tapered muzzle. The skull is flat and wide, and the stop is slight. Neck is muscular and arched, and topline is level, thorax is deep and ribs are well sprung. Though substantial in the middle, there is a slightly tucked up abdomen. The high set tail is usually docked to leave only 2-3 vertebrae. Limbs are straight and fairly heavily boned and well muscled, they have short metacarpals and metatarsals. Feet are compact and the toes are well knuckled up, nails are black and the pads are thick. Dewclaws may be taken off.
Recognized Behavior Issues and Traits
Descriptions of the breed include traits such as: Bold, fearless, gentle disposition, moderately active, good with children, and a loyal guardian. Good with other dogs if raised with them, good trainability. They can adapt to urban life if given regular exercise, but are best suited to farm and country. Early socialization and obedience is important to prevent inappropriate protectiveness.
Normal Physiologic Variations
Slow to mature
Hip Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing degenerative joint disease and hip arthritis. OFA reports 15.1% affected.
Elbow Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing elbow arthritis. OFA reports 9.1% affected. Reported 19.5x odds ratio for the fragmented coronoid process form of elbow dysplasia versus other breeds.
Goniodysplasia/Dysplasia of the Pectinate Ligament: Ophthalmologic examination of 72 Bouvier des Flandres dogs revealed 37.5% with variable degrees of goniodysgenesis. All dogs examined had normotensive eyes, and were asymptomatic. Pedigree analysis demonstrated a recessive inheritance. Dysplasia of the pectinate ligament occurs at a high frequency in normal and glaucomatous Bouvier des Flandres dogs, and is severe in glaucomatous eyes. These are considered predisposing factors for the development of glaucoma.
Diffuse Polyneuropathy: Rare disease, with affected dogs presenting between 1-3 years of age with tetraparesis without ataxia, delayed proprioceptive positioning in all limbs, incomplete palpebral closure bilaterally, reduced muscle tone and muscle mass in the distal muscles, absent patellar and cutaneous trunci reflexes, decreased flexor reflexes in all limbs and intact nociception. There is no evidence of laryngeal paresis. Histopathology reveals an axonopathy affecting the large caliber myelinated fibers. Preliminary genetic studies indicate an autosomal recessive mode of inheritance.
Patella Luxation: Polygenically inherited laxity of patellar ligaments, causing luxation, lameness, and later degenerative joint disease. Treat surgically if causing clinical signs. Limited OFA evaluations report a low frequency in the breed.
Sebaceous Cysts: The 2004 Bouvier Health Survey reports 15.71% of Bouvier des Flandres dogs develop benign sebaceous cysts.
Allergic Dermatitis: Inhalant or food allergy. Presents with pruritis and pyotraumatic dermatitis (hot spots). Reported at a frequency of 15.68% in the 2004 Bouvier Health Survey.
Arthritis: At some point in their lives, 11.07% of Bouvier des Flandres dogs suffer from arthritis, according to the 2004 Bouvier Health Survey. Dorn reports a 2.81x odds ratio for developing arthritis versus other breeds.
Persistent Pupillary Membranes: Strands of fetal remnant connecting; iris to iris, cornea, lens, or involving sheets of tissue. The later three forms can impair vision, and dogs affected with these forms should not be bred. Identified in 7.49% of Bouvier des Flandres dogs CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Cataracts: Anterior, posterior, and capsular cataracts predominate in the breed. Reported at a frequency of 3.71% in the 2004 Bouvier Health Survey. Identified in 5.23% of Bouvier des Flandres dogs CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. CERF does not recommend breeding any Bouvier des Flandres dog with a cataract.
Hypothyroidism: Inherited autoimmune thyroiditis. 4.3% positive for thyroid auto-antibodies based on testing at Michigan State University (Ave. for all breeds is 7.5%), although Dorn reports a 1.42x odds ratio for hypothyroidism versus other breeds.
Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (bloat, GDV): Polygenically inherited, life-threatening twisting of the stomach within the abdomen. Requires immediate treatment. Reported at an increased frequency in the breed.
Primary Glaucoma: Causes increased ocular pressure and blindness due to retinal deterioration. Caused by inherited goniodysplasia and dysplasia of the pectinate ligament. Test with gonioscopy and tonometry. Diagnosed in 1.31% of Bouviers presented to veterinary teaching hospitals. Reported at a frequency of 1.71% in the 2004 Bouvier Health Survey. CERF does not recommend breeding any Bouvier des Flandres with glaucoma.
Subaortic Stenosis (SAS): Affected dogs present with a left heart base murmur, aortic velocities greater than 1.5 m/second on Doppler echocardiography, aortic regurgitation, and mitral regurgitation. Can cause exercise intolerance, syncope, and progress to heart failure. Diagnose by auscultation and echocardiography. The breed is one predisposed to subaortic stenosis. Reported at a frequency of 1.30% in the 2004 Bouvier Health Survey. Considered polygenically inherited.
Humeral Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD): Inherited cartilage defect of the humeral head. Causes shoulder joint pain and lameness in young growing dogs. Mild cases can resolve with rest, while more severe cases require surgery. 50% of cases are bilateral. Reported 12.1x odds ratio versus other breeds.
Digital Squamous Cell Carcinoma: The breed is one predisposed to digital squamous cell carcinoma. Treat with toe amputation.
Perineal Hernia: A Dutch study found Bouvier des Flandres a breed predisposed to developing perineal hernias. Treat with surgery.
Villous Atrophy and Enteritis: A Dutch study found Bouvier des Flandres a breed predisposed to developing chronic diarrhea due to intestinal villous atrophy.
Prostate Carcinoma: One study found an increased (8.44x odds ratio) risk for developing prostate carcinoma versus other breeds.
Persistent Hyperplastic Primary Vitreous (PHPV): A congenital defect resulting from abnormalities in the development and regression of the hyaloid artery (the primary vitreous) during embryogenesis. In the Bouvier des Flandres, the condition is associated with retinal dysplasia and detachment, optic nerve hypoplasia, lenticonus, cataract and congenital blindness. CERF does not recommend breeding any Bouvier des Flandres with PHPV.
Muscular Dystrophy: A rare, inherited form of congenital muscular dystrophy occurs in the breed. Affected dogs present with megaesophagus, regurgitation, and weakness. Affected dogs can also show exercise intolerance, muscle atrophy, and overextension of the paws. Histopathological changes occur in all skeletal muscles, but the pharyngeal, laryngeal and esophageal muscles are most severely affected. The mode of inheritance is not determined.
Congenital Laryngeal Paralysis: A rare inherited disorder in Bouvier des Flandres dogs. Affected dogs present with inspiratory obstructive dyspnea or stridor. Unknown mode of inheritance.
Brachygnathism, Cleft Lip/Palate, Degenerative Myopathy, Entropion, Prognathism, Portosystemic Shunting, and Seasonal Flank Alopecia are reported.
Isolated Case Studies
Atresia of the External Acoustic Meatus: A five-year-old male Bouvier des Flandres was presented with chronic ear pain (otalgia) of approximately four and a half years duration. Clinical examination revealed a missing bony ear canal. A total ear canal ablation and bulla osteotomy resolved the otalgia.
Eosinophilic Granulomatous Colitis with Ulceration: A 3-year-old Bouvier de Flandres dog was identified with hemorrhagic diarrhea, anorexia, weight loss and anemia. Abdominal palpation revealed a palpable thickened large intestine. Histopathology revealed eosinophilic granulomatous colitis with ulceration.
Primary Lymphedema and Lymphangiosarcoma: A 4-year-old, spayed female fawn Bouvier des Flandres presented to the Ontario Veterinary College Veterinary Teaching Hospital with a lifelong history of bilateral hind limb edema, and a recently discovered inguinal mass. Based on history, clinical, and histopathological findings, the dog was diagnosed with primary lymphedema and secondary lymphangiosarcoma.
Tests of Genotype: Direct test for K allele color genes is available from VetGen.
Tests of Phenotype: CHIC Certification: Required testing includes hip and elbow radiographs, congenital cardiac evaluation, and CERF eye examination. (See CHIC website;www.caninehealthinfo.org). Recommend thyroid profile including autoantibodies and patella evaluation.
- Breed Name Synonyms: Bouvier, Belgian Cattle Dog, and historically, toucheur de boeuf, Viulbaard, or koehond.
- Registries: AKC, UKC, CKC, KCGB (Kennel Club of Great Britain), ANKC (Australian National Kennel Club), NKC (National Kennel Club)
- AKC Rank (Year 2008): 83 (821 dogs registered)
- Internet resources: The American Bouvier des Flandres Club: www.bouvier.org
Bouvier des Flandres Club of Canada: www.bouviercanada.com
Bouvier Des Flandres Club of Great Britain: www.bouvierclub.co.uk
Bouvier Health Foundation: www.bouvierhealthfoundation.org
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