History–The Briard is an old breed, used for guarding and herding stock in France. This was an “all arounder”, a farm dog that had multiple tasks to accomplish. The Briard was a partner to the shepherd, relying on intelligence and its independent nature to get those tasks done. He was a family dog as well, going home at night to watch over the family and their household.
Briards were used in all types of herding situations, having the ability to learn many commands and fulfill the jobs expected of them. The Briard was most commonly used as a farm dog in the more crowded farming valleys of France, where row crops were grown. Sheep were allowed to graze the grass strips between crops and Briards were responsible for keeping the sheep moving along these strips, and preventing the sheep from eating the crops. The Briard moved the sheep daily from the farm to the graze areas and back again at night. At the farm, the Briard was the shepherd’s partner, helping with livestock chores. The Briard was also used to move large flocks of sheep in areas of France that had wide grazing pastures and mountain pastures in summer. Those flocks were moved on foot, to the grazing areas, much like large sheep ranches do in the western United States and Canada. The Briards were usually worked beside one or two other breeds to keep the sheep from straying and herd the sheep to the proper areas. At night, they were alert and vigilant watchdogs, protecting the shepherds and flock from wolves and thieves.
This was, and is, a versatile worker, powerful and independent. The Chien Berger de Brie–the dog of Charlemagne, Thomas Jefferson and Lafayette–carries forward a long history of herding tradition and accomplishments.
Temperament– The Briard is independent, powerful and intelligent. Briards are eager, very keen to work with stock. The Briard is easily trainable, although can be stubborn, especially when he believes he is right and the handler is wrong. The Briard is willing to give the handler a chance to prove a point, and are agreeable to learning a new way of doing things; however, most maintain an air of independence when doing so.
The Briard requires a good knowledge base and sense of direction from a handler, as most Briards will attempt to control any situation where there is no leader.
Working style– The Briard is a loose-eyed, upright breed with a natural tendency to gather/fetch, bringing the stock to the handler. As they are an upright worker, they prefer to sit or stand rather than lie down while stopping. Some will bump and shoulder stock. Most will turn stock from the head rather than the heels.
They are quiet workers, seldom barking. A novice dog may bark in excitement or frustration, but generally quiets with more experience.
Briards tend to circle and work close to moderately wide when first exposed to stock. Some are a bit aggressive when first seeing stock; most are eager, intense, alert. Briards exhibit a natural “power” and sheep move readily away from them, even if the dog is out of the normal flight zone of the sheep. Cattle are generally wary, ducks will move off to another area. Initially, some may try to nip and scatter stock, but will attempt to keep the stock bunched.
Briards are used in boundary/tending situations, and are quick learners of this technique. In France, patrolling is part of the farm dog’s training if the dog will be working the narrow graze strips between crops. This was a trait selected by French shepherds, thus the ease of Briards to learn this maneuver.
Since Briards are eager and keen, it is advisable to release them from leads as soon as possible. Held back, a frustrated Briard may become over-excited and therefore aggressive, or may “turn-off” stock.
Some may require several exposures to stock to assess instinct.
The Briard is versatile; able to fetch, drive and do the boundary/tending tasks required of him. With proper training, the Briard can work all types of livestock. He is a thinking dog; independent and somewhat methodical. Most importantly, he is the shepherd’s partner, retaining a high degree of herding instinct from his ancestors.