This is a versatile breed able to perform a variety of functions, including herder, worker, and protector. As such, this dog combines great strength with agility and endurance. The Bouvier des Flandres is a compact, short-coupled dog, of square proportion and rugged appearance. The Bouvier’s gait is free, bold, and proud. The weatherproof coat is tousled and double, with a fine undercoat and a harsh, dry outer coat. The coat is trimmed (if necessary) to a length of about 2.5″. The head is accentuated by a beard and moustache, which adds to the dog’s bold and alert expression.
The Bouvier des Flandres served farmers and cattle merchants in guiding cattle in the great farmlands of southwest Flanders and on the French northern plain. In fact, bouvier means cowherd or oxherd in French, although the dogs were formerly more often called Vuilbaard (dirty beard) or koe hond (cow dog). Besides their main duty as a cattle drover, the Bouvier was an all around farm dog, functioning also as a protector of the house and farm.
As expected from a dog selected to perform a variety of tasks, these working dogs were of a variety of types, colors, and even sizes. This wide variety also reflected the fact that this was a working dog, and they were chosen by ability, not pedigree or aesthetics. The derivation of the breed is not documented but may have included mastiff, sheepdog, and possibly even spaniel breeds. The first breed standard, drawn up in 1912, reflected this diversity of types and signaled a growing interest in the breed.
In the midst of their rising popularity, most of the Bouviers were lost in World War I—although some Bouviers served as ambulance and messenger dogs during the war. One of the few survivors was of such superior quality that the breed was successfully revived through his progeny. This dog, Champion Nic de Sottegem, can be found in virtually every modern Bouvier pedigree. In 1922, a revised standard further defined the desirable Bouvier type, and helped pave the way to a more homogeneous breed. When the first Bouviers entered American show rings in 1931, they aroused much attention. The breed has never become extremely popular as a pet, but is popular at herding trials.
The Bouvier is loyal, devoted, fearless, and protective. Given daily exercise, they are calm and well-mannered indoors, but ready for an adventure in the great outdoors. They are independent and confident of their own judgment, yet willing to please. They can be domineering. They are reserved, even protective, toward strangers and should be introduced carefully to new dogs. They are very good with children, although may nip at heels in play. They are not excessive barkers or diggers.
The Bouvier des Flandres needs daily exercise and daily interaction, and a lot of both. They love the chance to herd, but their requirements can also be met with a good jog, a very long walk, or a vigorous play session. The harsh coat needs combing once or twice weekly, plus scissoring and shaping (clipping for pets and stripping for show dogs) every three months.