Caring for Your Faithful Companion
Briards: What a Unique Breed!
Your dog is special! She’s your best friend, companion, and a source of unconditional love. Chances are that you chose her because you like Briards and you expected her to have certain traits that would fit your lifestyle:
- Alert, curious, and busy
- People-oriented and eager to please
- Excellent watchdog
- Highly intelligent, playful, and energetic
- Great with kids and other dogs: a true family pet
- Loyal and loving companion
However, no dog is perfect! You may have also noticed these characteristics:
- Long coat needs to be brushed regularly
- Needs a lot of activity and mental stimulation to avoid boredom vices
- Sees cats and small animals as prey unless trained otherwise
- Does not tolerate harsh reprimands or negative-reinforcement training
- Might be bossy and overprotective if not well socialized early
Is it all worth it? Of course! She’s full of personality, and you love her for it! She is a devoted protector of family and home. She requires frequent attention and care; the perfect dog for someone who wants a constant companion.
Because Briards are devoted and affectionate, they are often described as “hearts wrapped in fur.” Briards are an ancient breed from France designed for herding and protection, which are still strong traits in the breed. With an average lifespan of 10-12 years, the Briard is generally a healthy dog. The large size and deep chest of the breed makes them susceptible to hip dysplasia and bloat.
Your Briard’s Health
We know that because you care so much about your dog, you want to take good care of her. That is why we have summarized the health concerns we will be discussing with you over the life of your Briard. By knowing about health concerns specific to Briards, we can tailor a preventive health plan to watch for and hopefully prevent some predictable risks.
Many diseases and health conditions are genetic, meaning they are related to your pet’s breed. There is a general consensus among canine genetic researchers and veterinary practitioners that the conditions we’ve described herein have a significant rate of incidence and/or impact in this breed. That does not mean your dog will have these problems; it just means that she is more at risk than other dogs. We will describe the most common issues seen in Briards to give you an idea of what may come up in her future. Of course, we can’t cover every possibility here, so always check with us if you notice any unusual signs or symptoms.
This guide contains general health information important to all canines as well as the most important genetic predispositions for Briards. This information helps you and us together plan for your pet’s unique medical needs. At the end of the booklet, we have also included a description of what you can do at home to keep your Briard looking and feeling her best. You will know what to watch for, and we will all feel better knowing that we’re taking the best possible care of your pal.
General Health Information for your Briard
Dental disease is the most common chronic problem in pets, affecting 80% of all dogs by age two. And unfortunately, your Briard is more likely than other dogs to have problems with her teeth. It starts with tartar build-up on the teeth and progresses to infection of the gums and roots of the teeth. If we don’t prevent or treat dental disease, your buddy will lose her teeth and be in danger of damaging her kidneys, liver, heart, and joints. In fact, your Briard’s life span may be cut short by one to three years! We’ll clean your dog’s teeth regularly and let you know what you can do at home to keep those pearly whites clean.
Briards are susceptible to bacterial and viral infections — the same ones that all dogs can get — such as parvo, rabies, and distemper. Many of these infections are preventable through vaccination, which we will recommend based on the diseases we see in our area, her age, and other factors.
Obesity can be a significant health problem in Briards. It is a serious disease that may cause or worsen joint problems, metabolic and digestive disorders, back pain and heart disease. Though it’s tempting to give your pal food when she looks at you with those soulful eyes, you can “love her to death” with leftover people food and doggie treats. Instead, give her a hug, brush her fur or teeth, play a game with her, or perhaps take her for a walk. She’ll feel better, and so will you!
All kinds of worms and bugs can invade your Briard’s body, inside and out. Everything from fleas and ticks to ear mites can infest her skin and ears. Hookworms, roundworms, heartworms, and whipworms can get into her system in a number of ways: drinking unclean water, walking on contaminated soil, or being bitten by an infected mosquito. Some of these parasites can be transmitted to you or a family member and are a serious concern for everyone. For your canine friend, these parasites can cause pain, discomfort, and even death, so it’s important that we test for them on a regular basis. We’ll also recommend preventive medication as necessary to keep her healthy.
Spay or Neuter
One of the best things you can do for your Briard is to have her spayed (neutered for males). In females, this means we surgically remove the ovaries and usually the uterus, and in males, it means we surgically remove the testicles. Spaying or neutering decreases the likelihood of certain types of cancers and eliminates the possibility of your pet becoming pregnant or fathering unwanted puppies. Performing this surgery also gives us a chance, while your pet is under anesthesia, to identify and address some of the diseases your dog is likely to develop. For example, if your pet needs hip X-rays or a puppy tooth extracted, this would be a good time. This is convenient for you and easy for your friend. Routine blood testing prior to surgery also helps us to identify and take precautions for common problems that increase anesthetic or surgical risk. Don’t worry; we’ll discuss the specific problems we will be looking for when the time arrives.
Genetic Predispositions for Briards
Bone and Joint Problems
A number of different musculoskeletal problems have been reported in the Briard. While it may seem overwhelming, each condition can be diagnosed and treated to prevent undue pain and suffering. With diligent observation at home and knowledge about the diseases that may affect your friend’s bones, joints, or muscles you will be able to take great care of him throughout his life.
You’ve probably heard of hip dysplasia, an inherited disease that causes the hip joints to form improperly and leads to arthritis: it is common in Briards. You may notice that he has lameness in his hind legs or has difficulty getting up from lying down. We can treat the arthritis — the sooner the better — to avoid discomfort and pain. We’ll take X-rays of your dog’s joints to identify the disease as early as possible. Surgery is sometimes considered in severe and life-limiting cases of hip dysplasia. Keep in mind that overweight dogs may develop arthritis years earlier than those of normal weight, causing undue pain and suffering.
Sometimes your Briard’s kneecap (patella) may slip out of place (called patellar luxation). You might notice that he runs along and suddenly picks up a back leg and skips or hops for a few strides. Then he kicks his leg out sideways to pop the kneecap back in place, and he’s fine again. If the problem is mild and involves only one leg, your friend may not require much treatment beyond arthritis medication. When symptoms are severe, surgery may be needed to realign the kneecap to keep it from popping out of place.
Briards can occasionally develop a bone problem called Fragmented Coronoid Process (FCP). The coronoid process is a small piece of the ulna bone that forms part of the elbow joint. As a puppy grows, this piece is supposed to attach to the ulna. If it doesn’t grow properly, the small piece of bone causes pain and lameness. We can usually diagnose FCP with x-rays, and if needed, we can surgically correct the problem by removing the loose bone.
Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus, also known as GDV or Bloat, usually occurs in dogs with deep, narrow chests. This means your Briard is more at risk than other breeds. When a dog bloats, the stomach twists on itself and fills with gas. The twisting cuts off blood supply to the stomach, and sometimes the spleen. Left untreated, the disease is quickly fatal, sometimes in as little as 30 minutes. Your dog may retch or heave (but little or nothing comes out), act restless, have an enlarged abdomen, or lie in a prayer position (front feet down, rear end up). Preventive surgery in which the stomach is tacked down or sutured in place so that it is unlikely to twist is an option. If you see symptoms, take your pet to an emergency hospital immediately!
Not many things have as dramatic an impact on your dog’s quality of life as the proper functioning of his eyes. Unfortunately, Briards can inherit or develop a number of different eye conditions, some of which may cause blindness if not treated right away, and most of which can be extremely painful! We will evaluate his eyes at every examination to look for any signs of concern.
Cataracts are a common cause of blindness in older Briards. We’ll watch for the lenses of his eyes to become more opaque—meaning they look cloudy instead of clear—when we examine him. Many dogs adjust well to losing their vision and get along just fine. Surgery to remove cataracts and restore sight may also be an option.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) is an inherited disease in which the eyes are genetically programmed to go blind. Unfortunately, Briards are a bit more likely than other dogs to have this condition. PRA is not painful, but also not curable. In dogs with the bad gene, early symptoms such as night blindness or dilated pupils generally begin around three to five years of age. A genetic test is available for this condition.
The cornea is the clear outer layer at the front of the eye. Corneal dystrophy is an inherited condition in Briards that causes small white crystal deposits to form in one of the layers of the cornea. There is no known effective medical treatment to remove the deposits. Usually the disease progresses slowly, doesn’t hurt, and causes only minor vision obstruction, but partial or complete blindness is possible. In severe cases surgery may be considered, but unfortunately, the crystals may return.
Sometimes small strands of tissue that were meant to disappear soon after birth remain attached to the iris. When this happens, it’s called Persistent Pupillary Membrane, and your Briard is more likely to have this condition than other dogs. Fortunately, these tissue bits usually don’t hurt or impede vision, but occasionally they can cause problems.
In humans, an allergy to pollen, mold, or dust makes people sneeze and their eyes itch. In dogs, rather than sneeze, allergies make their skin itchy. We call this skin allergy “atopy”, and Briards often have it. Commonly, the feet, belly, folds of the skin, and ears are most affected. Symptoms typically start between the ages of one and three and can get worse every year. Licking the paws, rubbing the face, and frequent ear infections are the most common signs. The good news is that there are many treatment options available for this condition.
An allergy to food is an inherited problem in Briards that can start at any age but is most common in young adult dogs. Symptoms can include itchy skin, recurrent ear infections, and chronic vomiting or diarrhea. A prescription veterinary diet is often the best way to diagnose and treat a food allergy.
Mats and Hot Spots
Because he has long, dense fur, your Briard requires a lot of brushing and coat care. Mats and tangles can lead to skin infections, particularly moist, painful skin lesions called hot spots. Brush your pet at least weekly and keep an eye out for sores, especially in hot, humid weather. Plan on taking him to the groomer often to maintain a healthy coat.
Seasonal Hair Loss
Seasonal flank alopecia is a condition that causes a dog to lose his hair in patches usually on the sides just ahead of the rear legs, although other areas can be affected. It happens seasonally (often in fall or spring), and usually when the season changes the hair grows back. Not always, though, and sometimes the hair regrows a different color. It’s not yet understood why this happens, but it seems to happen more often in Briards. Dietary supplements are sometimes effective for control of this otherwise harmless condition, so if it becomes a concern we’ll work out a dosing regimen and monitor for side effects.
Briards are prone to a common condition called hypothyroidism in which the body doesn’t make enough thyroid hormone. Signs can include dry skin and coat, hair loss, susceptibility to other skin diseases, weight gain, fearfulness, aggression, or other behavioral changes. We’ll conduct a blood screening test annually to screen for the disease. Treatment is usually simple: replacement hormones given in the form of a pill.
The ureters are small tubes that allow urine created in each kidney to flow into the bladder. Occasionally in Briards, one of these tubes hooks up in the wrong place, taking urine past the bladder, instead of into the bladder itself. The bladder normally stores urine and empties on command but urine that doesn’t spill into the bladder will just drip out on its own. This is called Ectopic Ureter and it causes urine leaking. Once the problem is diagnosed, with x-rays or an ultrasound of the bladder, the ureter can be surgically reattached where it belongs.
The esophagus is the tube that carries food from the mouth into the stomach. If the esophagus isn’t contracting properly to move food down, it becomes stretched out to “mega” size, and food stays in the esophagus instead of going into the stomach. If your Briard is affected, he may throw up tube shaped portions of undigested food. Special feeding postures, dietary modifications and sometimes medications may be needed to manage this problem. Unfortunately, dogs with megaesophagus commonly inhale bits of food and can develop severe pneumonia. If you notice any unusual eating behaviors or vomiting after eating, be sure to let us know. A quick and painless x-ray can help us determine if he has this condition.
Teeth abnormalities are often genetically induced and are relatively common in dogs, especially in purebred dogs like your Briard. An overbite or underbite is called a malocclusion, or a bad bite. Oligodontia is a condition where only a few teeth are present. Misaligned teeth can also occur and cause lots of problems, but can usually be corrected with braces or extractions. (Yes, dogs can get braces!) We want to keep your buddy’s teeth healthy so we will be watching his developing teeth closely.
Cancer is a leading cause of death among dogs in their golden years. Your Briard is a bit more prone to certain kinds of cancer starting at a younger age. Many cancers are cured by surgically removing them, and some types are treatable with chemotherapy. Early detection is critical! We’ll do periodic blood tests and look for lumps and bumps at each exam.
Lymphoma or lymphosarcoma is a type of cancer that afflicts Briards more than other breeds. This disease makes the body form abnormal lymphocytes, which are a type of white blood cell. Because white blood cells can be found throughout the body, this cancer can show up almost anywhere. Lymphoma is a very treatable form of cancer, with an excellent success rate in dogs receiving chemotherapy. Treatment can be costly, however, and is a lifelong commitment. Luckily, lymphoma is one of the few types of cancer that can often be found with a blood test, so we may recommend a complete blood count twice yearly. Watch for swollen glands (ask us, we’ll show you where to look), weight loss, or labored breathing at home and be sure to call us if you notice any unusual symptoms.
Taking Care of Your Briard at Home
Much of what you can do to keep your dog happy and healthy is common sense, just like it is for people. Watch her diet, make sure she gets plenty of exercise, regularly brush her teeth and coat, and call us or a pet emergency hospital when something seems unusual (see “What to Watch For” below). Be sure to adhere to the schedule of examinations and vaccinations that we recommend for her. This is when we’ll give her the necessary “check-ups” and test for diseases and conditions that are common in Briards. Another very important step in caring for your pet is signing up for pet health insurance. There will certainly be medical tests and procedures she will need throughout her life and pet health insurance will help you cover those costs.
Routine Care, Diet, and Exercise
Build her routine care into your schedule to help your Briard live longer, stay healthier, and be happier during her lifetime. We cannot overemphasize the importance of a proper diet and exercise routine.
- Supervise your pet as you would a toddler. Keep doors closed, pick up after yourself, and block off rooms as necessary. This will keep her out of trouble and away from objects she shouldn’t put in her mouth.
- Daily brushing is recommended to prevent mats.
- Briards generally have good teeth, and you can keep them perfect by brushing them at least twice a week!
- Clean her ears weekly, even as a puppy. Don’t worry—we’ll show you how!
- She’s a smart dog with lots of energy, so keep her mind and body active, or she’ll get bored. That’s when the naughty stuff starts.
- She has a high prey drive and will chase any small animal that moves, so a leash when outdoors is a must.
- Her beard tends to soak up food and water, and will need to be cleaned and dried often.
- Keep your dog’s diet consistent and don’t give her people food.
- Feed a high-quality diet appropriate for her age.
- Exercise your dog regularly, but don’t overdo it at first.
What to Watch For
Any abnormal symptom could be a sign of serious disease, or it could just be a minor or temporary problem. The important thing is to be able to tell when to seek veterinary help, and how urgently. Many diseases cause dogs to have a characteristic combination of symptoms, which together can be a clear signal that your Briard needs help.
Give us a call for an appointment if you notice any of these types of signs:
- Change in appetite or water consumption
- Tartar build-up, bad breath, red gums, or broken teeth
- Itchy skin (scratching, chewing or licking), hair loss
- Lethargy, mental dullness, or excessive sleeping
- Fearfulness, aggression, or other behavioral changes
Seek medical care immediately if you notice any of these types of signs:
- Scratching or shaking the head, tender ears, or ear discharge
- Inability or straining to urinate; discolored urine
- Cloudiness, redness, itching, or any other abnormality involving the eyes
- Leg stiffness, reluctance to rise, sit, use stairs, run, jump, or “bunny hopping”
- Dry heaving or a large, tight, painful abdomen
- Matted fur, hairloss, sores
- Dull coat, hair loss, sluggish, weight gain
- Tubular vomit, undigested food
- Swollen lymph nodes or glands, unexplained weight loss
Partners in Health Care
DNA testing is a rapidly advancing field with new tests constantly emerging to help in the diagnosis of inherited diseases before they can become a problem for your friend. For the most up-to-date information on DNA and other screening tests available for your pal, visit www.Genesis4Pets.com.
Your Briard counts on you to take good care of her, and we look forward to working with you to ensure that she lives a long and healthy life. Our goal is to provide the best health care possible: health care that’s based on her breed, lifestyle, and age. Please contact us when you have questions or concerns.
- Ackerman L. The Genetic Connection: A Guide to Health Problems in Purebred Dogs. Second edition. AAHA Press; 2011.
- Bell JS, Cavanagh KE, Tilley LP, Smith FW. Veterinary medical guide to dog and cat breeds. Jackson, Wyoming. Teton New Media; 2012.
- Gough A, Thomas A. Breed Predispositions to Disease in Dogs and Cats. 2nd Edition. Wiley-Blackwell; 2010.
- Crook A, Dawson S, Cote E, MacDonald S, Berry J. Canine Inherited Disorders Database [Internet]. University of Prince Edward Island. 2011. [cited 2013 Apr 11]. Available from: http:/ic.upei.ca/cidd/breed/briard
- Breed Specific Health Concerns [Internet]. American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, Inc. [cited 2013 Apr 11]. Available from: http:/www.akcchf.org/canine-health/breed-specific-concerns/?breed=briard
Females: 22 to 25-1/2 inches
Males: 23 to 27 inches
Loving and giving to those it knows but aloof and suspicious around strangers.
Intelligent and easily trained.
An independent spirit.
Not looking for constant approval.
Views itself as a companion rather than a servant.
The history of the Briard can be traced back to the time of Emperor Charlemagne. This very old French-shepherd dog can be seen in eighth-century tapestries. Its great courage and loyalty are mentioned in records from the 12th century on. The French-shepherd dog, with the springy gait, is both a herder and a flock guardian. A club of fanciers was formed in France in 1897 and the breed’s fortunes followed the tides of war in the early 20th century. The introduction of the Briard to the United States is not well documented. It is thought that the Marquis de Lafayette may have brought some to his friend George Washington. It is known that it took until 1922 for a United States born litter of Briard puppies to be recorded.
A large, powerful dog whose body is slightly longer than high.
Ears are set high on the head and are cropped in the United States.
The tail is carried low, with a small hook at the end called a crochet. It is not altered.
Double dewclaws are required on each rear leg.
The shaggy, coarse, double coat is slightly wavy and about four- to six-inches long.
Hair falls over the eyes, masking the expression but not the prominent black nose.
The outerhairs have a peculiar, dry feel and make a rasping sound between the fingers.
Permissible colors are black, various shades of gray, or tawny.
Becomes matted and dirty if not brushed at least twice a week.
Health and Wellness
Subject to hip dysplasia.
Susceptible to bloat.
Progressive retinal atrophy.
What You Should Know
Briards are homebodies. Like other herding dogs, they do not tend to roam.
The gait of a Briard is supple and springy, like that of a big cat.
The dog seems to glide along the ground with no visible means of support.
Not a popular breed.
Puppies will be difficult to obtain.