The Berger Picard

Header
The Berger Picard
Saved from extinction, a rare, ancient French breed is made famous by Disney

0

With his rakish good looks and effortless charm, the lanky and shaggy browed Berger Picard may be the ultimate French export. This is an intelligent breed with an interesting past.

First things first, let’s get his name right. The breed’s French moniker is pronounced as bare-zhay pee-CARR. The Berger Picard—or Picardy Shepherd as he is also known—is the oldest of France’s sheepdogs. He’s named for the Picardie region of northern France where he originated.

Most experts speculate that the Berger Picard came to northern France during the second invasion by the Celts, around 40 BC. As with so many older breeds, we must rely on what we can—including illustrations and various forms of art—to gain a sense of early development. Dogs closely resembling the Picard are found in tapestries, engravings, and artwork dating back to the late 1300s.


Photo Dora Zett/shutterstock.com

As for the breeds that ultimately produced the Picard, this is a matter of some debate. Some believe that he’s closely related to the Briard and the Beaucercon, and the resemblance is certainly clear. Others point to close ties to Dutch and Belgian Shepherds.

From his earliest days, the Picard was a popular choice for herding sheep and cattle. By the middle of the 19th century, France’s herding dogs were classified into two types: the long-haired varieties, known as Berger de Brie or Briard; and the short-haired herders, called Berger de Beauce or Beaucercon. For whatever reason, dogs with mid-length coats were ignored. Eventually, however, they became known as the Berger de Picardie or Picard.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

The Disney Touch: Because of Winn Dixie

In 2005, Because of Winn Dixie hit American movie theatres and the Picard was thrust into the spotlight. Makers of the film needed a lead canine actor that fit the bill of a scruffy, playful dog. Appreciating that no two mixed-breed dogs look identical, the film’s makers researched and discovered the Picard. Several dogs were brought from France to work on the movie, which turned out to be a huge hit. Suddenly (finally, fanciers might say,) the Berger Picard was in the spotlight.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

The Berger Picard’s first dog show appearance in France happened in 1863. Alas, his scruffy appearance failed to impress the conformation crowd. While Picards continued to be entered into dog shows and herding trials, it wasn’t until 1925 that the breed was recognized by the French Shepherd Club. At that point, he was still a very popular choice among farmers—a true natural at herding and a tremendous help to farmers.

After achieving formal recognition, the Berger Picard started to gain popularity outside of his region. However, this increase in interest coincided with the events of World Wars I and II—both of which had a devastating impact on the breed.

This breed’s population was heavily concentrated in northeastern France. In both wars, food rations made the simple act of keeping dogs healthy a significant challenge. In World War II, Picardy’s beautiful pastures—throughout the valley of the river Somme—were the scene of extensive warfare. This beautiful pastoral land became unrecognizable. Ravaged by conflict, serene vistas of the Picard’s region were turned into barren wastelands of death and destruction. Human and animal casualties were astronomical, and the Berger Picard was literally on the brink of extinction by the end of the Second World War.


Photo TMArt/shutterstock.com

As with so many breeds that faced the threat of post-war extinction, the Picard’s survival came down to a handful of dedicated fanciers who made a very concerted effort to save their breed. Bouviers des Flandres breeders, searching for stock to save their breed, ventured to the Picardy region of France. Among their canine discoveries were a pair of dogs that would become the foundation stock of the Berger Picard. Through these efforts, the breed survived although, even today, he continues to be quite rare, both within and beyond France.

In 1959, the Club Les Amis du Berger Picard obtained recognition and an updated breed standard was approved in 1964.

By the 1970s, Americans had developed some awareness and interest in the breed. Several attempts were made to establish the Berger Picard in the United States, but this proved a challenge with so few dogs. In the dawn of the Internet age, progress was made. Suddenly, breeders and fanciers could find each other. So, they did, and they worked together to further establish the breed.

The Berger Picard Club of America was formed in 2006 and the breed was accepted into the herding group by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 2015.

Today’s Berger Picard is a lanky, medium-sized dog with a scruffy appearance characterized by upright prick ears and thick, expressive eyebrows. Males stand as high as 26 inches and females as low as 21 inches. The standard emphasizes a lively and alert temperament, effortless movement, and a spirited expression.

“The Picard is known for being intelligent, playful, and more than a little bit of a comedian.”

The Picard’s coat is of medium length, naturally waterproof, and comes in a variety of colours; the AKC accepts fawn or brindle coats.

When it comes to temperament, frankly it is just as endearing as this breed’s appearance. The Picard is known for being intelligent, playful, and more than a little bit of a comedian. The fact that the Picard is known for having a great sense of humour shouldn’t come as a surprise—after all, this is a dog that—literally—smiles! This lively disposition combined with a generally relaxed demeanour makes him an excellent choice as a family companion. He has a reputation for being exceptionally good with kids.

The Berger Picard is a family pet and not suitable at all for outdoor living. He bonds very closely with his families and tends to be reserved with strangers.

This is a rather stubborn breed, so it’s important that socialization and training start at an early age. Positive reinforcement training only, please! He’s fun and outgoing but he’s also very sensitive. Harsh commands will not work.

It’s not surprising, given his prowess as a herding dog, but the Berger Picard is extremely athletic. He has lots of energy and requires plenty of exercise. The bored Picard can act out with household destruction. He will need—at an absolute minimum—one long walk a day and lots of play time. The more exercise, the better. This is a dog that’s happiest when he has a job to do, and while you may not have a farm that requires a herding expert, canine sporting activities are right up the Berger’s alley and will give him the physical and mental stimulation that he craves.

From a grooming standpoint, this is a low-maintenance breed that requires routine brushing, nail trims, and of course the occasional bath. Health-wise, like all purebreds he can be prone to some genetic conditions, so it’s important to work with a breeder who is dedicated to the health of their dogs.

With his natural, rustic elegance, a loving nature, and a quirky and comical disposition, it’s hard in some ways to imagine why this breed remains so very rare. He’s easy to be around and, quite simply, a whole lot of fun. This spirited rare breed is definitely worth a close look, and we can only hope that he continues to thrive in the years to come.

If you like the Berger Picard, you might also consider the...

                Briard                          Dutch Shepherd                      Beaucercon
The Briard and Dutch Shepherd inset photos Thomas Pitera © American Kennel Club; The Beauceron inset photo Angie Kerins © American Kennel Club

» Read Your Breed For more breed profiles, go to moderndogmagazine.com/breeds

Add a comment

Dog of the Week!

Meet: Alex Murray