BY CHERESE COBB, FREELANCE WRITER
If you’ve ever seen Star Wars, you probably remember Chewbacca: Han Solo’s loyal friend and first mate—the 200-year-old Wookiee became Solo’s companion after he refused an order to kill him, promising to protect the smuggler for the rest of his life. “The Wookiee is your Briard,” says Ellen Meyers, who’s bred them for 23 years. A mix of brains and brawn with a protective eye toward family and a wariness towards strangers. Could the Briard be the co-pilot that you’ve been searching for?
Briards are believed to be a cross between the Beauceron and the ancient Water Spaniel. They’re believed to have arrived in France during the Middle Ages. Eighth-century tapestries depict the breed with Emperor Charlemagne. An “all around” farm dog, Briards were originally developed to control and protect large flocks from poachers and wolves. “On a rainy day, mud would cake onto the Briard’s coat and dry. Because the outer coat was coarse, the mud would fall off as dust,” Meyers says. “Farmers didn't have time after working in the fields all day to groom them out to where their coats were perfect.”
The official dog of the French army and somewhat rare today because so many were killed in both world wars, Briards carried supplies to the front line. Due to their keen hearing and reputed to best of any breed, they were watchmen. The breed also led corpsmen to those soldiers who still had a spark of life in their bodies, saving an estimated 10,000 lives.
Slow To Warm Up
In 2015, Maria DuSoleil discovered the Briard at the American Kennel Club’s Meet the Breeds event in New York. Her boyfriend instantly fell in love with the breed: hulking giants that have double hind dewclaws, and a ton of hair making their feet act like floor brushes. After doing additional research, DuSoleil bought their 2-year-old Briard Lucca who was born on her boyfriend’s birthday, from Florida Breeder Molly Gardner.
The only Briard in Hoboken, New Jersey, Lucca went through a stage where he’d bark and snap at dogs and people because he was afraid so DuSoleil watched a lot of training videos on YouTube and followed trainers on Instagram. "After a lot of training, we got to the point where he would look at us for direction,” she says. “Now, we don’t introduce him to strangers or dogs on the street anymore. When people or dogs come over, we have him wait in place. Once he’s calm, we allow them to play.” Briards need firm, sensible training and not strict, harsh treatment. They also need supervision because when they play, they play rough, meaning that the breed isn’t ideal for toddlers or small children.
While the Briard needs to be brushed 30 minutes every day and is slow to warm up to, it is affectionate and loving toward members of its pack. “Every single morning...when I wake up, I get on the floor, and as I hug Lucca’s head, he lifts up his four legs in the air so I can rub his tummy while he's sleeping. That always makes me melt.”
Briards are fairly healthy, though they have been known to suffer from hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, epilepsy, blood-clotting disease, and hernias. “Briards are also known for developing what’s called night blindness, and it's actually an inherited issue,” says Jessie Sondel, owner of the Sondel Family Veterinary Clinic. “If Briards are carriers for it, they don't have the clinical signs, but they’re usually tested for this gene.” Because they’re double-coated, Briards have excess hair in their ears and between their toes, which should be trimmed often to prevent ear and skin infections. “In the summer, you’ll need to be very careful that your dogs aren’t overheating,” he adds, “making sure that they're not getting burs, mats, and infections in their hair coats and under them.”
Should You Adopt A Briard?
Hearts of gold wrapped in fur, Briards are amazing dogs, but they’re not for everyone. The breed isn’t a soft-tempered dog. "Either you’re going to own the Briard or it’s going to own you. You give it an inch and it’ll take a mile if it can get it,” Meyers says. “It’ll work it too. Briards are tireless dogs.” They also aren’t happy staring at the leaves on the lawn. They need plenty of exercise such as long walks, swimming or running alongside your bicycle. Extremely intelligent, a bored Briard will turn into Dennis the Menace, chewing your favorite high heels and nipping everything that moves. If you’re athletic with a strong personality who can provide a lot of toys, attention, and firm training, the Briard will see you as its equal and entertain you with its goofball antics, protect your family from strangers and smother you with kisses.
From Peggy Miller, The Models' Mom:
St. George has stopped traffic since he was a puppy...I think due to the ears that are trained up. People are curious about him and always want to know what breed he is. Most Briards today are going the way of the European Briards in that their ears are no longer snipped and glued together for the first six to nine months. Without exaggeration, people stop me almost every single time I walk SG out on the street. Multiple people really. UPS drivers to lawn crews stop to inquire This summer out on Cape Cod we stopped taking him to the beach because we could never sit in peace to read, sun, chat, etc. with out person after person coming over to see St. George, pat him and inquire.
OUR WINTER LOOK: This issue's theme is one that is very dear to my heart as I live with the presence of what one may consider a disability. I, however, see it as a challenge and reason for my existance. My children are my world, and in that world, there are imperfections. But those imperfections make our everyday more meaningful. The cover models are St. George (on left) and Eric Miller (on right). Peggy Miller, Eric's mom, notes, "For people such as Eric, unable to verbally express feelings, pets are great communicators ..." After informing Eric of his grandma's death, Peggy continues, "He loved her so much, asked every day how she was, and when he saw her out on Cape Cod recently, he loved looking after her, pushing her wheelchair, carrying her cane, etc. So he was very quiet upon the hearing the news, and I went back downstairs to prepare his breakfast. When Eric came down, the first thing he did was sit down at the bottom of the stairs and tell St. George. He gave him a big hug and hung on for a while. It was touching to see. Pets touch our lives in so many ways that another human being may never be able to do. We owe them the world.
PHOTOS BY IN-FOCUS PHOTOGRAPHY