The Bouvier des Flandres originated in the Flemish region of Belgium and in northern France, where it was bred as a working farm dog to herd, manage and protect livestock and other farm inhabitants. It is thought that the breed may have developed from crossing local farm dogs with imported Irish Wolfhounds, Tibetan Mastiffs, Brabanters, Schnauzers, Griffons and/or Beaucerons. In 1910, the first two Bouviers appeared at the international dog show in Brussels, catching the attention of the Societe Royale Saint-Hubert. A standard for the breed was adopted in 1912, with the assistance of a Frenchman, M. Fontaine, who was vice-president of the Club Saint-Hubert du Nord. In August of 1912, a group of Bouvier breeders gathered to create a more refined “Standard of Perfection,” which became the first official standard recognized by the Societe Royale Saint-Hubert, and the breed’s popularity grew.
The battles of the First World War nearly decimated the Bouvier des Flanders in Europe. Thankfully, a few breeders somehow retained their dogs, some of whom worked as messengers, pack dogs and ambulance dogs during the war. The most influential of these dogs was a Bouvier named Ch. Nic de Sottegem, that lived with his owner, a Belgian army veterinarian named Captain Barbry, who did what he could to preserve the breed. Captain Barbry showed Nic at the Olympic show in Antwerp in 1920, where he was recognized by the judge as an ideal representative of the breed. Although Nic died in 1926, he stamped himself on the breed. His many descendants became foundation stock, appearing in almost every modern Bouvier pedigree. The Belgian breed club was founded in 1922. The American Kennel Club first recognized the Bouvier des Flandres in 1929 and admitted the breed into its Stud Book in 1931. However, very few Bouviers were imported to the United States before World War II, and they remained nearly extinct in Europe during that time. After the war, a small handful of Western European expatriates brought a few well-bred Bouviers to America, bringing along their valuable historical knowledge of the breed.
The Bouvier des Flanders flourished in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s. The fact that the maiden name of President Kennedy’s popular wife was Jacqueline Bouvier may have given the breed a boost in this country. The American Bouvier des Flandres Club was founded in 1963 and became a member of the American Kennel Club in 1971. It remains the breed’s AKC parent club. One of the more famous Bouviers in America was a dog named “Lucky,” who was President Ronald Reagan’s trusted companion.
This is the last of the Belgian bouviers to exist in measurable numbers. The other breeds, including the Bouvier de Roulers, the Bouvier de Moerman and the Bouvier de Paret, are already extinct. The only other survivor is the Bouvier des Ardennes, which may soon vanish as well.
The average life expectancy of the Bouvier des Flandres is 10 to 12 years. As with many other large breeds, they are predisposed to hip dysplasia, especially as they age. Bouviers are highly resistant to pain. Because of their high pain threshold, they can be injured or ailing without showing recognizable clinical signs, a fact of which their owners should be aware. Breed health concerns may include esophageal/pharyngeal muscle degeneration and dysphagia, entropion, primary glaucoma, cataracts, subaortic stenosis, thyroid problems and laryngeal paralysis.