The Berger Picard is a breed of herding dog native to France. Considered one of the oldest, if not the oldest, of the French herding breeds, the Berger Picard has been present in the historical records of Northern France since the Middle Ages. The correct pronunciation of the breed’s name is “bare shay pee carr.” The Berger Picard is known for its scruffy appearance, friendly yet mischievous temperament, and excellent working abilities. Almost driven to extinction as a result of the World Wars, the Berger Picard has been making a steady comeback. The Berger Picard is most familiar to Americans due to its appearance in the film Because of Winn-Dixie, although most thought that the movie’s role was played by a mixed breed. The Berger Picard is currently a member of the American Kennel Club’s Foundation Stock Service (AKC-FSS) but will officially move to the Miscellaneous Class on January 1st, 1013. The Berger Picard is also known as the Picardy Sheepdog, Picardy Shepherd Dog, Picardy Shepherd, Berger de Picard, and the Berger de Picardie.
The Berger Picard is one of the oldest of all European herding breeds and is almost certainly the oldest from France. Because this dog was developed hundreds of years before written records were kept of dog breeding, very little can be said with certainly of its origins. However, canine historians and breed fanciers have been able to piece together much of this breed’s history. What is eminently clear is that this breed was developed primarily in France, mainly in the northern coastal region of Picardy, and that it has long served French farmers by herding and driving their sheep.
The Berger Picard first enters the historical record during the Middle Ages. Tapestries, woodcarvings, and paintings from Picardy all depict a sheep herding dog that is virtually identical in appearance to the modern Berger Picard. There are many claims as to how the breed first arrived in Picardy. Some claim that the breed was first brought to the region by the Gauls, a collection of Celtic tribes that lived in France prior to the Roman conquest. If this is true, the breed is probably many thousands of years old. Although rarely suggested, it is also possible that the breed was created by the Romans, who were considered among the most skilled dog breeders of the ancient world. If the breed was developed by either the Celts or the Romans it is probably most closely related to the Collies. However, there is essentially no evidence for such an old origin and in any case the breed much more closely resembles other breeds.
The most commonly claimed and by far most likely origin for the Berger Picard holds that the dog was first brought to the region by the Franks. The Franks were a confederation of Germanic tribes who originally lived along the Roman border on the opposite bank of the Rhine River. Some sources claim that the Berger Picard arrived with the Franks in the 9th Century, but that is simply not possible because the Franks first entered the Roman Empire in large numbers in the 4th and 5th Centuries. The Franks quickly became the most powerful and numerous group living in the territory that now comprises Belgium and Northern France, including the region of Picardy. If the Berger Picard was brought to Picardy by the Franks, it was most likely at this time. Eventually the Germanic Franks merged with the Romans and Celts of Gaul to create a new ethnicity and nation, the French and France.
There is substantial debate among French canine experts as to whether the Berger Picard is more closely related to other French herding breeds such as the Briard and Beauceron or the Belgian and Dutch Shepherds. Although this mystery will probably not be solved until new evidence comes to light, in the opinion of this author the Berger Picard is almost certainly more closely related to the Belgian and Dutch dogs. In terms of appearance and size, the Berger Picard is considerably more similar to those breeds. The coloration and wiry coat of the breed are especially similar to those of the Belgian Laekenois and wire-coated Dutch Shepherd. The historical evidence also supports such a connection. Many of the Frankish tribes that settled in Picardy originally came from the lands that now compose the Netherlands and established an early stronghold in the territory that now comprises Belgium and Picardy making it most likely that the dogs of those regions are related.
However and whenever the Berger Picard was first developed, it became a highly valued companion of farmers and shepherds in Northern France. The dog was used to herd sheep and drive them wherever the farmer needed for them to go. The Berger Picard was also partially responsible for the defense of its charges, and was often required to do battle with wolves and other predators. The breed became ubiquitous in its region of origin and was regularly depicted on artwork from the region. Breed members regularly appear in paintings, tapestries, wood carvings, and writings from the Middle Ages right down to the modern era.
The Berger Picard was historically kept by working farmers who cared little for appearance or pedigrees. Despite this, the Berger Picard made an appearance in the very first French dog show in 1863, where it was exhibited alongside Briards and Beaucerons. The rustic appearance of the breed meant that it was never especially popular in the French show ring, although the breed did make regular appearances. However, it was not until 1925 that the Berger Picard was recognized as a unique breed.
World War I proved devastating for the breed. Some of the bloodiest battles in history were fought in Picardy, including the infamous Somme. The entire region was devastated by the conflict. Breeding of Berger Picards almost stopped entirely, and many dogs perished in the fighting or when they were abandoned by owners who could no longer keep them. A number of Berger Picards served in the French armed forces, although the breed did not achieve the renown of other breeds such as the Briard, Bouvier des Flandres, and Pyrenean Shepherd. Breed numbers were beginning to recover when World War II broke out. Picardy found itself overrun by Hitler’s blitzkrieg and occupied by Nazi forces. World War II resulted in another population drop and by the time that France was liberated by Allied Forces the Berger Picard was in danger of extinction. Luckily for the Berger Picard, it did come out of the World Wars in better shape than many large European breeds. The dogs use on farms meant that it always had some purpose during the fighting, as did its use in the military. The Berger Picard also benefitted from being kept primarily in rural areas.
After World War II ended, Berger Picard breeders and fanciers began to work together to increase the breed’s population. Their efforts have been aided by the breed’s charming appearance and good temperament. The Berger Picard remains a very rare breed but is certainly no longer in danger of imminent extinction. Most estimates claim that there are approximately 3500 breed members alive in France and another 500 in Germany. The breed continues to gain a reputation in its homeland and its popularity there continues to increase.
Over the last few decades a number of Berger Picards have made their way to the United States and Canada. Thanks to the dedicated efforts of Fanciers, the breed is now established in North America, although it remains very rare. Current estimates place the Berger Picard’s North American population at between 250 and 300 animals. In 1994, the United Kennel Club (UKC) became the first major English language kennel club to grant full recognition to the breed as a member of the Herding Group. In 2005, the film Because of Winn-Dixie used the Berger Picard to play the titular character. Although Winn-Dixie is supposed to be a mixed breed, the film needed several dogs that looked identical in appearance so a purebred was necessary. The Berger Picard was selected due to its appearance, which is similar to that of many mixed-breed dogs. Because the film did not mention the breed of its actor, the Berger Picard did not experience the massive increase in popularity that often accompanies a breed’s appearance in a popular children’s movie. In 2006, the Berger Picard Club of America (BPCA) was founded to promote and protect the breed in the United States. One of the clubs major goals was to have the breed earn full recognition with the American Kennel Club (AKC). In 2007 the BPCA attained the first step towards recognition when the Berger Picard was entered into the AKC’s Foundation Stock Service (AKC-FSS) the first step a breed must make before it achieves full recognition. In 2009, the American Berger Picard Alliance was founded to promote and protect the breed in the United States, Canada, and Latin American. The BPCA was named the official breed club with the AKC in October of 2011. At the February 2012 meeting of the AKC’s Board of Directors, it was determined that the BPCA and the Berger Picard breed had met sufficient criteria for the breed to be included in the AKC’s Miscellaneous Class, and the Berger Picard will officially join that group on January 1st, 2013.
A substantial number of Berger Picards are still primarily used as working herding dogs. However, the breed is increasingly being kept primarily for companionship and as a show dog. Those breed members currently in the United States are almost all either companion animals or show dogs. In recent years, the breed has also been entered in other canine competitions such as competitive obedience and agility trials, in which it has had great success. Although this breed remains quite rare its future looks much brighter as its number continue to grow around the world. Provided that the Berger Picard and the BPCA continue to attain benchmarks set by the AKC, it is very likely that the breed will attain full recognition in the near future.
The Berger Picard has a very unique and unmistakable appearance. The breed is generally similar to other continental herding breeds but has a coat which is very similar in appearance to that of many Terriers. The breed is often described as having a “rustic” appearance, and many Americans mistake it for a mixed-breed dog.
The Berger Picard is a medium to large breed. Most males stand between 23½ and 25½ inches tall at the shoulder and most females stand between 21½ and 23½ inches. Although weight is heavily influenced by height, gender, build, and condition, most breed members weigh between 50 and 70 pounds. The Berger Picard is a generally well-proportioned dog that is slightly longer from chest to rump than it is tall from floor to ceiling. Most of the Berger Picard’s body is obscured by its coat, but underneath is a very well-muscled and athletic dog. This breed is sturdily constructed without being in any way thick or stocky, although its coat often makes it appear as such. The tail of the Berger Picard is of medium length, tapers strongly towards the tip, and is usually carried straight out from the body with a J-shaped curve.
The head of the Berger Picard is proportional to the size of the dog’s body. The skull is actually domed but appears flat due to the breed’s hair. The head and muzzle of this breed blend in very smoothly, much like those of the wolf. The muzzle itself slightly tapers but looks powerful and never snipey. The muzzle ends in a large nose that should always be black regardless of the dog’s coat coloration. The ears of the Berger Picard are approximately three inches in length, broad at the base, and slightly rounded at the tips. These ears should always stand fully erect, ideally as straight up as possible. The eyes of the Berger Picard are medium in size, oval in shape, and brown in color. The shade is determined by the color of the dog’s coat but should never be lighter than hazel. The overall expression of most breed members is intelligent, confident, and slightly mischievous.
The coat of the Berger Picard is probably the breed’s most important and defining characteristic. The Berger Picard is a double-coated breed. The undercoat should be soft and dense. The outer coat should be shaggy, rough, harsh, and crisp to the touch. The breed’s coat should be between 2 and 2½ inches in length over the entire body except on the head where it should be approximately 1½ inches in length. The hair on the face forms distinctive eyebrows and mustaches which are a breed hallmark. The hair on the ears often looks feathery but is in fact no different from that over the rest of the dog’s body. The Berger Picard may be found in grey, grey-black, grey with black highlights, grey blue, grey red, light fawn, dark fawn, brindle, or any mixture of these shades. A small white marking on the chest and/or toes is acceptable, but a large white marking on the chest that forms a shirtfront is highly undesirable. Berger Picards are sometimes born in alternative colorations such as solid black, solid white, harlequin, and pied. Such dogs are ineligible in the show ring and should not be bred, but otherwise make just as excellent pets or working dogs as any other breed members.
The Berger Picard has been bred primarily as a working herding dog and has a temperament one would expect of such a breed. The Berger Picard is extremely devoted to its family, with whom it forms intense bonds. This is a dog that wants to be in the constant company of its family and can suffer from very severe separation anxiety when not in their presence. This breed is often quite affectionate, but most individuals are not exceptionally licky or demanding. When properly socialized with them, most breed members are extremely gentle and sweet-tempered with children, and many become very close friends with them. Berger Picard puppies may not be the best choice for families with very young children, as they may accidentally knock them over in an attempt to play.
Berger Picards have a well-developed protective instinct, although normally considerably less than what is typical of similar breeds such as the Beauceron and the Belgian Malinois. When properly socialized, most breed members will be very polite and accepting of strangers, although most will be aloof and uninterested in them. Dogs that have not been properly socialized may be unable to properly distinguish threats from friends and may develop aggression issues. This breed is not only highly protective but also very alert and makes an excellent and intimidating watch dog. Most breed members also make very effective guard dogs, although this breed will usually make every effort to deter an intruder with threats before resorting to violence. The Berger Picard also excels at personal protection training, and a breed member that feels it needs to defend its family from physical harm is not a dog to mess with.
The Berger Picard is generally accepting of other dogs. Most breed members will be very tolerant of other dogs when properly socialized and trained, although they may not necessary like them. Bred as a sheepdog, most breed members also do very well with non-canine pets when provided proper training and socialization. Some breed members do have a strong chase drive and may show aggression towards animals with which they are unfamiliar. This breed also a desire to nip at the heels of other animals in an attempt to herd them, but this behavior can be trained out.
The Berger Picard is a highly intelligent breed that is probably capable of learning anything that any breed is. This breed is very adept at complex herding behaviors and has also excelled at events such as competitive obedience and agility. However, the Berger Picard has a reputation for being significantly more challenging to train than many herding breeds. Although not an exceptionally challenging breed, the Berger Picard is definitely self-willed. When one of these dogs does not want to do something, they can be incredibly stubborn. It is probably fair to say that while most herding dogs live to please, the Berger Picard is willing to do so most of the time. This breed can also be challenging to train because it is exceptionally sensitive to voice commands and harsh training methods that emphasize yelling often disturb it. The Berger Picard responds best to training methods that emphasize rewards and trainers who exercise fairness while maintaining a consistent leadership position.
The Berger Picard is capable of working for very long hours and has a very high energy level. This breed requires a very large amount of daily exercise and should receive a minimum of an hour of vigorous activity every day. This breed makes an excellent jogging partner but truly craves an opportunity to run around freely in a safely enclosed area. Berger Picards that are not provided enough exercise will almost certainly develop behavioral problems such as destructiveness, hyperactivity, over excitability, excessive barking, nervousness, mental problems and manias, and aggression. This breed absolutely craves a job and needs a substantial amount of stimulation for its keen mind such as advanced competitive obedience, herding, or Frisbee catching. The Berger Picard’s physical demands and capabilities actually make the breed highly desirable for some active families. This breed would love to accompany its family on any adventure no matter how extreme, and can participate in virtually any activity from hiking in the mountains to swimming in the ocean.
Although bred for the country, Berger Picards do surprisingly well in urban environments when provided enough exercise. This breed tends to be very quiet and calm indoors, so long as it is given enough activity.
The Berger Picard has much lower grooming requirements than one would expect by looking at its coat. The coat of this breed should never require professional grooming. In fact, most breed members only need to be combed and brushed once or twice a month. Tangles and mats can occur but to a much lesser extent than many other breeds. This breed should only be bathed occasionally to prevent the loss of natural body oils. The Berger Picard is a very light to light shedder and generally does not have an odor.
It does not appear as though any health studies have been conducted on the Berger Picard which makes it impossible to make any definitive statements on the breed’s health. Most fanciers seem to believe that the Berger Picard is in good to very good health and experiences significantly fewer health problems than many similar breeds. Visual problems, primarily eye and eyelash deformities such as Entropion and ectropion are considered the most common problems among Berger Picards. Hip dysplasia has also been identified although it does not appear to be nearly as prominent as in many similar breeds.
Because skeletal and visual problems have been known to occur in this breed it is highly advisable for owners to have their pets tested by both the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). The OFA and CERF perform genetic and other tests to identify potential health defects before they show up. This is especially valuable in the detection of conditions that do not show up until the dog has reached an advanced age, making it especially important for anyone considering breeding their dog to have them tested to prevent the spread of potential genetic conditions to its offspring.
A full list of problems that are thought to be concerns in the Berger Picard would have to include: