New to the AKC world, but an ancient breed, is the Berger Picard — a charming, rustic herding and general-purpose farm dog from northern France. Pronounced “bare-zhay pee-car,” and often just referred to as Picards, the breed has a dedicated and growing group of fanciers here in the US. Currently in the Miscellaneous Class, the breed will hopefully move to full recognition and competition in the Herding Group in the relatively near future.
History of the Berger Picard
Thought to be among the oldest of the French sheepdogs, dogs that eventually became known as Berger Picards were brought to northern France and the Pas-de-Calais during the second Celtic invasion of Gaul around 400 BC.
Sheepdogs resembling Berger Picards have been depicted for centuries in tapestries, engravings and woodcuts. One early 19th century painting in the Bergerie Nationale at Rambouillet (the National Sheepfold of France) depicts Clément Delorme, the first Master Shepherd, in the company of what resembles a Berger Picard of today: a medium, strong-boned dog with a crisp mid-length coat and naturally upright ears.
While the breed seems to have been best known in the Picardie region of northern France during the past two centuries, it is possible, even probable, that they were widespread throughout northwestern Europe, as harsh-coated sheep and cattle dogs were typically found on farms of the region. Some experts insist that this breed is related to the more well-known Briard and Beauceron, while others believe it shares a common origin with Dutch and Belgian Shepherds.
As registries and competitions began to be developed around the mid-1800s, dogs used for herding were initially classified into two types: long hair (Berger de Brie, or Briard) and short hair (Berger de Beauce, or Beauceron). The mid-length coat was ignored for some time but was finally recognized as the Berger de Picardie (or Picard).
Although Berger Picards made an appearance at the first French dog show in 1863 and were judged in the same class as the Beaucerons and Briards, this French farm dog’s rustic appearance did not result in popularity as a show dog. By 1898 it was clear that the Picard was a recognizable breed. Picards would continue to be shown and participate in herding trials but struggled for recognition. Descriptions of the Picard and a standard were written, but it was not until 1925 that the Berger Picard was officially recognized by the French Shepherd Club.
The World Wars
The ravages of World War I and World War II had a devastating impact on the Picard. With its population concentrated on the farms of northeastern France, trench warfare in the Somme reduced the Picard to near extinction. Wartime food rations made it very difficult to feed large dogs. When the peasant farmers were struggling to survive, dogs became expendable.
After WWII, some Bouvier des Flandres breeders took an interest in rebuilding the Picard breed. They began at the source, searching in Picardie for the most typical subjects for breeding. According to early registration records, Radjah de la Bohme was bred to Wax de la Bohme in early 1950 to produce a fawn male, Yucca des Hauts-Chesnaux and a brindle female, Yasmina des Hauts-Chesnaux. These individuals became the foundation for the rebuilding of the entire breed.
Les Amis du Berger Picard
Les Amis du Berger Picard, the French Parent club, was established in the late 1950s. The club has continued to grow and now has more than 250 members from all over the world. Breed clubs have formed in other European countries, including Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands. At present, there are also Picard breeders and fanciers located in Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Italy, Great Britain, the Czech Republic, Canada and here in the United States.
The Picard in America
There have been sporadic imports of Picards to the US for many years, but no real effort to form a club and promote the breed. This began to change when Universal Studios imported several Picards to star in the 2005 movie Because of Winn Dixie. Some fans of the movie found that the scruffy “mutt” was actually a breed. With the Internet allowing much easier communication between new American fanciers and breeders in France, Picards began to be imported more frequently, and these new, excited Picard owners began to work with each other to promote and protect their newfound companions. A small group of these fanciers formed the Berger Picard Club of America in December 2006, and the breed was admitted to the AKC Foundation Stock Service in 2007. The BPCA became the official AKC Parent Club in October 2011, and the Berger Picard began competing in Miscellaneous in January 2013. The growing membership of BPCA is a lively mix of people new to dogs and dog shows, and experienced dog people who have been smitten by the breed’s charms.
Judging the Berger Picard
As with any breed, judging the Berger Picard requires an understanding of the breed’s origin and function. The Picard has for centuries been a shepherd’s dog and all-purpose farm dog, with its primary duty being to move livestock from place to place, and patrolling the perimeter of the flock while it grazed. Picards were never a fancy, aristocrat’s dog — they were the utilitarian helper and guardian for the hard-working French farmer.
The AKC standard for the Picard was developed from the French FCI standard with input from breed experts in Europe to help clarify points that may have become unclear in translation or needed further explanation. The current standard was approved by the membership of the Berger Picard Club of America (BPCA) and submitted to the AKC in December 2011. In addition to appearing on the AKC website, the standard can be found on the BPCA website. The comments here should be seen as a supplement to the standard, which outlines the ideal qualities that make a functional Picard.
As the standard outlines, the Picard is a rustic herding breed from northern France. Bred to be the French farmer’s sheep- or cattle-herding dog and general, all-purpose farm dog, first and foremost they should be a sound and solid dog, built to work all day in the fields without tiring. They functioned as a drover to move the flocks, then as a living fence to tend and guard them while they grazed. Picards are to be slightly longer than tall, well angulated and on sturdy, well-boned legs. Movement should be smooth, efficient and effortless, each long stride covering maximum distance. Many fast and short strides are inefficient and would make a dog tire quickly in the field. A dog with correct angulation will take long, sweeping strides and may look like it’s not moving fast when in fact it is covering more ground in fewer steps than a dog with more upright angulation taking short strides quickly. Front and rear should be straight and true coming and going, as well as standing still. Fronts that toe out slightly are not uncommon, especially in young dogs that have not fully developed yet, but ideally they should be straight. Rears also should be straight and sound, both moving and standing.
Heads are strong without being bulky, with parallel, level planes formed by topskull and muzzle. A few Roman noses are seen, and there are downfaced dogs, but this is incorrect. The large, naturally upright ears are a striking and important feature of the breed. They should be placed fairly high on the skull and carried at about 11 o’clock and 1 o’clock, not perfectly straight up as seen on the Belgian breeds. The almond-shaped eyes should be a rich dark brown, but may be lighter shades of hazel and medium brown. Yellow eyes are seen by sheep as predatory, so again, proper eye color is functional for doing their job. Head carriage is high and observant when standing, but drops to about the level of the topline or just above when moving. Picards should not be moved with heads forced up high — the head should be allowed to drop down where movement is most efficient. This carriage is functional for their task of herding, as it keeps good eye contact with the sheep and allows the dog to easily see all the surroundings in case adjustments are needed, as well as allowing proper movement.
The back needs to be strong but supple, well supported by a long rib cage and short loin. The ribs extend down to the elbow but not below the elbow. This fairly deep and long rib cage gives ample space for a strong heart and good lung capacity needed for a working shepherd dog.
Tail carriage, as with all other herding breeds except the Canaan Dog, should be a natural extension of the topline and used as a rudder when herding. When standing, the tail drops down and comes to the level of the hock, ending in a “J” hook, as seen in Briards. When moving, the tail is carried higher, preferably simply a natural extension of the topline, but it is often carried somewhat higher than the level of the topline. A tail carried higher than the topline is acceptable, but carried over the back is a serious fault. In the original French standard, the tail carried over the back was a disqualifying fault. The most recent revision of the French standard makes this a serious fault but not a DQ. If the tail is set too high, with a flattened croup, not only tail carriage but also rear movement and stride length are affected, decreasing their ability to do their job efficiently. Some dogs may have a properly set tail and rear assembly but still carry the tail too high due to too much excitement over their surroundings. This lack of self-control is also detrimental to doing a good job herding, where the dog must be calm and focused on the task at hand, displaying good self-control, or the flock is likely to scatter. Be it due to structure or temperament, a tail over the back no longer functions as it was intended to for a herding dog, and this fault should not be ignored.
The rough and tousled coat of the Picard is another hallmark of the breed. The French do not allow any trimming or alteration of the coat, with one exception — any long hair obscuring the outline of the ears is to be removed, preferably by plucking. They should not be fringed, resembling a Briard. No other trimming is allowed. The coat is crisp and harsh to the touch, with a softer undercoat. As a farm dog, there was no time to comb out mats or tangles, so the medium length and harsh texture of the coat is all part of their function. In the show ring, the dogs should be presented clean and combed out, but should never be presented blown out, sculpted and scissored — the breed must retain the rustic, workmanlike, natural look.
Picards are very bonded to their “shepherd,” their owner. Most are not outwardly friendly to strangers until they’ve sized up the situation and decided there’s nothing threatening. The breed is described as aloof, and this is merely the dog sizing up the situation. However, aloof is not afraid, and it is important to realize the difference. As a herd guardian, being overly friendly or overly frightened are equally problematic, as either could result in losing the flock. Like many herding or working breeds, they may need a little time to size up a new person and decide everything is okay, which can be difficult in the small amount of time allotted for judging. One thing that many Picard exhibitors have observed is this breed seems to prefer that the first contact be under the chin, not over the top of their head — many of the dogs seem to be much more accepting if they’re given a quick scratch or rub under the chin before proceeding with the exam. A pat on the head, accepted or appreciated by many other breeds, can result in a Picard ducking away when approached.
Watching the breed herd, as has been its job for hundreds of years, can help to pull all the points of the breed standard together. The requirements outlined are not merely esoteric, but describe a dog that still can efficiently do what it needed to for centuries. These pieces and parts add up to a rustically handsome and very capable herding dog with natural charm and appeal.
In France, all Picards must be “confirmed to the Standard” to be approved for breeding, and issued a breeding pedigree. The annual evaluation and show is known as the Nationale d’Elevage and is typically held the last weekend in September.
The first day consists of evaluations for herding instinct, temperament, and correct structure and soundness. The Herding Instinct test is much like the instinct tests here — young, untrained dogs are brought into a round pen with stock and evaluated for interest in stock, willingness to work and biddability. The temperament test is almost identical to the American Temperament Test and consists of meeting a stranger calmly, accepting being in a crowd, reacting to a gun being fired, displaying a protection instinct when the owner is threatened by a stranger with a stick, and then accepting the stranger when the weapon has been discarded and the threat is over.
For the structural and soundness evaluation, the dogs are measured to ensure they are within the size standard, examined nose to tail to evaluate the conformation and ensure there are no eliminating faults (roughly equivalent to disqualifications here), then moved to evaluate gait and soundness. For all three evaluations, the dog is given a rating of Excellent, Very Good or Good, and the owners receive a written copy of their dog’s evaluations. On the second day, all participants are brought into the ring in their classes, but only those dogs that had been rated Excellent in all three evaluations are judged for placements and eventually able to compete for the Best of Breed award.
With more than 150 of this rare breed present, and fanciers from all over Europe in attendance, the Nationale d’Elevage is an event to remember and a fantastic learning opportunity for all who attend. Here in the US, the BPCA has held two Elevage events that included written evaluations for exhibitors, using judges from Austria in 2009, France and the Netherlands in 2010, and the BPCA is planning another Elevage event with a judge from the Netherlands in September 2014.
Berger Picard 2013 National Specialty
The Berger Picard Club of America held its first annual AKC National Breed Specialty Open Show at the Columbus All Breed Training Center in Obetz, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus, on October 12, 2013. Judge William “Bill” Sahloff was a wonderful choice for judging the 29 entered Picards. He was thoughtful and intentional in his evaluations. He understood that movement is a key component of what makes a working shepherd and moved our dogs around the ring several times. His selection for Best of Breed was Genevieve de la Vie en Rose CM, and Best of Opposite Sex went to Garcon Du Domaine de Sursaint CM.
Members and their Picards, traveling from all over the US, enjoyed a variety of workshops, which included a handling lesson, wicket exercise, grooming lesson and demonstrations of nose work, agility and obedience. After the specialty, Liz Hansen, club vice president, who is also employed at the University of Missouri Canine Genetics Department, gave an in-depth presentation to encourage members to support our health fund for DNA research. This was followed by Breed/Judges Education presentation by Club President Betsy Richards. After an on-site pizza party, the BPCA held its annual meeting.
From the November 2013 issue of Dogs in Review magazine. Purchase the November 2013 digital back issue with the DIR app or subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs in Review magazine (print and digital versions).