What to Know About Briards

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on May 21, 2022
6 min read

How does a sheep herding breed become the official dog of the French army? And then count Napoleon and Thomas Jefferson among their fans? You could ask a Briard, but they don't talk. Some Briards, however, can understand up to 200 words. 

Briards are tall, shaggy dogs with rough, wavy coats. Dark eyes gaze through a crown of hair that parts in the middle. Athleticism is obvious in their sturdy stance and nimble gait. Their loyalty and big heart aren't as obvious, but with them, they have won over generations of owners.   

Briards originated in France. They take their name from the region of Brie, known for a type of cheese. Because the breed name derives from a geographical area, it is usually capitalized. In France, Briards go by the name chiens bergeres de Brie. 

Briard size makes them a large but not a giant breed. Males can measure up to 27 inches at the withers, with females slightly smaller. Briards can weigh from 55 to 100 pounds. They are about the same size as German shepherds. 

The Briard coat is distinctive. The outer coat is coarse and dry but should fall smoothly into a part along the head, back, and neck. The outer coat can get as long as 6 inches. It is paired with a softer undercoat, which is 3 to 5 inches. 

Briards can be black, gray, tawny, or a combination of two of those colors. If two colors, one color should shade gradually into the other. White is not an acceptable color, although some tawny Briards are very light-colored. There may be white hairs scattered through the coat or a very small white spot on the chest. Any other white markings will disqualify a show dog. 

The head of a Briard is well-sculpted under the generous hair. When the ears are cropped, they are carried upright, forming two parallel lines on top of the head. When not cropped, the ears should be carried somewhat lifted, not lying flat against the head. Eyes are dark and rimmed with black. 

The Briard has two other distinguishing marks. One is the tail, which ends with a bend or crook right where the bone ends. The tail is carried low but raised slightly in action. The other distinguishing mark is the presence of dewclaws on the hind feet. Briards should have two dew claws on each hind leg, placed low enough to function as extra toes and adding to the dog's agility and stability. 

Briards are boundary herders. Rather than driving sheep from one area to another, their traditional job was to keep sheep inside a designated area. Their second job was to keep predators out. The first job required a dog that was light on the feet, able to spring into action quickly and make quick turns. The second required a dog with wisdom and courage, as well as a desire to please. Briards met both standards. 

The Briard personality makes them good pets. They are intelligent and respond well to obedience training. While they may not warm up quickly to strangers, with their family members they are loyal, loving, and protective.

The Briard lifespan is around 12 years, and they typically enjoy good health. 

A Briard's coat may look hard to take care of, but grooming is not that difficult. Briards don't require clipping, so you can groom your dog without professional help if you choose. Also, you should keep baths to a minimum, as even a good dog shampoo will alter the quality of the coat. That means that most Briards need only regular brushing to be well-groomed. Still, a proper brushing-out takes time. 

Other grooming tasks are fairly standard, although a Briard's dewclaws may need extra attention. Otherwise, you'll need to:

  • Brush or clean the teeth
  • Clip the toenails
  • Watch for any ear discharge or unpleasant smells from the ears
  • Clean any debris from the beard and muzzle

Briards need exercise. Ideally, they will have a large fenced yard, but they are also good exercise partners. If you are a biker, jogger, or hiker, you'll have an enthusiastic companion. Briards also enjoy playing fetch. Despite their size, they are good house dogs as long as they get exercise. They do not need to be in constant motion and instead make quiet, calm companions.  

Your Briard should see a veterinarian at least once a year. Puppies and older dogs should go more often. Your vet can advise you about:

Like many larger breeds, Briards can have a condition called bloat. The stomach swells with gas or fluid. You may notice these symptoms:

  • Restlessness
  • Excessive drooling
  • Retching or trying to pass stool 
  • Distended stomach

Often, your veterinarian can relieve your dog by passing a tube into the stomach and releasing the pressure. Sometimes, however, the distended stomach twists, shutting off both passages. This is a serious situation, called gastric dilation torsion or gastric dilation volvulus, depending upon how severely the stomach is twisted. This condition is life-threatening and requires immediate surgery.

If your dog shows shock-like symptoms such as a pale mouth or rapid breathing, or if your dog collapses, seek help immediately. 

Briards are also susceptible to several eye problems, including:

  • A type of night blindness
  • Cataracts
  • Cloudiness of the cornea (the clear outer covering of the eye)
  • Problems with the retina (the area in the back of the eyeball that is sensitive to light)

Other Briard health issues include:

Hip dysplasia. In this condition, the hip joint is too loose, causing pain and lameness and leading to arthritis in the joint. About 17% of Briards in the United States have hip dysplasia. This condition is at least partly genetic. It may be possible to eliminate some hip dysplasia through careful screening of dogs before breeding. 

Hypothyroidism. If the thyroid does not produce enough hormones, your dog may become lethargic and weak. Some dogs gain weight. Skin problems are also common. Hypothyroidism is easily treated by giving hormone supplements.

The Briard temperament makes them great pets for many people. But a Briard might not be a good match for you. Here are some points to consider. 

Are they sociable? Briards love their families but can be standoffish with others. As herders, they were also expected to be watchdogs, so a wary nature is natural. Socialization is important if you want your Briard to adapt to new people and experiences. Briards may not get along with other pets.  

Do they bark, drool, and shed? Briards look as if they would shed a lot, but most of them don't. They're not heavy droolers, and they are seldom problem barkers

Are they easy to train? Briards are very intelligent, but they can be stubborn and independent. They need consistent training with positive rewards. 

Briards have a long and interesting history. We know they were in France in the 700s during the time of Charlemagne because artists depicted them on tapestries of the period. 

Thomas Jefferson also played a role in Briard history. When he was minister to France, he learned about the local sheepherding dogs and was determined to take some home to his estate, Monticello. He bought a pregnant female who gave birth to two pups on the ship back to America.

Jefferson expected sheepherding to boom in the United States once it was free from British control. He was right. The wool industry grew, Jefferson's flocks increased, and he added more Briards to tend to them. Some of the new dogs came from the Marquis de Lafayette, the Frenchman who fought with the American colonists during the Revolution. The French emperor Napoleon also owned Briards.

The Briard characteristics that made them good herders also made them good soldiers. During both world wars, the French used Briards to carry supplies to the front lines. The dogs also did sentry duty and searched for wounded soldiers. For a time, the Briard was the official dog of the French army.   

The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized the breed in 1928. Briards have never been a well-known breed. They ranked number 150 on the 2021 AKC list of the most popular dogs. But those that own and love them are in excellent company, historically speaking.