A very old French farm dog
Early tapestries of the eighth century depict these large shaggy dogs with the Emperor Charlemagne and in the eighteenth century Napoleon was also reputed to have Briards. Unfortunately, shepherds were not renowned for their writing skills and little is available during this time on the history of the Briard. In fact, it is from the United States of America that some of the early documentation comes. In 1789 the Frenchman, La Fayette, introduced Briards to Thomas Jefferson who became one of the first breeders in the USA. Jefferson was a man with a keen appreciation for the usefulness of dogs and of the Briard he wrote 'they are the finest house and farm dogs I have ever seen'.
Back in France in 1897 the first official description or "standard" governing the appearance of the Briard was drawn up by Le Club Francaise du Chien de Berger. The work of the herding dogs is so specialised that the work demands specific qualities of the body and spirit and especially attitude. These characteristics were defined in this early French Standard and revisions in 1908, 1924, 1925 have led to the current standard in France.
The Briard has been the official dog of the French Army and is somewhat rare today because so many were lost in World War 1. He was used to carry supplies to the front lines and served as a sentry dog. Due to his keen hearing, reputed to be the most acute of any breed, he was used by the medical corps to search for wounded soldiers. The reports stress the amazing ability of the Briard to lead the corpsmen to those men which still had a spark of life in their bodies. It was said that any man a Briard passed by was beyond assistance.
The Briard is not a breed created by modern zoology but rather is the natural descendant of man's first helper, the dog of pre-history. He has evolved through time by natural selection for the qualities needed in his work.
Today this dog of the plains is more elegant than he used to be, devoted breeders have kept him not too shaggy or too big and have retained all of his original characteristics, especially his alertness and his tractable temperament.