The Bouvier des Ardennes

Jim Engel

Most of us have seen references to the "other Bouvier," the Bouvier des Ardennes, who evolved in the sparsely populated south eastern region of Belgium.  In my research I have come to know a little about this bouvier and present here a brief sketch.  As we shall see, the story of the Bouvier des Ardennes is sad in that his advocates were few and destined for failure.

Much of this is captured in a 1948 article in the Belgian canine magazine "L'Aboi" (literally "Bark!") by  Louis Huyghebaert, who was a major canine authority of the era who played a principle role in the evolution of the Belgian sheep herding breeds:

"The Bouvier des Ardennes could also be called the petit (small) bouvier. He constitutes, so to speak, the intermediate type between the sheep dog, which is relatively long, and the heavy and sharp bouvier.

"The Bouvier des Ardennes is distinguished from other bouviers by his ears which stand naturally, and so are not cropped.  This latter characteristic would make him close to the harsh coated sheepdog, so much so that one wonders if it was not a too hasty decision to have the breed officially recognized.

"In 1913 some Walloon fanciers formed a club with the object of having these dogs recognized by the S. R. S. H. It was the type represented in this photo that was accepted.  Aside from his tail, which was short, the "bouviers" in question had the exterior appearance of a sheep dog with rough coat, and the expression was similar to that of the sheep dogs.  It was indeed difficult for me to satisfy M. Loesberg of Liege when he asked me in the name of the club mentioned before to publicize the breed he favored.

"I don't know what happened to this club.  After the 1914-18 war the variety was recognized by the S. R. S. H., was inscribed in the book of origins and was given a standard.

"Champion Vision, a most excellent tracking dog, belonging to Captain Binon, is a typical representative of the Bouvier des Ardennes. Unhappily, this female who lived 10 years left no offspring.  Could she not find her equal?  Or was the owner convinced that this race would not endure?  I will only pose the question and leave the answer to others.

"To find favor in the eye of the public a breed needs a sensational characteristic such as the wolf-like appearance of the German Shepherd, the flat muzzle of the Pekingese, the blue tongue of the Chow Chows.  Many modern breeds owe their popularity to their new appearance.

"This did not apply to the Bouvier des Ardennes.  He also made his appearance at a badly chosen moment.  The farm dogs, that is, the working dogs used by cattle raisers and horse merchants, peasants and farmers, those dogs among which were found the first bouviers and shepherds had already seen toward 1910 their place taken in the special clubs by the young elements in the big cities who took into consideration the new born fashion of police dogs.  The heavier and more frightening that a dog appeared, the better it was!

"The small Bouvier des Ardennes was superseded by the Bouvier de Roulers which was more massive and whose height of 27 1/2" was accepted in a meeting held in Roulers in 1912."  *

(Translation by Kathy Heileman.)

It is evident from St. Hubert records the key figure was a Mr. L. Colson of the city of Herstal, which is just a little north east of Liege on the river Meuse in eastern Belgium.  (He was thus virtually a neighbor of Edmond Moreaux.)  Although Colson and a few others began registering older dogs about 1924, it was not unusual for a year or two to pass with no activity at all.  The last registrations were a very few immediately after the second world war.  Although my St. Hubert listings are not complete, I would estimate that only from thirty to fifty dogs were registered in the history of the breed, and the only actual litters produced were those of Mr. Colson.

The Captain G. Binon mentioned above as the owner of the famous Ch. Vision, born in 1923 of unknown origins, was also an early breeder of Bouviers des Flandres, apparently of the "Paret" school.  Although none of his breeding carries into modern lines he was active in canine affairs for many years, and is mentioned as being present at several important gatherings.

Victor Martinage, who would become a Bouvier des Flandres breeder ("de la Ville des Doges") and a well known judge, registered two female Bouviers des Ardennes in 1931, but apparently never went beyond this.

It was for me an eerie experience to trace through the St. Hubert listings, from the early twenties until late into the thirties, and see the lonely registrations, under the name "L. Colson," of one or two dogs, with a litter every few years.  A few others made an occasional registration and then gave up, went on to other things.  But this man Colson labored on, virtually alone in his quest to establish his breed. What can drive such a man?  How can a man persist in the face of such incredible adversity?  And what became of him?  Was he swept away by the Nazi wave, the second atrocity in a generation?  I think perhaps only a breeder can fully understand what an epic struggle this must have been, to work so long and so hard, and, in the end, have nothing...


* The Bouvier was first recorded as the "Chin Bouvier de Roulers" by St. Hubert in 1912.  Starting in 1922 dogs were registered as "Bouvier Belge des Flandres" and then in 1933 they finally became the "Bouvier desFlandres."

Jim Engel, Marengo    © Copyright 1996

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