How to Identify Bouvs at the Pound

One of the questions that arises from time to time in Bouvier rescue is whether the dog that Rescue is being asked to help is really a Bouvier or a Bouv mix as opposed to some other breed such as Giant Schnauzer, Briard, Black Russian Terrier, etc. Whether or not the dog is taken into a Rescue program may depend on its breed identification, and whether the dog lives or dies may depend on its being taken into a Rescue program.

DOGS AT THE POUND SELDOM LOOK LIKE PHOTOS IN THE BREED BOOKS OR CHARTS. It is highly understandable that shelters often misidentify breeds, so you must be prepared to see and judge for yourself.

This article covers the breeds most likely to be confused with the Bouvier. A more extensive Breed Identification Chart covers additional breeds.

Is it a Bouvier or is it some other breed?

This is part of my series on the practical nuts and bolts of doing rescue. It's based on my experience and that of others told to me. It's NOT the one and only way to do it.

Please foreword this post to anyone who would benefit from it.

One of the questions that arises from time to time in Bouvier rescue is whether the dog that Rescue is being asked to help is REALLY a Bouvier or a Bouv mix as opposed to some other breed such as Giant Schnauzer, Briard, Black Russian Terrier, etc.

This can arise in context of you the volunteer have been called to go to the Pound because a pound employee or pound volunteer thinks that a dog there may be a Bouv. Likewise you may be called to the Pound because a rescuer or another breed has spotted a dog that she or he thinks may be a Bouv. Or it can arise when someone finds a stray and wants to know if it is a Bouv. Or sometimes an owner who wants to place a dog that they originally obtained from a shelter or miscellaneous source and they think the dog might be a Bouv.

Of course there will also be the happy occasions when someone has a dog they dearly love and intend to keep forever but they had no idea what breed it was when they first got it and now someone has suggested it might be a Bouvier, so they ask you to look at a photo or at the dog. Or you notice a Bouv out in public and find the owner has no idea what their adored adopted dog is. Or someone spots your Bouv out in public and exclaims "I've got a dog just like that at home !",generally a dog adopted from a shelter or found as a stray. I've had all of these happy experiences, and generally give the person my card and offer to be available as a knowledge resource.

If the question arises in the context of the Pound or a person bringing you a stray they cannot themselves foster or keep, then the answer as to what breed it is may determine whether your group will accept it into their rescue program. If you don't take it in and it stays in the pound or is taken to the pound, then it will probably DIE there. If it is not a Bouv, if you can identify what other breed it is, then you have an obligation to do your best to get the dog to someone who rescues that breed. Ideally the Rescue Coordinator of your program has developed good mutual relations with the coordinators of the other breeds. (Or of course you can decide it is too nice a dog to die and decide to foster it yourself as a personal project ; I've done this a number of times and not regretted it).

The breeds with which the Bouvier are most likely to be confused are the Giant Schnauzer, the Briard, the Black Russian Terrier, the Old English Sheepdog, the Portugese Water Dog, the Wheaten Terrier, and possibly the Standard Poodle, and these are the breeds I discuss in this article. There are other breeds with a more moderate likelihood of being confused with a Bouvier, and these are included in the companion article and chart Breed Identification Chart . Plus of course any largish shaggy black/grey/buff dog of unknown descent may be confused with a Bouvier : I call these "Bouv Pretenders" (one could call them "Bouvier Faux" if one prefers to stick to French) and I have bailed and placed several in loving appreciative homes with adopters who were seeking Bouviers but who totally adore their "Pretenders".

The problem of miss-identification by Pound personnel is exacerbated by the fact that mostly the only reference photos they have for the various breeds show very well groomed and very typey dogs, ie show dogs. The dogs at the Pound almost NEVER look like the photographs in the bred books ! The dog at the pound is most often extremely UNgroomed, often matted and filthy, possibly with badly damaged coat (eg from flea allergy, hypothyroidism), possibly with color distorted by long sun exposure (turning a black coat partly to a red brown rust color) , or possibly clipped down (in which case it is likely to be identified as a "terrier"). Additionally the pound dog may be a very misshapen specimen, ie bodily proportions deviating from the norm, and also may be significantly undersized or oversized. And furthermore the Pound dog may not conform to the tail docking or ear cropping that might be considered to be the norm for the breed. At some point I hope to publish a representative of my intake photos showing Pound-typical Bouvs and non-Bouvs. Some of these are already on this site on the RESCUE page and the IMAGES page.

Be aware that photographs on shelter websites or sent to you by e-mail, while very helpful and a great step in the right direction, often show the dog badly posed so some features are not visible (eg front or 3/4 front views with tail not visible) or behind chain link or in poor lighting , and too often these photos do not give an indication of size. (To any shelter photographer who reads this article, please try to take your photos in side view and with a yardstick in the photo, preferably vertical next to or behind the dog.) Without size, there are some small breeds that, especially when ungroomed, could be mistaken for a Bouvier. I am not discussing these small breeds in this article. So a photo may allow you to see that the dog is definately not a Bouv, but it won't allow you to be sure that it is indeed a Bouv. As you will see below, in some cases even an "up close and personal" examination may not allow you to be absolutely 100% certain, though in most cases it will give you 95% certainty which is plenty good enough to decide to bail the dog out and save its life.

So here is the best guide I can come up with -- please note that I am NOT trying to describe what is ideal or acceptable, but rather the VARIATIONS one may actually encounter at the shelter or as a stray or in private ownership :

BOUVIER :

Ears may be cropped (crop styles vary considerably from broadly triangular as the standard describes to long and narrow like a Giant Schnauzer) or may be natural. Tail may be docked (usually anything from 0" long to 4" long) or may be natural. Natural tail carriage varies a lot between individuals and changes greatly with the individual's emotional state : it can vary from simply hanging down (dog very calm or tired) to scorpion curved over the dog's back (dog happy or excited).

Color should be black, grey ranging from very dark to very pale, or "buff"/"fawn"( = sort of goldenrod or wheat , with or without dark masking on face). The colors white, brown , chocolate are mentioned by the standard as being improper, which implies that such colors do exist in the breed. I have certainly seen Bouvs that were nearly white, including dogs from respected breeders. A Bouvier might have some white on chest and underside of neck but should not have any elsewhere, though might have some white on the feet / toes. Eyes usually medium to dark brown but might be very pale , yellow, or even blue (one much used stud is said to occasionally produce blue).

Coat usually long & very shaggy, often very matted and filthy, but might be clipped down short or might be groomed in the fashion of the Giant Schnauzer( because that is what most grooming parlors will do if you take in a Bouv). Although the standard says that the coat texture should be a very harsh outer coat and a moderate amount of soft insulating undercoat, today many Bouvs have a very profuse soft outer coat and profuse soft undercoat, which looks like a plush toy dog when clean and well brushed out, but which matts quickly and badly when unattended. Some of the older working lines have a harsher and less profuse coat. And of course you may be confronted with a Bouvier who has been clipped down more or less recently, with the face hair possibly left full or thinned out or removed altogether (see below).

Adult size normally 22" to 28" at withers, healthy weight 65 to 90 lbs, but could be substantially larger or smaller and could be starved down to much lower weight. I have seen several normal healthy Bouvs as small as 20" and 50 lbs in normal weight, and respected breeders have told me of others that size. Dogs badly starved or dogs with cardiac defects digestive disorders or metabolic defects can be greatly undersized too. Really oversized Bouvs are common and , sadly, grossly obese ones are all too common. Most observers overestimate the weight of a Bouv in full coat by 10 to 20 lbs, so what the scale says and what the owner or shelter worker believes may differ substantially. Bouvier body type is supposed to be "cobby" , ie wide and fairly muscular, and "square" , ie height at withers about equal to lengtht from front of chest to back of thigh. However there is an older working type of Bouv that is leggier and less massive and less wide-bodied, more athletic. Amount of coat and manner of grooming greatly affect the appearance of body type. Typical show grooming (in the USA) exaggerates the width of the head by fluffing out the hair on the sides, and the full beard also makes the head look larger ; full fluffed out coat on the legs makes the legs appear massively columnar. In the shelter the same dog after a period of neglected grooming simply looks like a mass of hair or mass of matted hair, with body contours buried beneath. On the other hand a clipped down Bouv looks very different, very hard to recognize as a Bouv, especially if the face hair has also been removed. The difference between cropped ears and natural ears somewhat alters the apparent shape of the head. The difference between docked tail and natural tail tends to alter the apparent proportions , "squareness", of the body, since a natural tail held out behind the dog makes your eye follow it and thus makes you see the body as longer than it is.

At some point in the future, I want to do a series of photos in which I alter ears and tails digitally, so the same dog can be shown with natural or altered features. Meanwhile , take a look at the photos on the RESCUE page and the IMAGES page.

GIANT SCHNAUZER :

Ears may be cropped (the standard calls for a long narrow crop) or natural. Tail may be docked or natural. Color black (and may have quite a bit of grey mixed in if dog has not been professionally "stripped") or "pepper & salt" (ie the mixture of light and dark grey hairs resulting in appearance of grey that most Mini Schnauzers are). May even be grey with lighter grey markings on chest and face. Coat length and texture similar to Bouv, but in normal style of grooming, the body and sides of face are clipped, resulting in a short fairly soft coat. Overall body build of the Giant tends to be a bit more narrow and lighter boned than the Bouv and the head a bit more narrow, but part of this effect is the style of grooming. Also be aware that many grooming shops if asked to groom a Bouv will groom it as if it were a Giant Schnauzer, and groomed like one they look even more like one. So a Schnauzer groomed Bouv will probably be identified as a Giant Schnauzer , while an ungroomed long coated Schnauzer will be identified as a Bouv. Even without grooming issues, THERE IS TREMENDOUS OVERLAP IN BODY TYPES BETWEEN THE GIANT AND THE BOUV. In short, while many dogs are clearly one or the other, quite a few dogs could easily belong to either breed. The reason for this is probably that in creating the Giant from the Standard Schnauzer, the added ingredient was mostly crossbreeding to the Bouvier -- ie in a sense all Giants are part Bouv. I personally have seen a number of dogs whom I could not say for sure which of these two breeds they belong to. (in fact I own one). Since Giants are fairly numerous, it is essential to have good liaison with your local Giant rescue.

BRIARD :

Ears cropped or natural. Tail is NEVER docked, always natural. (However amputation of tail due to injury remains possible.) Coat length and texture are similar to Bouvier , though on average a bit onger, more flowing, and more silky than a Bouv is supposed to be --- but on an un-groomed filthy matted dog, I doubt that this would be noticeable and in any case is not a reliable diagnostic. Colors are black, grey, brown/fawn. Body build is just a bit more narrow , but the coat will obscure this; not a reliable diagnostic. Should always have DOUBLE DEWCLAWS ON HIND LEGS -- this is your chief diagnostic feature and should be a definitive proof that the dog is or is not a Briard. (Responsible breeders tell me that some individuals might have incomplete double dewclaws but would never have none at all --- which does not exclude the possibility that several generations of puppy mill breeding might produce lack of rear dewclaws.) Briards are fairly common so be sure to have good liaison with local Briard rescue.

BLACK RUSSIAN TERRIER:

Ears are always natural , NEVER cropped. Tail is supposed to be docked, but might be natural. Color black or "ashen" (black with some grey or white hairs mixed in). Body build like Bouv very robust, stout. Supposed to be very large. Rarely will have double dewclaws on rear legs. Coat length and texture similar to Bouv. Having seen a number of BRTs up close and personal and having looked at photos of typical BRT and having asked a BRT breeder and a BRT rescuer how to distinguish BRT from Bouv, I regret to tell you that a BLACK RUSSIAN CANNOT BE DISTINGUISHED FROM a NATURAL EARRED BOUV who is BLACK in color. Every one I have ever seen if I encountered it at the Pound I would unhesitatingly accept as being a Bouv -- and for un-groomed dogs even more undistinguishable. (This is not surprising considering that the Black Russian was created partly from Giant Schnauzer and probably also from Bouvier, plus other ingrediants.) However in most parts of the country BRT are very rare. In Northern California they are rleatively uncommon but not rare, as several breders have been active in the area. Be sure to check out your own area and try to find a BRT rescuer to liason with.

OLD ENGLISH SHEEPDOG :

Ears always natural, never cropped. Tail should be docked but might be natural. Colors usually grey with white on body and legs -- ie white in areas where Bouvs are not white. Body build often has rear end a bit higher than front end -- but one also finds this in Bouvs. Most pounds recognize an Old English when they see it. You are not apt to be presented an OS that is misidentified as a Bouv (since most shelter staff do recognize this common breed) ; it is not uncommon for a Bouv to be misidentified as a "sheepdog cross" meaning an OES cross (Last year I took over fostering of a delightful young Bouv who had come within minutes of being KILLED at a pound that had identified him as an Old English ; he was saved at the last momment as he was being led to the death chamber because a nice woman saw him and wanted to save him.) If you make a habit of doing web searches of local shelters looking for Bouviers, also check listings for Old English and for "Sheepdog" and look at any photos. Establish liason with a local OES rescuer so you can alert each other to misidentifications.

PORTUGESE WATER DOG:

Ears natural. Tail docked to about 4 to 6" long, but might be natural. Color usually black, brown, or white. Coat texture can be very curly or can be wavy, ie looser and more like a Bouv. Does not have a beard, but then neither does a Bouv whose beard has been cut off. Body build is more slender. I have seen a lot of Porties who somewhat look like very small Bouvs. I don't think one is very likely to be misidentified as being a Bouv, nor a Bouv as a Porty, but it could happen. (I recall one time a Bouv rescuer bailed a dog they later decided could not be a Bouv ; to me it looked like it might well be a Porty.) The same kind of person who enjoys living with a Bouv would probably also like a Porty, so if you do bail one you will probably be able to place it yourself. But you should be able to find a Porty rescuer in your area to take the dog over.

WHEATEN TERRIER :

Ears natural. Tail docked to 4 to 6", but might be natural. Coat texture is bit more soft and silky than a Bouvs should be, similar to the many soft coated Bouvs. Coat length varies with grooming. Color wheaten, ie similar to fawn / buff. size and shape similar to a very small buff Bouv. Size is probably your main distinguishing feature, though when you get the dog groomed the Wheaten will have a more terrier shaped head and body type, ie both head and body less wide than the Bouv. I have had a pound misidentify a Bouv as being "probably a Wheaten" even though the dog had cropped ears (coat was so un-groomed and matted that the ears could not be seen) and was much larger than a Wheaten. I've also known pounds to misidentify a Wheaten as being a Bouv. A fair number of Bouv people also enjoy Wheatens, so if you do bail one, you will probably be able to place it with one of your Bouv adopters. But you should be able to find a Wheaten rescuer in your area to take the dog over.

STANDARD POODLE

Ears natural and hanging down. Tail is docked but about 6" long , much longer than that of a Bouv is supposed to be.

Tail usually carried high. Color may be "any color" , thus including all the normal Bouv colors. Coat length and texture when properly groomed is either short and curly, with a variety of clipping patterns, or may be "corded" into rope-like cords. However many companion Poodles are groomed much less formally and could have a longer coat and perhaps less curly. A Poodle with neglected grooming could become quite full coated and matted and could resemble a Bouv or a Bouv whose beard has been trimmed. Size 22" to 26" with larger ones not uncommon (termed "Poodle Royale"). Body build is more slender than most Bouvs, but long neglected grooming could conceal this. It is possible that a very ungroomed Poodle could be misidentified as a Bouv, but it is far more likely and not uncommon for a Bouv to be mis-identified as a "Poodle mix". When searching shelter websites, you may want to also look under "Poodle" / "Poodle mix" to find these misidentified Bouvs.

There is also a deliberate cross becomming popular, the "Labradoodle" , Labrador X Poodle, that very much resembles a natural eared, natural tailed Bouvier. (I've met one whom I would have identified as being a Bouv, but the owners had obtained him as a baby puppy and had met the parents. Very nice dog : I would have had no trouble placing him with a Bouv adopter.)

What to do when the "Bouv" is some other breed :

Ideally whoever took the phone call from the pound or stray-finder will have asked enough questions that you will know beforehand what other breed(s) are the likeliest. If so, give an alert call to the rescuer for that breed, along the lines of "I'm going out to City Pound to see a dog that may be a Bouv or may be your breed. If it is your breed what do you want me to do? Shall I bail it out in the name of your group and then bring it to you or take it to my place and you can pick it up tonight or tomorrow? Should I try to place a "hold for rescue" on it in the name of your group? Should I phone you from the Pound so you can grab the car keys and come get it?". If you give this sort of heads up call before seeing the dog, then afterwards be considerate enough to call back to let the other rescue person know the outcome.

If an advance alert call is not possible, then once you are at the pound or the stray is at your house, if you can see it is another breed, then start calling the other rescuer and offer the same set of options. If you cannot reach the other rescuer or anyone from that group, then do inform the pound of what breed it really is and tell them who they should call to come and rescue it. Always be tactful when informing a shelter worker that they have been mistaken as to breed identity : you might give a laugh and say something about you too finding it to be really impossible to recognize all breeds even when they are breed-typical specimens and properly groomed.

Note that all this implies that your rescue group has already learned and keeps updated on the info as to who is rescuing those breeds with which yours might be mistaken. Always cultivate cordial relations with these fellow rescuers.

And of course if it is a nice dog , too nice to be left to DIE, you DO have the choice to bail it out and take it home to foster it yourself until it can be placed or turned over to a more appropriate rescuer. I don't think you will ever regret saving a genuinely nice dog, but you can sure as hell regret leaving one to die!!!

Pam Green's Breed Identification Chart can be found here:

http://www.cal.net/~pamgreen/identify_chart.html