Berger Picard: Dog Breed Information and Owner’s Guide

What is a Berger Picard?

berger picard

The Berger Picard is a French herding dog, sharing ancestors with the Beauceron and Briard breeds. This dog got its name from its native region – Picardy. Picardy was historically a major agricultural area with great swaths of rich grazing land. The Berger Picard (pronounced “bare ZHAY pee CARR”) is reputed to be one of the oldest dog breeds in the world.

There are several theories regarding the origins of the Berger Picard. One historian holds it was brought to northern France in the 9th century by the Franks. Other canine researchers believe it is descended from the same dogs that Belgian and Dutch Shepherds come from. When France had its first dog show in 1863, the Berger Picard was proudly exhibited, despite its unkempt appearance. After that, breeders began serious work to establish and perfect this dog’s standards. The French Shepherd Club accepted this breed in 1925.

Aside from herding sheep and cattle, the Berger Picard was once used to smuggle matches, tobacco, and even lace over the French border in the early 1800s. Smugglers would shave the fur off the dog’s back, then tie the contraband on to its body and cover it with goatskin – hair side up. In the dark, nobody was too suspicious of a wandering sheepdog with scruffy fur.

The breed gradually became more popular as a pet, but during World War One and World War Two breeding was cut short, and the dog almost became extinct. Even though the Berger Picard was accepted by the World Canine Organizations (based in Belgium) in 1955, The United Kingdom Kennel Club in 2014, and the American Kennel Club in 2015, it is still a relatively rare breed. A recent head count found only 3500 Berger Picards in all of France, just 500 in Germany, and a mere 400 in the United States.

While you may never have even heard of the Berger Picard before reading this article, you might have seen them in a movie or two without knowing what breed they were. In the 2005 movie “Because of Winn Dixie”, a Berger Picard played the main role. Two other films featuring Berger Picards are “Daniel and the Superdogs” and “Are We Done Yet?”.

The Berger Picard has an endearing expression and personality, and once you meet a member of this breed, you may never be able to think about acquiring any other kind of dog again.

Appearance

Berger Picards give the impression of rugged, robust farmers, as compared to coiffed lap dogs that give the impression of pampered royalty. Their penetrating, intelligent gaze, combined with a mouth that often appears to be smiling, makes this breed both attractive and charming.

With a body that is slightly longer than tall, and well-developed muscles, the Berger Picard is both agile and efficient in its movements. You can always recognize a Berger Picard from a distance, due to its trademark erect ears, pointing straight up to a height of four or five inches. Its dark brown eyes are shaded by thick, shaggy eyebrows. This breed has a rectangular-shaped head that narrows somewhat from the ears to the eyes and gets even narrower moving down towards the snout. The length of the head should be equal to the length of the neck. 

The Berger Picard’s tail hangs straight down, with a small “J” curve at the tip. There are dewclaws on its front legs, but not on its hind legs. The toes are well rounded, with black nails.

All in all, the Berger Picard has a well-proportioned head and body, and its body is well toned. No sloping back, sagging jowls, or drooping eyes for this breed.

Berger Picard Weight and Size

Berger Picards are medium to large dogs, weighing between 51 and 71 pounds (23 -32 kilograms). Female Berger Picards are 22 – 24 inches (55 – 60 cm) tall, while the males are slightly bigger, at a height of 24 – 26 inches (60 – 65 cm).

Common Colors

The only colors that Berger Picards come in are brindle or fawn. This breed can be pure fawn with no other coloring, or “fawn charbonné” (fawn with charcoal) – meaning fawn with a grey underlay on the head and body, and a dark trim around the edges of the ears.

Brindle Beger Picards can have any color as the base, ranging from fawn to light grey to black. The stripes or patches on the fur can be grey, red, brown, black, or fawn. Some Berger Picards have small white patches on the tips of their toes or on their chest, but no other white markings should be present on a purebred dog.

Coat

The Berger Picard’s shaggy, harsh coat is neither curly or flat but is rather wavy and thick. But the coat is never so bulky as to hide the shape of the dog’s body. The length of the coat is a uniform two to three inches and never needs to be trimmed or styled. 

While the Berger Picard has a double coat, it is just warm enough to protect this breed when it’s busy herding sheep. But the Berger Picard does not have enough body fat to protect it from freezing temperatures, and its coat is more for protection against brambles and branches than the harsh elements.

The most attractive feature of a Berger Picard is its facial hair. This breed has bristly eyebrows, a tousled beard and mustache, and slightly longer scruffy hair on the sides and front of the neck, framing the head.

Personality and Temperament

berger picard

Bred to herd sheep and cattle, the Berger Picard evolved into a dog that becomes extremely attached to its owner and comfortable around other animals. Berger Picards do well with other household pets, as they view them as part of their “flock” to be protected. However, the same DNA that produced alert, observant watchdogs for the sheep, makes the Berger Picard somewhat aloof and wary around strangers. The only way to make this one-owner dog open to loving more than just you is to socialize him very early with other people and animals.

While the Berger Picard is not a breed with wanderlust, or a desire to run away the minute you let him off-leash, he does have the hunting instinct that is inherent in most dogs. There is always the chance that your Berger Picard will suddenly run off if he sees a cat he thinks is worth chasing. In general, this dog is a herder more than a hunter, so there is little reason to fear he will escape and cause harm to other animals or people. At the same time, this is not a breed that nips or bites in an effort to “herd” you or other members of the family.

Despite his sometimes unkempt appearance, this is actually quite a distingué dog. Barking is minimal, and drooling is almost nonexistent.

In general, the Berger Picard has a wonderful personality. These dogs are intelligent, confident, and assertive, and are easy to train. They are lively and playful, with a good sense of humor, and don’t by nature demonstrate aggressive or threatening behavior. While you shouldn’t expect your Berger Picard to be as goofy and submissive as a Golden Retriever, for example, this is a fun-loving breed that will never give you cause to think you have a boring or difficult pet.

Behavior around other dogs

The Berger Picard is an anomaly among other breeds because while he is not naturally aggressive and can be interested in interacting with other dogs, something about the way he carries and conducts himself sends a warning signal to canines he encounters.

Berger Picards have ears that stand upright, in a permanently “pricked” position. For many breeds, this is a sign that a dog is on guard, in the best-case scenario, and preparing to attack, in the worst. Also, Berger Picards have a tendency to make eye contact and maintain it for longer than is common for most dogs, or even people. Once again, other dogs perceive Berger Picard’s unwavering stare as a sign of aggression. All your dog wants is to express interest and try to make contact with other dogs.

The best way to teach your Berger Picard how to behave around other dogs is to socialize him early and often with laid-back, even-tempered dogs in your area. If he can make a few good friends who he can take a cue from on walks or at play in dog parks, he will have a better chance of having positive experiences with new and strange dogs that cross his path later on.

Is a Berger Picard a good Family Dog

If you are looking for a loving, loyal pet that is gentle with children and adapts well to spending most of the day indoors, a Berger Picard is a wonderful breed to choose. This is a dog that loves spending time with his family and will be miserable if kept outside year-round. 

The Berger Picard is a wonderful watchdog and will protect you by sitting for long periods and observing what is going on around your property. But this is not the type of dog that needs to wander the perimeter of your property to get his guarding job done. He will prefer to sit at attention near your front door, or in front of a large picture window, and man the fort from the inside. Where it’s warm and cozy, and you are right nearby.

Berger Picards need intensive physical exercise once or twice a day but can spend the rest of their waking hours at your side indoors. This breed loves to play with adults and children alike, and it’s only bad trait is that it is prone to bark. If you live in an apartment building with thin walls, you might want to think twice before getting a Berger Picard.

Berger Picards become so devoted to their owners, that they are even capable of saving their lives. One Berger Picard alerted his owner to the fact that he had a serious illness, while another alerted his family when one of the son’s blood sugar levels dropped.

How to Train a Berger Picard

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Berger Picards are easy dogs to train. The earlier you begin training your Berger Picard puppy, the better chance you will have of curbing his stubborn side and utilizing his intelligence and eagerness to please that comes with youth. Once your Berger Picard hits adolescence (at about age six months), it will be much harder to convince him to obey you.

You will need to be patient when training your Berger Picard, but once he learns what you want, he will obey the first time you utter a command at least 50% of the time. It usually takes a Berger Picard between 25 and 40 repetitions to understand and remember new commands. While training, try to be as consistent as possible. Berger Picards are sensitive to changes in routine, and punishing them is totally ineffective. The more positive and enthusiastic you are during your training sessions (no matter how many times your pet gets it wrong), the more your Berger Picard will want to please you, and the faster he will learn.

This breed responds better to physical affection and verbal praise than to treats. Once your new puppy adapts to living with you and knows you are his owner, you should begin training no later than age 14 weeks. The first stage of training is to introduce your Berger Picard to as many different people, places, smells, sounds, and experiences as you can. The more comfortable your Berger Picard is in a variety of situations, the less he will express his inborn sensitivity.

Despite your greatest efforts, Berger Picards have two fearful stages. The first is at around 12 to 14 weeks, and the second at 8 to 9 months old. During these periods, your pet may exhibit aggressive behavior such as barking, or nervous behavior, such as cowering. This is the time to continue encouraging him with praise and treats to trust you to protect and guide him as he interacts with people and animals.

The best way to train your Berger Picard to be a calm, friendly dog, is to impress upon him that you are in control, and won’t let anything bad happen to either of you.

How To Care For a Berger Picard

Exercise Requirements

Berger Picards are energetic dogs with robust constitutions. They are great at any activity requiring agility, and enthusiastically play games and participate in herding and sports competitions. If you are an active owner, your Berger Picard will make an excellent exercise partner. He will happily accompany you on hikes, jogs, and bike rides. A healthy Berger Picard can easily run at your side for up to five miles without a need for a break. All-day hikes are also doable for this breed. This is a great dog to own if you are planning a warm-weather trek for several days or weeks.

If you teach him tracking and obedience skills, you can proudly show him off to your friends. And if you are ever lonely, you will have an eager partner for any game of flyball, or plain old fashioned “fetch”.

When your Berger Picard wants to play, he will bark excitedly and maybe even nip you in an effort to get you up and moving. The best way to prevent this behavior from becoming a bad habit is to set up a regular schedule for play and exercise, and then stick to the schedule.

Of course, you can’t be expected to entertain your Berger Picards with extreme sports on a daily basis. As long as he gets a couple of brisk walks every day, you will keep any potential frustration and boredom at bay. A happy dog is never a destructive dog, and athletic Berger Picards are happiest when they are moving. 

Historically, Berger Picards were not dogs that spent any significant amount of time in the water. While they can learn to enjoy wading and splashing in shallow streams and on the shore of lakes, don’t expect your Berger Picard to jump off a boat to fetch a ball, or accompany you while you swim.

Just keep in mind that this is a breed that doesn’t need much sleep. If you like to sleep late on the weekends and then sit on the couch watching movies all day, a Berger Picard is not for you.

Grooming and Shedding

Well equipped for cold and rain while herding sheep and cattle, the Berger Picard has a double coat. The undercoat is dense, to insulate him against the elements. The topcoat is shaggy and wiry, with the benefit of being water repellant as well. The outer coat also repels dirt, and has very little odor, because of its low oil content.

Brush your Berger Picard’s coat at least every two days during shedding seasons. The more dead hair you can remove, the less you will find on your floors and furniture. Between shedding periods, it’s enough to brush your Berger Picard just once a month. Bathing should be very infrequent, using a shampoo formulated for coarse coats. Never use a conditioner on this breed, as it can diminish the waterproof quality of its coat. Remember, this isn’t a show dog for you to primp and preen. It’s a working dog with a coat designed for protection before beauty.

If your dog doesn’t spend a lot of time running and walking over rough terrain, you will probably need to trim his nails when they get so long you can hear them clicking on your floors.

What To Feed A Berger Picard

Berger Picards are very active, and as a result, have robust appetites. But the key with this dog is quality over quantity. This is a breed that thrives on meat-based food. It needs different amounts of food, depending on its age.

  • Between the ages of two and three months, Berger Picard puppies should be offered four meals every 24-hour period.
  • Between the ages of three and six months, Berger Picard puppies need three meals in a 24 hour period.
  • For Berger Picards aged six months to a year, two meals per day are sufficient. 
  • By the time your Berger Picard is a year old, you can feed him just once a day, either morning or evening. Some adult Berger Picards prefer two small meals a day, rather than one large one. Only you will know your dog well enough to know which feeding schedule is best. The amount of food your Berger Picard needs when he is full-grown is four to five cups a day, depending on the nutritional value of the food, and your pet’s activity level.

While Berger Picard can stomach table food with few digestive problems, it will be hard to ensure your pet gets all the nutrients it needs if that is all it eats. About 10 percent of his daily fare can be cottage cheese, cooked eggs, or fruit and vegetables that he likes. But your Berger Picard’s main source of food should be a high-quality, dry brand of dog food.

Known Health Problems

If you decide to get a Berger Picard, you won’t have to worry too much about dealing with health issues as your dog ages. This breed usually lives an ailment free life for twelve to fourteen years. The only medical conditions this basically healthy breed occasionally suffers from are hip dysplasia and progressive retinal atrophy (PRA).

Before purchasing a puppy, ask the breeder to show you a certification from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or PennHip stating there are no hip problems. Also, ask to see certification from the OFA that the dog’s parents don’t carry hereditary eye diseases.

The most conscientious breeders register their Berger Picards with the Canine Health Information Center. In order for a dog to qualify for a CHIC number, it must not only have its hips and eyes checked. An additional requirement is the analysis of the dog’s DNA via a blood test, and examination of at least one of three other organs – the heart, thyroid, or elbows. 

Buyer’s Guide

How to Choose a Berger Picard Puppy

The only way to find a purebred Berger Picard puppy is to research which breeders are recognized and approved by the official dog and kennel clubs. The Berger Picard Club of America website offers an updated list of reputable breeders. While Berger Picard females go into heat every six months, they should only be bred to have one litter per year. Each litter will have between 2 and 10 pups, though the average number of puppies born in one litter is 6.

Don’t expect that you get to choose your puppy when you buy a Berger Picard. Many breeders will ask you extensive questions about your family, your lifestyle, and your experience with dogs, and then choose a puppy for you that they believe will be a good match. In addition, you will probably have to sign a contract when you purchase a Berger Picard puppy. Read the contract very carefully, as it may stipulate that you let the breeder take the dog to shows, or even give him a puppy from your litter if your Berger Picard is approved for breeding.

If you are willing to take home an older dog, you can try your luck with a rescue organization. It sometimes happens that an owner isn’t able to cope with his Beger Picard’s need for extensive exercise, committed training, and regular companionship, and giving the pet up for adoption is the chosen solution. The Berger Picard Club of America has a rehoming network, which is linked to the club’s website.

But after you contact a rehoming organization to see if any Berger Picard dogs are available, don’t imagine you can just show up at the door and take a dog home. These organizations usually have strict requirements with regard to who they pass their rescue dogs on to. Nobody wants an abandoned or abused pet to have a second experience as bad as or even worse than its first one.

How Much Do Berger Picards Cost?

Berger Picards are among the rarest dog breeds in the world. After searching in your country or even the globe for available litters, be prepared to pay anywhere between $2000 and $2500 for just one pup!

The price of a rescue dog is much less than for a brand new puppy. At the Alaqua Animal Refuge in Florida, for example, the cost of adopting a dog is $200 dollars for a puppy and $150 dollars for an adult dog. Will you find a Berger Picard at any of these places? All you can do is reach out to as many as possible, and hope you have some luck.

Quick Breed Summary Table

berger picard

The Berger Picard is for the most part a great breed to choose for a family pet. But like every other breed on the planet, there are pros and cons to owning this particular dog. Only you can decide if the Berger Picard’s good traits outweigh the bad ones if the pleasure you will gain from owning him will cancel out any aggravation raising this breed will cause you.

Pros Cons
Playful and intelligent High energy, needs a lot of exercise
Easy to train Can be stubborn, not good for first-time owners
Easy to groom Sheds a lot, not hypoallergenic
Excellent with children Doesn’t always get along with other dogs
Low risk of wandering/running away Can suffer from separation anxiety and become destructive if left alone for too long
Loves outside activity Cannot be kept outside at night during harsh weather conditions
Excellent watchdog Can be aloof or wary around strangers
Excellent breed for elderly owners Cannot be trained to be a service or therapy dog

Summary

If you are looking for a loyal, loving dog, who will guard you, play with you, and comfort you when you are feeling down, a Berger Picard may be just the breed you are looking for. While Berger Picards don’t usually compete in dog shows, there are several annual events around the globe attended ONLY by Berger Picards. If you attend one of these events before purchasing a Berger Picard of your own, you will get to see a large number of them in action in the same place, get to meet Berger Picard breeders, and maybe even make some new human friends while you’re at it.

Different clubs and breeders also have Facebook pages dedicated to Berger Picards. Despite the fact that this breed is quite rare, its owners and breeders around the world have banded together into a somewhat elite group of Berger Picard fans. Looking at the photos and videos owners of this dog have posted over the last decade, you almost feel left out if you don’t own a Berger Picard yourself!

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