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Viewing & Examining the Briard in the Show Ring

Combined photo of Briards.

This article was originally published in Showsight Magazine, October 2019 issue.


Viewing & Examining the Briard in the Show Ring

Judging the Briard is a fun and rewarding experience. Some Briards (especially the juveniles) may be over-exuberant in the ring. Some love to get the crowd laughing and will act like clowns. The more you laugh, the more that they are clowns! Many are reserved and stoic and many enjoy showing off and catching the judge’s and crowd’s attention. All are loved by the Briard fancy! When you judge the Briard, we hope that you enjoy our breed and that you make the exhibitor enjoy showing to you.

As a judge it is imperative that you know the way to examine a Briard in the ring. While we all may understand judging a generic dog, a Briard has many features and hallmarks which need to be given special attention. If you are an exhibitor, it is good to know how the judge will proceed when examining your dog and what the judge is looking for.

Now let’s get on to the judging. Once your class has been brought into the ring, back up to get a profile view of the exhibits. While viewing the Briard in profile, you can get a good look of many qualities you may further wish to examine. First quickly look for dogs or bitches that may be undersize for which there is a disqualification. Then go on to proportion (In males the length of the body, measured from the point of the shoulder to the point of the buttock, is equal to or slightly more than his height at the withers. The female may be a little longer). So basically you are looking for a square dog with the judge’s eye accommodating for the dog’s additional hair in front of the point of shoulder and behind the point of buttock. You may then quickly look for length and position of neck (The neck is in the shape of a truncated cone, clearing the shoulders well. It is strongly muscled and has good length.) Take a look at the position of head (The head joins the neck in a right angle and is held proudly alert). Please do note this does NOT mean that the neck is held at a 90 degree angle to the body. The Briard should not have a ewe neck. The neck is erect but the head to the neck juncture is where you will see the 90 degree angle. Quickly go on to look for length of head (The correct length of a good head, measured from the occiput to the tip of the nose, is about forty percent (40%) of the height of the dog at the withers) and topline (The Briard is constructed with a very slight incline, downward from the prominent withers to the back which is straight, to the broad loin and the croup which is slightly inclined. The croup is well muscled and slightly sloped to give a well-rounded finish. The topline is strong, never swayed nor roached.)

Over the years, I have seen some judges that have done a wonderful job of examining the Briard in the show ring. On the other hand, there have been some times that I was concerned for the judge as well as the dog when the Briard was examined. Here are some tips that combine my experiences and thoughts along with the recommendations of the Briard Club of America Breed Education Committee.

The Briard should be approached calmly with assurance and self-confidence on the part of the examiner. The Briard should stand his ground without cringing or menacing the examiner. All judges are expected to check for each of the Briard’s disqualifications. If a Briard does not appear to meet the minimum height requirement for its sex, it is incumbent upon the judge to request a wicket and measure the dog: Disqualification–All dogs or bitches under the minimum size limits.

I strongly recommended that the judge wear no jewelry nor ornamentation on the judge’s clothing that could possibly get tangled in the dog’s coat. Over the years, I have seen this happen plenty of times with the dog’s hair getting pulled out or many minutes spent on detangling the jewelry from the dog’s hair. Neither are pleasant.

Left: Showing a six month old natural eared tawny. – Right: Showing a mature natural eared dog.

Bearing in mind that the head is coated, approach from the front so that the dog can see you and be aware of your presence. With the amount of hair on the dog’s head, it is possible that the dog may not see you. I recommend greeting the exhibitor with a “Hello. How are you today” type of greeting. In that way you can be sure that the Briard knows of your presence.

Then place one hand under the chin, taking care to not grab the beard. Head planes, proportions, and ear placement and quality are confirmed during this portion of the exam. Brush the hair away from the eyes to check eye color, shape, placement, and pigmentation. Disqualification–Yellow eyes or spotted eyes. You may then move on to ask the handler to show you the bite and then note the color of the nose. Disqualification–Nose any color other than black. Keep in mind that it is possible that an exhibit may have a dilute gene with a nose that is dark but not black. Sometimes those exhibits may have a lighter eye as well. The Briard nose MUST be black.

Now let’s talk about the Briard’s ears. The Briard is not naturally born with erect ears. The erect ears that you may see on some Briards have been surgically cropped, and glued together for many months to get them to stand. The Briard is born with pendant ears and unless surgically altered and “trained”, the Briard’s ears will remain a pendant ear. Whether cropped or left natural, there is to be no preference or extra points given for a cropped ear or a natural ear. Although some judges may be accustomed to seeing mostly cropped eared Briards in the U.S. in the past, that trend has been changing with many countries banning the cropping of dog’s ears and some owners, breeders and veterinarians preferring not to do unnecessary surgery on a dog. So today you will see Briard show dogs with both cropped ears and natural ears. As a judge, it is important to remember that there is NO PREFERENCE to be given to the cropped ear or the natural ear. The judge must acclimate his/her eye to view the quality of the dog’s head whether with cropped or natural ears being of equal value as long as they follow the standard. The standard is specific for the natural ear as well as the cropped ear. For all Briard’s ears– the ears should be attached high, have thick leather and be firm at the base. Low-set ears cause the head to appear to be too arched. For the natural eared Briards– the length of the natural ear should be equal to or slightly less than one-half the length of the head, always straight and covered with long hair. The natural ear must not lie flat against the head and, when alert, the ears are lifted slightly, giving a square look to the top of the skull. For cropped eared Briards– the ears when cropped should be carried upright and parallel, emphasizing the parallel lines of the head; when alert, they should face forward, well open with long hair falling over the opening. The cropped ear should be long, broad at the base, tapering gradually to a rounded tip.

After examining the dog’s head, you may then go on to check for disqualifying white on the chest: Disqualification–white spot on chest exceeding one inch in diameter. Turn your body so that you face the same direction as the dog is facing and place your right hand on the left side of the dog’s head as you lean forward to lift the coat on the dog’s chest. That means that you will be looking down at the chest to see if a white spot is present. If a white spot is there, it should be no larger than the size of a quarter at the skin. Bear in mind that you are looking for white (as white as a white sheet of paper), not a light cream color which is permissible. While examining for the white spot, keep your hand on the head of the dog to make sure that the dog does not bring his head close to you. Do make sure the dog’s head is controlled by the handler. It is NOT recommended that you use your right hand to control the dog’s head from the dog’s right side as that would necessitate you reaching your arm over the dog’s neck as well as controlling the head from the right side which would be hard to do without taking control of the beard as well as leaning on the dog’s neck. It is recommended that you follow good judging practice as directed by the AKC to avoid placing yourself at risk.



Proceed with the examination as with any other breed. Remember to check for coat quality as you examine the body. To examine for length of tail, continue from your exam of the loin and croup, gently place your hand at the base of the tail, then run it down to the bony tip of the tail, verifying that it is uncut. Disqualification–tail non-existent or cut. You may then bring the tail over to the hock, taking care not to pull, stretch, or force the crook of the tail open to make your determination of length.

One of the hallmarks of the Briard are the dewclaws which ideally serve as additional functioning toes. You must be able to confirm that there are two dewclaws on each rear leg and to look for the ideal. Disqualification–less than two dewclaws on each rear leg. When reaching down to check for dewclaws, do not use the dog’s hindquarters to support yourself, nor should you stoop down or kneel on the ground. To facilitate the examination of the dewclaws, place your hand at ground level at the inside of each rear foot and move it upward. Bear in mind that two dewclaws are required on each rear leg, placed low on the leg, giving a wide base to the foot. Flipping your fingers back and forth to feel for two nails is NOT a check of dewclaws. Remember that you are checking for two additional DIGITS, not two additional nails. Occasionally the nail may break off completely. The dog shall not be penalized for the missing nail so long as the digit itself is present. Also, you are looking for the ideal dewclaws which the standard describes as dewclaws which form additional functioning toes. Sometimes the dog may have additional nails but not two additional digits. Again, two additional digits must be present. Occasionally you may feel a third or even a fourth dewclaw and the dog is not faulted if the additional dewclaws are present. Dewclaws that are attached low on the leg or are positioned next to the other toes may necessitate that you lift the foot to confirm the presence of the dewclaws. If you are unable to locate the dewclaws, give the handler the option of showing them to you. If the handler wishes you to proceed with the exam yourself, carefully lift the leg back and up just a bit, keeping the foot and leg in line with the body.

In viewing the Briard’s movement, you will want to see the side gait as well as the Briard coming and going. Our standard is quite beautiful in its description of a Briard’s gait. The well-constructed Briard is a marvel of supple power. His movement has been described as “quicksilver”, permitting him to make abrupt turns, springing starts and sudden stops required of the sheep-herding dog. His gait is supple and light, almost like that of a large feline. The gait gives the impression that the dog glides along without touching the ground. Strong, flexible movement is essential to the sheepdog. He is above all a trotter, singletracking, occasionally galloping and he frequently needs to change his speed to accomplish his work. His conformation is harmoniously balanced and strong to sustain him in the long day’s work. Judges should note that there is a penalization in the standard for gait—Dogs with clumsy or inelegant gait must be penalized.

While viewing the Briard’s gait, this is a good time to look for another Hallmark of the breed—the J tail. Tail—uncut, well feathered, forming a crook at the extremity, carried low and not deviating to the right or to the left. In repose, the bone of the tail descends to the point of the hock, terminating in the crook, similar in shape to the printed “J” when viewed from the dog’s right side. In action, the tail is raised in a harmonious curve, never going above the level of the back, except for the terminal crook. Although it may be one of the last things that you may examine on the Briard, it does not mean that it is of little importance. The J tail of the Briard is a Hallmark of the breed and those Briards without the correct tail do not give the true overall impression of the breed. It should not be straight but should always form some type of crochet or J in its shape. The tail should NEVER go above the level of the back except for the terminal J. At times, when a dog first comes in the ring or first begins to gait, the tail may elevate above the topline. However, the tail MUST come down and not be carried above the level of the topline, except for the terminal J. A typical hound tail which is curved over the back or an extended sporting dog tail which is straight IS NOT what a Briard’s tail should look like. So, please look for the crochet. Look for the correct carriage. It is a Hallmark of the breed!

Lastly, let’s talk about grooming. Our standard says that the outer coat is coarse, hard and dry (making a dry rasping sound between the fingers). It lies down flat, falling naturally in long, slightly waving locks, having the sheen of good health. The Briard has experienced the same over-grooming that many breeds have and it is up to the judge as well as the owner to not accept it. The Briard is a herding breed with a coat that can tolerate the demands of field work, barns and pasture. The BCA Breed Education Committee says, “The proper Briard coat does not require elaborate grooming. In order to evaluate correct coat the Briard should be presented clean, free of tangles, mats and foreign substances. Other than trimming of the feet for a tidy presentation, any trimming which alters the natural appearance of the Briard is to be avoided. The length of coat described in the standard is often not apparent until 3-4 years of age and may not be maintained if the Briard is also working. No additional credit should be given for extra length of coat.” So please keep in mind that there is no additional credit given for long coat length and that any trimming or sculpting which alters the natural appearance of the Briard is to be avoided. It is up to judges to make this happen. If judges take a minute to say something to handlers about the overgrooming of Briards which are sculpted and trimmed, perhaps the handlers will stop doing it.

Thanks to all the judges that have read this article and have taken it to heart. Hopefully it has helped you understand our standard a little better and will help you the next time that you evaluate our gorgeous breed. We all look forward to presenting our beautiful Briards, our hearts wrapped in fur, to you.