Dog Training and Dog Care advice from UK Professionals

Beauceron Dan

Dan is my young Beauceron, the second one I've had the pleasure of handling. I say "handling" because a Beauceron, as the French will tell you, is not a dog that accepts being "owned". You earn the right to be master and companion to this dog by being fair and firm, and by giving him the opportunity both to relax through exercise, and to show off how clever he is by training him to do interesting things - like opening the gate and closing the door, finding your keys or your friends, and picking things up for you when you drop them - or rounding up the herd!

Dan at 4 months, with older siblings
Dan at 4 months, with older siblings
I first met Dan when he was nearly five months old, after having chosen him from a particularly excellent litter of pups bred by Gilles and Blandine Hertoux in southern France ( He was the smallest in the litter, but has now reached 70 cm, the upper limit for males according to the standard. Gilles and Blandine very kindly agreed to raise the puppy for me while I waited to be able to import him to England at the age of ten months (due to UK rabies regulations).

I visited him twice, once when he was five months, again when he was six months - my partner and I took him for two weeks in the Pyrenees with our Gordon Setter bitch. Then I spent his last month in France with him, in order to socialise him properly and establish my position as master-and-companion with him before his tenth month, which is normally a rebellious one.
At five months, in the local airport, waiting calmly for my flight to take me away after my visit
At five months, in the local airport,
waiting calmly for my flight
to take me away after my visit

At around the same time, at home in Fitou, in a wheelbarrow
At around the same time, at home
in Fitou, in a wheelbarrow
We had a wonderful time getting to know each other in a small village in the north of France, where we

stayed on a farm. He was lovely with the farm's timid hunting dog - tried to get him to play, unsuccessfully. He learned how to approach cows and horses gently, and won the hearts of all who came to know him, although, never having been out and about as a pup, he was at that time quite skittish: inclined to be terrified in shops and restaurants (it's a blessing that in France dogs, even large ones, are welcome almost anywhere!) and to bark at strangers. In France I kept meeting people who'd had a Beauceron when they were kids. "Beaucerons are so nice/gentle, aren't they?" they'd say ("C'est gentil les beaucerons, n'est-ce pas?") - because it's the national nanny dog, and is known to have a particularly sweet way with the little ones. Lots of first encounters in England end up with the visitor remarking, with some surprise, on what a "soft" dog he is, but that's just Dan living up to what Colette called the "country gentleman" nature of the breed. With the small children of my dog sitter he was adorable, even at the very pushy/bouncy age of 15 months.

On his arrival in England I took him as often as possible to pubs that allowed dogs. At one of our locals the big blonde pub keeper won his trust by looking away, not at him, and simultaneously offering him fistfuls of roast beef scraps while he sat by my side. I think she gave him his first serious taste of the kindness of strangers, and thereafter he quickly learned to trust most people on first encounter. The breed standard allows for suspicion of strangers, so this was quite a triumph for an unsocialised pup.

At 14 months in front of the stove with Ella the Gordon Setter
At 14 months in front of the stove with Ella the Gordon Setter
Our daily walks take us through the woods and fields near the house. He wants one good off-lead run per day, though it needn't be longer than 20 minutes as long as I'm prepared to do five minutes of training or ball-throwing in our large garden once or twice each day as well, and take him for a longer walk at weekends. He could easily run for an hour or more each day, but since I'm a middle-aged artist with a garden to tend he adjusts. Since Beaucerons have always been expected to spend long hours simply guarding sheep, lying around most of the day is not a hardship for Dan, nor is being left on his own. From the time they are quite young Beaucerons can be left alone for several hours at a time without causing them a great deal of anxiety - as long as they have a cardboard box to tear up or a favourite toy to chew. This is not to say that they should be left like that more than a few times a week. Far better to take them wherever you go, whenever possible. Weekends often take our walk along the beach. I throw things for him into the water and he brings them back. At 17 months he's turning into a good swimmer, and doesn't mind being bowled over by the occasional rough wave.

As for training, I'd say a Beauceron collaborates fully in his/her own training as long as you provide the right structure (I'm the kindly master, you're the student); frame the training sessions in the form of very short games, gradually lengthened as the dog's concentration increases; and don't expect more than basic obedience in the first year or two, but do insist on that minimum. Full mental and physical development occurs at around 3 years. It is firm fairness and an ability to adapt to the dog's need for explanation or reinforcement/correction that make all the difference -- well, as they do with any breed, really. You don't want to correct a dog for performing badly if you set up the exercise badly. But there's really no room for the wishy-washy when dealing with a Beauceron. I work with "an iron fist in a velvet glove", as the French Beauceron book recommends. Dan is used to the idea that my requests are his commands, and when he quite deliberately tests this rule, as he does several times a week, I act appalled, and he's equally dramatically embarrassed. It's all theatre, to re-establish the fact that we're in our rightful positions in the pack. Only very rarely do I let this dog get away with disobeying a command, though like all good trainers I sometimes modify what I will accept as a response to a command if I think I've been unfair in issuing it, or if the disobedience occurs in the context of good progress overall, but a response of some kind there must be.

Standing in the front garden, aged 17 months
Standing in the front garden, aged 17 months
The French have a good expression: To train a dog is to train self-mastery (L'éducation canine est une école de maîtrise de soi). The point is to teach your dog how to become responsible for its own behaviour. As a trainer you have to use your judgement, always, but with any big powerful dog with serious teeth and a lot of drive your judgement has to be well-honed or you'll end up with a dangerous thug in the house. That's true, too, of German Shepherds, Malinois, Dobermans and Rottweilers, all of which are valuable not least because they can be trained to a high standard. But I find Beaucerons, with their solid nature and self-sufficiency, their thoughtfulness and deep sweetness, are among the most rewarding to live with. Once you've brought a Beauceron into your life chances are you'll never look at another breed. They are bewitchingly funny and bright; protective without being obnoxious about it; and - once they've had a good wiggle - they're the gentlest chum you could wish to lie in front of the fire with. For me, as you must know by now, they are the only dog.
Sitting in the front garden, aged 17 months
Sitting in the front garden, aged 17 months

J. Sheldon


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