The Tawny Briard’s Coat: The Challenge of Getting it Right By Ellen Jo Myers
The legendary breeder of Briards, Francis Maquin, whose Les Carrières Noires lines were the toast of the French dog world in the 70s and 80’s, once remarked in an interview that while he liked black dogs, he pre- ferred to breed tawnies. On the face of it, this seemed an odd statement, considering that it’s far easier to produce a great black Briard than a great tawny. So why was Maquin so partial to the lat- ter? Well, he told his inter- locutor, it was all to do with the coat. Achieving a coat of outstanding color and tex- ture could be vexingly diffi- cult, he explained, but he couldn’t resist the challenge of getting it right. Breeders on this side of the Atlantic would do well to adopt his attitude. In the event, we could be making big strides in the quality of our tawny Briards. Yet instead of meeting the chal- lenge head-on, many ascribe a low priority to this defin- ing feature. They argue that because the Briard has evolved from a sheep-herd- ing dog to a household pet and show dog, the tradition- al rugged coat with its rich autumnal color – so elusive!
-- is of scant importance. And these views have been gaining currency among judges, some of whom are willing to overlook an inferi- or coat as long as the animal has other winning assets. So what kind of quasi- tawny coat do we see in the ring these days? You’ll recog- nize it by its soft and fluffy texture, and the fact that a handler can usually be found brushing it, since such lavish, cat-like manes require mas- sive amounts of grooming. Recently I interviewed a vet- eran French judge and breed- er of superb tawnies who expressed both amusement and alarm at the American fashion for “soft” coats, which are regularly subjected to shampoos and condition- ers, a practice that makes it near-impossible for a judge to evaluate its true quality. This man told me that he spends a mere forty-five minutes a week grooming his dogs because their coats have the characteristic dry, hard tex- ture of goat hair that is clear- ly laid out in the standard. Of even greater concern to those of us who love the breed is that the new “soft” coat is a break with tradition. Time was, the Briard was out
in the fields all day, herding sheep, and his thick, coarse- textured shaggy coat was his first line of defense against the elements. Water and snow literally rolled off his back; dirt didn’t cling to him, all because of the natural oils in his hair, which, needless to say, didn’t require regular sessions at a canine beauty parlor to maintain its luster. One could argue that a judge who gives high marks to a dog with poor coat quality is doing a disservice to the breed, to say nothing of the breeder. In no other country in the world would a competitor with a coat that deviates from the breed standard in every way take Best in Show. After twenty years in this business, I find it inexplicable that breeders would put these animals on display in the first place; and more inexplicable still that judges would overlook obvious faults. And then there is the confusion surrounding the acceptable range of tawny colors. The AKC standard states that although the deeper shades are preferred, any color but white is per-
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