image of Cerebrus courtesy of Gareth Long
In my continuing and only partially successful attempts to avoid confusion and educate myself, I wrote up the summary below. Much of it applies to any rare breed.
Beaucerons are rare in the US; the best estimates place the US count between 600 and 1000, with the latter figure probably closer to the actual current count. Yet there are three breed clubs (listed in order of creation): North American Beauceron Club (NABC), Beauceron Club of America (BCA), United States Beauceron Alliance (USBA). Some people belong to more than one of these clubs.
As someone who learned of the breed's existence only at the beginning of 1997, I found it difficult to discover why there are as many as three clubs for this rare breed. While it is always difficult to discern The Truth in human affairs, I've done what I can to figure things out. I'm confident that I'm still missing large parts of the picture. But making the parts I think I've got available to others may give them a head start and heighten their awareness of relevant issues.
I'm very grateful to all the owners and breeders who were willing to give me their perspectives on this complex situation. I've not tried to incorporate direct quotes from anyone, preferring my own leaden prose.
So here's a summary of what I've learned so far about the human politics associated with this breed. The situation reminds me of some of what I've encountered as a harassment resolution officer. A significant difference is, however, that the people most directly involved with such powerful, protective and intelligent dogs often tend themselves to be "dominants," and high-energy sparks are thus even more likely to fly when these people are in real or even virtual proximity.
It can thus be a real challenge to find a rare breed's breeder who will accurately and honestly represent his or her dogs. Rare breeds provide an unfortunate opportunity for those who'd like to be big fish in small ponds. Such people have little opportunity in other organizations such as American Kennel Club (AKC) where track records, politics, persuasiveness and political correctness matter more.
Nor is civility always the sign of a great dog breeder, but to the extent that relationships between breeders can influence the course of events, civility can make a significant contribution to shaping a breed's future. The relevant difference might be characterized, with some oversimplification, as those who are team players versus those who care about their dogs. Both attitudes can be valuable, but for a dog-seeker new to a breed, it is typically difficult to sort out who has how much of each.
Rare breeds are therefore challenging even for those devoted to and experienced in the art and science of dog breeding. The dog world tends naturally to draw at least some of those who are disaffected (often for very good reason) with their fellow humans, and rare breeds may be especially attractive to such people. Because as mentioned rare breeds are not controlled by a registry such as AKC, clubs for these breeds can (i) establish and enforce registry rules that exceed, for example, the AKC's, (ii) require screening for certain genetic diseases, and (iii) impose specific rules intended to preserve the breed's distinctive traits. But the breed clubs answer to no one but the membership (and sometimes not even to them) and very often hold the breed's registry in their trust. That can lead to problems.
The Beauceron faced these problems. Just as in many other rare breeds, to the ambitious go the spoils.
In 1984, a group of owners of working Beaucerons (SAR, police, etc.) formed the NABC. Their purpose was to preserve the working aspect of the breed and to lay down a Code of Ethics before any breeding programs got started in the USA. In 1991, the NABC started its Registry and became a Non-Profit Organization. In 1992, the Club des Amis du Beauceron of France recognized the NABC as the official US club (reconfirmed in 1995 by letter from President Sauvignac). The NABC has not officially turned over its stud book to the UKC but has worked closely with the UKC to become a Parent Club for the breed and has encouraged members to register their dogs with them.
The second Beauceron club in the US was the BCA, formed by 1991 by Damien Connelly and his wife of Spring Green Beaucerons, in Wisconsin, for their puppy buyers.The club appeared to suspend its operations for about a year when its founders were dealing with personal problems. By1992, the Connelly's were no longer breeding Beaucerons and Debbie Skinner had taken over their breeding stock and the club.
Largely because of some unfortunate business dealings and personality conflicts among those most active in the clubs at the time, a rivalry formed between the resumed BCA and NABC, with many who participated never really knowing what was behind it, but taking up the cause. The two clubs' basic principles were much the same, however, and a majority of the Beauceron fanciers in the US shared the same goals for the breed. So, although there is a split among Beauceron breeders, most shared the same general goals.
As competition for litters began to increase, the influence of some clubs threatened to turn them into private marketing tools. During one three year period, three complete BCA Boards (except for the very few in continuing control) quit after finding themselves unable to effect needed changes.
NABC has suffered the usual sorts of personality conflicts, but nothing as severe as did the BCA. Many of those who had left the BCA Boards were among East Coasters who joined together to form the USBA; they sought to continue the work on the breed's behalf that they agreed was necessary. The BCA has surrendered its registry to the AKC. Having registries divided between BCA and NABC in this way, with the AKC registry beyond breeders' control, can make it more difficult to influence the direction that the breed actually goes in physical type, health and character.
A Potentially Important Development
According to the minutes of the Special Meeting of the Board of Directors of the American Kennel Club June 11, 2001, the Beauceron will be added to the AKC Miscellaneous Class on September 1, 2001. The AKC has adopted a breed standard negotiated with the BCA. Some say there are significant differences between the latter standard and the Official French Standard established by the French 'mother' Club Les Amis du Beauceron. A larger concern is that with increased recognition by the AKC, the breed will go the way of the Australian Shepherd and Border Collie after AKC breed recognition. The issue is complex and those now active in Beauceron breeding disagree about what sort of response is appropriate. In each of the BeaucyLuv and Beauceron groups, there has already been discussion of some of the relevant issues, and discussion is likely to continue, e.g. on the NABC members list.
Despite these particular complexities, some general advice might be useful.
A dog-seeker should look for a breeder who:
Look carefully at physical type, what the breeder selects for in the dogs - it isn't always what they get, since there's art as well as science in breeding - and breeder character references. While one can turn up useful information by talking with people who've acquired dogs from a breeder, presumably breeders won't usually refer you to unhappy buyers, so talking with other breeders can be useful, too. (It might even be a good idea to see if a breeder has been subject to legal action over breeding practices.) Since Beaucerons have not been bred for long in the US, no active US breeder has a very lengthy track record in the breed.
The use of different letters to refer to individuals in the following summary should not taken to imply that different people are being referred to; nor should the latter remark be taken to imply the opposite. The choice of wording is mine and often differs from that of the sources. The Comments are entirely mine. (A similar list of examples could readily be devised for the Caucasian Ovcharka.)
Criticism of Breeder Z by Breeder Y: Ignorance about or misrepresentation of historical facts well-known to competent breeders: Z had asserted about the French club, Club des Amis du Beauceron, that it is a new breed rescue organization, but, Y said, it is in fact the main breed club and has been in existence since the mid-1920s, .
Reply: Z was readily determined to be aware of the long history of the French club. Z had asserted about the French club's new web site (and not the club itself) that the web site is under development and that the site should thus become more useful as it is developed.
Criticism of Breeder X by Puppy-Seeker W: Breeding dogs known to have an inherited illness: Most or all of the puppies in at least one litter bred by X had a disease known to be inheritable. W claims to have seen the pictures of obviously diseased dogs.
Reply: For educational purposes, X had made available photographs of dogs from other breeders showing the effects in puppies of a disease which is thought to have a significant genetic component.
Comment on these first two criticisms: Breeder Y and Puppy-Seeker W dislike Breeder Z. This led them to misconstrue readily checkable facts. This inevitably raises some questions about Y's and about W's judgment - even though their judgment may nevertheless be overall quite good.
Criticism of Breeder V by Breeder U and Breeder T: Breeding a dog known to be dangerous: Before V acquired him, a dog, A, who was later bred by V, bit a young child without provocation, V was aware of the latter before breeding A, and A was taken out of circulation only after he similarly attacked one of V's children.
Reply: Before V acquired him, A nipped a child who'd removed A from his crate when no adults were present; the child had claimed to be on the way to another room and instead went to play with the dog. A did not break the child's skin by nipping. After V obtained A, he was very carefully supervised by V and behaved well, winning high marks for temperament. On one occasion, A attempted to take food from V's child, and V was bitten by A in the course of stopping A's theft, though the intended target was the food and not V.
Comments: Even after the corrections offered in the Reply are taken into account, one can imagine a rejoinder by U and T: "No dog who has even nipped a child should be bred, and given the later biting, that's even more clearly correct in this case." But there is it seems a reasonable further reply: first, dogs are not machines with operating manuals and hindsight is 20/20; and second, in a breed such as this, it may be worth preserving some 'edge' though that must be done very carefully. How to assess the incident levels of risk is not always a straightforward matter. Whether this further, imagined reply would be correct, I don't know. But there does seem to be room for rational argument (not that I predict it will take place).
Criticism of Breeder S by Breeder R: Not honoring a contract: S did not pay for a female dog, B, who was sold to S by R, as S had agreed to do.
Reply: When bred by S, B produced a litter of medically defective puppies. S was told about the relevant history of such defects only after the breeding. Nor did many of the defects appear until after the dogs had left S's supervision. R agreed that S did not have to pay for B.
Comments: Regardless of R's agreement, it would seem that the contract was breached by R's not fully disclosing B's history. But disclosure comes in degrees, and there can be reasonable disagreement about how much is required. In some cases, it can be difficult to determine how much disclosure is enough. Then again, in other cases, it can be easy to see that not enough has been provided.
Criticism of Breeder Q by Puppy-Seeker P: Not providing requested references: When information was requested by P, Q did not provide, or did not provide in a timely way, contact information for owners of dogs Q had previously sold.
Reply: Without more information, it's not possible to be fully specific in reply. Q may have thought that P would not be a suitable owner, and P did not take the hint; or (receipt of) Q's response may have been delayed by circumstances beyond Q's (or P's) control. Such references are anyway of very limited utility since breeders will offer contact information for only those buyers who are relatively satisfied. Of more utility is what other breeders have to say.
Comment: P and Q do not like one another. This may have led them to make judgments about implicated dog-human relationships that were not justified. Or some or all of the judgments may have been justified and reasonable misunderstandings may have been infected by dislike. In the present context, there is good reason to follow with caution Q's assertion that what breeders have to say is generally more useful to prospective owners than what pre-selected owners have to say.
Criticism of Breeder O by Puppy-Seeker N: Failure to assist in registration: Breeder O refused, or was reluctant to help, a buyer of one of O's non-breeding dogs to register that dog.
Reply: While offered as reason to be suspicious about O, it is not at all clear that it describes a fault.
Comments: Too much paranoia is a bad thing. One must strive for just the right amount.
Criticism of Breeder M by breeders L1, L2, ..., Li: Illegal activity: M's kennel has been involved in illegal activity. M knowingly sells dogs who lack good health and/or temperament, without disclosing likely defects. M threatens other breeders with legal retribution for negative comments about M. M is facing several law suits brought by dissatisfied customers.
Reply: None known.
Comments: Some people are really bad, and some of these really bad people breed dogs. It's best to avoid really bad people, even if they breed really good dogs. (By itself, of course, the claim that lawsuits are pending against a breeder tells one little about the breeder. Good people can get sued. After all, as Oscar Wilde remarked, "No good deed goes unpunished.")
Here are (yet more!) reminders of things about people that you surely know already, but which may be worth keeping at the front of your mind as you seek a dog.
Unlike dogs, human beings often have no good way to maintain social order, so that dominant personalities are more likely to come into conflict - and to remain in conflict.
Breeders who begin with reasonable disagreements about matters of principle can end up making unreasonable claims about those on the other side. Breeders who have been shown to be wrong in some instance may become unwilling to admit this because that would feel like a "win" for the supposed opponent.
Among some dog breeders, differences in levels of income and/or formal education can add class-driven resentments to an already competitive environment.
There is a strong tendency among inferior breeders quickly or even glibly to give simple, reassuringly clear answers to questions that should not be answered in that way. Someone who, on the other hand, offers a great deal of coherent detail informed by a reasonable amount of uncertainty, is more likely to be one of the better breeders. It is therefore helpful to learn as much as possible about how to spot significant details. There is no quick and easy way to learn enough. The links provided in the main document can give you a start.
The purchase price of a dog is a relatively small fraction of the dog's cost over its lifetime with you. If the purchase price asked by a breeder seems to be a bargain, relatively speaking, then very likely it is not a bargain. A good rule of thumb is: Any breeder who does better than break even is a breeder best avoided.
I'd very strongly recommend that you study, "Before You Buy a Beauceron ...," a questionnnaire prepared by the NABC. It is a list of the questions that ought to be asked of any breeders you're thinking of dealing with. For a list of the questions that you ought to ask yourself, please see Why You Should Not Get a Beauceron as well as this page. Another recently developed source is Elaine Giannelli's About Beaucerons page.
For whatever my opinion is worth, I think that St. Sacrement Beaucerons is a fine source of information for those new to the breed, as is Kennel du Berger Noir. (St. Sacrement is about 40 miles north of Albany, NY. Berger Noir is about 20 miles from Charlottesville, VA.) This is as much a reflection of the limitations of my experience as of anything else, and I hope that with further experience, I will be in a position to recommend others as well.
I had the pleasure of visiting Kennel du Berger Noir on September 30, 2000. My human hosts, Ms. Claude (aka "Claudia") Pradier Batson and Mr. Fred Caristo, spent three hours with me and introduced me to seven of their Beaucerons, including the sire and dam of a then-forthcoming litter (which came forth on October 23). They carefully explained and demonstrated differences in temperament, conformation and ability among the dogs, and they behaved in accord with all of the afore-mentioned characteristics that one wants in breeders.
(Similarly, those interested in the Caucasian Ovcharka, the breeding of which is also affected by personality- and principle-driven splits, might consult the Caucasian Mountain Dog Worldwide Network and Esquire Caucasian Mountain Dog. Since one breeder's kennel was shut down by government authorities earlier in 2000, things have been more peaceful among the remaining breeders.)
(I must leave it to others to study breeders of American Bulldogs as well as other molossers and mastiffs.)
e-mail comments to David Austin
all the way Home
image courtesy of Creepyweb
This page was last revised on