The Briard is an ancient breed of large herding dog originally from France. A Briard-type dog appears in Gaston III, Count of Foix Livre de chasse ("Book of the Hunt"), written in the 14th century. According to legend, about the same time, a Briard fought a Trial by combat with Robert Macaire to avenge its owner's murder, Aubry of Montdidier. Charlemagne, Napoleon, Thomas Jefferson, and Gilbert du Motier, marquis de Lafayette are all said to have owned Briards. It became popular after the Paris dog show of 1863, after the breed had been fixed, with crosses with the Beauceron and the Barbet. During the First World War, the Briard was used, almost to the point of extinction, by the French Army as a sentry, messenger, and to search for wounded soldiers. The Briard's modern-day roles include police, military and search-and-rescue work, as well as companion dog.
They were originally bred to herd as well as guard flocks of sheep. And they were often left to their own devices in order to accomplish their assigned tasks. This makes the Briard different from those breeds that only guard and those that only herd. The breeds that just herd are often smaller in size, agile, and swift of foot. Those breeds that just guard are usually larger and heavier. Briards were used in all types of herding situations, having the ability to learn many commands and fulfill the jobs expected of them. The Briard was most commonly used as a farm dog in the more crowded farming valleys of France, where row crops were grown. Sheep were allowed to graze the grass strips between crops and Briards were responsible for keeping the sheep moving along these strips, and preventing the sheep from eating the crops. The Briard moved the sheep daily from the farm to the graze areas and back again at night. At the farm, the Briard was the shepherd’s partner, helping with livestock chores. The Briard was also used to move large flocks of sheep in areas of France that had wide grazing pastures and mountain pastures in summer. Those flocks were moved on foot, to the grazing areas, much like large sheep ranches do in the western United States and Canada. The Briards were usually worked beside one or two other breeds to keep the sheep from straying and herd the sheep to the proper areas. At night, they were alert and vigilant watchdogs, protecting the shepherds and flock from wolves and thieves.