Have you seen the movie Because of Winn Dixie? We watched it recently and fell in love with the big, scruffy mutt that played the title role. But wait – was the role of Winn Dixie really played by a mixed breed? Many famous animal actors really are mutts. For instance, the famous Higgins of Petticoat Junction and Benji fame was a rescued shelter mutt, so it’s entirely possible that Winn Dixie was too. Curious, I decided to research it and discovered that he wasn’t a mutt at all. Even though the dog that played Winn Dixie looked like a shaggy, loveable cross between several breeds, he was actually a Berger Picard.
Pronounced “bare ZHAY pee CARR,” the Berger Picard is a rare French purebred dog whose origins date back to the ninth century. This herding breed is also referred to as a Picardy Shepherd.
The breed was introduced to northern France by the Celts in the ninth century. The Berger Picard became useful for herding sheep and cattle as well as for smuggling tobacco and other contraband across the borders between France and Belgium. In the early 1900s, the Berger Picard was considered a legitimate breed and the first breed standards were written.
With a medium-sized, muscular build, these dogs are longer than they are tall. Fully mature Berger Picard males can reach approximately 24 to 26 inches tall and weigh around 70 pounds. The females stand roughly between 22 to 24 inches tall and weigh between 50 to 60 pounds.
As mentioned, these dogs have a tousled, scruffy appearance while somehow still managing to look elegant. They have a stiff-feeling, weatherproof topcoat with a compact undercoat in colors of brindle and fawn, sometimes highlighted with gray. Their ears stand straight up in the shape of an elongated triangle with a wide base. They have thick, expressive eyebrows and a natural smile, which enhances their universal appeal.
Picardy Shepherds are high energy, intelligent dogs that have a slightly stubborn streak. They respond well to firm, fair leadership and prove to be easily trained with positive feedback. With proper socialization, they tend to mellow out and become a relaxed member of the family. These dogs make loyal, friendly, loving companions and are known to have a sweet temperament with children. They crave a tight bond with their human companions and want to stay in close proximity to their family.
Interestingly, they are also reported to have quite a comical nature, and demonstrate a good sense of humor. Their flair for comedy combined with their natural smile make these dogs irresistible.
Regarding physical care, it’s best to brush their wiry, dense coat regularly to prevent matting. This breed is also known for their picky eating habits, so it’s important to make nutritious, premium quality dog food like CANIDAE available to them.
These sturdy, rare dogs are relatively healthy. The only issues reported are hip dysplasia and possible eye conditions. With the proper exercise, nutrition and socialization, these dogs can live to be anywhere between 12 to 14 years of age.
The producers of the Because of Winn Dixie movie did, in fact, intend to use a mixed breed dog for the title role. To stay with the tight production schedule, however, they needed several animal actors that looked alike so Winn Dixie was actually played by multiple, similar-looking Berger Picards. In true Hollywood fashion, a rare, European purebred dog played the role of a shaggy, loveable mutt.