About Belgian Shepherd Dogs
During the 1800's Belgian Shepherd Dogs were bred in different regions of Belgium as all-purpose farm dogs. Their jobs included acting as a moving fence, herding, and driving a farmer's stock as well as protecting the family farm. During wartime they were also used to pull carts and as messenger dogs.
Due to regional variety four distinct types of Belgian Shepherding dogs developed. They were the Malinois (Mal-in-wah), a short-haired brown dog with black mask, Tervuren (Terv-yur-n), a long-haired brown dog with black mask, Laekenois (Lack-in-wah), a wire-haired brown dog with black mask, and Groenendael (Grun-en-doll) a long-haired solid black dog. All of the varieties share common ancestry and mixed variety litters are not uncommon.
The black Groenendael was the first variety to reach the United States and underwent a name change to become the Belgian Sheepdog, which it is still known as today. The black dogs were registered by the American Kennel Club in 1912. "Tervs" and "Mals" were also shown as Belgian Sheepdogs until 1959, when the AKC granted them their own breed status. The "Laken" is still not recognized by the AKC and is very rare in the US.
All varieties of Belgians are VERY HIGH ENERGY, intelligent dogs. They are exceptional watch dogs around the house and are very devoted to those they are close to. They are an extremely versatile breed that is often used for police work, search and rescue, service dogs, and excel in schutzhund, agility, obedience, and flyball. Most Belgians have also retained their herding instinct and excel in this avenue. They are a busy-minded breed that MUST HAVE A JOB and can become destructive if left to their own devices. Belgians crave attention from their owners and do not do well as back-yard pets.
Like many of the herding and guarding breeds they can be suspicious of strangers and alert to new and unusual situations. Belgians should never be shy of people or common everyday items in their environment, but unfortunately many are. They are very visual breed and use their eyes as much as their noses and can be reactive to unusual sights. As puppies and young dogs they need EXTENSIVE SOCIALIZATION to many different situations to become confident about the world around them. They are usually not a breed recomended for first time dog owners or an owner that wants a dog that will require little of their time.
Belgians tend to be sensitive dogs that do not take well to harsh training methods, though can be strong willed and need consistent and firm handling. Most Belgians love to please their owners and will try very hard to make you happy. They get bored with repetition and have a funny sense of humor. Early obedience training is a must!
All variety of Belgians should have a harsh weatherproof coat with finer undercoat. Malinois, have the shortest coat, which sheds a moderate amount year round. The long-haired varieties shed a very small amount year round, but profusely in spring and fall. The wire-haired Lakenois needs to have its coat stripped once a year to keep the correct harsh coat. All varieties should be brushed a minimum of once a week. They also need toenail trimming every other week and regular dental care.
The Belgian is an elegant, square bodied dog that should have moderate angles on both ends. A well-sloped shoulder enables good reach and drive with the foreleg and matching angles in rear enable the well-structured Belgian to move effortlessly and efficiently. They are endurance trotters who should be able to work all day and very light on their feet. The Belgian should never be a heavy breed, but neither should it be frail. Males range in size from 23" to 27" in height at the shoulder and females from 21" to 25." Belgians range in weight from 40 to 80 pounds. Males tend to be more impressive to look at and carry heavier coats in the long haired varieties.
At times Belgians are rescued from humane societies or people must get rid of a dog for some reason. There are often several dogs of each variety in the Belgian rescue system looking for new homes. Dogs three years or older are often past the peak of their youthful energy and make exceptional companions, as they don't have as high a need for exercise.
While a relatively healthy breed, there are some health issues that prospective owners should be aware of. Hip dysplasia, eye problems, cancer and epilepsy are all problems that are not uncommon in the breed. Most healthy Belgians live to be 10-14 years old.
If planning on buying a puppy, always ask for health clearances for both parents. All breeding dogs in the US should have OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) numbers for hips and elbows as well as current CERF clearances for eye diseases. Unfortunately there is not presently a test for epilepsy, but knowledgeable breeders should be able to provide background health information about their dogs and a few generations behind them. If a breeder tells you that there are no health issues in their pedigrees or lines, run away! All lines have some health concerns!! Because temperament issues are also a common problem in the breed make sure to try and meet the mother of the litter and talk with your breeder about temperament as well.
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