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Belgian Shepherd Dog

Belgian Shepherd Dog (also know as the Belgian Sheepdog or Chien de Berger Belge) can refer to any of four varieties of dog: the Groenendael, the Laekenois, the Tervuren, or the Malinois. In some regions, these are considered four different varieties of a single breed; in other regions, they are considered separate breeds.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognizes only the Groenendael under the name "Belgian Sheepdog", but also recognizes the Tervuren (with the alternative spelling "Tervueren") and the Malinois as individual breeds. The Laekenois can be registered as part of the AKC foundation stock service and should eventually be recognised fully by the AKC.

The Australian National Kennel Council and the New Zealand Kennel Club recognize all four as separate breeds. The Canadian Kennel Club, Kennel Union of South Africa and the Kennel Club (UK) follow the FCI classification scheme and recognises all four as varieties of the same breed.

All are hard-working, intelligent dogs of the same general size and temperament. They differ in their coats and superficially in appearance.

They are so closely related that, when breeding any two dogs of the same coat colour and length (eg Groenendael), it is possible for puppies of different "breeds" to be in the same litter. For example, a Groenendael litter could contain a brown-coated long-haired puppy; in countries that consider them the same breed with 4 coat varieties, this is fine and the puppy would be a valid Tervuren, but the AKC considers it to be an aberration of the all-black Belgian Shepherd and disqualifies it in the conformation ring. This dog can be bred with other Groenendaels (indeed the AKC allows this because the dog is after all registered as a Groenendael!) and worked in obedience, agility and other sports venues. Likewise, a Malinois could have a long-coated puppy; in some countries, this is merely the Tervueren coat variation but the AKC again considers it to be a disqualifiable fault in the conformation ring.

In years gone past, the Groenendael and Tervuren were one breed with coat variations until the Club decided to petition the AKC to make the separation into two separate breeds.

Belgian Shepherds are bred to be highly intelligent, alert and sensitive to everything going on around them, and to develop extremely strong relationship bonds. This means that they need significant socializing as puppies, lifelong activity outlets, and will seek to be with "their human" all the time, preferably doing something rather than waiting around. They can find it very difficult to be left alone. During their juvenile years, they can go through irrational fears (similar to the child who believes there is a monster in the closet), and can suddenly develop anxiety over some object or place which has never been a problem before, although these fade over time with a good positive lead. They tend strongly to be a "one person dog."

All the Belgian Shepherd breeds need a lot of activity and close interaction with people. Like most herding breeds, they need a job to do (be it herding, learning tricks, dog agility). Throwing a toy endlessly for the dog to fetch works for some breeds, but the Belgian breeds are intelligent and sociable dogs who can easily become bored with such simple and undemanding repetition. Many Belgians make superb assistance dogs who thrive on knowing that their jobs are indeed necessary for their chosen person.

They are widely considered to be a fine looking dog, loyal, intelligent, fun, and well suited to family life. However because of their high sensitivity to criticism or to being ignored, their careful handling and socialising needs, their need for ongoing stimulation and purposeful activity, and their potential (in common with other high energy dogs such as Siberian Huskies) to become destructive if bored, they are not usually considered suitable for a first-time or inexperienced owner, or one who cannot meet their needs.

Belgians are highly trainable dogs that thrive on intellectual stimulation, work, and partnership with their owner. They enjoy extensive training and can be taught to do any job a dog is capable of doing, including finding their toys by name, gathering dirty laundry, catching insects that get into the house, digging up weeds on command, and other tasks in addition to the usual obedience, retrieving and house-guarding. These activities are both work and play for the dog and should be enjoyed, not hurried through.


Belgian SheepdogWeight: 65-75 pounds (29-34 kg.)
Height: 24-26 inches (61-66 cm.)
Coat: Four different types
Litter size: 6-10 puppies
Life span: 12-14 years

As with most working dogs, the owner of a Belgian Shepherd must maintain his dog's repect, and respect the dog in return. Belgian shepherds can over-react badly to "negative" (punishment or deterrence based) training, so as a rule their training should be based on reward. Punishment in training can cause the Tervuren to lose respect for its trainer, if the trainer becomes angry, loses their temper, or punishes in a way that does not fit the crime. Striking the Belgian or raging shows the dog that you have lost control of the situation. Some Belgians may even provoke their trainer and then laugh at the result, exhibiting their famous sense of humor!

Overly permissive training can also cause problems for the same reason; the dog learns that it controls the relationship and loses respect for its owner. Belgians can "play dumb", pretend to be frightened or confused, and otherwise manipulate a permissive owner in order to get attention (usually their most-coveted reward). It is important for the owner to know how to train dogs or to enroll in training classes to avoid misunderstandings. Professional training is highly recommended by trainers/academies specific to this type of dog, as well as continued training or development beyond the basics, such as obedience, agility and herding and other sports. This is because Belgian Shepherds as a rule require mental stimulation as much or more so then physical. Most Belgian owners know that rote or pattern-based training is not the ideal for Belgians. Nor is drilling a particular activity going to prove successful. If a Belgian does something right 3 times in a row, he does not see the sense in doing it the fourth time.

Negative behaviors in Belgian Shepherds usually result from insufficient stimulation, both physical and mental. Bored Belgians can become annoying, destructive, manipulative or territorial, all in an effort to engage with their family and environment. These behaviors can be prevented or alleviated with play, work, and exercise. Any nervousness or phobias can also be prevented with early socialization; puppies can be taught to greet new and potentially frightening things with curiousity rather than fear, playing on their natural curiosity and intelligence.

There have been few health surveys of the individual Belgian Shepherd varieties. The UK Kennel Club conducted a 2004 health survey of all Belgian Shepherd varieties combined. The Belgian Sheepdog (Groenendael) Club of America Health Committee has a health registry questionnaire, but it is not clear whether or when results will be reported. The American Belgian Tervuren Club conducted health surveys in 1998 and 2003.

Median longevity of Belgian Shepherds (all varieties combined) in the 2004 UK survey, was 12.5 years, which is on the high side, both for purebred dogs in general and for breeds similar in size. The longest-lived of 113 deceased Belgians in the UK survey was 18.2 years. Leading causes of death were cancer (23%), cerebral vascular, i.e., stroke (13%), and old age (13%).

Average longevity of Belgian Tervurens in the 2003 American Belgian Tervuren Club survey was lower, at 10.6 years, than in the UK survey. The difference in surveys does not necessarily mean Belgian Tervurens live shorter lives than other varieties of Belgian Shepherds. Breed longevities in USA/Canada surveys are usually shorter than those in UK surveys.[7] Leading causes of death in the 2003 American Belgian Tervuren Club survey were cancer (35%), old age (23%), and organ failure (heart, kidney, liver) (13%).

Belgian Shepherds are afflicted with the most common dog health issues (reproductive, musculoskeletal, and dermatological) at rates similar to breeds in general. They differ most notably from other breeds in the high incidence of seizures and/or epilepsy. In the UK survey of Belgian Shepherds and both the 1998 and 2003 ABTC survey of Belgian Tervurens, about 9% of dogs had seizures or epilepsy. Other studies have reported rates of epilepsy in Belgian Tervurens as high as 17%, or about one in six dogs.[8] For comparison, the incidence of epilepsy/seizures in the general dog population is estimated at between 0.5% and 5.7%. See Epilepsy in animals for more information on symptoms and treatments.