The Belgian Shepherd Dog was originally bred to be a versatile farm dog, whose job included herding and guarding the flock, protecting his master and home, pulling carts and carrying supplies, and being a family companion. In times of war, Belgians were used as messenger dogs, alert dogs (alerting their troops of the enemy) and protection. Today, you will see Belgians in almost every dog sport competition out there: obedience, agility, fly-ball, Schutzhund (and other protection sports including Ring and IPO), dock diving, tracking, sledding, ski-jorring, herding, freestyle, draft dog, weight pull, etc. You name it; there is likely a Belgian that has done it. The Belgian is involved in police work (protection, drugs, tracking, etc,) and more and more we see Belgians doing SAR (Search and Rescue) work. The versatility of this breed also allows them to do well as Therapy Dogs and Assistance Dogs. Belgians are highly intelligent, active dogs that are very loyal and devoted to their people. They are extremely attentive and sensitive, and learn quickly when positively motivated.
Named for various regions of Belgium, the four varieties of Belgian Shepherd Dog are:
– Groenendael (long hair, all black)
– Tervuren (long hair, mahogany, fawn or grey with black mask and overlay)
– Malinois (short hair, mahogany or fawn to grey with black mask and overlay)
– Laekenois (wire/rough hair, mahogany or fawn to grey with black mask and overlay)
All four varieties are permitted to have white on the toes and on the chest. Structurally and temperamentally, the varieties should all be the same, but of course, each individual dog is different, each line and pedigree is different. There are differences between dogs bred selectively for working and dogs bred for show. This can particularly be seen in the Malinois variety.
The Belgian should be a confident dog, not scared or worried about his surroundings. He might not be the first dog in a group to jump on a stranger’s lap, but he should not show concern or aggression. An adult Belgian does not necessarily seek out attention from those he doesn’t know, but he should definitely not be scared of that attention. I like puppies to be bold and brassy, willing to take on new things and new people. The typical Belgian “aloofness” comes later, once they have grown up experiencing everything they possibly can experience.
The Belgian is a thinking breed. He watches what goes on around him. He rarely misses even the smallest detail. Because of his active mind, he needs to be socialized well as a young puppy, continuing well through his first year. Puppy classes are a must, not just for the training aspect, but also for the socialization. Clear rules and expectations for behavior need to be defined. His intelligence can cause him to take over without clear, strong leadership from his human family. Positive training methods work best for the Belgian Shepherd. A Belgian trained with harsh methods may well choose not to work for you. Keeping training happy and positively motivated will give you a dog that will keep coming back, wanting to do more.
A Belgian Shepherd can make a good family companion, though an active one. If your idea of a perfect evening after working all day is coming home and sitting in front of the television with your dog lazily dozing at your feet, the Belgian is likely not the dog for you. When you get home, tired from a days work, his day is just beginning! He needs exercise, and not just physical, but mental as well. His desire is to do something with you! He needs to be trained, he thrives when he is learning, he excels when he is working. The Belgian is a very protective dog, taking seriously the job to protect his home and family. The Belgian can be wonderful and very devoted with children when raised and socialized well with them, but due to the herding instinct that demands “order”, a Belgian should never be left with small children unsupervised.
Things to keep in mind when considering adding a Belgian to your family:
Activity Level: Can you keep up to a Belgian? Do you have the energy and the lifestyle to allow for long walks, hard runs, and training? Every dog is an individual and their activity/training needs can vary, though on the whole, the Belgian breed is a very active breed.
Time: Do you have the time to spend socializing and training your Belgian?
Leadership: Are you able to provide leadership to a dog that is always thinking, ready to make his own decisions?
Your family situation: Do you have small children, or are you planning on having them? How will the demands of a Belgian affect your family dynamics?
Grooming: The long and shorthaired varieties need to be brushed weekly to keep the coat in good condition, particularly when shedding. The wire haired variety needs to have the coat hand-stripped (pulled) a couple of times a year.
Health: Is anyone in your family allergic to dogs? The Belgian is not a hypoallergenic breed.
The Belgian is truly not a breed for everyone. His active mind and body requires exercise and work. He needs training, and he LOVES to learn new things. Is he happy to lie around the house doing nothing? Yes, he can be when he’s exercised and mentally stimulated sufficiently. Drive can vary from dog to dog. The need to be doing something can vary from dog to dog. Every dog is an individual. The key is finding the individual breed and dog for you.