Belgian Shepherd Dog Breed Guide

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Introduction Of Belgian Shepherd

The Belgian Sheepdog, also known as the Belgian Shepherd, the Chien de Berger Belge or the Groenendael, can be traced back to the late 1800s, when it was referred to as the Chien de Berger de Races Continentales, or Continental Shepherd. This breed earned its place in history when serving in World Wars I and II as messengers and transport dogs, as well as ambulance dogs. The current breed was accepted into the Herding Group of the American Kennel Club in 1959.

Belgian Shepherd Dog Breed Quick Facts

Adaptability3/5
Affection Level 4/5
Apartment Friendly 1/5
Barking Tendencies 4/5
Cat Friendly 2/5
Child Friendly 3/5
Dog Friendly3/5
Exercise Need 5/5
Grooming Needs 3/5
Health Issues 2/5
Intelligence 4/5
Playfulness 4/5

Belgian Shepherd – Physical Characteristics

Appearance

Belgian Sheepdogs are strong, muscular, yet agile and graceful on their feet. They should be squarely proportioned and be as long as they are tall. They have long muzzles with round, dark eyes and erect, triangular ears that sit high atop the head. Their tails are long and should not be stumped or cropped. They have thick double coats that should be all black or black with trace amounts of whites in preferred patterns.

Size and Weight

Male Belgian Sheepdogs should stand from 24 to 26 inches in height; females should be from 22 to 24 inches, both measured at the withers. Males under 22 ½ or over 27 ½ inches, and females under 20 ½ or over 25 ½ inches, are disqualified under the AKC breed standard. The average Belgian Sheepdog weighs between 45 and 65 pounds.

Coat and Color

Belgian Sheepdogs have double coats with a thick, long, straight topcoat and a softer undercoat. This combination helps protect the dog from extreme weather conditions, and will vary in thickness depending upon the climate where the dog lives. The coat is not soft to the touch, but a bit harsh, yet not wiry.

The preferred breed coloring is all black or black with a small bit of white between the pads of the feet, at the tips of the toes or on the chest. Some have a “salt and pepper” appearance at the muzzle. Show dogs should not have white on the front toes.

Grooming Needs

Belgian Sheepdogs require a lot of brushing to maintain their year-round shedding and to keep the coat free of tangles and mats. Weekly brushing can take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes, but daily swipes with a brush or comb can make the weekly sessions easier. Twice a year they will blow their entire coat, which will require extra grooming time. A warm bath can help release the hair and cut down the seasonal shedding time. Regular bathing only needs to occur as needed, if the dog is dirty or begins to emit a doggy odor.

Weekly teeth and ear cleaning can help promote health and keep harmful bacteria to a minimum. Active Belgians will naturally wear down their toenails, but if the nails click on a hard floor, they should be trimmed.

Belgian Shepherd – History and Health

History

The earliest documentation of the true Belgian Sheepdog dates back to the late 1800’s, when people in European countries were developing individual spirits of pride and nationalism that included developing dog breeds that would be identified with their particular homeland. The Club du Chien de Berger Belge (the Belgian Shepherd Club) was founded in 1891 for this very purpose, and it adopted the first Belgian Shepherd standard in 1893. The breed was registered by the Societe Royale Saint-Hubert in 1901. The long-haired Belgian Sheepdog was primarily developed and promoted by Nicolas Rose, a restaurateur and owner of the Chateau de Groenendael just south of Brussels. He established a thriving kennel dating back to 1893, and his stock became the basis of today’s beautiful black Belgian Sheepdogs, which were officially named the Groenendael in 1910.

While originally prized as superior herding dogs and as representatives of their home country of Belgium, this breed’s versatility and skills as a working dog became apparent even before World War I, when they were used as police and customs dogs in Europe and the United States. During the war, Belgian Sheepdogs were distinguished as message carriers and ambulance dogs. The fame of this breed took off after the war. The Belgian Sheepdog Club of America was founded in 1919, and by 1926 the breed was ranked 42nd out of 100 breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club. During the Great Depression, the Belgian Sheepdog’s popularity in the United States declined dramatically, and the American breed club ceased to function. During World War II, the breed resurfaced as a military assistant and guard dog. The current Belgian Sheepdog Club of America was formed in 1949, and the breed standard was approved by the AKC in 1959. This breed continues to thrive in obedience, agility, conformation, tracking, schutzhund, herding, sledding, police work, search and rescue and as guide and therapy dogs. Perhaps their most profound accomplishment is being loving, gentle and devoted companions.

Health Characteristics

Overall the Belgian Sheepdog is a healthy breed of dog. The average life expectancy of the Belgian Sheepdog dog breed is between 10 and 14 years. This is comparable to the median lifespan of most purebred dogs (10 to 13 years), and consistant with most breeds similar in size. Potential hereditary defects and disorders commonly found, but not necessarily found, in the Belgian Sheepdog are as follows:

  • Elbow Dysplasia: Leads to malformation and degeneration of the elbow joint, with accompanying front limb lameness
  • Epilepsy: Refers to a group of clinical signs that result from over-stimulation of the brain
  • Hip Dysplasia: Involves abnormal development and/or degeneration of the coxofemoral (hip) joint
  • Hypothyroidism: Inadequate production and release of the thyroid hormones triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4)
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy: Group of degenerative eye disorders that eventually lead to permanent blindness in both eyes

Belgian Sheepdog – Temperament & Personality

Personality

Intelligent, alert and brave, the Belgian Sheepdog is an ideal companion for an active family. They were bred to herd livestock, so they like to constantly be moving or entertained, whether it’s playing with children, going on long walks, or chasing a frisbee. Their vigilance makes them excellent watchdogs, and they can be trusted to keep a watchful eye on the kids when playing outside. They can be trained to do just about any task, and will do every task put before them with efficiency and grace.

Activity Requirements

Belgian Sheepdogs are not ideal for couch potatoes, as they need a lot of physical activity to remain happy and healthy. Apartments are not ideal, because daily walks won’t cut it for the Belgian Sheepdog. They need to run, jump and play every single day. If they don’t get enough activity, they can quickly become destructive.

This breed is perfect for families with big, fenced-in yards and kids to play with. Belgians will want to be included in all outdoor family activities including walking, running, playing catch or frisbee, and swimming. They love interacting with people and shouldn’t be left alone too long during the day.

Trainability

Though sometimes willful and stubborn, Belgians are highly trainable and thrive on advanced obedience, trick and agility training. They can read small movements and even changes in facial expression, and are famous for being so “in tune” with their trainers that they can literally stay one step ahead of the person giving commands. For this reason, Belgian Sheepdogs are often competitors (and champions) in agility and herding competitions.

Though easily trainable, Belgians are not for the first-time dog owner. They are highly intelligent and manipulative, and can easily walk all over someone who does not know how to remain consistent with training. Positive reinforcement is the best method to train a Belgian Sheepdog, as discipline can lead to avoidance behavior and stubbornness.

Behavioral Traits

The herding nature of Belgian Sheepdogs makes them prone to chasing. Bikes, cars, kids, or other animals can cause this dog to take off running. Fenced yards and leashes can keep them from running off into the sunset and possibly getting hurt. Small animals should not be brought into a Belgian’s home or yard, as their instinct may be to chase and hurt the animal.

This inborn herding nature also makes Belgian Sheepdogs protective of their home and family and makes them wary of strangers. It is important that they be socialized as early as possible to learn the difference between a welcome guest and an unwelcome guest, or aggression can develop.

Chewing, barking and separation anxiety can sometimes develop in this breed, but that can be attributed to lack of exercise and boredom. Committing to a Belgian Sheepdog means committing to an active lifestyle.

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