This medium-size herding dog breed originated in Belgium where he was used to herd sheep. He later graduated to police work, and today his versatility makes him suitable for many types of work and dog sports. He’s alert, devoted, and protective.
In the late 1800s, a group of concerned dog fanciers under the guidance of Professor A. Reul of the Cureghem Veterinary Medical School gathered foundation stock from the areas around Tervuren, Groenendael, Malines, and Laeken in Belgium. Official breed creation occurred around 1891, when the Club du Chien de Berger Belge (Belgian Shepherd Dog Club) was formed in Brussels. The first breed standard was written in 1892, but official recognition did not happen until 1901, when the Royal Saint-Hubert Society Stud Book began registering Belgian Shepherd Dogs.
By 1910, fanciers managed to eliminate the most glaring faults and standardize type and temperament. There has been continued debate about acceptable colours and coat types. Structure, temperament and working ability have never been debated in regards to the standard.
In Belgium (the country of origin) all four types are considered to be varieties of a single breed, differentiated by hair colour and texture. In some non-FCI countries and other regions, they are considered separate breeds. For instance, the American Kennel Club (AKC) recognizes only the Groenendael under the name “Belgian Sheepdog”, but also recognizes the Tervuren and the Malinois as individual breeds (Belgian Tervuren and Belgian Malinois respectively).
The Belgian Shepherd Dog is a medium-to-large size dog. All varieties share a similar underlying musculoskeletal structure, closely resembling the popular German Shepherd breed save for the hindlegs. All variants also share a close cranial features, having a domed forehead, a long, square-cut muzzle and black noses with their ears pointed and fully erect. One of the identifying characteristics of the breed is that it is square, with its height from the ground to top of the withers being equal to its length.
The Groenendael is characterized by a long double coat in solid black. Fanciers consider that white marking are to be confined to a small patch on the chest (not to extend to the neck) and white toes. Coat texture is stiff, tight, and thick, developed to withstand the elements.
The Belgian Shepherd is an extremely intelligent but challenging breed to live with. Athletic, agile, graceful, and elegant, the high-energy Belgian Shepherd is frequently in motion, often moving in quick, light-footed circles.
This working dog needs a lot of exercise (running, hiking, biking, fetching) to stay in hard condition. Even more important than physical exercise is mental exercise (advanced obedience, agility, herding, Schutzhund, or tracking sports). Belgian Shepherds become bored, frustrated, and prone to obsessive behaviors without something to do. This is a demanding breed who needs ongoing supervision.
Sometimes playing the mischievous clown, yet more often serious, the Belgian Shepherd is highly observant with strangers, typically reserved and aloof, and has strong protective instincts. As such, Belgian Shepherds need more extensive socialization than most breeds so that their watchfulness doesn’t become suspicion or sharpness. Shyness and spookiness are also present in a good number of Belgian Shepherd lines.
Most Belgian Shepherds are okay with other pets if raised together, but dog-to-dog aggression is not uncommon and many individuals have a high prey drive and will pursue anything that moves. Small animals should be introduced with great care and supervision.