Belgian Sheepdog 101: Basics of This Herding Breed

Published February 1, 2022
Two amazing Groenendaels sitting in winter

Belgian Sheepdogs are protective defenders of their family. They are extremely loyal and obedient once a bond has been formed, which is why they are often seen working in police and military forces. Although they always want a job and a purpose, they also make excellent family companions.

Origin and History

The black-coated Belgian Sheepdog was developed by Nicolas Rose in the late 1800s. The Belgian name, Groenendael, comes from Rose's estate outside Brussels, known as Chateau de Groenendael. The dogs became popular quickly and were used in various police forces throughout Belgium, France, and parts of the United States in the early 1900s. They were recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) shortly after in 1912.

As with other strong breeds, the Belgian Sheepdog was utilized throughout World War I. They were responsible for relaying messages and pulling carts. Their population increased again after the war and led to the formation of the Belgian Sheepdog Club of America in 1919.

They served again in World War II, but fortunately, their numbers did not decline noticeably. Their popularity has continued to increase with time.

Divergent Lines

The Groenendael is one of four varieties of shepherds developed in Belgium in the 1800s, all of which are classified as a single breed in their native country. The most recognizable of these is the Malinois. However, in addition to the Groenendael, there are two other lines: the Tervuren and Laekenois. The AKC recognizes all four lines as separate breeds.

Breed Characteristics

Young Belgian Shepherd dog (Groenendael variety)

The Belgian Sheepdog is demanding of attention and will require a significant amount of time spent with you. They will happily join in on an adventure, but if you're going to leave the house without them for long periods of time, this is not the breed for you.

Appearance

The Belgian Sheepdog is double-coated with a long, harsh topcoat and a soft, dense undercoat. The undercoat is designed to protect them from the elements and varies in thickness, dependent upon the environment in which they are living. The fur on the head is short, with tufts of fur covering the opening of each ear. The fur on the rest of the body is long and there may be extra found around the neck. The colarette, or fur around the neck, is often more noticeable in males.

Most of the time, these dogs are completely black, but you may see them in black with white on the feet or chest. The AKC does not accept white on the tips of the front toes, but this is a coloration that may also be noticed in the breed.

Belgian Sheepdog males stand 24 to 26 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh 65 to 75 pounds, while females measure 22 to 24 inches tall and weigh 60 to 70 pounds.

Temperament

Belgian Sheepdogs are bold, perceptive, and devoted. They're recognized for having a lot of energy and being loyal to a fault. They require a significant amount of attention and bonding time. They want to interact with the family, but will also gladly attach themselves to a single person. That being said, they can develop severe separation anxiety. If you -- or someone your dog is familiar with -- aren't home regularly, this is not the breed for you.

They're great with children, but due to their herding instincts, Belgian Sheepdogs may nip at ankles. Fortunately, this behavior can be trained out of them as puppies. Aside from that, they will be your child's most loyal protector.

Early socialization is a must with this breed, as with all others. Interaction with new sights, experiences, sounds, and smells as a puppy will assist your dog's transition into a well-rounded adult.

Training

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The Belgian Sheepdog is intelligent and understands what you are teaching them, but they do have a stubborn streak that makes them relatively difficult to train especially, if they have not yet bonded to you. Trust and loyalty are earned with this breed, but once you have these, you will have a hard time finding a more obedient dog.

Avoid punishment or scolding, as these methods can severely damage the bond you share with your dog. In some cases, punishment can cause irreparable damage and you won't ever get that strong bond back. Use positive reinforcement techniques and remain patient. Spend valuable time and earn your dog's trust and you will notice improvement.

Exercise Requirements

Exercise is critical with this breed, but take care to protect their joints and bones. Introduce puppies to exercise gradually to avoid damage in the future.

Offer puppies between 9 weeks and 4 months old light exercise in the form of play and brief walks. If they run on their own, that's acceptable, but you should never push them. Brief, 10- to 15-minute periods of exercise a few times each day are sufficient at this age.

From 4 to 6 months, permit puppies to walk up to half of a mile, and give them moderate exercise as needed. Generally, this will be about an hour each day.

After your puppy reaches 6 months of age, at least two hours of exercise is typically necessary for them to remain happy and healthy. Walks should still be limited to half of a mile to avoid wear and tear on the joints. If possible, you can also allow them to roam freely in a fenced area for as long as they desire.

Health

Like all breeds, Belgian Sheepdogs are prone to several conditions:

  • Gastric torsion: Commonly known as bloat, this condition affects deep-chested and large dogs, generally occurring when they drink or eat too quickly. It can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention.
  • Hip and elbow dysplasia: A genetic condition where the femur doesn't fit properly into the pelvic socket. This can lead to lameness in the back legs and pain. Similarly, elbow dysplasia involves the bones in the elbow joints not fitting together correctly.
  • Hypothyroidism: A condition affecting the thyroid that can generally be managed with medication.
  • Progressive retinal atrophy: A degenerative genetic condition affecting photoreceptors in the eyes that leads to blindness.

Lifespan

The Belgian Shepherd has an average lifespan of 10 to 14 years.

Grooming

Like dogs with similar coat types, this breed is a heavy, year-round shedder. They will also shed extra heavy at least once per year dependent upon where they live.

To keep their coat healthy and prevent fur from piling up in corners around your home, prepare to spend at least 20 minutes brushing their coat on a weekly basis. If possible, it's recommended to brush them once per day with a pin brush. This will catch mats and tangles in the early stages, making these easier to remove. It will also remove any dead fur and distribute oils throughout the coat. To avoid stripping the natural oils from their fur, only bathe Belgian Sheepdogs as needed.

Fun Facts About the Breed

The Belgian Sheepdog is well-known for their commitment to their family, but here are some tidbits you may not know:

  • They excel in drug, bomb, and gas detection.
  • The Belgian Sheepdog is anatomically identical to the Belgian Malinois, Tervuren, and Laekenois. The difference is in their coat texture, color, and length.
  • They worked with the Red Cross during World War I and II.
  • They appreciate consistency and routine.

Purchasing or Adopting a Belgian Sheepdog

Young Belgian Shepherd dog (Groenendael variety)

If you're looking for a Belgian Sheepdog puppy, a good place to start is with the Belgian Sheepdog Club of America. The club has a breeder directory available as well as helpful tips on how to find responsible breeders with quality dogs. The AKC PuppyFinder page also has a breeder search. Expect to pay around $900 to $1,800, although higher-end show dogs from champion lines can cost as much as $3,000.

Rescue Organizations

If you're interested in a rescue dog, begin your search with PetFinder and Save-a-Rescue. You can also contact this breed-specific rescue organization:

  • Belgian Sheepdog Rescue Trust: An organization started by the Belgian Sheepdog Club of America to rescue and re-home Belgian Sheepdogs across the United States.

Is this the Breed for You?

A Belgian Sheepdog is a good choice if you are an energetic person looking for a high-energy, clever companion. They're not the greatest breed for those who live in apartments, have sedentary lifestyles, or don't want to deal with a lot of dog fur. Before bringing a Belgian Sheepdog home, make sure you're willing to put in the effort to meet their needs.

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Belgian Sheepdog 101: Basics of This Herding Breed