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The Belgian Sheepdog is a medium to large purebred from Belgium and is also called the Groenendael. The Belgian Sheepdog is a name the AKC have given the dog, but to the rest of the world it is called a Belgian Groenendael or just Groenendael. It is one of four sheepdogs the others being the Laekenois, Malinois and the Tervuren. It was bred to be a herding dog but today also does well in dog agility, obedience and other dog sports as well as in working roles that include drug detection, police dogs, search and rescue, assistance dogs and military dogs. Some countries like the US consider the four dogs to be separate breeds, but Belgium and some other countries see them to be different types of the same breed.
|The Belgian Sheepdog at A Glance|
|Other names||Groenendael, Belgian Shepherd Dog|
|Average size||Medium to large|
|Average weight||40 to 75 pounds|
|Average height||22 to 26 inches|
|Life span||10 to 14 years|
|Coat type||Long, dense|
|Color||Black with white markings|
|Popularity||Not very popular – ranked 125th by the AKC|
|Intelligence||Very intelligent – Top 15 of most intelligent dogs|
|Tolerance to heat||Good – can handle warm weather but nothing too hot or extreme|
|Tolerance to cold||Very good – can live with cold weather just not extreme cold|
|Shedding||Constant – be prepared for hair around the home and regular vacuuming|
|Drooling||Low – not prone to slobber or drool|
|Obesity||Low – not prone to weight gain|
|Grooming/brushing||Moderate – needs daily brushing|
|Barking||Frequent – training will be needed to control it|
|Exercise needs||Very active – needs daily exercise and mental stimulation|
|Trainability||Easy to train for those with experience|
|Friendliness||Excellent with socialization|
|Good first dog||Good but best with experienced owners|
|Good family pet||Very good with socialization|
|Good with children||Excellent with socialization|
|Good with other dogs||Excellent with socialization|
|Good with other pets||Good to very good with socialization – has high prey drive|
|Good with strangers||Very good with socialization|
|Good apartment dog||Moderate – best with a home that has a large yard|
|Handles alone time well||Good – can be left alone for short periods|
|Health issues||Quite a healthy breed some issues can include eye problems, allergies, joint dysplasia and epilepsy|
|Medical expenses||$485 for basic care and medical insurance|
|Food expenses||$270 a year for treats and a good quality dry dog food|
|Miscellaneous expenses||$655 a year for miscellaneous items, toys, license, grooming and basic training|
|Average annual expenses||$1410 as a starting figure|
|Cost to purchase||$1,350|
|Rescue organizations||Several including the Belgian Sheepdog Club of America Rescue|
|Biting Statistics||None reported|
The Belgian Sheepdog’s Beginnings
The Belgian Sheepdog comes from Belgium and it likely has been around for hundreds of years in some form where it was used as a herding dog, guard dog and watchdog. It was not until the late 1800s that a group of dog fans including Professor A Reul from Cureghen Veterinary Medical School gathered together examples of the four types of Belgian shepherds and formed in 1891 the Club du Chien de Berger Belge, (The Belgian Shepherd Dog Club) in Brussels. All four types the Malinois (short coat, black mask, fawn to mahogany), the Groenendael (long, black coat), the Tervuren (black mask, fawn to mahogany, long) and the Laekenois (rough coat, fawn) were part of that club.
In 1892 a breed standard was written and in 1901 they were officially recognized in Belgium as one breed with 4 types mostly separated by coat type. In 1910 breeders had standardized both their look and their temperament and obvious faults has been eliminated (though there continues today to be debate about coat type and colors).
Interest and focus on the Belgian Sheepdog (Groenendael) came from a breeder called Nicolas Rose who started a kennel in 1893. There is some debate about the dogs name, some say simply it was named after the village of Groenendael and some that Rose’s estate was called Chateau Groenendael and the name comes from that. His foundation dogs Petite and Picard d’Uccle are the ancestors of most of today’s Belgian Sheepdogs.
In 1919 the Belgian Sheepdog Club of America was formed. Inthe early 1900s the dogs were used in Paris and New York as police dogs, the Belgium border patrol officers has this breed with them, and later during the first world war they were use to pull gun carts, take messages, pull ambulance carts and in many other areas. They then also served in World War II and as a result numbers dropped dramatically.
New Lease on Life
After the world wars and the depression era some attempt was made by breeders to recover the its numbers. As mentioned in most countries including Belgium all four types are viewed as one breed. The AKC since 1959 and some other clubs though recognize them as 4 separate breeds. In Belgium they are popular breeds and the Malinois and Laekenois being more popular than the other two as working dogs but still all four are used. Today the Belgian Sheepdog is ranked 125th by the AKC.
The Dog You See Today
The Belgian Sheepdog is a medium to large dog weighing 40 to 75 pounds and standing 22 to 26 inches tall. It has a muscled and squared body that is well proportioned with straight and strong legs. Its dewclaws are often removed and it has feet that are almost cat like. Its tail is feathered, and has a strong base. It has a double coat, the under layer is shorter and soft and the outer coat is weather-resistant, long, coarse, stiff and thick. There is a ruff at the neck that is more noticeable in males. There is also feathering on the legs, and under the body. It tends to be black in color with some small white markings on the toes, chin and chest.
Its head is in proportion to its body and the top of its skull is flat. It has a muzzle that is moderately pointed and its eyes are medium sized, brown and almond shaped. Its ears are triangular, erect and they have a tuft of hair at the opening that protect them. The forehead is domed and it has a black nose.
The Inner Belgian Sheepdog
The Groenendael is a great watchdog, it is alert and will bark to let you know if there is someone breaking into your home. It is also a very protective breed so it will be fearless and brave and do what it has to defend you, the family and the home. It can be owner by new owners but will likely do better with experienced ones because it is independent and strong willed. This dog can be aggressive if it feels threatened or it needs to be but in in the right home when raised well is not really an aggressive breed. It is intelligent, loyal, very sensitive, playful and energetic. It is also quite a frequent barker so training will be needed to control that, and neighbors really close by who are not dog fans are not a great idea!
This is a determined dog and while it is very popular as a guard or police working dog it can also be a great pet with the right kind of owner who can be strong in leadership so the dog knows its places. This is not a dog that will be happy being left outside and living in a kennel, it needs attention and companionship and should be a part of the family. It does form very strong bonds with its family. If it is ignored, does not get enough activity, socialization or training it can be destructive and very hard to deal with.
The Belgian Sheepdog can be a mix of mischievous and playful and then being more serious. Around strangers though it tends to be reserved and socialization is important to stop it from being overly suspicious. There are some lines where some are more prone to being overly shy so that socialization is essential there too.
Living with a Belgian Sheepdog
What will training look like?
For people with experience this is an easy or moderately easy to train breed of dog. It can be responsive, and obedient when its trainer is firm, consistent, clear, and confident. For inexperienced owners who do not seek help though it will be harder. It can vary from one dog to another in how eager to please and quick to learn it is or how willful and dominant it is. Belgians need you to set the rules and to stick to them even when it tries to push you into letting it get its own way. Avoid being heavy handed with it, it needs positive techniques and encouragement and the use of treats, not constant scolding, badgering and physical corrections. Also be ready for its very quick reflexes that mean it can throw you off in terms of timing your signals and commands. It is good at reading you, anticipating and then you are quickly no longer the one in charge.
Also important is early socialization. You should begin as soon as the puppy is home to prevent it becoming too shy or nervous, to stop it from being over protective and to give it confidence. Introduce it to different people, places, sounds, situations and animals so it knows how to react, and is used to them and knows what is normal and what is not.
How active is the Belgian Sheepdog?
Regular exercise is needed with the Belgian as it is a very active breed. If it is not being used as a working dog it is best in a home with a yard of some kind, and needs owners who are committed to being active themselves so there is no resentment when it comes to walking and taking it out. A couple of long walks a day will be needed and it will need to be on a leash in case it tries to chase smaller strange animals. It can also join you for hikes, jogging, biking and so on and enjoys the usual games like fetch. Make sure you play with it and give it a chance to go off leash somewhere safe where it can run free. This is a breed that also needs mental stimulation. If it is not getting enough opportunities to burn off its energy and engage its mind it will become bored, difficult, aggressive and destructive, and it will be harder to control.
Caring for the Belgian Sheepdog
In terms of maintenance and grooming needs this is a moderate to high need dog. Its coat is long so it tangles easily, especially where there is feathering and it picks up debris and dirt. It is also a heavy shedding dog, there will be a lot of hair around the home and on clothing. Therefore it needs daily brushing and combing, and there may be a need to cut out mats that are too difficult that might form in thicker places like the neck ruff. It also will shed in heavier clumps when it is time for seasonal shedding. Grooming tools you will need include things like a wire slicker for the puppies and for shorter haired places and then for the long hair a medium pin brush, a grooming rake and comb for mats. Give it a bath when needed though when in a deep seasonal shed one or two warm baths can hep with that.
It should also have its nails checked and trimmed if they get too long. Sometimes dogs can wear down their nails naturally from their activity but if that is not the case with your dog have them taken care of by a groomer or do it yourself but with care. There are blood vessels and nerves in the lower part if you cut or even just nick that it will hurt your dog a great deal and cause bleeding. There are also proper dog nail clippers you can get. Its teeth should be brushed two to three times a week and its ears checked once a week for infection and given a clean. Do that by wiping them using a dog ear cleanser and cotton ball, or damp cloth not by inserting anything into the ear.
Feed your Belgian Sheepdog at least 2½ to 3 cups of a good quality dry dog food a day, split into two meals at least. How much your dog may need exactly can vary if it is more or less active, its metabolism rate, how big it is, its health and even its age.
How is the Belgian Sheepdog with children and other animals?
The Belgian Sheepdog is a good dog with children when it is in a good home with a strong owner and has had socialization. It also helps when they have been raised with them. It will play, is affectionate and protective and does better with older children rather than young ones as toddlers tend to interact too erratically and can tug and pull at them. The Belgian does have a tendency to nip at the heels of people, children and other pets trying to herd them so this will need to be controlled with good training. Teach children how to pet dogs, things not to do and how to be kind to them.
With other pets socialization and being raised with them in the home does help in them being accepted and being safe. Some Belgians will be affectionate even towards then, and some may just be indifferent. However some can have a high prey drive so small animals may not be as safe around it, especially strange small animals out in the yard, cats that try to pass through or squirrels in the trees for example. If you already have your Belgian Sheepdog and want to bring home a small pet like a rabbit for example you need to do it very carefully. With other dogs it can be aggressive if confronted by a dominant strange dog of the same sex as it is.
What Might Go Wrong?
The Belgian Sheepdog has a life span of 10 to 14 years and is quite a healthy dog. There are some minor health issues it can be prone to and a couple of more serious ones but not all Belgians will have to deal with them. They include skin allergies, bloat, epilepsy, joint dysplasia, pannus, cancer, hypothyroidism, anesthesia sensitivity and eye problems.
In reports of dogs attacking people and causing bodily harm in the US and Canada over the past 35 years, there is no mention of the Belgian Sheepdog being involved. The Malinois has been though, 7 attacks with 4 of those being maimings. It is possible since the four breeds are similar that a Groenendael Belgian Shepherd has been involved but has just been misnamed/identified. The reason we mention this is that in general the temperament of the four dogs is similar so if the Malinois is able to have incidents of aggression like this, so is the Groenendael. Its protective nature can turn over protective which can make it aggressive. It can be overly shy which can make it aggressive. It is important when choosing a dog you get one suited to your lifestyle and experience. Can you really handle the amount of exercise this dog needs, and how much attention, socialization and training it will need. Dogs that are properly cared for are less likely to have incidents of attacks. However at the end of the day any dog can have a bad day regardless of its level of aggression or care.
Your Pup’s Price Tag
A Belgian Sheepdog puppy if bought from a good breeder of pet quality dogs will cost somewhere around $1350. For one from a top breeder of show quality dogs that is going to be a lot higher up into several thousands of dollars or more. Since this is not a dog that is as common as some in the US you may have to get put on a waiting list there. But that is worth it, at least you have some guarantees about the line your dog comes from and its health. That would not be the case with a dog from a back yard breeder, pet store or puppy mill.
There are some things your dog will need when you have one. A collar and leash, crate, food bowls and such will cost around $180. Initial medical needs like an examination by a vet, shots, deworming, blood tests, micro chipping and spaying or neutering will cost around $290.
Yearly costs are another responsibility pet owners need to be prepared for. Food costs are going to be around $270 for a good quality dry dog food and for dog treats. Medical basics like flea and tick prevention, shots and check ups along with pet insurance are going to cost around $485 a year. Other miscellaneous costs like toys, grooming, license, miscellaneous items and basic training are going to be about $655 a year. This gives an annual starting figure of $1410.
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The Belgian Sheepdog is a dog that needs owners fully aware of its needs before they bring it home. This is a breed that needs a lot of grooming, there will be lots of hair in the home, it needs lots of activity and it needs an owner who is experienced, able to be in control at all times, and one who knows how important basic training and early socialization is. It is a smart dog, very active and very loyal. It can be strong minded but with the right care and owner it gets along well with others and makes a good family dog or a good working dog.
Featured Image Credit: icemanphotos, Shutterstock
Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts’ knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.
- The Belgian Sheepdog’s Beginnings
- New Lease on Life
- The Dog You See Today
- The Inner Belgian Sheepdog
- Living with a Belgian Sheepdog
- Caring for the Belgian Sheepdog
- How is the Belgian Sheepdog with children and other animals?
- What Might Go Wrong?
- Your Pup’s Price Tag