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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
The first impression of the Belgian Sheepdog is that of a well balanced, square dog, elegant in appearance, with an exceedingly proud carriage of the head and neck. He is a strong, agile, well muscled animal, alert and full of life. His whole conformation gives the impression of depth and solidity without bulkiness. The male dog is usually somewhat more impressive and grand than his female counterpart. The bitch should have a distinctly feminine look. Faults - Any deviation from these specifications is a fault. In determining whether a fault is minor, serious, or major, these two factors should be used as a guide: 1. The extent to which it deviates from the standard. 2. The extent to which such deviation would actually affect the working ability of the dog.
Size, Proportion, Substance
Males should be 24-26 inches in height and females 22-24 inches, measured at the withers. Males under 22½ or over 27½ inches in height and females under 20½ or over 25½ inches in height shall be disqualified. The length, measured from point of breastbone to point of rump, should equal the height. Bitches may be slightly longer. Bone structure should be moderately heavy in proportion to his height so that he is well balanced throughout and neither spindly or leggy nor cumbersome and bulky. The Belgian Sheepdog should stand squarely on all fours. Side view - The topline, front legs, and back legs should closely approximate a square.
Clean-cut and strong, overall size should be in proportion to the body. Expression indicates alertness, attention, readiness for activity. Gaze should be intelligent and questioning. Eyes brown, preferably dark brown. Medium size, slightly almond shaped, not protruding. Ears triangular in shape, stiff, erect, and in proportion to the head in size. Base of the ear should not come below the center of the eye. Ears hanging (as on a hound) shall disqualify. Skull - Top flattened rather than rounded. The width approximately the same, but not wider than the length. Stop moderate. Muzzle moderately pointed, avoiding any tendency to snipiness, and approximately equal in length to that of the topskull. The jaws should be strong and powerful. Nose black without spots or discolored areas. The lips should be tight and black, with no pink showing on the outside. Teeth - A full complement of strong, white teeth, evenly set. Should not be overshot or undershot. Should have either an even bite or a scissors bite.
Neck, Topline, Body
Neck round and rather outstretched, tapered from head to body, well muscled, with tight skin. Topline--The withers are slightly higher and slope into the back, which must be level, straight, and firm from withers to hip joints. Chest not broad, but deep. The lowest point should reach the elbow, forming a smooth ascendant curve to the abdomen. Abdomen--Moderate development. Neither tucked up nor paunchy. The loin section, viewed from above, is relatively short, broad and strong, but blending smoothly into the back. The croup is medium long, sloping gradually. Tail strong at the base, bone to reach hock. At rest the dog holds it low, the tip bent back level with the hock. When in action he raises it and gives it a curl, which is strongest toward the tip, without forming a hook. Cropped or stump tail shall disqualify.
Shoulder long and oblique, laid flat against the body, forming a sharp angle (approximately 90 degrees) with the upper arm. Legs straight, strong and parallel to each other. Bone oval rather than round. Development (length and substance) should be well proportioned to the size of the dog. Pastern medium length, strong, and very slightly sloped. Feet round (cat footed), toes curved close together, well padded. Nails strong and black, except that they may be white to match white toe tips.
Legs--Length and substance well proportioned to the size of the dog. Bone oval rather than round. Legs are parallel to each other. Thighs broad and heavily muscled. The upper and lower thigh bones approximately parallel the shoulder blade and upper arm respectively, forming a relatively sharp angle at stifle joint. The angle at the hock is relatively sharp, although the Belgian Sheepdog does not have extreme angulation. Metatarsus medium length, strong and slightly sloped. Dewclaws, if any, should be removed. Feet slightly elongated. Toes curved close together, well padded. Nails strong and black, except that they may be white to match white toe tips.
The guard hairs of the coat must be long, well fitting, straight and abundant. They should not be silky or wiry. The texture should be a medium harshness. The undercoat should be extremely dense, commensurate, however, with climatic conditions. The Belgian Sheepdog is particularly adaptable to extremes of temperature or climate. The hair is shorter on the head, outside of the ears, and lower part of the legs. The opening of the ear is protected by tufts of hair. Ornamentation-- Especially long and abundant hair, like a collarette, around the neck; fringe of long hair down the back of the forearm; especially long and abundant hair trimming the hindquarters, the breeches; long, heavy and abundant hair on the tail.
Black. May be completely black, or may be black with white, limited as follows: Small to moderate patch or strip on forechest. Between pads of feet. On tips of hind toes. On chin and muzzle (frost may be white or gray). On tips of front toes--allowable, but a fault.
Any color other than black, ex-cept for white in specified areas. Reddening due to climatic conditions in an otherwise correct coat should not be grounds for disqualification.
Motion should be smooth, free and easy, seemingly never tiring, exhibiting facility of movement rather than a hard driving action. He tends to single track on a fast gait; the legs, both front and rear, converging toward the center line of gravity of the dog. The backline should remain firm and level, parallel to the line of motion, with no crabbing. He shows a marked tendency to move in a circle rather than a straight line.
The Belgian Sheepdog should reflect the qualities of intelligence, courage, alertness and devotion to master. To his inherent aptitude as a guardian of flocks should be added protectiveness of the person and property of his master. He should be watchful, attentive, and always in motion when not under command. In his relationship with humans, he should be observant and vigilant with strangers, but not apprehensive. He should not show fear or shyness. He should not show viciousness by unwarranted or unprovoked attack. With those he knows well, he is most affectionate and friendly, zealous of their attention, and very possessive. Viciousness is a disqualification.
Males under 22½ or over 27½ inches in height and females under 20½ or over 25½ inches in height.
Ears hanging (as on a hound).
Cropped or stump tail.
Any color other than black.
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Sources: American Kennel Club