Belgian Sheepdog (Belgian Shepherd)
Belgian sheepdogs have a long and impressive resume. Originally bred in the late 1800s as herding dogs, they got their start helping out on livestock and dairy farms in Belgium. But perhaps the job this working dog (who also goes by the Belgian shepherd, the Groenendael, the Groenendael shepherd, and, because of their eager-to-please disposition, "good boy" or "good girl,") covets the most is being a loyal best friend to their human.
As an energetic pup, Belgian sheepdogs need daily exercise. A walk around the block won't cut it; these dogs need a long walk or a good run. These sweet and sensitive dogs tend to be a good fit for active homes, and they can do well with older kids and fellow canine friends.
With a long black coat and an intelligent gaze, the Belgian sheepdog personifies the expression "bright-eyed and bushy-tailed." These slender dogs are strong, agile, and have a smooth, confident strut. The females fall into the medium-sized dog category, weighing 45–60 pounds. Male Belgian sheepdogs are larger, at 55–75 pounds.
Their eyes are dark brown and almond-shaped, and, according to the Belgian Sheepdog Club of America, their expression indicates "alertness, attention, readiness for activity."
The Belgian sheepdog has a dense undercoat and harder outer coat that's long, straight, and well-suited for cold temperatures and climates. The Belgian sheepdog color is typically black, and his coat (which has a texture somewhere between silky and wiry) can also have small patches of white on his chest, on the tips of his toes, chin, and muzzle.
Chalk it up to their history as working dogs: Belgian sheepdogs have it in their DNA to serve as guardians of their flock. Today, they are courageous, serious, and alert companions that are watchful over their homes and are observant of strangers.
While a well-trained Belgian sheepdog is affable and on his best behavior, his size and energy level mean that a home with older children would be a better fit for him than one with toddlers or small kiddos, Garner says.
Belgian sheepdogs absolutely love their people and, because they're high-energy, they're more suited as hiking companions than Netflix binge-watching buddies.
"They thrive in a home that has an active family that will include them in the daily routine," Demling-Riley says.
Belgian sheepdogs enjoy spending time playing and interacting with people, and they will get on best in a home with owners who have the time and energy to keep them mentally stimulated. If you make sure your Belgian sheepdog has access to interactive toys, room to zoom around, and ample attention, he'll be one happy pup!
Again, Belgian sheepdogs are great family pets, but might be a little too big and rambunctious for small children. And because they can be suspicious of strangers, all Belgian sheepdog puppies need to be well-socialized from an early age. They get along well with other dogs, but, because of their herding instincts, might try to round-up the family cat.
Belgian sheepdogs always want to be on the go. For that reason, anyone who is thinking of adding one to their family should have ample time carved out to exercise with their pup.
Demling-Riley says these active working dogs often need to be exercised at least two hours a day. "The term 'a tired dog is a good dog' is especially true for the Groenendael," she says.
Belgian sheepdogs are highly intelligent and love their owner's attention, which makes training a fun task. As with any breed, training time should include positive reinforcement and care, says Laura Monaco Torelli, KPA CTP, director of animal training with Animal Behavior Training Concepts. She suggests planning short-duration (one- or two-minute) sessions throughout the day and including your dog's food or favorite treats to reinforce desired behaviors.
"Use a portion of mealtime as designated school time, too," she says. "After training, place the rest of the food into enrichment toys for them to explore and snack on to help keep their active nose, paws, and mouth busy."
Because these dogs are so smart, they'll navigate puzzle toys like a pro!
The Belgian sheepdog is known for his fitness and energy, but can still be susceptible to some common health issues, Garner says.
"Hip and elbow dysplasia is a common issue, meaning it is important to get their joint health checked regularly to ensure they stay mobile," she says.
"In some cases, struggling to maintain a healthy weight can indicate an issue with the thyroid gland," she says. "So if you are concerned about your dog's weight, you should consult a veterinarian."
The history of the Belgian sheepdog can be traced back to Belgian pastures in the late 19th century, where these dogs helped with herding tasks.
But because they are such quick learners and hard workers, they began landing other jobs during the first decade of the 20th century. Belgian sheepdogs could be found working for police forces throughout Belgium, Paris, New York City, and in Newark, N.J. European border patrols also brought them on to serve as watchdogs, according to the BSCA. They even served during the World Wars as messengers, Red Cross dogs, and defense dogs. As Red Cross dogs, they would carry medical supplies and canteens of water to wounded soldiers in the field and lead medics to those who were unconscious. Today, Belgian sheepdogs are commonly on search and rescue teams.
- Belgium shepherd dogs were classified for the first time in the 1890s. There's the Belgian sheepdog (aka the Groenendael), the Belgian Malinois, Tervuren, and Laekenois. While anatomically identical, their coats vary in texture, color, and length.
- "Groenendael" is the name of the Belgian village where these shepherds were first bred, hence their name.
- In the late 1800s, Belgium decided the Belgian shepherd would be its national herding dog. The dogs are mentioned in Julius Caesar's "The Gallic Wars," according to Peggy Richter, an AKC and herding breed judge.