Once nearly driven to extinction, the Dutch shepherd is a rare breed of dog from the Netherlands. At first glance, the Dutch shepherd is easy to confuse with its German cousin, but there are distinct differences between the two breeds, both physically and in temperament.
Originally used for keeping watch over sheep and cattle, the Dutch shepherd is a dog that is highly intelligent, incredibly loyal, and remarkably self-reliant. Whether you need a farmhand, guard dog, or loving family companion, these smart, athletic, highly trainable dogs are eager to please.
The easiest way to tell the difference between Dutch shepherds and German shepherds is by the coat: The brindle coloration is exclusive to the Dutch shepherd. Additionally, Dutch shepherds are smaller than their German cousins, with both male and female dogs clocking in around 2 feet tall, and between 45–75 pounds. Just as well-muscled as German shepherds, Dutch shepherds have a slightly stockier appearance with a head that can appear more boxy.
But back to that coat. The brindle pattern can appear in a variety of colors. In fact, in their original 1898 breed standard guidelines, the coat is specified as “appearing in any color.” Coat coloration has since been refined to the darker end of the palate, with black, grey, silver, and rust being the most common colors, though a rare white variant is also possible.
The coat is also noteworthy for coming in three different hair types: short, long, and rough. The short-hair coat is close fitting across the dog’s entire body and is paired with a woolly undercoat. The long-hair coat is made up of straight, thick hair that can be harsher to the touch and the same woolly undercoat. Finally, the rough-hair coat is a dense, harsh, tousled coat with a woolly, dense undercoat all over the body except for the head. While the different coats function the same way in terms of keeping the Dutch shepherd warm and dry, they all provide distinctly different visual appearances and require different grooming regimens as well.
If you’re looking for a dog to teach, you’ve found a great contender. The Dutch shepherd is an incredibly intelligent dog and can learn tricks easily and participate in agility or flyball competitions. Because of their high intelligence, you’ll be best served training your Dutch shepherd in short bursts with little repetition. Keep your training sessions varied and fun and these dogs will keep coming back for more. They thrive on mental stimulation, so once you get past the obedience basics, you’ll find them getting more excited about training as your commands get more complicated.
If you don’t want to spend a lot of time training, however, you may want to choose a different dog breed. If these naturally independent dogs aren’t trained properly to obey commands and stimulated regularly, they’re apt to strike out on their own and develop hard-to-break independent streaks. Though not used for the task much anymore, the Dutch shepherd’s instinct is still as a herding dog, so they work and live well with other dogs and livestock. They may not cuddle up to cats, but their relatively low prey drive means they aren’t likely to find them very fun to chase either, especially if they're trained and socialized early.
They’re a deeply loyal, eager to please breed, so most all family groups will work for them, including households with children. They can also make eager and steadfast companions for seniors, though attention will have to be paid to their physical needs, as they are an athletic breed with a high stamina level.
Once the breed was largely brought in from the farm, Dutch shepherds found a second life as a police and military dog. Dutch shepherds who have completed certified training through the Royal Dutch Police Dog Association are highly sought after by police forces around the globe for their intelligence and easy trainability, as well as their naturally high territorial drive and desire to protect their human companions. They’re excellent guard dogs. They are keenly alert, can learn patrol patterns, and have the physical size and strength to make imposing presences behind a fence or door.
Dutch shepherds need plenty of exercise and mental stimulation. Although you can have a Dutch shepherd in an apartment (so long as they can get some regular exercise time every day), a farm or house with a fenced-in yard is ideal. Once a Dutch shepherd learns what property is “theirs,” they can typically be trusted not to wander off to chase squirrels or people. Dutch shepherds will happily run or hike with their owners, and they have the strength and stamina to go all day long.
Similarly, if you have ever wanted to get into athletic competitions for dogs, the Dutch shepherd is the perfect breed. They are athletic enough for agility and flyball competitions, while being large and strong enough to do tracking, herding, and weight-pulling as well. But keep in mind that without something to keep them active and interested every day, they’re likely to start finding their own interests and become aloof to commands.
How you take care of a Dutch shepherd is going to depend largely on what kind of coat they have. Dogs with short hair require a simple brushing every week and a half or so. Dutch shepherds with long hair, on the other hand, need to be brushed weekly. Both types will need additional brushings in spring and fall when their undercoat sheds, as well as occasional baths. Rough-haired shepherds are a little more labor intensive, with brushing twice a week and baths every three to four weeks. During the shedding seasons, because their coats are so thick and textured, regular brushing won’t cut it; you’ll need to maintain their undercoat with hand stripping.
Dutch shepherds are a healthy breed overall. Hip dysplasia can be an issue as dogs age. If you’ve got a long-haired shepherd you’ll want to have their thyroids screened, and the rough-haired versions will need to be checked for Goniodysplasia, especially before breeding. “A number of eye conditions can be mitigated through care,” says Michelle Beck, DVM, CCRT, CVA-Veterinarian, with the Backlund Animal Clinic in Omaha, Neb. Once they reach adulthood (2–3 years of age) it’s important to have your Dutch shepherd checked at least once a year for intraocular pressures. Additionally, there are some genetic conditions that are associated with this breed, including allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, pannus, masticatory myositis, and cryptorchidism. For optimal health, keep your Dutch shepherd at a lean weight and give them an appropriate diet. “Knowing the pedigree of the dog is also helpful,” Beck adds. “Any reputable breeder should be able to provide that for all the pups they’re selling.”
Dutch shepherds have lived in the Netherlands for centuries. In the 19th century, Dutch breeders began enhancing the breed with outside genes to build upon the dog’s strength, speed, and agility, while not losing any of its inherent intelligence and independence. The first breed standard, created in 1898, made mention of the dogs appearing in “any color” but by 1914 Dutch shepherds had been uniformly brindle, as a way of differentiating them from their German and Belgian cousins.
Used almost exclusively as farm and shepherding dogs, the Dutch shepherd was suddenly a breed without a job by the beginning of the 20th century, as industrialization and land reclamation in the Netherlands virtually eliminated large sheep herds. As their use declined, so did the breed’s popularity. This, combined with dog breeding coming to a virtual halt in the Netherlands during World War II, drove the Dutch shepherd nearly to extinction by the 1950s. In the latter half of the 20th century, the dog began to make a comeback not only as a family pet but also developed a second calling as a service dog. Today, though still a rare breed, Dutch shepherds are familiar faces as search and rescue dogs, police K-9 units, and as seeing-eye dogs. They will also herd sheep.
- Dutch shepherds nearly became extinct in the 1950s.
- In the latter half of the 20th century, Dutch shepherds found a new calling as service dogs.