The Groenendael variant
|Other names||Belgian Sheepdog, Chien de Berger Belge|
|Country of origin||Belgium|
|Dog (Canis lupus familiaris)|
The Belgian Shepherd (also known as the Belgian Sheepdog or Chien de Berger Belge) is a breed of medium-to-large-sized herding dog. It originated in Belgium and is similar to other sheep herding dogs from that region, including the Dutch Shepherd Dog, the German Shepherd Dog, the Briard, and others. Four types have been identified by various registries as separate breeds or varieties: Groenendael, Laekenois, Tervuren, and Malinois.
Breed creation and recognition
In the late 1800s, a group of concerned dog fanciers under the guidance of Professor A. Reul of the Cureghem Veterinary Medical School gathered foundation stock from the areas around Tervuren, Groenendael, Malines, and Laeken in Belgium. Official breed creation occurred around 1891, when the Club du Chien de Berger Belge (Belgian Shepherd Dog Club) was formed in Brussels. The first breed standard was written in 1892, but official recognition did not happen until 1901, when the Royal Saint-Hubert Society Stud Book began registering Belgian Shepherd Dogs.
By 1910, fanciers managed to eliminate the most glaring faults and standardize type and temperament. There has been continued debate about acceptable colours and coat types. Structure, temperament and working ability have never been debated in regards to the standard.
Breeds versus varieties controversy
In Belgium (the country of origin) all four types are considered to be varieties of a single breed, differentiated by hair colour and texture.:8 In some non-FCI countries and other regions, they are considered separate breeds. For instance, the American Kennel Club (AKC) recognizes only the Groenendael under the name "Belgian Sheepdog", but also recognizes the Tervuren and the Malinois as individual breeds (Belgian Tervuren and Belgian Malinois respectively). The Laekenois can be registered as part of the AKC Foundation Stock Service and should eventually be recognised fully by the AKC. In years gone past, the Groenendael and Tervuren were one breed with coat variations until the Belgian Sheepdog Club of America decided to petition the AKC to separate the two.
The New Zealand Kennel Club recognises all four as separate breeds. The Australian National Kennel Council, Canadian Kennel Club, Kennel Union of South Africa, United Kennel Club and the Kennel Club (UK) follow the FCI classification scheme and recognise all four as varieties of the same breed.
The Belgian Shepherd Dog is a medium-to-large size dog. All varieties share a similar underlying musculoskeletal structure, closely resembling the popular German Shepherd breed save for the hindlegs. All variants also share a close cranial features, having a domed forehead, a long, square-cut muzzle and black noses with their ears pointed and fully erect. One of the identifying characteristics of the breed is that it is square, with its height from the ground to top of the withers being equal to its length.
The Groenendael is characterized by a long double coat in solid black. Fanciers consider that white marking are to be confined to a small patch on the chest (not to extend to the neck) and white toes. Coat texture is stiff, tight, and thick, developed to withstand the elements.
Like all Belgian Shepherds, the Tervuren is a medium-sized, square-proportioned dog in the sheepdog family. Males stand between 24 and 26 inches, and weigh approximately 65 pounds. Females are finer and smaller. It is recognized by its thick double coat, generally mahogany with varying degrees of black overlay (fanciers consider that completely missing overlay on males is a serious fault), including a black mask. A small patch of white on the chest is permissible by club standards, as well as white tips on toes. The Tervuren may also be sable or grey, but this may be penalised in the show ring in some countries according to the standard of the registering body.
Belgian Shepherd Dogs are described as highly intelligent, alert, sensitive to everything going on around them and form very strong relationship bonds. They are said to be loyal, intelligent, fun, highly trainable and well suited to family life. They should receive plenty of socializing as puppies and will benefit from regular activity and close interaction with people throughout their lifespan. Their herding heritage gives them a comparatively high energy level, and mental as well as physical exercise is necessary to keep a Belgian happy and healthy. In 2012, the North Wales Police force harnessed a Belgian Shepherd herding behavior, headbutting, in a novel approach to subduing criminals. The dogs are muzzled to prevent bites, and trained to forcefully headbutt targets at the midriff on command, knocking them off balance.
There have been few health surveys of the individual Belgian Shepherd varieties. The UK Kennel Club conducted a 2004 health survey of all Belgian Shepherd varieties combined. The Belgian Sheepdog (=Groenendael) Club of America Health Committee has a health registry questionnaire, but it is not clear whether or when results will be reported. The American Belgian Tervuren Club conducted health surveys in 1998 and 2003. Only the 2003 report included longevity information.
Median longevity of Belgian Shepherds (all varieties combined) in the 2004 UK survey, was 12.5 years, which is on the high side, both for purebred dogs in general and for breeds similar in size. The longest-lived of 113 deceased Belgians in the UK survey was 18.2 years. Leading causes of death were cancer (23%), cerebral vascular, i.e., stroke (13%), and old age (13%).
Average longevity of Belgian Tervurens in the 2003 American Belgian Tervuren Club survey was lower, at 10.6 years, than in the UK survey. The difference in surveys does not necessarily mean Belgian Tervurens live shorter lives than other varieties of Belgian Shepherds. Breed longevities in USA/Canada surveys are usually shorter than those in UK surveys. Leading causes of death in the 2003 American Belgian Tervuren Club survey were cancer (35%), old age (23%), and organ failure (heart, kidney, liver) (13%).
Belgian Shepherds are afflicted with the most common dog health issues (reproductive, musculoskeletal, and dermatological) at rates similar to breeds in general. They differ most notably from other breeds in the high incidence of seizures and/or epilepsy. In the UK survey of Belgian Shepherds and both the 1998 and 2003 ABTC survey of Belgian Tervurens, about nine per cent of dogs had seizures or epilepsy. Other studies have reported rates of epilepsy in Belgian Tervurens as high as seventeen per cent, or about one in six dogs. For comparison, the incidence of epilepsy/seizures in the general dog population is estimated at between 0.5 per cent and 5.7 per cent. See Epilepsy in animals for more information on symptoms and treatments.
- Belgian Shepherd Groenendael
- Belgian Shepherd Laekenois
- Belgian Shepherd Malinois
- Belgian Shepherd Tervuren
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- A. M. Oberbauer, T. R. Farnula, and B. May. Grant proposal for development of a genetic marker for idiopathic epilepsy in the Belgian Tervuren. AKC Grant Information.
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