Belgian Shepherd (Malinois)
The elegant and sophisticated Belgian Shepherd comes in four different varieties, which are very different from each other in terms of appearance. What they do have in common is their huge urge for exercise and activity, which demands a great deal of time and experience from their owner.
As a former herding dog responsible for protecting both their herd along with the farm and its owner, the Belgian Shepherd to this day still possesses all the valuable qualities of an outstanding guardian of home and farm. Vigilant, lively and with lightning-fast reactions, they are prepared to defend their “pack” at all times. Due to their strong protective instinct, they instinctively assume responsibility for everything belonging to their home. Owners of a Belgian Shepherd need not fear break-ins.
Nevertheless, this gutsy dog isn't one for anxious or uncertain owners. The Belgian Shepherd needs a worthy partner at its side who is able to control its temperamental character with plenty of authority, intuition and consistency. In order to avoid nasty surprises, its protective instinct should be controlled from the outset. Expert training and good socialisation are indispensable in order to live harmoniously with this intelligent watch dog.
Belgian bundle of energy
Equally as important as consistent and loving guidance is being willing to provide the dog with sporting and mental challenges. This Belgian bundle of energy's enormous urge for activity and exercise must absolutely be taken into account. If this is neglected, the pedigree dog develops unpleasant behaviour patterns and has an occasional tendency to show excessive aggression. Along with training to be a working dog for the police, customs or rescue services, dog sport presents a good balance. These playful and energetic dogs can get hooked on almost all types of sport. Thanks to their excellent jumping capability, whirlwind speed and unusual climbing abilities, they achieve notable success with agility in particular.
However, the Belgian Shepherd stands out for more than just its sporting achievements and vigilance; its pronounced willingness to learn is just as remarkable as its boundless energy. Thanks to their high intelligence and eagerness to learn new things, they prove docile pupils who constantly wish to please their teacher. Their calm and people-oriented manner proves suitably helpful. Excessive severity is not just inappropriate, but also highly unnecessary when it comes to these sensitive souls. With love, patience and lots of time for shared (sporting) activities, these watchful herding dogs will become reliable family dogs that will remain loyal to their loved ones in all situations.
When it comes to their nature, deep down all Belgian Shepherds are very similar, though they can be so different in terms of appearance that at times it can be hard to believe that all the different types belong to the same breed. The FCI's present-day breed standard, under which the Belgian Shepherd is listed under number 15 in group 1 (sheepdogs and cattle dogs), section 1 (sheepdogs), defines four different varieties of the breed. These four types essentially differ when it comes to the fur's length, colour and direction of growth.
The Malinois is probably the best-known representative of the breed and closest to the German Shepherd in terms of looks. Apart from the black mask, its short fur is fawn-coloured and the tips of the hair are black, lending the light base colour a somewhat darker tint.
The Laekenois is the original but nowadays most uncommon member of the breed. It is also short-haired and fawn-coloured like the Malinois, but with a rough coat. The fur feels hard and dry and appears unkempt. This somewhat rakish appearance is explicitly demanded by the standard.
The Tervueren's fur colouring brings to mind the Malinois: fawn-coloured, clouded black and with a black mask. However, its fur is longer, therefore it belongs to the long-haired variety of the breed along with the Groenendael.
Also long-haired, the Groenendael is the only one of the four varieties with purely black fur. As with all the other types, however, a small white mark on the chest and white markings on the toes are accepted.
What all four types do have in common is their proud, elegant appearance – especially the long-haired Tervueren and Groenendael, which appear almost majestic. On one hand, this is due to their light build, which never appears bulky despite their size, and on the other thanks to the refined head, which they always hold very high. In contrast to their German Shepherd relatives, Belgian Shepherds are built in a more slender and shorter manner. Whilst the German Shepherd has a rather rectangular build, the Belgian Shepherd appears almost square-shaped when viewed side on. Their gait is also less expansive than that of their German neighbours. Nevertheless, they do come out on top at times in terms of speed, agility and jumping capability.
Speed and agility were already defining characteristics of the Belgian Shepherd's ancestors, which were initially kept solely as working dogs belonging to shepherds and farmers. Up until the end of the 19th century in Belgium, there was a large number of herding and cattle dogs that were mated in a wild manner in spite of their different appearance – their capability for work alone was paramount in breeding farm animals. Only in 1891 did the newly founded “Belgian Shepherd Club” in Brussels put an end to this disorderly state of affairs. The first standard divided these Belgian herding dogs into three different types based on their fur texture: rough coat, short coat and long coat.
Over the course of the Belgian Shepherd's history, there has always been debate amongst breeders concerning permitted colours and varieties. Up until the four currently valid sub-types named after Belgian towns, the fur types in the last few centuries were constantly changed. As controversial as fur colour proved, Belgian Shepherd breeders were in agreement regarding character, morphology and utility. Equally, the breed has stayed consistent in terms of its nature and physique from the very beginning.
Division from the Dutch Shepherd
The Belgian Shepherd shares its physique and appearance with the Dutch Shepherd, for which the blotched variety is also permitted. Although the Dutch neighbours aren't divided into different types, the shepherd dogs from the two Benelux countries are identical. Both come from roughly the same area and were only first named as different breeds after Belgium separated from the Netherlands.
Health and Breeding
Since the standardisation of the breed, the different varieties may no longer be mated. Breeders generally only concentrate on one type: Malinois, Laekenois, Tervueren or Groenendael. The former is the most widespread, but in contrast to its German counterparts, the Belgian Shepherd remains a relatively uncommon dog breed. As a result, it won't prove at all easy to find a suitable breeder close by.
This does have a positive side though, since the relatively low circulation of the breed makes it very healthy and there is little need to fear breed-specific diseases. Although susceptibility to epilepsy or elbow dysplasia is described now and again, the dreaded hip dysplasia (HD) that can be found amongst almost all dog breeds of this size is markedly rare with the Belgian Shepherd. Nevertheless, diseases can of course develop, so you should always observe your dog closely in order to detect changes in behaviour and appearance at an early stage. These could be signs of an illness that might potentially require veterinary treatment.
In order to spot infections or illnesses in good time, you don't need to examine your dog for hours every day. With appropriate grooming, you are already doing enough for its health. Regularly brushing the fur, cutting the claws or cleaning the teeth and ears can not only prevent possible inflammation, but also ensures that you are interacting with and thereby closely observing your dog. Changes to its fur texture, hairless or inflamed skin patches or significant weight fluctuations will register with you automatically when grooming.
How time-consuming is grooming a Belgian Shepherd?
The grooming demands for this breed are fundamentally manageable, but can vary dramatically depending on the different varieties. Malinois and Laekenois need to be brushed about once a week, but Groenendael and Tervueren need thorough brushing several times a week due to their long, thick fur. The grooming process must be intensified in particular twice a year when they moult and lose a lot of hair. In general, even the long-haired types don't tend to felt and are actually very easy to groom in contrast to some other long-haired dogs.
Please sit still!
As with all dogs, regularly checking and taking care of the ears, eyes, teeth and gums is indispensable for this breed. Equally, cutting the claws is an important part of grooming, so you need to get your temperamental pet used to this procedure from an early age. With regularity, consistency and loving patience, you can train this active dog to sit still and let itself be examined without showing resistance.
A good, well-balanced diet is just as important for your pet's health as appropriate grooming. But which food is best for the Belgian Shepherd? Unfortunately there's no generalised answer to this question that applies to all dogs from the breed. Although they share the same build, their energy requirements can be drastically different depending on age, sex and level of activity. When choosing the right food, you should always have in mind your dog's individual circumstances. A young dog needs different food to an older dog, whilst an active working dog has different requirements to a pure family dog.
What does an adult dog need?
Independently of these individual criteria that should definitely be considered, the rule of thumb applies for adult dogs that the food should consist of around 70 to 80 percent meat. Meat acts as the dog's most important source of protein for healthy development. In order to prevent allergies, you can occasionally opt for more exotic meats such as ostrich, kangaroo or water buffalo. Fruit and vegetables that provide vital vitamins and nutrients are another important foodstuff. However, overly sweet fruit and excessive carbohydrates and grains should be avoided. Sugar and other sweeteners have no place at all in your dog's food. Spiced food or other table scraps are unsuitable for your pet. If you wish to please your shepherd dog, give it a special dog snack instead or even better, get out in the great outdoors and let it unleash its urge for activity.
Housing and Training
Lots of activity doesn't just have a positive effect on your dog's weight, but also helps to keep it mentally and physically stimulated. Belgian Shepherds are demanding in this respect and require much more exercise and activity than other dogs for their mental wellbeing. Daily walks around the block are nowhere near enough for these bundles of energy. Shepherd dogs deployed as service dogs with the police, customs and personal protection services and as herding and working dogs are mainly sufficiently mentally and physically challenged by these activities. In contrast, Belgian Shepherds kept as family dogs absolutely need sufficient replacement activities.
What would life be without sport?
As a result, dog sport is a compulsory part of life with a Belgian Shepherd. They can be found in almost all areas of dog sport and are always very successful at competitions. Their strong love of work, intelligence, excellent physical constitution, speed, agility and strength ensure that almost no other dogs can hold a candle to them when it comes to dog sport. Most impressive of all is their immense jumping power – a Belgian Shepherd can effortlessly scale a 2.50m high steep face.
For whom is a Belgian Shepherd suitable?
It goes without saying that such sporty and temperamental dogs absolutely need to be with active and experienced owners. A Belgian Shepherd owner mainly requires the time and inclination to get actively involved with their dog. Mentally and physically stimulated dogs aren't just happier and healthier, but are also more receptive in terms of obedience and training. Especially with this breed possessing a certain stridency, insufficient training can otherwise lead to dangerous behavioural problems.
The right balance between calm and consistency
Along with plenty of exercise and activity, shepherd dogs therefore also require consistent training and early socialisation to adapt to life as a family dog. However, you shouldn't forget that these dogs are very sensitive in nature and mainly need love, calm and tranquility – along with consistency. They find excessive severity distressing, so this will certainly not lead to the desired training success. They enjoy affection in the form of cuddle sessions just as much as doing activities together. Dogs that receive sufficient physical and mental stimulation prove calm and well-balanced at home and loyal companions that will bring owners many years of joy.