1. Key Breed Facts
2. Breed Characteristics
7. Intelligence / Trainability
8. Children and Other Pets
10. Caring for a Belgian Shepherd Dog
14. Average Cost to keep/care for a Belgian Shepherd Dog
The Belgian Shepherd as their name suggests is native to Belgium where they were originally bred as working dogs. There are in fact, four varieties of the breed with each of them being named after the regions of the country they were first bred. They are an ancient breed and one that has always been highly prized in their native Belgium, but over recent times, the Belgian Shepherd has become more well known in other parts of the world which includes here in the UK, thanks to their handsome looks and their loyal, kind natures.
As previously mentioned, the Belgian Shepherd is thought to be an ancient breed that dates back to the Middle Ages. The breed was developed in the late 1800's in Belgium with four varieties being created in different regions of the country. The Groenendael is credited to having been developed by a restaurant owner, the Tervueren was developed by a Belgian brewer, the Malinois is so named after the region they were first developed and lastly the Laekenois was bred in Boom, a region of Belgian where the royal residence of Queen Marie Henriette is located and who was an enthusiast of this particular type of Belgian Shepherd Dog.
A Belgian breed club was set up late in the 1800's and by 1891 the four varieties of Belgian Shepherds were given their own breed standards which were established by a Belgian vet by the name of Professor Adolphe Reul. These handsome dogs remained popular for many years and they were even used during World War I and II to carry messages to and from the front as well as to pull ambulances and machine gun carts.
Over time, the breed has become more well known in other parts of the world, including here in the UK. However, all four varieties of the Belgian Shepherd Dog are classed as a single breed by The Kennel Club although other clubs around the world tend to class them as unique breeds in their own right.
Height at the withers: Males 60 - 66 cm, Females 56 - 62 cm
Average weight: Males 25 - 30 kg, Females 20 - 25 kg
The Belgian Shepherd is a medium sized dog and there are 4 varieties of them with the Groenendael having long hair, the Laekenois has a wiry, short reddish/fawn colour, the Malinois has a shortish coarse coat and lastly the Tervueren has a thicker, longer and straight coat than the Malinois although both varieties have the same coat colours. Other than the difference in their coats and coat colours, all four varieties are similar in build and appearance.
Their heads are long, finely chiselled and quite wide with dogs having flat foreheads and a nice centre line and moderate stop. Muzzles are moderately long and taper gradually to a black nose that boasts flared nostrils. Eyes are medium in size and slightly almond-shaped being dark brown with black rims. Belgian Shepherd Dogs have an enquiring, alert look about their eyes which is typical of the breed.
Ears are triangular in shape and set high which dogs hold erect. They have firm mouths with well pigmented lips and strong jaws with a perfect scissor bite where their upper teeth neatly overlap their lower ones. Their necks are supple and slightly elongated being well-muscled and gradually getting broader at a dog's shoulders with the nape being slightly arched. Their withers are well-defined with dogs having powerful forequarters and long, oblique shoulder blades. Front legs are well-muscled, straight and strong with dewclaws being allowed under the breed standard.
Belgian Shepherds have very powerful, yet elegant bodies with deep, well-let down chests and moderately well sprung ribs. Their upper bodies are broad, well-muscled and straight. Their rumps slope slightly and are quite broad. Hindquarters are powerful, well-muscled with dogs having strong, straight back legs. They have well arched, close, tight toes and thick, springy soles to their feet with large dark coloured nails. Their front feet are round whereas their back ones are slightly oval in shape. Tails are set firmly at the base and are moderately long which dogs let hang down when relaxed with the tip ever so slightly raised whereas when excited or alert, dogs carry their tails higher.
When it comes to their coats, Belgian Shepherd Dogs come in four varieties which are as follows:
The Groenendael - their outer coat is straight, long and profuse being quite harsh to the touch. The undercoat is very dense. The hair on a dog's head, the outside of their ears and lower part of their legs is shorter, but the opening of a dog's ear is well protected by hair. The hair around a dog's neck is profuse and long especially in males. There is a fringe of longer hair on the back of a dog's front legs and an abundance of long hair on their hindquarters and tales with males having a longer coat than their female counterparts.
The Tervueren - their outer coat is straight, long and profuse being quite harsh to the touch. The undercoat is very dense. The hair on a dog's head, the outside of their ears and lower part of their legs is shorter, but the opening of a dog's ear is well protected by hair. The hair around a dog's neck is profuse and long especially in males. There is a fringe of longer hair on the back of a dog's front legs and an abundance of long hair on their hindquarters and tales with males having a longer coat than their female counterparts.
The Laekenois - their coat is harsh and wiry with hair being around 6 cm long all over a dog's body. However, the hair around their eyes and on their muzzle does not obscure a dog's vision or the lines of their noses. The Laekenois does not have a plumed tail.
The Malinois - the hair on a dog's head, the exterior of their ears and lower parts of their legs is very short. It is also short on the rest of their body although thicker on the tail and around a dog's neck so that it looks like a collar that reaches from the base of the ear to a dog's throat. Their hindquarters boast having fringes of longer hair and their tails are bushy and thick. Their coats are close, thick and firm to the touch with dog's boasting a woolly and softer undercoat.
Belgian Shepherds were bred as working dogs and they excel at their jobs whether it's herding or guarding flocks. With this in mind, it's important for these intelligent and energetic dogs to be kept busy when they live in a home environment. They are definitely not the best choice for people who lead more sedentary lives nor are they an ideal choice for first time owners because they need to be well socialised and trained by people who are familiar with the breed or similar type of working dog.
They are very intelligent and as such they are quick to pick new things up which includes both the good and the bad. Puppies need to be very well socialised as soon as they are fully vaccinated and this has to include introducing them to new situations, noises, people, other dogs, small animals and pets so they grow up to be well-rounded mature dogs no matter what situation they find themselves in.
If left to their own devices or not given sufficient mental stimulation and daily exercise, a Belgian Shepherd would soon get bored which can lead to dogs developing a lot of behavioural issues which includes being destructive around the home. They like nothing better than to be with people and are never happy when left on their own for any length of time which makes them a good choice for people where one person usually stays at home when everyone else is out. Belgian Shepherds like being involved in everything that goes on in a household.
They tend to be quite aloof and wary when they are around strangers, but rarely would a Belgium Shepherd show any sort of aggressive behaviour towards people they do not know, preferring to keep their distance.
Belgian Shepherds are intelligent dogs and as previously mentioned they learn new things very quickly which includes the good and the bad. Puppies need to be well socialised from a young age and their training has to start in earnest as soon as they have been fully vaccinated for them to grow up to be well-rounded, obedient mature dogs.
Because Belgian Shepherds have a very strong instinct to protect, this trait should not be encouraged when dogs are young because they might start protecting a family when it's not necessary which could lead to things becoming awkward when visitors are in the home or when dogs find themselves in situations where they believe a family needs protection.
Belgian Shepherds are known to become devoted to their families showing a lot of affection to everyone in a household which includes children. They love nothing more than being involved in things that go on in a home environment and this includes playing lots of interactive games with the kids. However, any interaction between dogs and children should always be supervised by an adult to make sure playtime does not get too rough, which is especially true if the kids have any of the friends over.
If a Belgian Shepherd grows up with other animals and pets including cats in the home, they generally get on well together. Some dogs may show aggression to other dogs which is why it's so important for puppies to be well socialised from a young age which has to include them meeting other dogs once they have been fully vaccinated.
For further advice please read our article on Keeping Children Safe around Dogs.
The average life expectancy of a Belgian Shepherd Dog is between 10 and 14 years when properly cared for and fed an appropriate good quality diet to suit their ages.
Like so many other breeds, the Belgian Shepherd is known to suffer from a few hereditary health issues which are worth knowing about if you are planning share your home with one of these active and handsome dogs. The conditions that seem to affect the breed the most include the following:
As with any other breed, Belgian Shepherds need to be groomed on a regular basis to make sure their coats and skin are kept in tip-top condition. They also need to be given regular daily exercise to ensure they remain fit and healthy. On top of this, they need to be fed good quality food that meets all their nutritional needs throughout their lives.
Whether a Groenendael, Malinois, Tervueren or Laekenois, Belgian Shepherds are quite high maintenance when it comes to keeping their coats looking tidy and in good condition, thanks to the fact they boast quite profuse undercoats. As such a weekly brush is essential although during the Spring and then again in the Autumn more frequent brushing would be necessary because dogs tend to shed more at these times of the year. The good news is that their coats do not need to be trimmed unless a dog gets messy around their back-ends when a little trimming might be necessary. Care also needs to be taken when choosing any sort of dog shampoo or other canine products typically used on a dog’s coat because Belgian Shepherds are prone to developing dermatitis.
It's also important to check a dog's ears on a regular basis and to clean them when necessary. If too much wax is allowed to build up in a dog's ears, it can lead to a painful infection which can be hard to clear up. In short, prevention is often easier than cure when it comes to ear infections.
Being high-energy and intelligent dogs, Belgian Shepherd Dogs need to be given the right amount of daily exercise and mental stimulation for them to be truly happy, well-rounded characters. They need to be given at least 60 to 80 minutes exercise every day which should include lots of interactive games. Ideally, these dogs need a lot more in the way of mental stimulation than many other breeds and the best way of satisfying their needs is to enrol a dog into agility or obedience classes.
A shorter walk in the morning would be fine, but a longer more interesting one in the afternoon is a must. These dogs also like to be able to roam around a back garden as often as possible so they can really let off steam. However, the fencing has to be extremely secure to keep these active, high-energy dogs in because if they find a weakness in the fence, they will soon escape out and get into all sorts of trouble.
With this said, Belgian Shepherd puppies should not be over exercised because their joints and bones are still growing and too much pressure on them could result in causing a dog a few problems later on in their lives. They should not be allowed to jump up or off furniture nor should they be allowed to run up and down the stairs.
If you get a Belgian Shepherd puppy from a breeder, they would give you a feeding schedule and it's important to stick to the same routine, feeding the same puppy food to avoid any tummy upsets. You can change a puppy's diet, but this needs to be done very gradually always making sure they don't develop any digestive upsets and if they do, it's best to put them back on their original diet and to discuss things with the vet before attempting to change it again.
Older dogs are not known to be fussy or finicky eaters, but this does not mean you can feed them a lower quality diet. It's best to feed a mature dog twice a day, once in the morning and then again in the evening, making sure it's good quality food that meets all their nutritional requirements. It's also important that dogs be given the right amount of exercise so they burn off any excess calories or they might gain too much weight which can lead to all sorts of health issues. Obesity can shorten a dog's life by several years so it's important to keep an eye on their waistline from the word go.
Because Belgian Shepherd Dogs are prone to suffer from bloat, it is really important that they be fed twice a day instead of giving them just one larger meal a day. It's also a good idea to invest in a stand to place their feed bowl which makes it easier for these large dogs to eat comfortably without having to stretch their necks down low to reach their food. Dogs should never be exercised just before or just after they have eaten either because this puts them more a risk of suffering from bloat.
If you are looking to buy a Belgian Shepherd, you would need to pay anything from £500 to over £650 for a well-bred pedigree puppy. The cost of insuring a male 3-year-old Belgian Shepherd in northern England would be £19.20 a month for basic cover but for a lifetime policy, this would set you back £41.22 a month (quote as of May 2016). When insurance companies calculate a pet's premium, they factor in several things which includes where you live in the UK and a dog's age and whether or not they have been neutered or spayed.
When it comes to food costs, you need to buy the best quality food whether wet or dry, to feed your dog throughout their lives making sure it suits the different stages of their lives. This would set you back between £40 - £50 a month. On top of all of this, you would need to factor in veterinary costs if you want to share your home with a Belgian Shepherd and this includes their initial vaccinations, their annual boosters, the cost of neutering or spaying your dog when the time is right and their yearly health checks, all of which quickly adds up to over a £1000 a year.
As a rough guide, the average cost to keep and care for a Belgian Shepherd Dog would be between £70 to £100 a month depending on the level of insurance cover you opt to buy for your dog, but this does not include the initial cost of buying a pedigree puppy.
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