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Honest FAQ for Belgian Shepherds

Belgian Malinois, Belgian Tervuren, Belgian Laekenois, Belgian Groenendael (Belgian Sheepdog), by Michele Welton, Dog Trainer, Behavioral Consultant, Author of 15 Dog Books

What is a Belgian Shepherd?

Belgian Shepherd  is an umbrella name for the Belgian Groenendael, Belgian Tervuren, Belgian Malinois, and Belgian Laekenois.

Belgian Groenendael Sheepdog Belgian Tervuren Belgian Malinois Belgian Laekenois

The black longhaired Groenendael/Sheepdog. The brown longhaired Tervuren. The brown shorthaired Malinois. The fawn rough-coated Laekenois

Four breeds? Or one breed?

  • Good question! Most countries, including the breed's native Belgium, along with most of Europe, Asia, and South America, consider these different coats and colors to be varieties  of one breed called the Belgian Shepherd or Chien de Berger Belge (shee-en duh ber-zhay belzh ). I think this treatment of four varieties within one breed is correct.
  • The United States, on the other hand, considers these different coats and colors to be four completely separate breeds. I think this treatment is wrong. If you'd like, you can check out my Belgian Shepherd Review for my thoughts on this issue.

How do you pronounce the four varieties of Belgian Shepherd?

Some of them are tongue-twisters, unless you speak French!

  • Malinois → MAL-in-wah, named for the Malines region of Belgium
  • Laekenois → LAK-in-wah, named for Castle Laeken in Belgium
  • Tervuren → ter-VER-en or ter-VYUR-en, named for the Belgian town of Tervueren  (note the different spelling of the town!)
  • Groenendael → GRONE-en-dale, named for a prominent breeder's estate called Chateau de Groenendael; in the United States, the Groenendael has been renamed Belgian Sheepdog , which is silly since they're ALL Belgian Sheepdogs/Shepherds, right?

What kind of temperament and personality does the Belgian Shepherd have?

The most descriptive words that come to my mind regarding Belgian Shepherd temperament and behavior are:

spirited, athletic, graceful, frequently in motion, sensitive, can be highstrung, intense, attentive, vigilant, loyal

I give you my honest opinions about Belgian Shepherd temperament and personality traits and characteristics – positives AND negatives – in my dog breed review, Belgian Shepherd Temperament and Personality Traits (What's Good About 'Em, What's Bad About 'Em).

What were Belgian Shepherds used for?

The Belgian Shepherd drove and guarded sheep (and sometimes cattle) in Belgium. They also guarded the family farm and served as messenger dogs in World War I.

What traits would help Belgian Shepherds accomplish their work? That's right... high energy, endurance, athleticism, toughness, independent thinking yet high trainability, and loyalty to their owner.

How big are Belgian Shepherds? Height and weight?

About 22-26 inches at the shoulder, and 45-75 pounds, which puts them in the LARGE category.

What colors do Belgian Shepherds come in?

The Groenendael is always black. The Malinois, Tervuren, and Laekenois are fawn to mahogany, with black-tipped hairs.

Do Belgian Shepherds come in different "types"?

The Malinois variety comes in a show type and a working/performance type. The show type is typically larger, heavier, and milder-mannered, as they only need to trot around the show ring and pose for the judge. Working/performance Malinois (which have largely replaced German Shepherds in many law enforcement departments) are more lithe and agile – also seriously intense and energetic workaholics.

Show type Malinois are easier to live with than working types. However, even show type Malinois need a great deal of exercise and mental stimulation.

The Tervuren and Groenendael varieties come in a show-ONLY type (often with a longer, heavier coat that requires more grooming) and a show+performance type which often has a shorter coat. Personally, I much prefer the latter type.

The Laekenois is so uncommon that the breed hasn't fractured into types... yet.

How much exercise do Belgian Shepherds need?

The pure show-only lines need moderate to high exercise and mental stimulation. Working lines need high, high, high.

What's the downside of not providing enough? Will the dog just be a little disappointed? Haha! Bored, frustrated working breeds don't suffer silently. They vent their frustration through hyperactivity, barking, and destroying things.

So here's what you need to do with a Belgian Shepherd: fetch, controlled tug-of-war (taught in my training books), herding, agility, advanced obedience, flyball, dock diving, frisbee, hiking, jogging, tracking and scent work, protection dog sports. Belgian Shepherds need things to do!

Do Belgian Shepherds need a fenced yard?

Yes, with a high fence, as these athletic dogs are excellent jumpers. Why a fenced yard? and best and worst fences.

Are Belgian Shepherds easy to train?

If you are an assertive person who can "read" and respond to a strong-willed working dog and establish a healthy leader-follower relationship, a Belgian Shepherd will be eager to learn almost anything.

These dogs SEEK a competent leader who will structure their lives around activities that provide a suitable outlet for their energy and their internal drives to work.

If you don't have the time or interest in loads of exercise and the activities I mentioned... don't get a Belgian Shepherd. Both you and the dog will be unhappy.

Are Belgian Shepherds easy to housebreak?

Yes. No problems here.

Are Belgian Shepherds friendly with people?

No. Belgian Shepherds are loyal dogs, devoted to their family. With strangers, Belgian Shepherds are standoffish, even suspicious. But their behavior should be required to be polite, not aggressive.

Many Belgian Shepherds – definitely not all – have protective instincts, but without actual protection training,  they are not effective protectors. But they can still be excellent deterrents... as long as you stay in charge and immediately stop any unwarranted aggression.

Some Belgian Shepherds, unfortunately, go in the opposite direction, being skittish, nervous, or fearful. There is inherited shyness in some lines, especially in Tervurens and Groenendaels. These temperament flaws are serious, as they can lead to defensive biting.

Are Belgian Shepherds good with children?

I don't recommend Belgian Shepherds for children younger than about age 10. This breed is sensitive and can be a bit high-strung around very young children.

Are Belgian Shepherds good with other dogs?

Belgian Shepherds are usually fine with other dogs in their own family, especially when those other dogs are the opposite sex and have a submissive  personality. Many Belgian Shepherds, especially those from working lines, are pushy and dominant toward strange dogs.

Are Belgian Shepherds good with cats?

Iffy. Some are fine with a cat in their own family if they're raised with the cat. But Belgian Shepherds have powerful chasing instincts, so...

How much do Belgian Shepherds shed?

Belgian Shepherds are heavy shedders. Along with shedding chunks of hair in the spring and fall, you'll find some loose hair the rest of the year, as well.

Are Belgian Shepherds hypoallergenic? Good for people with allergies?

If you're allergic to dog dander, no. If you're allergic to canine saliva, no. Belgian Shepherds are not hypoallergenic dogs.

How much grooming do Belgian Shepherds need?

The Malinois is the easiest. Just brush once a week (more often while shedding) to sweep the dirt, dander, and dead hairs out of their coat.

The two longhaired varieties (Tervuren and Groenendael) need careful brushing and combing once or twice a week, making sure to get out any mats under their "arms" and keeping their private parts trimmed or clipped short for sanitary toileting. Individuals with longer coats obviously need more work than those with shorter coats.

The Laekenois is also fine with once a week brushing of their naturally rough, tousled coat. Twice a year, the growing coat should be clipped short to maintain its easy brushing schedule.

What's a good training schedule for training Belgian Shepherd puppies?

Here's the puppy training schedule I use for Belgian Shepherds: Puppy Training Schedule.

What behavior problems do Belgian Shepherds tend to have?

The critical puppy and adolescent periods are when you must teach calmness, establish the right leader/follower relationship, and respond properly to behavior problems. Do those things right, plus provide enough exercise and mental stimulation, and your Belgian Shepehrd will be much less likely to have any behavior issues at all.

The most common issues I see are this herding dog's instincts to poke and push, even nip, children and other pets in an attempt to move them along or gather them together.

More serious issues in Belgian Shepherds include people-aggression, cat-aggression, or dog-aggression. Also hyper-reactivity, phobias, or fearfulness.

What health problems might Belgian Shepherds have?

Inherited epilepsy is the most frightening health problem, especially in Tervurens, with up to 17% affected. Belgian Shepherds are also vulnerable to eye diseases, and loose hip or elbow joints that can result in lameness and pain.

What breeds are similar to the Belgian Shepherd?

Where can I buy a Belgian Shepherd puppy?

  • If you're looking for a show dog, buy only from a show breeder.
  • If you're looking for an active working dog, buy only from a working/performance breeder.
  • If you're looking for a companion dog to do all sorts of fun activities with... I stick with breeders who show their dogs in conformation AND work them in activities such as agility, herding, obedience, etc.

Read my article on Belgian Shepherd sources.

Where can I adopt an older Belgian Shepherd?

Rescue group or humane society/shelter? Read my article.

I just got a new Belgian Shepherd. Which pages should I read first?

  • Belgian Shepherd Health, which includes my advice on feeding, vaccinations, and daily health care. These pages are very important, because if you start your Belgian Shepherd puppy off on the wrong foot, he will probably experience health problems later on. Starting off right is essential.
  • Training Belgian Shepherds, which includes my advice on respect training, housebreaking, and socialization. Again, you must start your Belgian Shepherd puppy off on the right foot by teaching him what he needs to know, and you must avoid doing the wrong things with him so that he doesn't develop bad habits that will be much harder to fix later on.

Do male dogs or female dogs make better pets?

Ah, let the debate begin! Honestly, male Belgian Shepherds have pros and cons, and female Belgian Shepherds have pros and cons. Visit Male Dogs versus Female Dogs

There's an adorable Belgian Shepherd puppy at the pet shop. The store manager assures me they only buy from responsible breeders. Could this be true?

No responsible Belgian Shepherd breeder would ever place one of their Belgian Shepherd puppies in a pet shop for resale. To find out more about pet shop puppies, visit Pet Shop Puppies: Buying a Puppy From a Pet Store.

How do I pick the best Belgian Shepherd puppy from a litter?

You can do puppy personality tests. Visit How To Choose a Good Puppy.

What's the best dog food for Belgian Shepherds?

3 Best Ways To Feed Your Dog Healthy Food.

I have to take my Belgian Shepherd to the vet soon for shots. Which vaccinations does he really need?

The schedule of vaccinations that dogs really need has changed dramatically – but unfortunately most vets are not telling you this, because a good chunk of their income depends on frequent vaccinations. Please don't get any more shots for your Belgian Shepherd until you've read my article on Puppy Shots and Dog Vaccinations.

What are the pros and cons of spaying and neutering my Belgian Shepherd, and when should it be done?

Spaying and neutering are often recommended too early, which can lead to health problems later in life. Visit Spaying Your Female Dog or Neutering Your Male Dog for the straight scoop on the safest (and riskiest) times to spay or neuter.

I have a question about Belgian Shepherds that I don't see answered on your web site.

It's probably answered in one of my free online books.

Michele Welton with BuffyAbout the author: Michele Welton has over 40 years of experience as a Dog Trainer, Dog Breed Consultant, and founder of three Dog Training Centers. An expert researcher and author of 15 books about dogs, she loves helping people choose, train, and care for their dogs.

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