Breed Profile: Belgian Sheepdog
Those who are looking for a highly intelligent, active, always alert dog devoted to his master’s person and property would find it hard to adopt a better breed than a Belgian Shepherd. On the other hand, those looking for a furry couch potato should look elsewhere.
Moshe Reshef is an Asheville breeder of Belgian Sheepdogs who says, flat out, that his breed is not for everyone. That’s probably why the breed ranks only 125th in popularity, based on the number of American Kennel Club (AKC) registrations, out of 197 breeds in total that the organization recognizes. “It’s not a good breed for a first-time dog owner,” Reshef says. He also mentions, with a smile that can be seen in his eyes even when his mouth is covered by a COVID mask, “If you don’t keep them busy, they will create their own entertainment.” Then he lets you envision for yourself just what they might get into.
Happily, Belgian Sheepdogs love to be kept busy. They have a combination of intelligence, high energy, and determination to successfully complete whatever task set for them. That has made them perfectly suited for their work with police officers and the military, and in search and rescue operations. In less serious roles, they excel in agility, tracking, and obedience competitions. And, as one would expect of a dog called a Sheepdog and listed in the Herding group by the AKC, Belgian Sheepdogs are great at protecting herds of sheep. Even though that’s not their primary occupation anymore, that is their heritage, and the job for which they have been bred for hundreds of years,
Belgian Sheepdogs, in fact, are known in most of the world as simply one of four varieties of an overall breed called Belgian Shepherds. The bodies are basically the same, but the coats vary in length, color, and texture. In the United States, however, the American Kennel Club lists each variety as a separate breed. The Belgian Sheepdog, or Groenendael, has a long black coat; the Belgian Malinois has a short brown coat; the Belgian Tervueren has a long coat of any color other than black, and the Belgian Laekenois has a wire coat. It is also the only one of the four Belgian Shepherds not recognized for AKC competitions.
The males of Belgian Sheepdogs/Groenendaels are about 24-26 inches tall at the withers and weigh between 55 and 75 pounds. The females are 22-24 inches at the withers and weigh 45 to 60 pounds. Both dogs and bitches live 12 to 14 years. The Groenendael was first recognized by the AKC as Belgian Sheepdogs and members of the Working Group in 1912. After the overall Belgian Shepherd breed was split into three separate breeds in 1959, the newly recognized breeds were placed in the Herding Group.
Reshef says that in addition to their physical capabilities and admirable characters, Belgian Sheepdogs have other attributes that endear them to their owners. For one thing, they are not into barking without reason, and once the reason stops, the barking stops. (Note: When this writer went to visit Reshef, the dogs in the kennel barked when I got to his front door. Once he came and let me in, they knew I was an approved visitor and they stopped barking. They had done their job.) Another attribute of Belgian Sheepdogs, according to Reshef, is that they are relatively low maintenance. He recommends a good brushing a couple of times a week, which he says is comparatively simple to do. That’s because the Gruenendael’s coats basically don’t matt and repel water and dirt. And, as an added bonus, they don’t produce that ever-so-intoxicating eau de wet dog odor familiar to retriever and spaniel owners.
To sum up: Belgian Sheepdogs are not for everyone. But their good looks, intelligence, energy, and loyalty could make them right for a lot of active, outdoor-oriented dog lovers. Readers who think a Belgian Sheepdog might be right for them can find out more at akc.org/dog breeds, or Reshef’s website, blackgoldbelgians.net.