Written by Doris Donnerman (last updated April 6, 2009)
Two varieties of Belgian Sheepdogs are recognized by the American Kennel Club. These are the Groenendael and the Malinois. The latter variety, however, is seldom seen. In fact, the predominance of the Groenendael-a long-coated, black dog has caused most people to think that all Belgians are black. For this reason, many black German Shepherds are mistakenly called Belgian Sheepdogs by the uninformed.
In Belgium eight varieties are recognized. Besides the two mentioned above, there are the short-coated, wire-coated fawn, wire-coated ash gray, wirecoated of other colors, long-coated fawn, long-coated of other colors and the Tervueren, or short-coated fawn.
It is believed that the Groenendael and Malinois differ to some extent in their mental aptitudes. The former is a dog of great initiative, being able to face situations and answer problems which other dogs cannot face. In this respect, it is believed that the Groenendael is superior to the German Shepherd. Apparently in Belgium the dog is used little with sheep, but is in great demand for obedience contests, and even for police work.
The Malinois is considered a supreme sheepdog, having intense aptitude and love of sheepherding. His coloration is deemed perfect for this, since he is almost invisible at night. The dog has been finely bred for shows, has great beauty, and yet is a star at obedience and guard work as well.
The Groenendael was recognized by the Belgian Kennel Club as far back as 1891, He prospered for many years, not only in Belgium, but in Holland and France. In recent years, the breed has been on the decline in both the Netherlands and Belgium, but in France he is still popular. An effort is being made to popularize him in England, and the breed is slowly gaining popularity in the United States.
Among its qualities is that of unusual speed, and darting, ground-covering action. It is a tireless dog in the field, and its neutral colors blend into the landscape in a way which does not alarm sheep when being worked or guarded.
On the other hand, as stated above, the Malinois has not caught the American fancy to the same extent as has the Groenendael. And yet, the decline of the latter in Belgium has had its effect in the United States, where many really inferior dogs, particularly in temperament, have been seen.
The Groenendael became popular in the United States shortly after World War 1. Many American soldiers returned to tell of the remarkable black army dogs owned by the Belgians. Similarly, the German Shepherd reached fame as a "police dog" during the same period. Both breeds suffered a decline through the greed of unscrupulous breeders, who set up "puppy factories," and produced scrubs, both physically and mentally, which were sold at high prices.
Usually the general appearance is that the height of the Belgian Sheepdog should be at least 23-1/2 for the males and the female about 22-1/2 inches, measured at the shoulder. The length, measured from breast bone to tip of hind quarters, should equal the height. Their weight should be approximately 53 pounds. There is a great variance in the hair of the Belgian Sheepdogs, as to its length, appearance, growth and color.
The Belgian Sheepdog should reflect the qualities of intelligence, courage, alertness, and devotion to his master. His native environment has fortified him with marvelous powers of endurance, enabling him to resist the inclemency of the seasons and the vicissitudes of the weather, so characteristic of the Belgian climate.
To his inbred aptitude as a guardian of flocks, he adds the valuable qualities of the best guardian of property. In emergencies he is, without any hesitation, the stubborn and spirited defender of his master. He is watchful, attentive and always in motion; he is seemingly tireless. He shows a marked tendency to move in a circle, rather than in a straight line.
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