Belgian Shepherd Dogs are very intense, active dogs, beginning their careers as puppy terrors and not starting to settle down until they are at least a couple of years old. Even then, they are (live wires), remaining active well into their 12-year plus life span. Belgians love (and demand) attention and affection. Exuberant dogs, they enjoy life to its fullest, whether playing with children, accompanying their owners cross-country skiing, horseback riding or splashing in a wading pool (Belgians tend to like water).
For people who want a quiet, sedate dog which will spend its time sleeping in front of the fireplace and then be satisfied with a fifteen minute walk in the evening, a Belgian is definitely inappropriate. For some people, Belgian Shepherd Dogs are simply too enthusiastic, too bouncy, too demanding. A Belgian Shepherd Dog must have a job to do, whether throwing the ball for 1/2 an hour or playing hide-&-seek with a toy; you must exercise their minds. If not they will find their own jobs to do and sometimes it can be destructive. But for people who like an active dog, a dog which is quick to learn, anxious to please, and eager to move, a dog to do things with, Belgians are ideal. As true working dogs, Belgians are happiest when active.
When the breed was first standardized in the 1890's, there was general agreement that a Belgian's coat should be suitable for a dog working in the field and impervious to the Belgian climate. The one point of controversy, then as now, involved coat length, texture and colour. Since the prototypes of the breed had been bred for their working ability, the coat was of little importance, provided it was functional. As a result, there was considerable diversity not only in colour but also in length and texture. Ultimately, the early breed architects agreed on three types of coat; long, short and rough.
The matter of colour presented more problems. Colours included solid black, fawn tipped with black, silver or grey tipped with black, brindle, and solid fawn. Certain combinations of coat type and colour were popular in different areas of Belgium and, in time, dogs of a particular type and colour were named for a town in the area where they were especially popular. Thus, the long-haired solid black is a (Groenendael), the lone-haired fawn tipped with black is a (Tervuren), the short-haired fawn tipped with black is a (Malinois) and the rough-haired fawn or grey is a (Laeken).
When Belgians were first recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC), the different varieties were recognized as sub-groups within one breed. In the years immediately following World War II, the Groenendael variety was the most popular and, when a Belgian Sheepdog was shown, it tended to be a Groenendael. Gradually, in the mid 50's, Belgians of the Tervuren variety started to be shown.
In 1959, the AKC decided to split the breed and recognize the varieties as separate breeds. Because for many years the Groenendael had been virtually the only variety shown under the heading (Belgian Sheepdog), the Groenendael was associated with the name. Thus, when splitting the breed, the AKC gave the Groenendael the generic name of (Belgian Sheepdog). The Tervuren variety became the (Belgian Tervuren) breed, and the Malinois variety became the (Belgian Malinois) breed. After 1959, the AKC no longer recognized the Laeken.
Belgians are extremely intelligent and respond well to training. They actually need training to make them possible to live with, and start young, before they learn bad habits. The breed can be rather sensitive though, and most do not respond well to physical discipline. Usually, verbal discipline is sufficient. Positive, reward-oriented training using lots of treats, toys and praise to motivate is ideal.
Belgians excel in dog sports such as Agility, Flyball, Obedience, Schutzhund, and French Ring. The breed is also used on farms and ranches, herding both sheep and cattle. Because the herding instinct is still strong, Belgians show a marked tendency to move in circles, and have been seen herding ducks, children and even flying insects. Belgians are becoming increasingly popular for guard and security work, and have been trained as police and army dogs, search and rescue dogs, seeing eye dogs, avalanche and rescue dogs. In short, Belgians have proven adaptable to an amazingly wide variety of tasks.
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