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Barbara O'Brien, Animal Photography
Tim Hagendoorn, Animal Photography
The rough-coated Belgian Laekenois, pronounced lak-in-wah, is named for the town of Laeken where he originated. He is the rarest of the four Belgian herding breeds (which in their home country are all considered a single breed) and the only one not yet recognized by the American Kennel Club. He is a medium-size dog with a protective personality.
The Laekenois is one of four related varieties of Belgian herding dogs. In their home country they are all known as Chiens de Berger (bair-zhay) Belge (belzh). Another name for this breed is Laekense.
This little-known Belgian herding dog has a long, lean head with prick ears, a square body, and a rough coat in red, fawn or grayish tones that gives him the look of a boy who has just had his hair tousled. His intelligent, inquisitive expression clearly says “I’m ready for action!” Like the other Belgian herding breeds, his prime directive is to be always in motion when not under command.
The Laekenois is smart, alert, brave and devoted. It’s in his nature to protect his family and property. People he knows well receive an affectionate, friendly welcome, and with family members he can be downright possessive, always desiring their attention. He keeps a vigilant eye out for strangers and watches them closely, ready to spring into action if necessary, but never shows apprehension. Under no circumstances should he be shy, fearful or vicious.
This is an indoor/outdoor dog. While the Laekenois should certainly have access to a securely fenced yard, he should be with his family when they are home.
This rough-coated, fawn-colored herding dog from Belgium takes his name from the town of Laeken, where he was commonly found. Besides guarding and tending flocks, the Laekenois had the job of watching over linen drying in the fields. He is likely the oldest of the Belgian shepherd dogs, which include the Tervuren, Malinois and Sheepdog.
The Laekenois does not have a well-known history until 1891 when Belgian dog fanciers decided to form the Belgian Shepherd Dog Club and classify and name their herding breeds. The Laekenois and the other Belgian herding breeds soon became popular beyond the fields, working as police and military dogs. When war came to Flanders fields, the Laekenois was one of the breeds that served courageously as a messenger dog and repeated his service in World War II.
The United Kennel Club recognized the Belgian Shepherd as a single breed with four varieties in 1991. The American Kennel Club recognizes the Belgian Malinois, Sheepdog and Tervuren, but not the Laekenois. The breed was recently admitted to AKC’s Miscellaneous Class, however, the final step before full recognition.
The Laekenois should be confident, calm and fearless, never shy or aggressive. He is an excellent watchdog and has the size and ability to be protective if needed. He can be possessive of family members. The ideal Laekenois has parents with good temperaments and has been socialized from an early age to be accepting of people to whom he is introduced. Those elements, combined with companion dog training, will help him to become a discriminating dog who can make appropriate decisions about when to escalate to protective status.
When the Laekenois is raised with children, he can be good with them. Don’t forget that he is a herding breed and may have the tendency to chase or nip at children. This should never be permitted. He is best suited to a family with older children who can understand how to treat him with respect.
The Laekenois may or may not get along with cats. He has a strong prey drive and will likely chase cats or other small furry animals outdoors, but some Laekenois get along well with indoor cats if they have been raised with them.
The Laekenois has high energy levels and needs much more activity than a simple walk around the block. Choose this breed only if you are a high-energy person yourself who enjoys active daily exercise such as running, bicycling and hiking and can take your dog with you. He’s also well suited to just about any dog sport or activity you can teach, including agility, flyball, herding, obedience, rally, search and rescue, and tracking.
Begin socialization and training early to make the most of the Laekenois’ intelligence, rapid learning ability and drive. He is sensitive to harsh corrections. Be firm, fair and consistent, and use positive reinforcement techniques such as praise, play and food rewards.
If your home has a yard, it should be securely fenced to prevent the Laekenois from leaving the premises as well as to prevent other dogs from coming onto the property and causing trouble. That doesn’t mean an underground electronic fence. If the Laekenois wants to leave the yard, a shock isn’t going to stop him. Nor does this type of fence prevent other dogs from coming onto your property.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality. Whatever you want from an Laekenois, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines. Health problems that have been seen in the Laekenois are hip and elbow dysplasia and hypothyroidism.
The American Belgian Laekenois Club, which is the parent organization for the breed in the United States, participates in the Canine Health Information Center Program. For a Belgian Laekenois to achieve CHIC certification, he must have hip and elbow evaluations from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and an eye clearance from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation. Hip scores from the University of Pennsylvania (PennHIP) are also acceptable.
Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. A dog need not receive good or even passing scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease, but all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents.
Do not purchase a puppy from a breeder who cannot provide you with written documentation that the parents were cleared of health problems that affect the breed. Having the dogs "vet checked" is not a substitute for genetic health testing.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live a good life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Laekenois at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
The Laekenois’ rough coat is easy to care for. Brush it weekly to remove dead hair and distribute skin oils.
Despite its wiry texture, the coat sheds somewhat year-round. During heavier seasonal sheds, the coat will need more frequent brushing to control the amount of loose hair floating around your house.
If kept well brushed, it’s rare that the Laekenois needs a bath. The rest is basic care. Trim his nails as needed, usually every few weeks, and keep his ears clean and dry to prevent infections. Good dental hygiene is also important. Brush his teeth frequently with a vet-approved pet toothpaste for good overall health and fresh breath.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a good breeder is the key to finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks. Be wary of breeders who only tell you the good things about the breed or who promote the dogs as being “good with kids” without any context as to what that means or how it comes about.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes take to avoid those problems. A breeder should want to be a resource for you throughout your dog’s life.
Look for more information about the Laekenois and start your search for a good breeder at the website of the American Belgian Laekenois Association. Choose a breeder who has agreed to abide by the ABLA’s code of ethics, which prohibits the sale of puppies to or through pet stores and calls for the breeder to obtain recommended health clearances on dogs before breeding them.
Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. Breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of a Laekenois puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) and, ideally, working titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Laekenois might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Laekenois in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Laekenois available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Laekenois. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Networking can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. Most people who love Laekenois love all Laekenois. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. Check the web site of the American Belgian Laekenois Association to see if there is a rescue network that can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for Laekenois rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a Laekenois home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a dog. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Laekenois, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, take your Laekenois to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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