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Ron Wilbie, Animal Photography
The elegant Belgian Sheepdog is arguably the most beautiful of the four Belgian herding breeds. He possesses a proud bearing, striking, medium-length black coat, pointed muzzle, prick ears, and a protective personality.
If you are crafty — or know someone who is — you can save a Belgian Sheepdog’s hair, have it spun into yarn, and knit it into socks, sweaters, hats, or afghans.
The black, longhaired coat gives the Belgian Sheepdog an air of elegance, but don’t be fooled. There’s a lot more to this dog than beauty. He’s highly energetic — the breed standard calls for him to be always in motion when not under command — and he likes, no, needs to have a job that makes use of his intelligence.
His high energy levels necessitates much more activity than a simple walk around the block. Choose this breed only if you are a high-energy person who enjoys active daily exercises such as running, bicycling, and hiking. He’s also well suited any dog sport or activity you can teach, including agility, flyball, herding, obedience, rally, search and rescue, and tracking.
The Belgian Sheepdog has an intense desire to be with his people and will follow them around. He is alert and watchful, but he also has a playful side. He should never be fearful, shy, or aggressive. He is an excellent watchdog and has the size and ability to be protective when necessary.
The ideal Belgian Sheepdog has parents with approachable temperaments and has been socialized from an early age to be accepting of new people. Those elements -- combined with companion
dog training -- will help him to become a discriminating dog who can make appropriate decisions when it comes to protection.
When the Belgian Sheepdog is raised with children, he can be quite accepting. He is best suited to a home with older children who understand how to handle him with respect. 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!
The Belgian Shepherd may or may not get along with
cats. He has a strong prey drive and may chase cats or other small furry animals outdoors. Some Belgian Shepherds do get along well with indoor
cats if they have been raised together.
Begin socialization and training early to make the most of the Belgian Sheepdog’s intelligence, rapid learning ability, and drive. He is sensitive to harsh corrections. Be firm, fair. and consistent, using positive reinforcement techniques such as praise, play, and food rewards.
If your home has a yard, it should be securely fenced to prevent the dog from leaving the premises as well as to prevent strange dogs and other animals from entering. That doesn’t mean an underground electronic fence! If the Belgian Sheepdog wants to leave the yard, a shock isn’t going to stop him, and this type of fence does not prevent other dogs from coming onto your property.
This is an indoor/outdoor dog. While the Belgian Sheepdog should certainly have access to a securely fenced yard where he can run in large, sweeping circles as if he were herding a flock, he should be with his family when they are home.
Late in the 19
th century, European dog breeders became interested in developing dogs from their own countries. In Belgium, it was determined in 1891 that there were four types of herding dogs, each with a different coat but otherwise consistent in appearance. One, with a long, black coat, became officially known as the Groenendael in 1910, borrowing the name from the kennel that had been breeding the black dogs since 1893. The breeder was Nicolas Rose, whose foundation dogs --
Picard d’Uccle and Petite -- produced puppies whose names are still seen in pedigrees of modern-day Belgian Sheepdogs.
The Belgian Sheepdogs began to be used for police work in New York and Paris in the early 1900s. When World War I erupted, Belgian Sheepdogs were conscripted as sentries, messengers, and draft dogs pulling machine guns. People who saw them in action remembered them, and they became popular companions after the war.
The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1912, and the Belgian Sheepdog Club of America was formed in 1919. Unlike the rest of the world, the AKC separates the Belgian herding dogs into separate breeds, a change that was made in 1959. The Belgian Sheepdog ranks 116
th among the breeds registered by the AKC.
Sensitive, highly intelligent, extremely active, and protective -- the Belgian Sheepdog is an excellent choice for an experienced dog owner who can give him the training, work, and exercise he needs to fulfill his herd-dog heritage. If you are a runner or bicyclist, enjoy participating in dog sports such as agility and flyball, or often take strenuous hikes or long-distance walks, a Belgian Sheepdog will enjoy life in your home. Other activities that will keep him occupied include running and playing in a yard with another dog, playing fetch, and practicing his obedience exercises. If you’re a slacker and he’s bored, however, he can become noisy and destructive in his attempts to find something meaningful to do.
Choose a Belgian Sheepdog if you enjoy having a canine shadow. This dog loves being with his family and will sometimes follow people from room to room. His protective nature makes him an excellent watchdog. Toward strangers, he takes a “wait and see” stance until he’s sure of their intentions.
The Belgian Sheepdog enjoys life in a family with well-behaved children or parents who closely supervise toddlers (pulling the dog’s hair, ears, or tail is a definite no-no!). He can learn to get along with cats and other dogs if they are brought up together from an early age.
Train the Belgiant Sheepdog with a gentle touch and lots of positive reinforcement — praise, play, and treats as rewards for correct behavior. Be consistent in what you ask and expect of him.
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 about your lifestyle and personality. Whatever you want from a Belgian Sheepdog, look for one whose parents have approachable 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 from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy, or who isolates puppies 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 in Belgian Sheepdogs include hip and
elbow dysplasia, progressive retinal atrophy, cataracts, cancer, epilepsy and
Not all of these conditions are detectable in a growing puppy, and it is impossible to predict whether an animal will be free of these maladies, which is why you must find a reputable breeder who is committed to breeding the healthiest animals possible. They should be able to produce independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for common defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries come in.
The Belgian Sheepdog Club of America participates in the Canine Health Information Center, a health database. For a Belgian Sheepdog to achieve
CHIC certification, the breeder must submit hip evaluations from the
Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), an OFA clearance for elbows, and an eye clearance from the
Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). PennHip certification of hips is also accepted. The BSCA’s Code of Ethics also recommends that breeders obtain an OFA thyroid clearance and says that Belgian Sheepdogs who have had seizures or who have a retained testicle must not be used for breeding.
Breeders must agree to have all test results -- positive or negative -- published in the CHIC database. A dog does not need to 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.
Don't fall the lies of a bad breeder. If the breeder tells you she doesn't need to do the tests because she's never had problems in her lines, that her dogs have been "vet checked," or gives you any other excuse for skimping on the genetic testing of their dogs, walk away immediately.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest, best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas. A puppy may develop one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live a quality life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what are the most common cause of death.
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 Belgian Sheepdog 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 Belgian Sheepdog’s double coat sheds dirt, but he will need a weekly brushing to remove dead hair. Be sure you brush all the way down to the skin, using a technique called “line brushing.” Your dog’s breeder or a groomer can show you the most efficient approach. You’ll also want to trim the hair between the paw pads using blunt-tipped scissors or electric clippers. Keep a medium-size pin brush, slicker brush, undercoat rake, and a mat comb on hand. The Belgian Sheepdog Club of America has tips on grooming in its online puppy manual.
Belgian Sheepdogs shed once or twice a year and will need more frequent brushing during those times to control the amount of loose hair floating around (there will be bags full!). Lucky you if your Belgian lives in a warm climate: he won’t shed quite as much as his kin in colder climes.
The Belgian Sheepdog shouldn’t need a bath very often (unless he rolls in something stinky), but frequent warm baths followed by thorough blow drying can help remove dead hair during shedding season. Try not to be too shocked by how your Belgian looks after he goes through a shed: his hair will grow back soon enough.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed, usually every few weeks. Brush the teeth frequently for 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 have completed all the health certifications necessary to screen out potential problems. 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 a breed.
Quality breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances, and what the dogs are like to live with. They will come back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you plan to provide. A reputable breeder can tell you about the history of the animal, 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 Belgian Sheepdog and start your search for a good breeder with the
Belgian Sheepdog Club of America. Choose a breeder who has agreed to abide by the BSCA’s
code of ethics, which prohibits the sale of puppies to pet stores and calls for the breeder to obtain recommended health clearances on dogs before breeding.
Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy and whether your credit card will clear. 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 that are always available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. These features 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 Belgian Sheepdog 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). Ideally, they should have herding 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 Belgian Sheepdog might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort. 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.
1. Use the Web
Petfinder.com can have you searching for a Belgian Sheepdog 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 Belgian Sheepdogs available on Petfinder across the country).
AnimalShelter.org 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 Belgian Sheepdog. 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 Belgian Sheepdogs love all Belgian Sheepdogs. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The
Belgian Sheepdog Club of America’s rescue network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Belgian Sheepdog 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 Belgian Sheepdog 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 Belgian Sheepdog, 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 Belgian Sheepdog 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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