Known for their beautiful long black coat, Belgian Sheepdogs are part of the Belgian Shepherd family, which also includes the Belgian Tervuren, the Belgian Laekenois, and the Belgian Malinois. Belgian Sheepdogs, sometimes referred to as Groenendael, can trace their roots back to the 19th century in Belgium, where they were used for herding and guarding purposes.
Later, their penchant for obedience made them popular police dogs, and they played a significant role in both world wars as message carriers, watch dogs, and Red Cross dogs, according to the Belgian Sheepdog Club of America (BSCA). Today, Belgian Sheepdogs are still used in police work and search and rescue. They also work as guide dogs and service dogs.
The average male Belgian Sheepdog stands up to 26 inches tall and weighs 55–75 pounds. The average female Belgian Sheepdog stands up to 24 inches tall and weighs 45–60 pounds.
Caring for a Belgian Sheepdog
Belgian Sheepdogs are known to develop strong bonds with their humans. They are alert, intelligent dogs who need regular exercise to thrive.
According to the BSCA, they usually do best with an experienced pet parent who also has dog training experience. While these dogs are smart and often fast learners, their independent working nature means they need the proper guidance with positive reinforcement.
Though Belgian Sheepdogs take their work seriously, they can also be very playful, especially as puppies. In addition to regular exercise and training sessions, Belgian Sheepdogs need their long coat brushed frequently to remove dead hairs, especially during periods of shedding.
Belgian Sheepdog Health Issues
Elbow and Hip Dysplasia
Ask your vet for a health screening if you notice symptoms such as lameness or limping, an abnormal gait, or a swollen joint. Treatment can include joint supplements, weight management, and surgery if the case is severe.
Hypothyroidism is a common endocrine disease in dogs that results in decreased production of thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones are produced by the thyroid glands, which are located on either side of the neck near the throat. These hormones serve an important role in metabolism, and when the glands are not producing enough hormones, the dog’s body functions slow down.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism include weight gain, lethargy, heat-seeking behavior, chronic skin and ear infections, dry and brittle hair, a thinning coat, increased pigmentation of the skin, and inability to regrow hair after shaving.
Hypothyroidism in dogs is treated with an oral medication called levothyroxine. This medication is a synthetic form of the thyroid hormone your dog is missing. While there is no cure for hypothyroidism, the condition can be successfully managed with lifelong medication and routine monitoring with your vet.
Sensitivity to Anesthesia
Because Belgian Sheepdogs have a low fat-to-body ratio, they are sensitive to anesthesia, according to the BSCA. Before your Groenendael undergoes any procedures involving anesthesia, such as their spay or neuter, discuss it with your vet.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)
Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) describes a group of genetic disorders in which the rods and cones of the eye don’t develop properly. This can lead to cataracts, loss of night vision, eyes that are more reflective in the dark, and eventually blindness.
While there is no cure or treatment for PRA, blind dogs can live long and successful lives with the proper support.
Belgian Sheepdogs can inherit epilepsy, a seizure disorder. This is often first noticeable when a dog is between 2 and 3 years old, and responsible breeders wait until their dogs are at least 3 years old before breeding them, according to the BSCA.
Talk to your vet if you notice any signs of a seizure, including stiffening of the body and legs, collapsing, paddling of the legs, drooling, or shaking. Although epilepsy can’t be cured, most dogs can manage it with lifelong medication.
What To Feed a Belgian Sheepdog
Belgian Sheepdogs don’t have specific dietary requirements. But make sure your pup is on a diet appropriate for their age: Puppy food should be given until your Belgian Sheepdog puppy is at least 1 year old before switching to adult dog food.
The food should also meet the nutritional standards set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). Talk to your vet about which dog food is right for your Belgian Sheepdog.
How To Feed a Belgian Sheepdog
In general, Belgian Sheepdogs should be fed twice daily: once in the morning and once in the evening. Belgian Sheepdog puppies should eat three times a day.
How Much Should You Feed a Belgian Sheepdog?
The amount of food your Belgian Sheepdog needs varies by dog. Your dog food bag will have a feeding guide that recommends a total amount of food to be given to your dog over a 24-hour period, based on your dog’s weight.
But for the very best recommendation, talk to your vet. They can tell you how much to feed your Sheepdog based on your dog’s age, health history, and lifestyle.
Nutritional Tips for Belgian Sheepdogs
If an otherwise healthy pet is on a high-quality, complete, and balanced diet, they shouldn’t need nutritional supplements unless your vet recommends them. Joint supplements can be helpful to maintain joint health in most dogs, especially larger active breeds like the Belgian Sheepdog.
Behavior and Training Tips for Belgian Sheepdogs
Belgian Sheepdog Personality and Temperament
As previously mentioned, Belgian Sheepdogs are active, engaging dogs. They are considered high energy and love to be included in activities like hiking, jogging, and even competitive dog sports such as agility, according to the BSCA. They are also happy to relax with their humans on the couch after a busy day.
Belgian Sheepdogs tend to do well with children, especially if they are raised with them and the children have been taught how to interact with dogs. Belgian Sheepdog puppies should be exposed to playing with children as part of their socialization.
Belgian Sheepdog Behavior
Although Belgian Sheepdogs are a people-oriented breed (which can make them great family dogs), they might present inherited herding behaviors—it’s in their nature. Raising a Belgian Sheepdog means teaching them what isn’t acceptable to herd: children, other animals (like cats), and you.
It’s not uncommon for Belgian Sheepdogs to show uneasiness toward humans or other animals who are strangers to them. This is why early socialization and training are important.
As working dogs who need a job to do, Belgian Sheepdogs’ energy level is an important consideration for pet parents. They tend to do well in homes with active families and fenced yards.
Belgian Sheepdog Training
According to the BSCA, first-time Belgian Sheepdog parents are often amazed by how quickly these dogs learn. Training is paramount for this breed to learn appropriate behavior, especially when it comes to interacting with children and other dogs.
These pups will do well with training that involves obedience, mental stimulation, and play. This means training must always be kept positive and fun.
Fun Activities for Belgian Sheepdogs
Belgian Sheepdog Grooming Guide
Belgian Sheepdogs come with a beautiful black coat, and those long locks do require some regular maintenance. But don’t expect to spend an unreasonable amount of time on their grooming. (Save that energy for their exercise!)
Belgian Sheepdogs are not prone to skin problems, but always check for ticks or mats in their fur, especially after a long day outdoors. This, coupled with baths after particularly messy excursions, will help keep their skin clean and healthy.
According to their breed standard, the Belgian Sheepdog coat is long and straight with a medium harshness; it shouldn’t be silky or wiry. The hair tends to be shorter on their head, outside of the ears, and the lower part of the legs.
Regular, weekly brushings will keep their coat beautiful and healthy, especially because it can be prone to matting. Brushing will also help prevent extensive shedding.
A Belgian Sheepdog’s expressive eyes don’t require a lot of attention when it comes to grooming. But always check with your vet if you notice changes, such as cloudiness or discharge.
Considerations for Pet Parents
When considering a Belgian Sheepdog for your family, make sure to factor in their high energy level and unique personality. They have a long history as working dogs, and still need ample exercise and mental stimulation to stay happy. Make sure you also have time to train and socialize them early, as it’s important for their growth and development.
Belgian Sheepdog FAQs
Are Belgian Sheepdogs good pets?
If you can dedicate enough time to exercise and training, Belgian Sheepdogs can make wonderful pets.
Is a Belgian Sheepdog the same as a Belgian Shepherd?
Yes, the Belgian Sheepdog is part of the overarching Belgian Shepherd family, which also includes the Belgian Tervuren, the Belgian Laekenois, and the Belgian Malinois.
What’s the difference between a Belgian Sheepdog and a Belgian Malinois?
The main differences between Belgian Sheepdogs and Belgian Malinois can be found in their coat color and length: Belgian Malinois have a short, waterproof coat that can come in various colors, including shades of red, fawn, and gray with black overlay. The Belgian Sheepdog always has long black fur.
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