Some information about the Belgian Shepherd in general.....

Below is an interview I participated in (2003) - excerpts of which appear in the April/May 2004 edition of an Australian Dog Magazine.

Question. How many years have you been breeding the Belgian Shepherd dog? When did you first come across the breed? What initially attracted you to them?

Reply. I've owned, or I should say, I've been owned by Belgian Shepherds since 1987 and have bred them for the past 14 years. I had been trying to decide between a Border Collie, or a Long Haired German Shepherd, but, while doing a bit of research on these two breeds, I discovered Belgian Shepherds -  and in particular, the Groenendael, with it's beautiful long black coat and intelligent looking face. There wasn't a lot of info on the breed (in Australia) at that time, but a friend of mine who showed dogs, suggested I go to a dog show to meet some "in the fur" which I did and that was it, I was hooked.

Question. We're all familiar with the German Shepherd, what are the major differences between the two breeds? Why such a small following in Australia? Do you think the breed will take off in Australia?

Reply. The Belgian Shepherd Dog is rather unique in that it is One Breed, which consists of Four Varieties, Structurally all four varieties are the same, differing only in coat and colour.
The Groenendael - long haired black.
The Tervueren - long haired other than black. Colours range from grey through to fawn, to red - varying in intensity, with black overlay and a black mask on the head.
The Malinois - short haired. Fawn with black overlay and black mask. (other colours such as grey and black, of which there are some, are not recognised in the breed standard).
The Laekenois - rough haired. Fawn with traces of black overlay mainly on the muzzle and tail.
* The 'mask' is defined as a strict minimum of eight points of pigmentation of the "phaners" both ears, the two top eye lids, the two top lips and the two bottom lips which must be black.
* All varieties may have a little white on the forechest and on the toes.

Belgians have an upright carriage and a "square" appearance without the sloped topline that is seen in the GSD. A dog that gives the impression of - intelligence, beauty, strength, agility, speed and stamina, the BSD is a medium sized dog, harmoniously proportioned - the Breed Standard describes them as having a "Robust Elegance".  Another distinctive feature of the Belgian Shepherd, is that they are quite sensitive to their owners' moods and reactions and form a strong "bond" with their owners.

They are not a "popular" dog in Australia, which, to many dedicated Belgian enthusiasts - including myself, means that they have not yet and hopefully will never become "fad dogs", It would be a shame to see this loving and loyal breed end up in pounds and breed rescues.
The BSD is not for everyone! They are wonderful companions for the right person or family, but in the wrong home, both dog and owner are unhappy. Their impetuous nature can be unnerving for someone unaccustomed to it, they are high-energy dogs who need a job to do and a family to be with. They do not like to be isolated from the rest of the family, or left alone for long periods - as with other working breeds they can become destructive if bored or neglected. These intelligent dogs need sensible handling, not harsh discipline. Responsible breeders will screen prospective owners and will often put people off rather than see a pup end up in the wrong home, or with owners that aren't prepared for this high-spirited breed.

Question. How much do you charge for a pup?

Reply. Prices do vary between breeders - ranging from $500.00 to 1,100.00. My puppy prices range from $550.00 for a Family Companion - which includes Micro-chipping and VCA "Limit" Registration papers, to $800.00 Registered on the "Main" Register with the VCA.
Note: VCA (Victorian Canine Association) Limit Register - basically restricts the pup from being bred from or being exported.
All pups are wormed and have their first vaccination before leaving us.

Question. Are there any hereditary diseases that are prevalent in the breed?

Reply. Hereditary diseases known to occur in the breed are...
Epilepsy, Hip Dysplasia (HD), Eyes - Cataracts & PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy).

Epilepsy - 'repeated seizures of unknown cause'. Whilst we can X-ray Hips and test eyes, unfortunately there is not yet a test available for epilepsy. In the BSD (Belgian Shepherd Dog) it appears to be an inherited disease, although the mode of inheritance is not well understood and so far difficult to eliminate by selective breeding, as often it may not appear until the dog is around 5 years of age and at this age many dogs have already been bred from. There is currently, an epilepsy study being conducted in the USA, using DNA from samples sent in from breeders around the world, with the hope that a suitable screening program can be developed for the future.
As with humans, in many instances, depending on frequency and severity of the seizures, the condition can be largely controlled by careful management and medication.
* Note: It can be difficult to determine whether a dog is having seizures due to epilepsy, thyroid problems, an accident, or even a reaction to vaccines or poisons etc. If a dog, of any breed, starts to suffer from 'fits' or seizures, a veterinarian should be consulted.

Although not a disease, something that must also be considered in this breed is that many Belgians have been found to be highly sensitive to anaesthesia. Owners and vets should be aware that Belgians have died under anaesthesia and that careful monitoring during and in the immediate recovery period after general anaesthesia is important. It is recommended that Vets follow the same anaesthesia protocol as for sighthound breeds.

Question. What should prospective owners look for in the breed? i.e., temperament, appearance

Reply. Health: Make sure the parents of the pup you are interested in are Health tested (I test Hips, Elbows and Eyes). They should be at the least, Hip X-rayed and scored and Eye tested.

Belgians are incredibly versatile and trainable, with enormous enthusiasm and desire to please. Activities they are suited to include - herding, competition obedience, agility, tracking, flyball, therapy work, assistance dogs for owners with physical or sensory disabilities, search and rescue, conformation showing, skijoring, Schutzhund, or working in a police K9 unit. They are happiest working and playing with their human partners.

Think hard about whether you want a dog that demands so much of your time and mental energy, a dog that will get into mischief if not adequately stimulated (physically and mentally) and who will bond to you like glue. Vigilant and attentive, when necessary, he is an obstinate and ardent protector of his family and home. Whilst not all Belgian Shepherds are as demonstrative as some breeds when meeting new people, this does not mean the dog should be timid nor aggressive. Socialisation (from puppyhood) is crucial in the development of a well-adjusted adult. Try to meet the parents of a puppy you are interested in. Breeders should try to match the right puppy with the right owner. Do your research, learn as much as you can about the breed, go and meet some dogs and talk to their owners. In Vic, NSW, Old and ACT, there are usually a couple of picnic or fundays each year, held by enthusiasts or breed clubs

Question. What sort of food do you feed your dogs? Are there any special dietary needs for the breed?

Reply. I feed my dogs a mainly natural diet, known as BARF diet - Bones As Raw Food, developed by Australian veterinarian Dr Ian Billinghurst, author of "Give your Dog A Bone" and "Grow Your Pups With Bones". Like most medium to large breeds, it is important to maintain your puppy at a healthy weight. Check your pups weight every few days by running your hands lightly over the pups sides, you should be able to feel a nice covering of flesh over the ribs, if you can't feel the ribs at all, the pup is overweight. Too much weight can be detrimental to your pups health and puts an extra strain on growing bones.

Question. What is the dog like with small children? Would you recommend the breed to families with young children? Any tips for introducing the puppy to the family?

Reply. BSD's are good with children and can and do make wonderful companions and playmates. Children and dogs should be taught how to play and to be gentle with each other. Many children and dogs are drawn to each other instantly, however, when introducing a child and puppy for the first time - if either seems nervous, introduce them at a distance, allowing them to get closer depending on how they respond to each other. Child and dog should be encouraged to remain calm and relaxed, watch body language and responses from both child and puppy and don't allow either to get stressed or overexcited.
Young children should not carry puppies, a wriggling puppy may easily fall out of a young child's arms and be injured, or if held insecurely, a puppy may become frightened and snap or scratch in response. You can have your child offer the puppy a chew toy while he pets the puppy.
When puppies are teething, they tend to chew on everything, including hands and arms, so having a chew toy handy will divert the puppy's teeth away from your child. An added benefit is that the puppy will come to associate pleasant experiences (getting a treat) with being petted by your child. Children move with quick, jerky movements, have high-pitched voices and often run, rather than walk. All of these behaviours somewhat resemble the behaviour of prey animals. Almost all of a dog's play behaviours are based on predatory behaviour. Consequently, a dog may respond to your child's behaviour by chasing him, nipping at his heels, jumping up at him or even trying to knock him down. Children should play quietly around a new puppy, until the pup becomes comfortable and used to the child. Children often want to hug dogs around the neck, dogs may view this as a threatening gesture, instead of one of affection and may react with a growl, snap or bite. A child should be taught to pet dogs from underneath the dog's chin, rather than hugging or reaching over its head.
Young children and dogs should never be left unsupervised.
If treated with kindness, the sensitive Belgian will be your child's companion and guard for life.

Question. What is the maintenance like for the breed? Any tips for grooming?

Reply. The Belgian Shepherd has a relatively low maintenance coat. A good brush once every week or so, more often if shedding. The coat should be brushed from the skin out, don't just run the brush along the outer layer, pay special attention to the softer coat around the ears and the longer coat on the britches - this is where the coat is most likely to mat. There are now a good selection of detangling/conditioning products specifically for dogs, which can make grooming a more pleasurable experience for you and your dog. At grooming time you should make it a habit to check for skin problems, fleas or ticks and check for grass seeds especially between the toes, or long nails that need clipping, (letting nails grow too long is uncomfortable for the dog to walk on), if owners are worried about cutting the dogs nails (cutting the 'quick' will cause the nail to bleed) ask your vet to clip the nails for you.
The Belgian Shepherds coat doesn't have that "dog-smell" many dogs have. There is no set rule as to how often to wash a Belgian Shepherd, the best advice is - When they need one! A good wash when shedding will usually loosen the dead coat, but, if the coat is really matted, you will need to brush the mats out first.
* Tip: Get your dog used to being brushed gently with a soft brush whilst still a puppy.

Question. Any memorable or funny moments you'd had with your dogs you'd like to share with us? Please feel free to add anything about your dogs and the breed that I may have overlooked.

Reply. A funny moment that comes to mind would be - Belgian Shepherds love water and swimming, I found this out for the first time when I got my very first Belgian puppy "Ebony". We had a fish pond complete with goldfish, and somehow the goldfish and water lilies were mysteriously making their way out of the pond that's when we discovered Ebony liked to jump in and go fishing, literally.

copyright 1998 Helene. Cremona

Lumineux Belgians - Australia