Belgian Shepherd Tervueren
The Belgian is a true Continental Shepherd Dog, not related in any way to the German Shepherd, but a separately evolved shepherd and distinct to Belgium.
There are four varieties, Groenendael long haired black, Tervueren long haired other than black (grey, red, fawn mahogany with black mask and overlay), Malinois, short haired with the same colour characteristics as the Tervueren, and the Lakenois, the rough or wire-coated again with the same colour characteristics. Each of the varieties is set apart only by coat length, texture, or colour, the dog beneath the coat is intrinsically the same.
The Belgian Shepherd was first noted in 1890 and the long haired black or Groenendael was the first recognised variety. The well-known black dog Duc du Groenendael became important for his own all-black variety as well as for the other long-haired fawn variety, later known as the Tervueren. Duc du Groenendael mated the fawn bitch 'Miss' which produced among a Groenendael litter the fawn dog, 'Milsart', the cornerstone of the fawn long-haired variety. The Tervueren or variety "long haired other than black" was for a long time treated as a poor relation however, they subsequently gained their just recognition, due in no small part to the efforts of a breeder Mr Corbeels in the small town of Tervueren, just outside Brussels, who continued to breed fawn-coloured, his dogs are thought to have formed the foundation of the Tervuren variety.
The Tervueren is a comparatively recent arrival in Great Britain being imported first from France in 1971, since then it has benefited from numerous imports, and their influence has raised the quality of this glamorous variety, to its present high standards.
The Belgian Shepherd is a complex and unique breed, a very natural dog with no exaggeration. They are growing in popularity in the UK, mainly due to their versatility and in the case of the long haired variety, their glamorous appearance.
The Tervueren is a medium sized dog, with good, but not heavy bone, harmonious proportions and no exaggerations.
Hardy and robust, used to the open air life, at the same time, they should convey intelligence and great elegance, proud with high head carriage, arched neck, high-set ears, dark almond eyes which are alert, enquiring and give a soft questioning expression, their head finely chiseled, long with a flat scull, the head giving the impression of being sculptured from marble. Ears are smallish triangular and set high on the head and constantly in use. In the case of the Groenendael and Tervueren the head is framed by a distinctive ruff, similar to a lion's mane which is particularly evident in the males.
Wary of strangers, but showing no aggression they are definitely not kennel dogs, they thrive on human companionship. Not a heavy dog; a mature male should not weigh more than 55lbs and should be between 24 and 26 inches at the shoulder, females weighing around 40 - 45lbs and being 22 to 24 inches at the shoulder. A Belgian Shepherd should never be fat, they are athletes, light on their feet and should be kept fit, lean and muscular. They appear slightly heavier than they actually are due to the thick undercoat (similar to cotton wool) and the long harsh top coat. They are much lighter framed than the German Shepherd, and have evolved as an adaptation to their natural environment which was the muddy fields of Flanders, they appear to float over the surface rather than sinking into the mud.
The Belgian Shepherd comes in a wonderful array of natural colours, from jet black in some cases with permitted white markings in the chest and feet the Groenendael, to wolf-like grey, and any shades of warm red to hot mahogany in-between. The Tervueren has a black mask and an overlay which is in the form of a veil or fine black dust brushed over his coat. This overlay is not pronounced until the dog reaches maturity at around 4 years of age. In other words each time he moults his coat, it may come back slightly darker than before, again this is usually pronounced around the mane and shoulder area. The coat is easily manageable but requires regular once or twice a week grooming, with special emphasis around the ears and the back trousers, where matting can form especially at moulting time. They moult once or twice a year and at that time the ‘cotton wool‘ undercoat should be stripped out and the dog bathed to loosen the remainder of the dead-coat. Hair between the toes and at the back of the hocks can be carefully trimmed.
When adult a Belgian will protect "his or her family" and their possessions diligently. Belgians are never happier than when they are with you. When at exercise they tend to move around you in a wide circle, making sure that they can see you all times, as if keeping their flock together. They are very fast and when they trot, the favoured gait, they move with speed and great ease. They have great endurance and do not tire easily.
The Belgian is a very lively and exuberant dog, willing to please and sensitive to handle, often sensing your mood. Your voice is enough to reprimand for any wrong doing, heavy handling of a Belgian Shepherd is totally unnecessary, to do so will crush the dogs spirit. They respond well to a gentle, kind but a firm approach and are extremely trainable, often to a very high level. Belgians do not suit everyone and great care must be taken in assessing ones suitability for this breed, they are not generally a first time dog. All puppies are cute little fluffy bundles but they turn into large, often bouncy and quite demanding adults, they can be very possessive of their people and have a suspicion of strangers.
They do require a good degree of socialisation as puppies which will help prevent excessive wariness. Generally children and Belgian Shepherds get on extremely well, as long as mutual respect is taught, always teach children how to approach and touch dogs, and always supervise any interactions between any dogs and young children. Regardless how well your dog behaves with young children, no dog should ever be left unsupervised with a child.
Generally speaking the Belgian Shepherd is a relatively healthy and long lived breed. There are one or two conditions which breeders are aware of and which they are trying to eradicate.
They have a square and not exaggerated structure, because of this hip and elbow dysplasia are relatively rare in the breed. Great care must be taken not to over exercise a young puppy, with the exercise regime being gradually developed over the age of six months before that restricted exercise is advised. Breeders are advised to hip-score their dogs and the Belgian Shepherd has a relatively low mean score.
There also appears to be a small problem in the breed with polar cataracts, this seems to be more common in Tervueren than the other varieties. The onset on this condition generally develops as the dogs get older meaning they may well have been bred from before the condition becomes apparent, thankfully dogs affected with polar cataracts rarely, if ever, become blind.
The Belgian Shepherd can suffer from epilepsy, a disorder that causes mild or in some case severe seizures. Epilepsy can be hereditary; it can be triggered by metabolic disorders, infectious diseases, tumours, exposure to poisons, or severe head injuries; or it can be of unknown cause. Usually the condition can be largely controlled by careful management and drug therapy although it cannot be cured. A dog can live a full and healthy life with the proper management of this disorder, however seizures are frightening to watch and the degree of severity will effect, the long-term prognosis.