Although Belgian Shepherd Dogs have been in the United States for over 80 years, their owners still field such questions as, “Aren’t they the ones with hair over their eyes?”; “Is that a black Collie?”; and “Your dog is part wolf and what else?”
While its easy to explain that these dogs are not wolf-hybrids, part Collie or part German Shepherd, explaining the differences between the AKC recognized breeds of Belgian Shepherd Dogs — and why they are different breeds in this country — is not so easy.
Exploring the heritage of the Belgian Malinois, Sheepdog and Tervuren&heading
The American Kennel Club recognizes the Belgian Malinois, Belgian Sheepdog (Groenendael) and Belgian Tervuren as separate breeds. They differ in color and length of coat. To date, no one has described these differences better than the world-renowned breed authority, Mme. Jacqueline Aubry. In her book, Le Berger Belge (The Belgian Shepherd), Mme. Aubry wrote:
“Casual outfit, plain and sober, but full of class for the Malinois with his short, smooth coat of warm red with black mask and overlay so characteristic and so expressive of the variety. Classic afternoon attire for the Groenendael, enveloped in his splendid mane, so long and dense. Splendor of evening clothes for the Tervuren, who, in addition to the beauty of his long coat, has magnificent warm color with shades of fire, or the delicacy of grey with its clever shadows.”
The known history of the Belgian Shepherds traces to the 1880s when these dogs (along with German Shepherds, French Shepherds and Dutch Shepherds) were called Continental Shepherd Dogs. In September 1891, the Club du Chein de Berger Belge (Belgian Shepherd Dog Club) was formed for the purpose of determining if there was a true shepherd dog representative only of Belgium.
On November 15, 1891, under the direction of veterinary professor Adolphe Reul, a gathering was held at Cureghem, on the outskirts of Brussels, to examine the shepherd dogs of that area. Besides identifying Collies, Old English Sheepdogs, Beauceron, Briards, Bouviers and German Shepherd Dogs, Professor Reul and his panel of judges also concluded that, for the Brabant province, there was a consistent type of native shepherd dog: a square, medium-sized dog with well-set triangular ears and very dark brown eyes that differed only in the texture, color and length of hair. Similar exhibitions in the remaining Belgian provinces resulted in similar findings.
In 1892, again under the direction of Professor Reul, and modeled after England’s Collie standard of the time, the first Belgian Shepherd Dog standard was issued, and recognized three varieties: dogs with long coats, short coats and rough coats. The CCBB petitioned the Societe Royale Saint-Hubert (Belgium’s equivalent to the AKC) for breed status in 1892, but was denied. Between 1892 and 1901, when Saint-Hubert recognized the Belgian Shepherd Dog as a breed, efforts were concentrated on developing the varieties and establishing type.
The documented genealogy of today’s Belgian Shepherd Dogs can be traced back to three foundation couples. In 1885, Adrien Janssens, a shepherd from Laeken (a suburb of Brussels) purchased a pale, fawn rough-hair (known as Vos I, or Vos de Laeken) from a cattle dealer in Boom, in northern Belgium, where these rough-haired shepherd dogs had long been used to guard the laundry-bleaching fields from human thieves. Mr. Janssens used Vos I (“fox” in Flemish) to herd his flock and to serve as his foundation stud. First bred to the short-haired, brindle-brown Lise (known as Lise de Laeken or Liske de Laeken), and then to his daughters, Vos I sired a line noted for its homogeneity of type, both in the grey rough-hairs and short-hairs, and fawn rough-hairs and short-hairs. Today, Vos I and Lise de Laeken are recognized as ancestors not only of the modern Belgian Shepherd Dogs but also of the Bouvier des Flandres and Dutch Shepherd Dogs.
At the first dog show in Belgium where the Belgian Shepherd Dogs were shown separately from the Continental Shepherds (May 1, 1892), several of Vos I and Lises’ offspring were exhibited, and placed in their classes. On that same date, the first sheep-herding trial in Europe was held in Cureghem, Belgium, and the team of Adrien Janssens and Vos I placed third.
Other Vos I descendants served as foundation dogs for new kennels. M. Joubert acquired Diane, a brindle-grey, short-haired daughter of Vos I and Lise and bred her to Samlo, a brindle-fawn dog owned by P. Beernaert of Uccle. The mating produced Tomy, LOB 138, an extraordinary guard dog as well as winner of first prizes at dog shows in 1898. He was described as a very beautiful fawn short-hair with black overlay, ideal conformation and an explicit black mask. Tomy sired a number of litters, but his most outstanding offspring was Tjop LOSH 6132, born November 1, 1899 in Malines, north of Brussels. A great-grandson of Vos I and Lise, Tjop became the first Malinois champion in Belgium, as well as the most influential Malinois sire of the early twentieth century.
The second foundation couple were two long-haired blacks, Picard d’Uccle and Petite, purchased by Nicolas Rose, a restaurateur in the village of Groenendael, southeast of Brussels. Previously owned and used by shepherds, both Petite and Picard were exhibited several times, and at the first show for Belgian Shepherd Dogs, Petite received a first prize in the long-hair class. The first known litter of Picard and Petite, whelped May 1, 1893, produced, among others, Duc de Groenendael, who, when bred to the long-haired fawn, Miss, in 1896 sired Milsart, the first Tervuren champion of the breed.
The third foundation couple were two long-haired fawns who lived in the village of Tervuren and were owned by M. Corbeel, a brewer. M. Corbeel bred his dog, Tom, which he used during the day to pull the beer cart and at night to guard the brewery, to his bitch, Poes, a fawn long-hair lacking a tail (a genetic problem found in all standards today as a disqualification). Through their fawn daughter, Miss (bred to both Duc de Groenendael and Picard d’Uccle), Tom and Poes were the grandparents of the Tervuren champion, Milsart, as well as the great-grandparents of Dax, who in 1906 became the first Groenendael champion of Belgium.
Naming the Varieties
During the first decade of the twentieth century, place names were coming into use for the different varieties of Belgian Shepherd Dogs, honoring the kennels in Belgium with which they were most closely associated. The city of Malines had formed a club for the promotion of the fawn short-hairs in 1898. Led by Louis Huyghebaert, an early breeder under the “ter Heide” kennel name, as well as a judge, author and the “godfather of the Malinois” (and the Bouvier), the Malines club had done much to help popularize these short-hairs, and the name “Malinois” was the name used most often for the fawn short-hairs. “Groenendael” seemed the most appropriate name for the long-haired blacks (for Nicolas Rose’s kennel). Later, the rough-haired fawns were named “Laekenois” (for Adrien Janssens’ kennel), and the long-haired fawns (and later greys) were named “Tervuren” honoring the dogs of M. Corbeel.
From photographs and descriptions of the herding done in Belgium in the 1890s, we know that the Belgian Shepherds were used as “moveable fences,” shepherding flocks of sheep and herds of cattle from one pasture to another and protecting the livestock as it grazed.
In December 1897, Louis Huyghebaert, disturbed by the Club du Chien Berger Belge’s plans for conducting herding trials, noted that there were very few sheep left in Belgium at the time. He recommended that different trials be started to “bring forward the three fundamental characteristics that a shepherd dog should possess: intelligence, obedience and loyalty.” This recommendation led to the development of dressage trials, with individual exercises testing a dog’s ability to leap over high and long obstacles and to perform swimming exercises. When combined with protection work, the dressage trials developed into the Belgian Ring Sport and “Compagne” (field trials). The first dressage trial, held on July 12, 1903 in Malines, was won by M. van Opdebeek and his Malinois, Cora van’t Optewel, the dam of Ch. Tjop LOSH 6132.
Belgian Shepherds were also used as guard dogs and draught dogs (often teamed with the larger Matins and Bouviers), and were the first dogs to be used by Belgian police forces. In March, 1899, the city of Ghent began its police dog service with three Belgian Shepherd Dogs. International police dog trials became very popular in Europe prior to the first World War, and Belgian trainers and their dogs earned a number of prizes at the trials. The Groenendael, Jules du Moulin, and his trainer, M. Tedesco, won the World Champion title at the trials for four consecutive years (1908-11).
In October 1911, the first tracking trial was held in Belgium and was won by the Groenendael, Polo. In 1913, the Kennel Club Belge (a rival national kennel club to the Societe Royale Saint-Hubert) began yearly national ring sport trials, followed in 1926 by Saint-Hubert’s national Grand Prix de Belgique yearly ring trials.
At the beginning of World War I, many Belgian Shepherd Dogs were requisitioned by the military and served in a number of war capacities: as messenger dogs, Red Cross dogs, ambulance cart dogs and, reportedly, light machine-gun cart dogs.
Refining the Breeds
In 1921, two Tervuren were born in Belgium that greatly altered the history and genealogies of this variety: Minox LOSH 15141 and Colette ex Folette LOSH 20495. Both were from generations of Malinois, but produced the Tervurens Jinox, Lakme and Noisette in 1924. Jinox entered the “du Camp” kennel of M. Ledieu, Noisette entered the “Cite des Gilles” kennel of M. Rombeaux, and Lakme entered the French “de la Sente” kennel of M. Baudouin, where she produced several excellent offspring sired by the French champion Pitou des Barricades (a Groenendael owned by Mme. Jacqueline Aubry). All three of these offspring of Minox and Colette ex Folette were, through their descendants, key dogs in the evolution of the Tervuren and Groenendaels.
During the 1920s and ’30s, a number of outstanding Malinois kennels were started in Belgium. Emphasizing both beauty and working ability, Arthur Hanappe’s “Jolimont” kennels and F.E. Verbanck’s “Ecaillon” kennel became famous for the high quality and homogeneity of their dogs. The Malinois (and Tervuren born in Malinois litters) from Chalet des Glycines, and Malinois from the Pimprenelles kennel, were important links in the evolution of the breed. From the Gaulois kennel came Herdo du Gaulois, registered as a Malinois but shown in the Tervuren classes at dog shows. His son, Vici du Val Clos des Sarts, is an important link, through his dam, to the old Tervuren lines of Tom and Poes, as well as to the modern Tervuren and Groenendaels.
Groenendael kennels in Belgium after World War I were the slowest to recover quality. Many Groenendaels were registered with the Kennel Club Belge, whose pedigrees Saint-Hubert refused to honor. Joseph Drossart, noted Groenendael, Malinois and Schipperke breeder prior to W.W. I under his “L’Enfer” kennel name, produced a few Groenendael litters after the war. Several of his dogs were imported into the U.S.
Late in the ’20s, the two most influential kennels in modern Groenendael history were started in Binche, Belgium. They were Emile Boudart’s “Mont-Sara” kennel and Jean Beaudoux’s “l’Infernal” kennel. Several Mont-Sara Groenendaels were imported into the U.S. in the late 1930s, 1949 and 1950. L’Infernal Kennel concentrated on refining breed type, producing dogs not dissimilar to those we see today, and the 1940s and ’50s importations greatly contributed to American breed history.
Establishing Belgians in America
During the first decade of the twentieth century, Malinois and Groenendael exports (the most popular of the varieties in that era) began to appear in the stud books of the Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Canada, United States, Argentina and Brazil. In 1911, two Groenendaels and two Malinois were registered by the AKC as “German Sheepdogs” (changed in the 1913 AKC stud books to “Belgian Sheepdogs,” a misnomer applied to Groenendaels, Malinois and Tervuren from 1913 until 1959, and to Groenendaels since 1959).
Josse Hanssens of Norwalk, Connecticut, imported these first AKC-registered Belgian Sheepdogs. A native of Belgium, Mr. Hanssens did not long retain these dogs; the two Malinois went to L.I. De Winter of Guttenberg, New Jersey. Mr. De Winter, also a native of Belgium, produced several litters from the Malinois under his Winterview kennel name (later famous for German Shepherd Dogs). The Groenendaels were sold to a Mr. Harris on Long Island. No current Belgians trace back to these first imports, although all trace back to their relatives, which remained in Europe.
After World War I, AKC registrations of Belgian Sheepdogs increased dramatically. In 1924, the first Belgian Sheepdog Club of America was formed and soon became a member club of the AKC. Active in this first BSCA were a number of individuals from Belgium: Pierre Danco of Englewood, New Jersey; L.I. De Winter of Guttenburg, New Jersey; H.A. Ghislain of Shreveport, Louisiana; and Alphonse Geerearts of Staten Island, New York.
A number of others also were instrumental in developing the breed here. Peter Michiels of Hicksville, New York, imported the Groenendaels Marca de Ranst and Dick des Batards from Belgium, and began his “Lilo” kennel. These two Groenendaels were ancestors of many American-bred Belgians. Calvin Augustin imported the Groenendaels Jet and Marco in 1923, followed in 1924 by Pearl of Belgium from Georges Domus “Belgium” kennel in Canada. (All became AKC conformation champions.) Mr. Augustin, originally from Canada, did much to popularize Belgians in the 1920s through his articles in dog magazines. Walter Mucklow, a lawyer in Jacksonville, Florida, popularized the Malinois through GAZETTE articles published in 1924 and ’25, and briefly bred Malinois under the “Castlehead” kennel name.
Oliver Ormsby Page began his “Saint-Hubert” kennel in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, with a Groenendael from Peter Michiels named La Terrible Lionne. Mr. Page imported Cesar (born in 1920) from Robert Henry’s “Select” kennel in Belgium. Cesar was a fawn color, but we don’t know whether Cesar was a Malinois or Tervuren. (Cesar’s sire was registered with Saint-Hubert as a Malinois, but his dam has not been traced.) Cesar and La Terrible Lionne produced several AKC registered fawns and blacks; both are ancestors of many of our dogs today.
The breed columns in the GAZETTE in the mid-1920s cite the Groenendael as the best-known of the varieties in the United States. The AKC stud books record Groenendaels, Tervuren and Malinois imports, and American-bred Tervuren born in Groenendael litters. The AKC standard for the Belgian Sheepdog from the 1920s through June 30, 1959, recognized two varieties of the breed, the Groenendael (strangely listed for color as a) black, b) fawn or c) any other color) and the Malinois. By the end of the 1920s, the Belgian Sheepdog had risen in popularity to rank among the top five breeds.
Then came the Great Depression and its devastating effect on everything, including dog breeding. The first Belgian Sheepdog Club of America ceased to exist. During the 1930s, occasional Malinois and Groenendaels were registered with the AKC as imports trickled into the country, and a few Groenendael litters were bred. But no Tervuren were registered in the AKC stud books after 1934. With so few numbers and such little interest in the breed, the Belgian Sheepdog was relegated to the Miscellaneous Class at AKC shows in the 1930s and ’40s.
After World War II, a number of people new to the breed became interested in Groenendaels and developed their stock from descendants of the Tervuren and Groenendael imports of the early 1920s, as well as the Groenendael imports of the 1930s.
In 1949, a second Belgian Sheepdog Club of America was incorporated in Indiana. Also in 1949, John Cowley imported two Malinois and began his “Netherlair” kennel (all traces of previously AKC registered Malinois had been lost). Several were shown, and piqued the interest of various individuals enough that in the 1960s, additional Malinois kennels were established.
Rudy Robinson, whose “Candide” Groenendael kennel was started in 1947, is the individual primarily responsible for reintroducing the Tervuren in the United States. Through his correspondence with breed experts F.E. Verbanck and Mme. Aubry, Mr. Robinson became interested in promoting the Tervuren in this country. In 1953, three Tervuren arrived here from Mme. Charlotte Mueller’s “Clos Saint-Jacques” kennel in France, followed in 1954 by four additional French imports from the Clos Saint-Clair and Clos Saint-Jacques kennels.
Within the Belgian Sheepdog Club of America, Rudy Robinson’s numerous Groenendael imports of the late 1940s and early ’50s were not gracefully accepted by the club’s founders, who considered them inferior to their American-bred stock. Major problems quickly developed as additional varieties were imported. Belgian Sheepdog Club of America newsletters from May 1953 (the club’s first newsletter) to July 1958 (when the varieties were separated into breeds) reveal that little was known about the history and genetics of the varieties or the role of past intervariety breedings, and nothing was printed about their common ancestry. The AKC standard, unchanged from the 1920s, listed only the Groenendael and the Malinois as varieties, yet Tervuren quickly began winning over Groenendaels in the show ring. The Tervuren import D’Jimmy du Clos Saint-Clair finished his championship in June 1958, and was the first Tervuren in the United States to achieve this title.
Separating the Varieties
A small but very vocal group of Groenendael breeders began protesting to the AKC that the other varieties were too different — perhaps not the same breed at all. American intervariety breedings of the 1950s became the focal point for the group’s demands for separate breed status for the other varieties. The AKC responded by sending out a questionnaire asking Belgian Sheepdog owners for their opinions on intervariety breeding and conformation competition. Less than half of the BSCA’s members responded, but in July 1958, the AKC Board of Directors voted to separate the varieties into breeds. Groenendael owners wished to keep the name “Belgian Sheepdog” for their breed; the appellation “Belgian” was added to the Malinois and Tervuren names.
At the time of the separation, Belgian Sheepdog and Malinois imports were restricted to having three generations of the same variety for AKC registration. It was then believed that the short coat of the Malinois, being controlled by a dominant gene, would continue to appear after this number of generations, and the recessive fawn and grey Tervuren colors would not appear in Belgian Sheepdog litters. This has not proven to be the case. In 1980, the three-generation restriction was extended to include the Tervuren imports, as the AKC Foreign Registration Department noted that Belgian Champion Qu’Rack du Bois de l’Emblise, a Malinois, was the sire of several Belgian Malinois imports, and was also the grandsire of several Belgian Tervuren imports.
Since the AKC separation of the varieties into breeds, many changes have taken place. In 1959, the Belgian Sheepdog Club of America maintained its AKC breed club status, and the American Belgian Tervuren Club was started by Bob and Barbara Krohn (AKC breed and obedience judges and breeders of the “Fauve Charbonne” Belgian Tervuren). This club, whose motto “A well-balanced Tervuren has a Ch. on one end and a UDT on the other,” is the AKC parent club today.
The Malinois, few in numbers in 1958, was relegated to the Miscellaneous Class (while continuing to have individual AKC stud book registration) until 1965, when sufficient numbers allowed it back into the Working Group. (In 1983, all three breeds became part of the Herding Group). In March 1992, the American Belgian Malinois Club received AKC parent club status.
Three separate AKC standards were approved and became effective July 1, 1959. Almost identical in content originally, modifications made since 1983 have begun to reflect differences, primarily in size, although the dogs themselves are (and should remain) anatomically identical. All three standards describe the dogs as alert, well-balanced, medium-sized and elegant in appearance.
Breeders and owners of the Belgian Shepherd Dogs will tell you that they are not for everyone. Active and intelligent, they are easily trained, but can be a trial for the person who does not have the time to work and play with them. They are aloof with strangers, but should not be fearful or aggressive. Very devoted to their owners, they do not make good kennel dogs.
Endowed with the natural ability to do whatever is required of them, the Belgians are thinking dogs, which means that once they learn something, they want to get on to something else. If forced into repetition, they tend to become “creative.” They are eager to please and very sensitive. If you use a heavy hand on them, they will forgive, but never forget.
With the advent of the AKC’s herding program, the Belgian Malinois, Sheepdog and Tervuren are being trained to do the work of their ancestors. American fanciers are working their dogs in all three styles of AKC-sanctioned herding: boundary (or tending), fetching and driving.
The Belgian Tervuren, whose parent club has long emphasized multiple achievements, consistently earns the most conformation and obedience titles of the three Belgian Shepherd Dogs. (See sidebar, “1991 Performance Statistics for the Belgian Shepherd Dogs.”)
The Malinois has received quite a bit of attention in the last decade through its work in the military (See “The Dogs of Desert Storm” in the June 1991 GAZETTE), drug detection agencies, search and rescue operations and police forces around the country. Consequently, quite a number of Malinois have been imported to the U.S. in the last several years.
The history of the Belgian Shepherd Dogs has been one of closely interwoven ties between the varieties rather than separate or parallel development. The modern Belgian Sheepdog (Groenendael) owes its existence to its Tervuren, Malinois and, ultimately, its Laekenois ancestors as much as to its Groenendael ancestors. The modern Belgian Tervuren can still be traced to M. Corbeel’s Tom and Poes, but its Groenendael and Malinois ancestors are predominate. The genealogies of today’s Belgian Malinois have remained the most consistent, but still we find they have Tervuren, Groenendael and Laekenois ancestors.
In the rest of the world’s kennel clubs, the Belgian Shepherd Dogs have remained one breed. Although the AKC separated the Belgians into three breeds 33 years ago, the ancestry of American imports continues to reinforce interdependency, as is evident in the occasional puppies that more closely resemble one of the other Belgian Shepherd Dog breeds that the breed of their parents.
Recent opinions and recommendations of European breed experts who have judged our Belgians have alerted many American breeders to the need to establish more uniformity of correct breed type. The AKC’s new policy on importation of frozen semen provides a marvelous and truly exciting opportunity for American breeders in general, and Belgian Shepherd Dog enthusiasts in particular, to use some of today’s top producers. The AKC’s three-generation restriction on imports also applies to foreign semen importation, however, and limits the selection drastically for American Groenendael and Tervuren breeders, as most of the world’s top producers today, as in the past, are not the result of three generations of the same variety.*
Today, unlike a decade ago, there are more breed-specific books dealing with the history, genealogies and genetics of the Belgian Shepherd Dogs. More individuals are also realizing that, because of their shared genetics, a health problem in one of the AKC Belgian breeds is a problem shared by all three breeds. By working together, the three AKC parent clubs could secure the kind of future the Belgians deserve.
*The three-generation restriction on imports and imported frozen semen was lifted on June 13, 1995 when the AKC voted in a new foreign registration policy for all breeds of dogs. Provided the dog is exported with a certified export certificate accompanied by a three-generation pedigree tendered from a primary country registry, it will be registered by the AKC as the breed (variety in the case of Belgians) it is registered as in its original country. This decision took place after four years of negotiation with the American Belgian Tervuren Club as well as because of a high number of problems with the authentication of pedigrees of the imports of other breeds by the AKC’s foreign registration department. Thus while imports can now be registered exactly as they are in their homeland regardless of the variety of the Belgian Shepherd Dog parents, all American-bred Belgian puppies still must be registered under the breed name of their parents regardless of their inherited coat type or color.
Ms. Jiles owns Belgian Sheepdogs and Belgian Tervuren, and has spent over 12 years researching the history and genealogy of the Belgian Shepherd Dogs.
(Reprinted with permission of the author and the Pure-Bred Dogs/American Kennel Gazette in which this article first appeared in the November 1992 issue)
1991 Performance Statistics for the Belgian Shepherd Dogs
(in individual registrations)