The Belgian Laekenois is one of four native Belgian breeds. It dates back to the Middle Ages. Laekenois originally were used to herd and protect flocks of sheep and fields of flax in Flanders, Belgium, where the crop was grown for use in the linen industry. They also served as guard dogs for royal families. Their tasks eventually expanded to guarding finished linen when it was hung out in the fields to dry. In 1891, a professor at Belgium’s School of Veterinary Science named Adolphe Reul categorized the various “types” of Belgian herding dogs. As part of this process, he helped found the Club du Chien de Berger Beige (Belgian Shepherd Dog Club). After much discussion, the club members described distinct breeds that were anatomically identical but differed in coat texture, length and color. At one point, there were as many as eight varieties of so-called Belgian sheepdogs. Today, there are four: the Groenendael, the Laekenois, the Malinois and the Tervuren.
The black, long-haired variety is the Groenendael, which is called the Belgian Sheepdog by the American Kennel Club. The long-haired fawn, tousle-coated variety is the Laekenois. The short-haired fawn with black facial masking and coat charcoaling is the Malinois. The Tervuren is a long-haired, straight-coated fawn with black masking and charcoaling. “Tervuren” later became the designation for the “long-hair-other-than-black” Belgian Shepherd. The first official breed standard for the Laekenois was published in 1892. In 1901, the Royal Saint-Hubert Society Stud Book began registering a breed called the Belgian Shepherd Dog, grouping all varieties together under a single breed designation. The Laekenois’ intelligence and versatility ultimately gained it recognition and popularity in other countries. The first Belgian Shepherd Dogs arrived in the United States in the early 1900s. Laekenois served as messengers during both World Wars, carrying orders and other messages to and from the troops. Their numbers dwindled during those periods, because many were killed in combat. Fortunately, dedicated breeders helped the breed survive.
There still is some controversy about Belgian sheep-herding dogs. The American Kennel Club recognized the Laekenois as part of its Foundation Stock Service in 1998, and moved it into the Miscellaneous Class as a member of the Herding Group in June of 2011. The AKC recognizes the other three Belgian sheepdogs as independent breeds. The American parent club for the Laekenois is the American Belgian Laekenois Association. The United Kennel Club, Canadian Kennel Club and Federation Cynolgique Internationale recognize the four Belgian sheepdog types as separate varieties of a single breed, which they call the Belgian Shepherd Dog. Whatever its designation, the Laekenois is the rarest of the Belgian breeds. These are watchful, protective, possessive dogs that can be guarded around strangers but typically are friendly and affectionate with family members.
There is not much published information about the health of the Belgian Laekenois. Their average life span is somewhere between 10 and 14 years. Breed health concerns may include allergies, hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, gastric (stomach) carcinoma, pannus (chronic superficial keratitis), cataracts, generalized progressive retinal atrophy, micropapilla, hypothyroidism and epilepsy (seizures). These dogs have sensitive skin and should be brushed regularly to keep them free from dirt and mats.