The earliest documentation of the true Belgian Sheepdog dates back to the late 1800’s, when people in European countries were developing individual spirits of pride and nationalism that included developing dog breeds that would be identified with their particular homeland. The Club du Chien de Berger Belge (the Belgian Shepherd Club) was founded in 1891 for this very purpose, and it adopted the first Belgian Shepherd standard in 1893. The breed was registered by the Societe Royale Saint-Hubert in 1901. The long-haired Belgian Sheepdog was primarily developed and promoted by Nicolas Rose, a restaurateur and owner of the Chateau de Groenendael just south of Brussels. He established a thriving kennel dating back to 1893, and his stock became the basis of today’s beautiful black Belgian Sheepdogs, which were officially named the Groenendael in 1910.
While originally prized as superior herding dogs and as representatives of their home country of Belgium, this breed’s versatility and skills as a working dog became apparent even before World War I, when they were used as police and customs dogs in Europe and the United States. During the war, Belgian Sheepdogs were distinguished as message carriers and ambulance dogs. The fame of this breed took off after the war. The Belgian Sheepdog Club of America was founded in 1919, and by 1926 the breed was ranked 42nd out of 100 breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club. During the Great Depression, the Belgian Sheepdog’s popularity in the United States declined dramatically, and the American breed club ceased to function. During World War II, the breed resurfaced as a military assistant and guard dog. The current Belgian Sheepdog Club of America was formed in 1949, and the breed standard was approved by the AKC in 1959. This breed continues to thrive in obedience, agility, conformation, tracking, schutzhund, herding, sledding, police work, search and rescue and as guide and therapy dogs. Perhaps their most profound accomplishment is being loving, gentle and devoted companions.
Overall the Belgian Sheepdog is a healthy breed of dog. The average life expectancy of the Belgian Sheepdog dog breed is between 10 and 14 years. This is comparable to the median lifespan of most purebred dogs (10 to 13 years), and consistant with most breeds similar in size. Potential hereditary defects and disorders commonly found, but not necessarily found, in the Belgian Sheepdog are as follows:
- Elbow Dysplasia: Leads to malformation and degeneration of the elbow joint, with accompanying front limb lameness
- Epilepsy: Refers to a group of clinical signs that result from over-stimulation of the brain
- Hip Dysplasia: Involves abnormal development and/or degeneration of the coxofemoral (hip) joint
- Hypothyroidism: Inadequate production and release of the thyroid hormones triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4)
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy: Group of degenerative eye disorders that eventually lead to permanent blindness in both eyes