The Belgian Sheepdog, also known as the Groenendael, is an affectionate companion and steadfast protector of family and property. Though they’re generally upbeat and friendly, they may be shy without enough socialization. This dog is intelligent and eager to please, but can be a handful without dedicated training or adequate exercise. Belgian Sheepdogs need a job to do—if you don’t have a working farm where they can herd, competing in herding trials, agility, flyball, or other dog sports is a good outlet for this energetic breed’s need for exercise and mental stimulation. This lively, athletic breed will thrive in an active household, but may be challenging for a first-time dog owner.
The Belgian Sheepdog is also called the Belgian Shepherd. The breed's name may refer to any of the four types of Belgian herding dog, but in the US, Belgian Sheepdog generally refers to the Groenendael (Groan-en-dahl), or long-haired black type.
The Belgian Sheepdog is a long-coated, black dog. The dense undercoat is covered by long, straight guard hairs. The coat may be all black, or black with some white markings.
Average Height: 22-26 inches
Male: 55-75 pounds
Female: 45-60 pounds
Breed Standard & History
The Belgian Sheepdog offers a well-balanced, square appearance. He carries his head proudly and elegantly and his gaze is alert. Erect, triangular ears sit atop a slightly flattened head. Powerful jaws and a pointed muzzle promote a strong, proud appearance. The strong tail is held low, but when the dog is in action it is raised into a curl. An extremely dense undercoat is covered with long, straight guard hairs, with shorter hair on the face. The temperament should be that of a courageous and devoted protector and companion, without fear or shyness. – AKC Breed Standards
The Belgian Sheepdog is one of four herding dogs from Belgium. The Groenendael—the black, long-haired type—was named for the area of Belgium credited for its development. The shepherd dogs from Belgium are distinguished by coat type and color, and are otherwise similar.
In World Wars I and II, Belgian Sheepdogs were used as messenger dogs and for cart pulling, and they served as police dogs in the United States and Europe.
The AKC recognized all four types as the Belgian Sheepdog in 1912—it wasn't until 1959 that the Belgian herding types were recognized separately.
AKC Breed Category
Belgian Sheepdogs are bright and alert, and devoted to their owners. They are affectionate and gentle, but may be mischievous or even challenging to manage due to their high intelligence and working-dog nature. The Belgian Sheepdog may be sensitive to harsh correction, and without early, continued training using positive reinforcement methods, may become difficult to manage.
Are Belgian Sheepdogs Good with Kids? While Belgian Sheepdogs are affectionate and gentle with most, they do have strong herding instincts and may chase, nip, or nudge children to herd them. If raised with kids, a Belgian Sheepdog may do well. Otherwise, older kids may be a better match for an adult Belgian Sheepdog not accustomed to children. Dogs and children should never be left unsupervised, regardless of the dog’s breed or training.
Are Belgian Sheepdogs Good with Other Pets? With early socialization, Belgian Sheepdogs may do well with other dogs or dog-experienced cats, but without early training they may be territorial. When raised with other animals, Belgian Sheepdogs tend to view them as part of their herd and will protect them as they'd protect family.
The breed standard for the Belgian Sheepdog requires the breed to be both a devoted protector of family and property, as well as an affectionate companion. A Belgian Sheepdog will stand watch over people, pets, and property and will protect them if necessary. They are generally friendly with new people—with training Belgians can often distinguish friend from foe.
Working dogs like the Belgian Sheepdog have a high energy level that requires plenty of exercise—and a job to perform.
- Without a job to do, the Belgian Sheepdog may become destructive or difficult to manage.
- He is likely to exhibit herding behaviors with children and other pets.
- Many Belgian Sheepdog owners note a sensitivity to anesthesia or medications.
- Without proper socialization, he may be wary of strangers.
- This breed is sensitive and responds poorly to harsh correction.
Apartments are not ideal for this high energy breed—the Belgian Sheepdog needs plenty of space to run. With enough exercise, the Belgian Sheepdog can be a calm indoor companion, but he can be destructive if bored. Brain games, high-impact exercise, and plenty of walks can help this working breed burn enough energy to be relaxed indoors. With enough exercise, he is likely to curl up near you.
Though he has a rugged coat that can stand up to inclement weather, the Belgian Sheepdog is not a breed that does well living outdoors full time. This sensitive dog prefers to be near family, and is not happy when left alone.
An hour of exercise per day—more is better—is recommended for the Belgian Sheepdog. Boredom may lead to destructive behaviors.
This herding dog has plenty of endurance and is likely to outlast you. Belgian Sheepdogs were bred to have the stamina to work long hours, and to remain alert and watchful even when off duty.
Activity distance rating
- Running Miles: Belgian Sheepdogs in good health may be able to run more than five miles and may be able to run alongside a bike.
- Hiking Miles: A full day on the trail may be easy for the rugged Belgian Sheepdog.
Two to three cups of high-quality dog food, split between two meals, is recommended for the Belgian Sheepdog, based on average weight and activity level. Because the breed may suffer from bloat, raising the food bowl and limiting activity after meals is recommended.
Belgian Sheepdogs do not tend to guard their food more than other breeds, but children should never be allowed to touch or remove food while any dog is eating.
The Belgian Sheepdog is protective of family and dislikes being left alone as he cannot keep an eye on his people. A few hours of alone time may be okay, but without enough exercise the Belgian Sheepdog may be destructive. Crate training may be necessary for this breed.
Health and Grooming
Weekly brushing and baths as necessary will help prevent matting and excessive shedding that comes with the Belgian Sheepdog's long coat. Trimming nails regularly will help prevent painful splitting, cracking, or breaking a nail.
Common Health Issues
Belgian Sheepdogs are generally healthy but can be prone to breed-specific health concerns, including:
- Hip dysplasia
- Elbow dysplasia
- Progressive retinal atrophy
- Pannus (Chronic superficial keratitis)
- Sensitivity to anesthesia
You can minimize serious health concerns in a Belgian Sheepdog by purchasing him from a reputable breeder who engages in responsible breeding practices, and through screening for common diseases and conditions.
Early socialization can help the Belgian Sheepdog learn to distinguish friends from potential threats—the protective breed can become suspicious of strangers without enough socialization. Basic obedience is usually easy for the Belgian Sheepdog, but they are sensitive to harsh training methods—positive reinforcement and plenty of treats are the way to good behavior. Playful mischief is common with Belgian Sheepdogs, so approach training with a sense of humor.
This hardworking breed excels at a variety of dog sports. Agility, cart pulling, herding, flyball—this is just the beginning of advanced training a Belgian Sheepdog may enjoy. If you live on a farm, the Belgian Sheepdog can put his herding instincts to use.
Belgian Sheepdogs are also used as police dogs, for search and rescue, as assistance animals, and for drug sniffing.
Sporting Dog Training
This isn't a hunting breed, but the Belgian Sheepdog may enjoy competing in nosework training or trials.
Here are a few commonly asked questions about Belgian Sheepdogs.
In many parts of the world, including their native Belgium, the four types of Belgian Sheepdog—Malinois, Tervuren, Laekenois, and Groenendael—are considered different variations of the same breed. Each is named for the area the type developed, and the main difference is in the type of coat. The types are:
- Groenendael: long-haired, black
- Tervuren: long-haired, fawn
- Laekenois: wiry-haired, fawn
- Malinois: short-haired, tan to brown with a black mask
Though the Belgian Sheepdog shares some characteristics with the German Shepherd, the breeds developed separately. The Belgian Sheepdog is not a black German Shepherd and he is not a GSD mix.