All about the Belgian Shepherd dog quartet: do you know a Malinois from a Laekenois?

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  • There are four varieties of Belgian Shepherd dogs, which date back to medieval times. These are the Malinois, Groendendael, Tervueren and Laekenois, and each one is named after Belgian villages, although Malinois veers slightly off the original Mechelar. The main differences between each breed are their coat, in texture, colour and length of hair. All four breeds are athletic, medium-sized dogs, bred to herd and guard flocks, with well-set, distinctive triangular ears.

    While he was bred to herd and guard, nowadays these protective and territorial instincts have been honed into other areas, such as security patrolling, law enforcement, bomb and gas detection, search and rescue, and as service dogs. In common with other pastoral breeds, such as the German Shepherd, this is a highly intelligent, trainable and obedient dog, with a strong work ethic.

    They are strong, muscular and alert, with a proud head carriage and intelligent, questioning eyes. Brilliant, loyal and smart when well trained and socialised, this is a breed that can cause problems if it is neglected. They want to be active, given a purpose in life alongside their human partner and to form an unbreakable bond.

    The four different varieties can be identified chiefly by their coats:


    The Groenendael is the easiest to distinguish among the quartet, being exclusively black. It has a long, silky coat. These black dogs are most closely associated with the title Belgian Sheepdog. They are typically fairly reserved, and have a reputation not only as excellent herding dogs and family companions, but also as serving the Belgian army locating injured soldiers and delivering messages during World War I.


    The Laekenois has a harsh, wiry coat, which comes in either red or fawn with some black shading. The least common of the Belgian Shepherd dog breeds, the Laekenois is distinctive with its frizzy coat. It is naturally affectionate and loyal and typically makes a great family companion.


    The Malinois’ coat is red, fawn or grey, and their fur is short and dense. They are very popular in the military and law enforcement, being highly intelligent and ultra-loyal. They are probably the best known of the Belgian Shepherd dog breeds.


    Like the Malinois, the Tervueren is red, fawn or grey, but it has a long coat. They are typically more reserved, with a gentler demeanour than the Malinois, so they are more likely to found in therapy and service work.

    Belgian Malinois with his army handler

    Belgian Malinois are popular in the military

    Belgian Shepherd: fact file

    Kennel Club breed group: pastoral

    Size: medium

    Daily exercise: more than two hours per day

    Coat: medium; shedding

    Colours: depending on the breed, they come in variations of fawn, grey, red, and black; with black mask and shadings..

    Lifespan: more than 10 years

    Bark: this is a vocal breed that has a natural instinct to bark. Because of its roots as guardian of flocks of sheep, its default mode is to protect its territory, raising the alarm with a fierce-sounding bark. This can become excessive so check out these tips on how to stop a dog barking to prevent it developing into a nuisance.

    Distinctive features: proud head carriage with alert triangular ears and sparkling eyes. Athletic-looking, muscular power with elegance. Short, dense hair overall, thicker on the tail and around the neck.

    Temperament: vigilant, alert and intelligent. Devoted to his owners, reserved with strangers.

    Things to consider: Belgian Shepherds thrive on companionship and a sense of purpose, so need steady routines and plenty of exercise and stimulation.

    While mental stimulation with the best dog puzzle toys might be useful as a short-term measure, this is a breed that craves plenty of physical work, by your side. A good way to ensure he gets sufficient exercise while in your company is to train him to run alongside you, either on foot or on bike, so you can cover plenty of ground.

    Training: Belgian Shepherds are natural workaholics, who thrive on training. They should start socialisation and training from a young age, but luckily they are super intelligent and love to learn so pick up commands quickly.

    They are naturals at almost all canine disciplines, from agility to scent work, herding competitions and flyball, as well as canicross.

    Thanks to their intelligence levels, this is a breed you can teach impressive tricks, too. Start with a simple “roll over”, and you’ll soon progress to more advanced stunts.

    Tervueren Belgian Shepherd dog

    The Tervueren has a long coat, coloured red, fawn or grey, often with a black mask

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