This is a breed that comes in four varieties. As far as the physical characteristics are concerned, the breed standards are identical except for coat, which varies in colour, texture and length. The varieties are the Groenendael, the Laekenois, the Malinois and the Tervueren, each named according to its Belgian region of origin. These sheepdogs date back to the Middle Ages, but the different varieties were not distinguished until 1891, when Professor Adolphe Reul of the Belgian Veterinary School established the standards for the types.
A restaurant owner is credited with fostering the Groenendael; a brewer who first whelped a litter from a mating of two longhaired black-tipped fawns produced the Tervueren; the Malinois takes its name from Malines; and the Laekenois comes from Boom, near Antwerp, taking its name from the Château de Laeken, a royal residence of Queen Marie Henriette, whose favourite variety was the Laekenois.
The Groenendael is fundamentally longhaired and with a black harsh-textured coat; the Laekenois, as yet the rarest variety in the UK, has a pretty, short, wiry type of coat that is reddish fawn in colour; the Malinois is possessed of a shortish firm-textured coat, which may be red, fawn or grey with a black overlay; while the Tervueren, now the most rapidly increasing of the four, has the same range of colouring as the Malinois, but with an outer coat that is long, straight and abundant.
The varieties are described as both sheepdogs and guards. They are essentially graceful without being too refined. They give the appearance of being purposeful creatures, and their somewhat laconic gait clause, ‘brisk, free and even’ does not give the full flavour of their unique mode of progression, which is one of efficiency above all, with a high style.
It is continually a matter of debate whether we should take what is in truth a working breed and try to turn it into a family companion/pet, but it has been done in many breeds in the past, especially the recent past, and this applies equally to the Belgian Shepherd. Provided owners do not lose sight of the fact that these are active animals requiring adequate exercise, both physical and mental, little harm is done. But, as in many other working breeds, we must never lose sight of the history of service of the Belgian Shepherd Dog, or we shall find ourselves with dogs whose basic temperaments have been changed for the worse and out of all recognition.