The name Groenendael takes after the name of a village in Belgium of the same name. There are four varieties of Belgium Shepherd Dogs, the Groenendael being one of them, the others being Malinois, Laekenois and the Tervuren – all sharing the same history. The first of the four to establish type was the malinois – the other three, including the Groenendael, were all classified as the same and were known as ‘Berger Belge a poil court autre que Malinois’.
The Groenendael is a medium size dog known for his distinctive beautiful, weather proof, black, double coat; the outer is dense and harsh to the touch, with a moderate rough around the neck, and his thick undercoat is quite profuse and dense. There is the usual feathering, including on the tail. His head is in balance with his body; he has a flat back-skull in proportion to the muzzle; eyes are of medium size, dark brown and almond-shaped; his ears are in proportion to the head and triangular in shape. He has a fairly low-set tail that reaches down to the hocks. His feet are somewhat cat-like.
Belgian Shepherd Dogs are considered to be a healthy, long-lived breed for their size. Most live to between 11 and 14 years old, and some even make 16 or 17!!
Inherited health problems may be encountered in any dog, whether they are pedigree or mongrel. In the Belgian Shepherds these are the health problems of most concern:
Because of the unexaggerated structure of the Belgian Shepherd Dog, hip dysplasia is relatively rare in this breed. It has a polygenic mode of inheritance, with a strong environmental influence. Most responsible breeders have their dogs X-rayed and BVA/KC hip-scored before breeding. There is strong evidence that breeding only from dogs with low scores reduces the risk of hip dysplasia in the population. The possible scores for each hip range from 0 (perfect) to 53 (severely dysplastic) and currently the average for BSD for the two sides added together is around 12. The BSDA of GB recommends that breeders only breed from hip-scored stock.
The onset of this condition can be at any age, with some animals not showing up to be affected until they are over five years old. It is known to be inherited, although the exact mode of inheritance is not clear. Dogs may be affected, clear, or they may be carriers. The BSDA of GB recommends that breeders only breed from dogs and bitches with a current clear BVA/KC eye test certificate.
Epilepsy is defined as ‘repeated seizures of unknown cause’. Usually the condition can be largely controlled by careful management and drug therapy, but it is nevertheless a tragedy when it occurs. The condition is found not infrequently in the Belgian Shepherd Dog and it seems to be an inherited disease, although the mode of inheritance is not well understood. One fact that makes it difficult to eliminate by selective breeding is that often it does not appear until the dog is around 5 years of age. At this age many dogs have already been bred from. The Northern Belgian Shepherd Dog Club is collecting money towards epilepsy research, an initiative which is being wholeheartedly supported by the BSDA of GB. We are hopeful that in time we will be able to identify genetic markers for this terrible disease.