The History of the Belgian Shepherds



Belgian map
The red marks indicates the places
were the Belgian shepherds originated from.



Lets go back in time. In a manuscript dated from 1356 and found in the city of Leuven, we find the first note about the Belgian shepherds. In those days it was forbidden to common people to own big dogs. Only the privileged people like the nobility (hunters) and the army (fighters) were allowed to own them.

Artisans, like some shoemakers, used small and medium sized shepherds to guard their merchandise. These dogs were bred on farms to guard gooses, goats, and sheep's. In a woodcut you can clearly see a dog which resembles to a "schipperke" or a "leuvenaar".

1404. In Antwerp, a police regulation forbids beggars to own an uncut "REKEL" (can be translated as a "RASCAL").


1429. Again in Antwerp we find in the articles of association of the St. Elisabeth clinic, that the unworthy behaviour of some nuns with their dogs, even in the church, had to be stopped. It was also forbidden to these nuns to breed or even own these "rascals" or hounds.

1584. Also in Antwerp we find that lost dogs were beaten to death by appointed dog-beaters. Exception were made for the hounds, lady-dogs, work- and sheepdogs or farmer rascals.

Between the years 1550 and 1650 various manuscripts were found in Antwerp, Leuven, Mechelen, Temse,... with regulation about dogs. They originated from different religious, and governmental authorities. Vague descriptions of these dogs give us an idea of how these shepherds looked like.
Thanks to these description and the different woodcuts found, we also may conclude that with the so called "rascal" in fact the "farmers dog" AND the "shepherd" was meant.

1613. A regulation ("Algemene Ordonnantie op 'tstuk van de jacht") obliged the hunters who owned hounds to mark them clearly. Rascals or watchdogs had to carry a stick around their neck so that when they were hunting they would get stuck in the shrub.

1640. A publication called "la maison rustique" found in Amsterdam describes more precisely the rascal. After a description of the farmers dog, in which we see a big resemblance with the "bouvier", the publication continues with "The shepherd must not be so rough and heavy as the one of the farm... but certainly even strong and severe... and noticeably brave and light weighted... more long as short because all animals with a longer body runs faster as their shorter and squarely counterparts. (De schaepherdershondt en moet niet soo grof noch soo swaer zyn als die van de hoeve.. maer wel so sterck ende vroom... en eenichsins dapper en light... meer lanc dan cort midts dat alle beesten die lanck van lichaam zyn rasscher loopen dan die cort en vierkant zyn.)"

Therefore we can conclude that they were talking about the ancestors of the Belgian shepherds.
Even more, the "bouvier" is also a descendant from the rascal and therefore related to the shepherds. This publication also explains to us the real work of a herder and his dog. He should walk outside the sheep-bead and protect the herd against wolves and thieves. He would listen to the herdsman and therefore would be able to steer them.

1786. The publication: "The New Year wishes of the night-watchmen for the year 1786 of our Lord (Nieuwe-Jaer Wensch der Nagtwaekers voor't jaar Ons Heere 1786)", illustrates pictures from "City-Soldiers with their dogs". We recognise here a clear shepherd type dog, and may assume that they were used for the first time as police-dogs.

1840. The first dog show (probably the first in the world) was held in Tervuren. The Belgian shepherds, together with the German and the French herder, were showed as "Continental herders". The winner was a... Mechelaar.

1857. The magazine "Chassé et Pêché" mentions the existence of goose watchers in the region of Oudenaarde, Geeraardsbergen, Ninove and Edingen, and that they were no biters in contrast with other shepherds.

In those days the Belgian herder-dog was used as a smuggle dog. His intelligence, speed and defence anger was the main reason. The Belgian customs used them on the other hand for the same qualities as anti-smuggle dogs.

Also at that time people in Europe began to show their interest for the pure breed and how to breed them. So in 1880, in Brussels, a dog exhibition was held with 900 contestants. Mainly hounds, but also shepherds. Well... 7 Continental shepherds and 10 Collies all together.

This exhibition was in fact the founder that helped create Belgian shepherds the way we know them today. Notably PROFESSOR REUL, from the Veterinarian College at Cureghem (Brussels), disliked the situation so much that he decided together with the assistance of LOUIS HUYGHEBAERT and VAN DER SNICKT to developed a breeding plan within the framework of the Belgian Kynology which would help create uniformity in the Belgian Shepherds and retain them that way.

1899. In Gent, under the command of the Chief of Police Van Wezemael, the first Belgian Police Force was created with dogs. Most of them were Mechelaars.



The Groenendaeler.


1890. The gentlemen "Nicolas Rose" owned a famous hotel called "Chateau de Groenendael" at 10 km South from Brussels. Being a dog lover he owned different long hair shepherds under which the female "Petite". At the exhibition of Cureghem in 1892 she won the first prize among the black long hair shepherds.

He then bought from a herdsman in Uccle the beautiful male "Picard d'uccle" which was an excellent shepherd. The mating between "Petite" and "Picard d'uccle" gave birth to magnificent black long hair furs with a great love of work. The best known descendants were definitely the "Duc de Groenendael", "Margot de Tournai", "Baronne", "Mirza", "Carlo", "Nette" and "Housière". Petite died in 1898.

May 1893. The mating between "Piccard d'Uccle" and "Petite" gave birth to the female "Baronne". She won in 1897 the first prize at the exhibition in Brussels. A second female from that litter was called "Mirza" and was sold to Mr. Smets from a place called Boschvoorde.

2nd July 1893. From a following mating between "Picard d'Uccle" with "Petite" came the female called "Housière".

1894. The mating of "Picard d'Uccle" with "Nette" gave birth to the male "Carlo". Again Mr. Smets from Boschvoorde bought it with the intention to start breeding with her. (bloodline)

During the years 1895 till 1899 the crossing between "Carlo" and "Mirza" delivered us 3 litters with 10 puppies each time. So this branch only created 30 descendants.

1894. The mating of "Picard d'Uccle"and "Petite" brought this time to Mr. Rose the female called " Margot de Tournai".

In April 1897 the mating of "Picard d'Uccle" with the daughter "Margot de Tournai" gave birth to 9 puppies.

In 1897 father "Picard d'Uccle" was mated with the daughter "Baronne de Tournai".

In 1897 "Duc de Groenendael" was also mated with his half sisters "Housière de Tournai" and "Margot".

These dogs showed so much dignity, beauty and love for work, that they became soon very popular and the demand could not keep up with the offer. Strict inbreeding did strengthen the inheritance factors so that they would be present in their descendants. Very quickly other people followed the example of Nicolas Rose and bought from him dogs for breeding

The long hairy black shepherds like those of the "Chateau Groenendael" from "Groenendael" who resembled strongly to the dog "Duc de Groenendael" got the name of "GROENENDAEL".

Here an overview of the inbreeding:
Picard d'Uccle     x Petite            = Duc de Groenendael (inbreed male) 
Picard d'Uccle     x Petite            = Margot de Tournai  (female) 
Picard d'Uccle     x Petite            = Housière           (female) 
Picard d'Uccle     x Petite            = Baronne en Mirza 

Picard d'Uccle     x Margot de Tournai = 9 pups from the first mating. 
Picard d'Uccle     x Nette             = Carlo              (inbreed male) 
Picard d'Uccle     x Baronne

Duc de Groenendael x Housière
Duc de Groenendael x Margot de Tournai

Other blood lines emerged too, but each time you could find a dog belonging to Mr. Rose. Around the 1900rds the Groenendael dog "Pek Zwet" (meaning very black) was very popular. The inbreeding with a grand niece from "Picard d'Uccle" brought us the 4 times champion called "Demon de l'enfer". Beside the Mechelaar the Groenendael also started to be used as a police dog and a training dog.

In 1903 the police force from St. Gillis-Brussel, under the direction of the chief of police Coppens, gave a demonstration in Mechelen with their Groenendaels. Their "Satan" made a big impression in Mechelen.

The Groenendael "Jules" got at that time tens of first prizes at Training Championships and was 4 times on the row the champion at the International training Championships in Paris.(1908-1911)

The first and second world war was disastrous for the Belgian shepherds. If the breeding dogs were not killed, they would be stolen and taken to Germany. Fortunately some could be spared and could insure the continuity of their bloodline. Kennels like "du Mont-Sara" and "de l'infernal" contributed a lot to the restoration of the breed. With lots of patience, inbreeding and the right selection, the Belgian shepherds were revived.

The real Groenendaeler is today very alive thanks to the following kennels:
- Kennel SincFal in Brugge St.Michiels,
- Kennel Van Refresti in St. Lievens-Houtem,
- Kennel Van t'Hof ter Dyle in Tielt-Wingene,
- Kennel Du Pays des Flandres in Brecht,
- Kennel Van Steanfra in Ninove,
- Kennel La Poumyroffe in Lokeren.

The white spot on the chest.

- A picture dating from the 15th century shows clearly a Belgian black shepherd 
  having a white spot on his chest and tows.
- All the dogs from Mr. Rose had a white spot on their chest. So it is natural to
  find this on their descendants.
- In 1892 Professor REUL chose as a "good" Groenendael dog the one with
  a white spot on his chest.
- Even with such letters of credit many breeders tried to get rid of that white spot
  and created a Groenendael that was entirely black.
- Whatever you prefer both became part of the standard.
- I choose for the one with the white spot, simply because I think that it is nicer.
- No disrespect of course for those preferring the one without the white spot.



The Tervuren shepherd.


As a reminder: until 1899 all Belgian shepherds with long hair were examined in one class with no distinction of their colour. After 1899 a standard was established by the "Club du Chien de Berger Belge" and the dogs with long hair had to wear the black colour. There was even a proposal not to recognise the Mechelaar so that the remaining Belgian shepherd would exist only with long black hair. At the end the Mechelaar was recognised. We can thank the breeders from Mechelen for their willingness that it did not come to a separation.

Many breeders from dogs with long hair but differently coloured could not accept the unified black colour for the long hairs. They had after all dogs with strong character that were also strongly in demand, especially in France. They would not compromise. So they decided to create their own breed organisation for their differently coloured dogs and have their proper pedigree administration..

1900. The creation of the "Berger Belge Club" became a fact. The new club was not recognised by the "Société Royale St. Hubert". At exhibitions they were examined separately in two different classes (Groenendaeler and different coloured ones). The other coloured dogs that were preferred by the public and the inspectors were the "lion" coloured.

In a village called "Tervueren", east of Brussels, lived a Mr."Corbeel" He owned two red-brown hair shepherds, one male called "Tom" and one female called "Poes". From the mating between "Tom" and "Poes" came among others the red-brown and dark flamed female called "Miss de Tervueren".

The red-brown and dark flamed female "Miss de Tervueren" was inbred with the black male from Nicolas Rose "Duc de Groenendael". One of the puppies was "Milsor de Tervueren", a lion coloured male that won in 1898 in Brussels the first prize for the differently coloured.

Also a half sister from "Milsor de Tervueren, the lightly faded female "Miss II", won in the newcomer class. Her father was "Mylord de Tervueren" and her mother was "Miss de Tervueren" who also was the mother of "Milsor de Tervueren".

 Inbreed example:
    Tom                  x Poes              = Miss de Tervueren.
    Milsare de Tervueren x Miss de Tervueren = Mylord de Tervueren.    
    Duc de Groenendael   x Miss de Tervueren = Milsor de Tervueren.
    Mylord de Tervueren  x Miss de Tervueren = Miss II de Tervueren.

A report about the colour from "Milsor de Tervueren" said that "Milsor de Tervueren" a Groenendaeler was that had exchanged his black colour for a red-brown dress. "Milsor de Tervueren became the figurehead for the different coloured ones (Tervuurse shepherd or Tervueren for the members of the club Berger Belge". This was no surprise, because it was established that the Groenendaeler "Duc de Groenendael" passed its genetic factors very strongly to his descendants.

Because of the intensive breeding on colour the "Tervuerse shepherd" soon lost his characteristic quality, and therefor had to get each time the input of a Groenendaeler. Despite this input the Tervuurse shepherd became smaller, lighter and more frightened. Many breeders stopped producing this variety and started breeding the Groenendaeler.

The first World War was also for the Tervuurse shepherd a real disaster. (Only 27 dogs were left!) Nearly no basis for breeding remained and despite a frantic effort from breeders they did not succeed to rebuild the Tervuurse shepherd. Back to the root seemed appropriate.

1920. To expand the basis for breeding and to permit the rebuilding of the breed, the "Société Royale St. Hubert" issued new guidelines where the forbidden colours (in 1899) were again permitted.

By Mechelaars, who came in bloodline from the Mechelaars with varied colours from before 1895, mating with the best of the remaining Tervuurse females, they succeeded in rebuilding the race. Therefore we know two combinations who can be considered as the forefathers of the after war Tervuerens.

The Mechelse male "Milox" and the Tervueren female "Nina" brought us among others the beautiful male "Minox II". "Minox II" had all the characteristic qualities and the a long red-brown fur. Moreover he seemed to pass on the genetic factors very well.

Also the Mechelaar "Herdo du Gaulois" mated with the Tervuerense female "Vici du Val Clos des Sarts" contributed enormously to the rebuilding of the race.

Again it was the professor "REUL" and the inspector "Felix Verbanck" who followed the bloodlines up and gave advises for further breeding. Their advises was followed by most breeders so that the "Tervueren" regained their formerly character and beauty.

The hair colour adventures did not do any good to the long hair Belgian shepherds, but uniformity is preferred. In 1914 the long hair female "Creole" got the first prize at the exhibition in Brussels. She originated from black Groenendaelers ("Demon" and "Doka").

At first in 1965, it was the male "Milko du Parc de l'Hay", with long gray hair and then in 1972 "Vici des Hauts de Bievre" who won first prizes.

We can conclude that for the big public the colour of the Tervueren shepherd a matter is of fashion. Where normally in Belgium the red-brown or lion colour is preferred, the grey colour in France gets more "trendy".

Fortunately for little Belgium there is no place in France called "Tervuren, otherwise...

Today the Tervueren breed is still kept on standard by inbreeding with a "different coloured" which appears regelary in a litter of Groenendaelers. (expensive doggies!)



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