The Belgian Sheepdog is known as the Groenendael, or Chien de Berger Beige in most parts of the world. Its origin can be traced to the late 1800's when it was listed, both in stud books and at dog shows, among many other shepherds as the Chien de Berger de Races Continentales (Continental Shepherds). By pedigree we can identify many of the Continental Shepherds not only as the Belgian Shepherds (Groenendael, Malinois, Tervuren, and Laekenois), but also as German Shepherds, Hollander Herders, Beauceron, Bouvier des Flandres, and Briards.
During World War I, Belgian Sheepdogs distinguished themselves on the battlefields, serving as message carriers, ambulance dogs, and even pulling machine guns. Although first registered in the United States as early as 1911, their fame really took hold after the war. The Belgian Sheepdog Club of America was formed in 1919, and it was not uncommon to see ten or twelve Belgian Sheepdogs exhibited at the larger Eastern shows in the 1920's. By 1926, the Belgian Sheepdog was ranked 42nd of the 100 breeds recognized by the AKC.
As the European countries developed a sense of pride and a spirit of nationalism, many individuals worked to develop animals that would be identified with their own countries.In Belgium, in the late 1800's, efforts were made to determine if there was a true shepherd dog representative only of Belgium, and in September 1891, the Club du Chien de Berger Beige (Belgian Shepherd Club) was formed for this purpose.
The Great Depression had a marked effect on the Belgian Sheepdog. Its popularity dropped to 97th place, and the American club ceased to function. World War II again found the Belgian Sheepdog serving as a war and defense dog, and many were utilized to guard military installations. Interest in the breed was rekindled after the war and the current Belgian Sheepdog Club of America was formed in 1949. Since then, many Groenendael have been imported and the interest in the breed has continued to grow.
Between 1891 and 1901, when the Belgian Shepherd was registered as a breed by the Societe Royale Saint-Hubert, efforts were directed toward developing a standard, improving type, and exhibiting.
Interest in the Belgian Shepherds developed very quickly after they were recognized as a breed.
Through an AKC decision, effective July 1, 1959, only the Groenendael can be registered as Belgian Sheepdogs, and must have three generations of Groenendael ancestors.
Prior to World War I it had become apparent that, although called a shepherd or sheepdog, the Groenendael was a versatile animal, and with its keen intelligence and easy trainability, it could perform a variety of functions. The Paris police utilized the Groenendael in the first decade of the 20th century, as did the New York police who, in 1908, imported four Belgian Sheepdogs to work alongside an American-bred Groenendael.
Throughout their history Belgian Sheepdogs have earned their reputation as truly well-rounded dogs, and to this day they continue to captivate our hearts. Their elegance of carriage and balanced movement are a pleasure to behold. Their talents in obedience, tracking, schutzhund, herding, and as sled dogs have kept even the most activity-minded of us satisfied.
In the same period, Belgian Customs officers employed the Groenendael for border patrols, and their efforts in capturing smugglers were greatly praised. The Groenendael were also used as herders, watchdogs, faithful companions, and became outstanding participants in the popular European "working trials," from the local trial through international competitions. The Groenendael, "Jules du Moulin," demonstrated this versatility by earning his World Championship at the defense trials in France in 1908. Repeating his victories in 1909, 1910, and 1912, he also earned his International Championship at the police trials of Belgium and France for four straight years, 1909-1912.
Their skills in police work, search and rescue, and as guide and therapy dogs have proven very valuable to society These dogs have found their greatest value, however, in the hearts of their owners as gentle and devoted companions willing to give all to those they love.