Before 1959, the Belgian Tervuren, Belgian Malinois, and Belgian Sheepdog were all registered by the AKC as Belgian Sheepdogs, and judged as one breed. Except for coat, they were thought to be so similar as to be one breed.
It was in 1959 that the three Sheepdogs were divided into three distinct breeds by the AKC, in some measure because the year before, a nucleus of Groenendael breeders (as the Belgian Sheepdog is known in Europe) vigorously protested that the other two Belgian Sheepdogs were so different from their own breed as to be not the same breed at all. In response, the AKC queried Belgian Sheepdog owners about inter-variety breeding and competition, and in July of ’59, AKC Board of Directors voted to separate the varieties into three unique breeds. Since Groenendael owners wanted to keep the name, “Belgian Sheepdog,” for their breed, the name “Belgian” was added to the Malinois and Tervuren breeds.
It wasn’t the first time that fanciers of the Belgian Sheepdog protested their individuality. In 1892, the Club du Chien de Bourg-en-Bresse petitioned the Societe Royale Saint-Hubert (the Belgian version of the AKC) to recognize the Belgian Sheepdog as its own separate and unique breed.
They were denied.
Less than ten years later (during which time the breed became more firmly established), the Societe Royale Saint-Hubert acknowledged that Belgian Sheepdog was indeed a unique breed.
Today, the AKC and the New Zealand Kennel Club recognize all four Belgian Sheepdogs as separate breeds, but the Australian National Kennel Council, Canadian Kennel Club, Kennel Union of South Africa, United Kennel Club, and Kennel Club (UK) follow the FCI classification scheme and recognize all four as varieties of the same breed.
From today’s perspective, and depending upon how one looks at it, there is irony in that AKC recognition of the Belgian Sheepdog by that name came in 1912, a name that would ultimately be attached to the breed we know today by that name.
Students of dogs may note, too, the irony that the oldest of all the Belgian Sheepdogs isn’t mentioned thus far at all, the Belgian Laekenois. Simply, the breed wasn’t recognized at the time, and indeed, it’s still not fully recognized by the AKC. The Laekenois is currently in the AKC’s Miscellaneous Class. This may soon change as enthusiastic owners and breeders are working hard towards that end. You can read about the Laekenois’ recent National Specialty here.
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Image: Belgian Shepherd Dog found at WikiVisually and thanks to a reader, we can now identify the dog as Savoyard Ace Tahoe owned by the photographer, Adam Emery