Belgium has four varieties of sheep dogs, the black long haired Groenendel, Malinois, the black masked and short fawn haired breed, the Tervuren, distinguished by its long fawn hair, black mask and charcoling and the Laekenois (pronounced as Lak-in-wah) with its fawn rough and wiry hair. These four breeds are known as the Belgian shepherd dogs. The Belgian Laekenois is considered to be the most uncommon among the four and little recognized in other countries. Among the Belgian shepherd dogs only the Laekenois is not recognized by the AKC. However, other European countries have recognized this hardworking and intelligent dog. In Belgium the breed is also known as Berger Belge Laekenois, in Canada, the dog was given the name Laeken and in Holland it answers to the name Belgische Herder Laekense.
Male mature Belgian Laekenois measures 23 to 26 inches and bitches measures 22 to 24 inches in height and weighs about 60 pounds. These dogs are characterized by thick wiry coats that are usually red tinted or buff colored. Laekenois may also have white markings in the chest and hind quarters and would usually have black or dark colored hair around the muzzle and tail. The dog’s body is actually well proportioned. However, the wiry coat that can grow to more than two inches long as well as the bushy tail, muzzle and head gives the dog a bigger and heavy appearance.
A Belgian Laekenois would make suitable house pets as this dog is known to be very loyal, friendly and intelligent. This dog would enjoy playing with the children and will be protective of its human family as it is generally reserve with strangers. Being intelligent, the dog can be easily and quickly trained. Discipline and obedience lessons are necessary to curb the dog’s natural tendency to dominate. Although friendly, these dogs need to be socialized at an early age lest it would manifest its herding behavior to other animals and to the family members as well. These dogs would need lots of attentions as they tend to be destructive if left alone to amuse themselves. Destructive behaviors like ripping the carpet, gnawing the couch or digging the garden is a sign that the dog is bored. Walking the dog daily would release its pent up energy.
Belgian Laekenois apart from being wonderful companions and house pets were used to tend the flock, to guard linen drying on flax fields. These dogs were also used as messenger dogs during the World War 1 and 11. Presently, these alert and inquisitive dogs are utilized as bomb and narcotics sniffing dogs, as therapy animals as well as guide dogs.
The four types of Belgian sheepdogs have the same size and physique but what distinguished the Belgian Laekenois from the rest is its thick and wiry coat. The rough coat that can grow two inches long gives the dog a unique and distinctive appearance. Coat color may range from mahogany to fawn and noted to have black overlay. This gives the dog’s coat a tweedy appearance. The dog’s long bushy tail that nearly reaches to the hock is noted to have no feathering.
Belgian Laekenois are known to have squarely built and well balanced bodies. The chest that is neither too broad nor too narrow is deep, reaching to the level of the elbows. The muscular hindquarters and the straight parallel front legs have given the breed a well proportioned look. The dog has round cat-like paws. Dewclaws from the front and back legs must be removed. Belgian Laekenois have a flat skull that has almost the same length as the tapered muzzle. The dog has powerful strong jaws, evenly set white teeth that meet in a scissors bite. The almond shaped brown eyes give an intelligent expression that indicates the dog’s alertness. The triangular shaped ears small ears appear erect high on the head. The nose is black and the tight skinned neck is well muscled.
Belgian Laekenois like the other Belgian shepherd dogs are intelligent, hardworking and obedient dogs. Their inherent attitude of alertness and watchfulness makes them loyal and protective of his master. These most affectionate and friendly dogs make good family pets as they thrive on loving environment and are really good with children. The owner however, should be watchful as the dog can be dominant with other smaller pets. This is why the dog needs to be socialized at an early age. With people he knows well, this dog can be very affectionate and protective and would demand attention. It is advisable not to lock these dogs in a kennel as this breed would prefer to be a part of the family. Ignoring this dog would often result to damage to the owners’ properties.
A home with a reasonably sized yard would be a most suitable home for a Belgian Laekenois as they will have an opportunity to be off the leash. But an apartment building would also do well as long as the dog is given ample opportunities to exercise. As these are highly energetic working dogs, ones that are used to guarding flocks, they would need to have a fair amount of exercise to release their mental and physical energies.
Belgian Laekenois would need very little maintenance as the dog do not shed a lot. Brushing the rough wiry coat with a coarse toothed comb would remove the dead and excess hair as well as get rid of mats. The coat would need to be trimmed twice a year to keep it from becoming too thick and bushy but take care not to close trim the hair as it will damage the coat for a number of years. The thick rough coat would often be tangled with dirt but resist the urge to bathe the dog as bathing would remove the waterproofing of the coat. Because the ears stand erect against the head, it can trap debris. Special care for the ears is therefore necessary for this breed. Regularly check and clean the ears.
Present day Belgian Laekenois are few in numbers. This breed who is considered to be the rarest and the oldest among the Belgian shepherd dogs are believed by authorities to be the ancestors of the recognized types of Belgian shepherd dogs. Vos I de Laeken, a fawn wiry haired dog that was born in 1885 was traced to be the ancestor of the Malinois, Tervuren, Groenende , Bouvier as well as the Dutch shepherds.
In the later part of the 19th century, Belgian Laekenois are originally used as guard dogs. Linen cloth production was a growing industry and flax fields are scattered all over the Flanders countryside. Because these dogs are reputed to be intelligent, alert and watchful they were used as guard dogs to watch over fields of drying flax. These dogs are also utilized to tend stock. It was said that a beautiful though rough and wiry coated dog was noticed by King Leopold and Queen Marie Henriette while the dog is tending the sheep grazing on the Laeken Castle grounds. The Queen who was captivated by the looks and intelligence of the dog gave the dog the name Laekenois, taken from the name of the castle.
Belgian Laekenois was used by the Brussels police as police dogs and by the Belgian military as liaison dogs. During the World War 1 and 11 these dogs serve as message couriers and army working dogs. Unlike other breeds, these dogs were less favored because of its untidy and scruffy appearance. This leads to the dog’s near extinction. Belgian Laekenois however, are made of harder stuff. It’s wiry and less appealing coat can protect the dog from harsh and diverse weather conditions. A number of the breed survived and in 1956, Mr. and Mrs. Dick Barlow from Arizona imported the first Belgian Laekenois that entered the land of the United States.