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Did you know that the Malinois is one out of four variants of the Belgian Shepherd? The others are Lakenois, Tervueren and Groenendael, and the only thing that differs these variants is their coat. The Malinois is short-haired and fawn, the Tervueren is long-haired and fawn, the Lakenois is wire-haired and fawn, and the Groenendael breaks the fawn trend with being black and long-haired. These variants were all named after the regions where they were seriously developed. It was Professor Adolphe Reul, a Belgian veterinary, who described the breed as a medium-sized, square dog with well-set triangle ears and dark-brown eyes. The breed standard was created about a year after he gathered about a hundred dogs in 1891 but found them to be too different. He advised breeders to breed their dogs to other dogs with similar coats regardless of colour, and this plan worked out really well. A standard was formed in 1892, and in May the same year, the first specialty show took place and that’s where the Belgian Shepherd began its journey towards uniformity. It was the Club du Chien de Berger Belge that asked the Societe Royal Saint-Hubert for breed status, but their first request was denied. In 1901, however, the Belgian Shepherd Dog was finally recognized as a breed.  As a result of the work towards creating the Belgian Shepherd, numerous clubs were founded in Belgium. Examples of these are Berger Belge Club (1898), Club de Chien de Berger Belge, the Kennel Club Belge (1908), Societe Royal Saint-Hubert (which is the Belgian equivalance of the AKC), the Groenendael Club (1910). In 1912, the Federation Cynologique International (World Canine Organization) was founded and the Societe Royal Saint-Hubert was quick to join.  Now, it may come as a surprise to you that this 4-variations of a breed was originally used as shepherds. Their main task was herding, and it wasn’t until they were imported to the US around 1911, that people opened their eyes to the Belgian Shepherds capability and started using these brilliant dogs in NY Police Force. Later, during WW I, the Malinois were used in the military, and since then they have developed to be the hardcore working dog we know and love.  If there is one person to take a lot of credit for the creation of the Malinois, it is a shepherd from Laeken named Adrian Janssons. Already in 1885, he got himself a pale, fawn and rough-haired dog called Vos I from a cattle dealer in northern Belgium. Vos I was used for herding Janssons flock, but also to mate him to a short-haired brindle-brown dog called Lise de Laeken. Later, Vos I was bred to his own daughters and created a very homogeneous line of grey rough- and short-hairs, and a line with fawn rough- and short-hairs. These two dogs, Vos I and Lise de Laeken, are now considered to be the ancestors of not only the Belgian Shepherds, but also Bouvier de Flandres and the Dutch Shepherd Dogs.  As time went by, the need for herding dogs decreased in Belgium, and the Belgian Shepherds were on their way of loosing their use. That’s when Louis Huyghebaert who is known as one of the “godfathers of the Malinois” suggested that the breed should be tested for intelligence, obedience and loyalty. The first test was held on July 12 in 1903 and was won by Huyghebaert and his Malinois, Cora van’t Optewel.  This led to new tasks for the Malinois and the rest of the Belgian Shepherds. They were now used for guarding and draught dogs. In the beginning of the 20th century they were used by the Belgian Police, and before World War II, international police dogs trials became very popular around Europe. The Belgian Shepherds did extremely well in these trials, and were used during the war in a number of jobs, including messenger dogs, Red Cross dogs, ambulance cart dogs, and sometimes (it’s been said) even light machine-gun cart dogs.  The Belgian Shepherds were first imported to Britain, Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Canada, the US, Argentina and Brazil. This happened mainly during the 1920s and 1930s, but already in 1911 the two first two Malinois and two Groenendaels were registered at the AKC as “German sheepdogs”. In 1913, the name was changed to “Belgian Sheepdogs”. These Malinois dogs were to shore by Josse Hanssens of Norwalk, Connecticut, but sold to L.I. De Winter of Guttenburg, New Jersey. There, they produced several litters under De Winter’s kennel name, Winterview.  The first Belgian Sheepdog Club of America was formed in 1924 and became a member of the AKC soon after that.  Between the first and the second World War, the Malinois lost in popularity, mainly because nobody could afford breeding their dogs. The Belgian Sheepdog Club of America ceased to exist for these reasons. The numbers of Belgian Shepherds were so low that the AKC had to put them in the Miscellaneous Class at AKC shows during the 1930s and 1940s.  Luckily, in 1949, a new Belgian Sheepdog Club of America was formed in Indiana, and a man named John Cowley imported two Malinois and started his kennel, Netherlair Kennel. His work made the breed popular again, and by the 1960s more people were breeding and showing Malinois. In 1992, the club received AKC parent club status.  Since then, the Malinois has made itself known for its extreme use in hardcore working environments like the military, police work, drug detection agencies, search and rescue, et cetera. This has resulted in many imports to the US for the last several years.  To end this fascinating history of the Malinois – and the rest of the Belgian shepherds, a fun fact is that still to this day, in Belgium, the actual breed of a puppy is decided when it’s born. It all depends on the coat, since that really is the only thing different between these four variations within the breed. Something that I’d like to look into more is how these variations differ in mentality, and if it matters where in the world they were borne – that is; how far from their home country they are, and how far away from the original lines they were bred.

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