Belgium is home to a family of general-purpose herding and guard dogs known as Chein de Berger Belge, or Belgian Shepherd Dogs. Developed to work sheep on farms in the low countries, several towns lent their names to the various coat and color combinations expressed by these dogs: Groenendael to the solid black long coat Sheepdogs; Laekenois to the Belgian Laekenois for rough-coated gray fawn or gray dogs; Malinois to the Belgian Malinois for short-coated reds, fawns or browns; and Tervueren to the Belgian Tervuren for fawn or dark red dogs with black masks and a black overlay on the body.
The Belgian Tervuren is recognized as one of four varieties of a single breed by most purebred registries, however the American Kennel Club regards all four coat types as distinct breeds, with the Tervuren, or “Terv,” arguably the most elegant in appearance.
In an AKC Gazette article titled, “A History of the Belgian Shepherd Dogs,” Mara Lee Jiles examines the genesis of the different varieties. “The known history of the Belgian Shepherds traces to the 1880s when these dogs (along with German Shepherds, French Shepherds and Dutch Shepherds) were called Continental Shepherd Dogs. In September 1891, the Club du Chien de Berger Belge (Belgian Shepherd Dog Club) was formed for the purpose of determining if there was a true shepherd dog representative only of Belgium.”
A veterinary professor named Adolphe Reul led the charge to identify a type of native shepherd dog from the Province of Brabant. Jiles notes that acceptance of Reul’s findings was not immediate. “The CCBB petitioned the Societe Royale Saint-Hubert (Belgium’s equivalent of the AKC) for breed status in 1892, but was denied. Between 1892 and 1901, when Saint-Hubert recognized the Belgian Shepherd Dog as a breed, efforts were concentrated on developing the varieties and establishing type.”
Type in the Tervuren is largely determined by coat color and texture on a dog that is square in proportion, medium in size and moderate in all respects. According to the American Belgian Tervuren Club, breed type is closely linked with a working past. “When the early breeders of Tervuren established type, they produced an animal stamped with its own special qualities of beauty and grace, while retaining its intelligence and aptitude for work.”
According to the AKC’s history of the breed, the Belgian Tervuren was not an immediate sensation. “From the establishment of the Belgian Shepherd breed, there were only a few breeders dedicated to the production of the Tervuren, and breeding continued on a modest scale until after World War II.” Although the Tervuren was first registered with the AKC in 1918, its popularity did not grow until the 1940s and 1950s.
“It was not until 1953 that the blackened fawn long-haired dogs were again imported, through the efforts of Rudy Robinson, Robert and Barbara Krohn, and Marge Coyle.” The first American-bred litter of Belgian Tervuren was registered in 1954.
In 1959, the AKC granted separate breed classification to the Belgian Tervuren, and the very first dog of any breed to earn an AKC herding championship was a Terv. Ch. Theriot’s Red Baron UD, a Canine Good Citizen also certified in tracking, earned the title in 1993.
The Belgian Tervuren remains an alert, intelligent and willing worker today, unerring in its devotion to duty. Tervs continue to perform as useful herders, but they also excel at obedience and agility, and they can make extraordinary companions for both able-bodied and physically challenged dog lovers.
Registrations for this capable canine companion in 2012 place the Tervuren 106th of the 175 AKC-recognized breeds.
A Versatile Worker
“The Belgian Tervuren is a herding dog and versatile worker,” as noted in the General Appearance section of the AKC breed standard. The breed’s “intelligence, courage, alertness and devotion to master” all reflect its true character as a “watchful, attentive” companion.
Standing “squarely on all fours,” the Tervuren in motion performs its intended task by virtue of its strength and agility. Size is important too, and males under 23 inches or over 26½ inches and females under 21 inches or over 24½ inches are to be disqualified. The Terv should create “the impression of depth and solidity without bulkiness.”
Versatility is prized in the breed. As is expected of any natural performer, the Tervuren always prefers to have something to do. Although herding sheep is its legacy, the Terv excels in any activity that requires an acute awareness and quick reactions. Naturally protective “without being overtly aggressive,” the breed is happiest when it has a job to perform.
Performance and temperament are one and the same for the Belgian breeds, and the versatile Tervuren possesses a character that is “observant and vigilant with strangers” and “affectionate and friendly” with its family, although “zealous for their attention and very possessive.”
Always in Motion
“Always in motion, seemingly never tiring” is how the AKC breed standard describes the Belgian Tervuren’s gait. “Lively and graceful” in action, the Terv effortlessly covers “maximum ground with minimum effort.”
On the go, the Tervuren moves with ease instead of a hard-driving action. “He single tracks at a fast gait, the legs both front and rear converging toward the centerline of gravity of the dog,” according to the standard.
Side gait “exhibits full extension of both fore and hindquarters,” but it is not extreme. In an AKC Gazette breed column titled, “Silhouette,” Kate Bouffard emphasizes the importance of one of the breed’s defining characteristics – its squareness – as expressed on the move. “Terv breeders should strive to breed for correct balance and angulation as well as a square body. The most common deviation from this ideal is that the dogs are longer than they are tall. Extra length of body allows for the flashier extended side gait that stands out in the Group ring; however, the desired body type is square, not long.”
With its square proportions, a correctly balanced Tervuren with proper angulation front and rear will move with purpose, not pizazz.
A Climatic Coat
A reliable performer in any weather, the Belgian Tervuren wears a climate-controlled coat that’s “particularly adaptable to extremes of temperature or climate.” The breed’s “very dense” undercoat will naturally respond to changes in the environment.
As one of four varieties of Belgian herders, the Tervuren is largely defined by a coat that differs in many notable ways from that of its cousins. Length, texture and color distinguish the Terv’s coat from that of the Sheepdog, Malinois and Lakenois.
According to the AKC breed standard, the Terv’s coat possesses a “medium harshness” that is “not silky or wiry.” It is never wavy or curly either, but is rather “long, close-fitting, straight and abundant.”
The hair on the head, front of the legs and outside the ears is short. “The opening of the ear is protected by tufts of hair.”
Guard hairs create “ornamentation” that adds much to the breed’s elegant appearance. It consists of “especially long and abundant hair, like a collarette around the neck, particularly on males; fringe of long hair down the back of the forearm; especially long and abundant hair trimming the breeches; long, heavy and abundant hair on the tail.” Bitches, understandably, rarely present a coat as “ornamented” as that of the males.
Color is a quality of the Belgian Tervuren that all but defines breed type. The face wears a “black mask” and the ears are “mostly black.” A face with a complete absence of black is a serious fault.
On the body, the coat color is “rich fawn to russet mahogany with black overlay [that] is ideal and preferred.” Pale and “washed-out” colors, such as cream or gray, are faults.
“The coat is characteristically double pigmented whereby the tips of fawn hairs are blackened,” notes the standard. Tervs darken with age, and a mature male will present a pronounced “blackening” on the shoulders, back and over the ribs. The overall effect is a rather sooty overlay on the otherwise rich coloration. An absence of blackening in a mature dog is a serious fault, although “allowance should be made for females and young males.”
The coat under the body, tail and breeches may be “cream, gray or light beige,” as permitted by the AKC breed standard.
On the chest, the coat is “normally black, but may be a mixture of black and gray.” White hairs are permitted on the chest, but are not to extend “more than 3 inches above the prosternum, and not to reach either point of shoulder.” White hair on the chin or muzzle is considered “normal,” and the tips of the toes may also be white.
Belgian Tervuren typically have a black tail tip, however “solid black, solid liver or any area of white except as specified on the chest, tips of the toes, chin and muzzle are disqualifications.”
“The Belgian Tervuren is a natural dog, and there is no need for excessive posing in the show ring,” notes the standard. Males appear “unquestionably masculine” and females “should have a distinctly feminine look.” Most important for either sex are the qualities that contribute to the breed’s ability to perform its time-honored role as a versatile and vibrant canine companion.