Activities For Belgian Shepherds

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Introduction

The Belgian Shepherd, also known as the Belgian Groenendael, is an exceptionally intelligent, athletic, and active breed. They are a herding dog from Germany and are well-known for their agility and their elegant gait, but they can also be extremely challenging to own due to needing a great deal of both physical and mental exercise each day to keep both their minds and bodies at peak performance. Although they are generally a seriously minded breed, the Belgian Shepherd is also quite capable of playing the clown.

Herding

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Any Day
Moderate
Normal
30 - 90 min
Items needed
Livestock
Activity description

Belgian Shepherds were developed in Belgium as cattle herding dogs, along with three other breeds that are separated mostly by the color, texture, and length of their coats, the Belgian Laekenois, the Belgian Tervuren, and the Belgian Malinois. While they have played other roles in their history, such as police dogs in New York and in Paris, and sentries, messengers, and even draft dogs during World War I, they were first herding dogs, and those herding instincts are still a part of their makeup. Several farms and ranches across the United States now offer an opportunity for herding dogs without their own livestock to participate in the activity of herding, by renting out sheep and cattle on their property. 

Step
1
Get a checkup
Cattle herding can be an intense and physically demanding activity, and while the majority of Belgian Shepherds are likely to be healthy enough to participate, it may be a good idea to schedule a checkup if it hasn’t been done recently. This will give your veterinarian an opportunity to check for any underlying issues, and to assess the hips and heart for this type of activity.
Step
2
Research
There are a growing number of these dude ranches for dogs throughout the United States, and it is a good idea to do your research before choosing a facility. Most of the places that have livestock for herding will also have lessons, and the prices can vary quite a bit. It is important to note that many of these farms only use sheep for herding, while others offer many alternatives, including ducks, goats, and of course, cattle.
Step
3
Evaluation
The initial visit to a herding farm is often an evaluation of both the farm and of your specific dog. The evaluation helps to determine if your canine companion has the instinct and control to learn the proper techniques. Dogs that are well-suited to this activity may even choose to compete in official herding trials for both prizes and titles.
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Rally Obedience

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Any Day
Moderate
Normal
30 - 90 min
Items needed
Leash
Activity description

Rally obedience, also known as Rally-O, is an emerging dog sport that combines elements of agility training with elements of advanced obedience. Both your dog and a handler, usually the pet parent, work together to navigate a rally course, which consists of between ten and twenty signs indicating specific behaviors for your pooch to present. Some of the behaviors might include sitting, turning left, turning right, U-turns, and increasing and decreasing the pace. This sport is open to more dogs than agility training, as it does not include any physical obstacles; this opens the sport up to dogs anywhere from six months old to senior dogs, and even deaf dogs. 

Step
1
Explore
Many pet parents who are considering rally obedience for their dog find it helpful to attend an event as a spectator before competing. This helps to let them know what to expect in the arena, and also to find out if the excitement and noise levels are something that you and your canine companion will be comfortable with.
Step
2
Find a group
While you can learn the basics of obedience and rally training from many books and videos, it is often a faster and more effective to engage with a training group who can help you to learn the ins and outs of this emerging dog sport. In many cases, they will also be able to guide you to the best competitions for you and your dog, once you think you have gained enough mastery. Both World Cynosport Rally Limited and the American Kennel Club have searchable lists of rally obedience groups and training centers.
Step
3
Train and compete
In order to participate in Rally-O, there are several commands that your dog will need to know. Along with the familiar commands such as sit, stay, and heel, are included more complex cues such as spirals, slaloms, and slow and fast paces. Once you and your dog have gained some mastery over these commands, you can compete if you so choose. Teams generally begin competing in the Novice category and the progress through the Advanced and Excellent levels.
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Toy Collection

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Any Day
Free
Easy
5 - 20 min
Items needed
Clicker
Toybox
Toys
Activity description

The Belgian Shepherd is a highly intelligent canine, and they often have several toys available to them to keep their minds active. They can quickly amass a large amount of fetch toys, stuffed animals, chew toys, and rope toys, most of which they leave lying wherever they were last using them. Unfortunately, for those of us who like our houses neat and clean, they tend to leave them mostly scattered across the floor. Fortunately, these clever dogs are also quite capable of cleaning up their toys and putting them in a toybox on their own, with just a little bit of guidance. 

Step
1
Clicker training
If you have not yet introduced the idea of the clicker to your dog, doing so will make the job of training your pup much easier. The clicker is a device that when pressed, creates the sound of a single, sharp click. That noise is meant to tell your dog when they have done something correctly, an idea that is introduced to the dog by ensuring that every time the clicker makes it’s clicking noise, a high-value treat is offered to your pooch.
Step
2
Fetch and drop
The next step can typically start with a game of fetch, in which you toss a toy and then reward the dog with praise when they return it to you. When they are returning the toy on a regular basis, its time to introduce the open bin or box that you want your dog to collect their toys in. Position yourself on the opposite side of the box from your dog, forcing the dog to extend it’s neck out over the box to reach towards you. When your pooch’s head is stretched out over the box, click the clicker, and show them a treat. This will cause the dog to drop the item into the box, prompting you to state the command word you have chosen, click the clicker again, and give your dog a treat.
Step
3
On their own
Once your dog reliably drops the item in the box when you are on the other side of the box, you can start moving further and further from the container, while continuing to give the command. Each time the dog successfully puts a toy in the box, click and treat. Eventually, this will help cement the command in your dog’s mind so that they drop the toy in the box regardless of where you are when you give the command.
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More Fun Ideas...

Treibball

If you can’t take your dog herding, you may want to try the sport of treibball instead, an activity in which your dog herds several large balls to a place specified by you.  

Schutzhund

The name of this activity translates into English as “protection dog,” and it was developed specifically for the German Shepherd dog, a dog very similar in nature and form to the Belgian Shepherd.  

Conclusion

The Belgian Shepherd is an active animal, both physically and mentally, and they need a great deal of exercise. The exercises and activities listed here are specifically designed to take advantage of this breed's natural herding and protection instincts as well as exercising their minds, but they are by no means the only activities available for these strong and versatile dogs.