Belgian Laekenois: Dog Breed Profile

Characteristics, History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Belgian Laekenois against white background

 Cynoclub / iStock / Getty Images

The Belgian Laekenois is a striking shepherd that claims close association with the other three shepherds native to Belgium: the Groenendael, Malinois, and Tervuren. However, the Laekenois stands apart with its unique wiry, curly coat.

This is considered to be the most rare of the Belgian sheepdogs, but there are good reasons to get to know more about the curiously curly Laekenois. And while it looks like a tongue-twister, the name is pronounced as "Lak-in-wah."

The personality and work ethic of the Laekenois breed makes them outstanding protectors but affectionate companions. At the same time, this is not a dog breed for the casual owner. They require abundant physical and mental exertion to keep their inner working dog persona satisfied. 

Breed Overview

Group: Herding

Height: 24 to 26 inches (males); 22 to 24 inches (females)

Weight: 55 to 65 pounds

Coat: Medium length double coat with wiry texture and curly nature

Coat Color: Red, fawn, or gray with traces of black on muzzle or tail

Life Expectancy: 10 to 12 years

Characteristics of the Belgian Laekenois

Affection Level High
Friendliness Medium
Kid-Friendly High
Pet-Friendly Medium
Exercise Needs High
Playfulness Medium
Energy Level High
Trainability High
Intelligence High
Tendency to Bark Medium
Amount of Shedding Medium

History of the Belgian Laekenois

Originating in Belgium, the Laeknois developed as part of a group of native herding breeds centuries ago. These dogs served as guardians of livestock, especially cattle and sheep. At the same time, these dogs enjoyed close cooperation and companionship with the family. As a result, the Belgian shepherd developed into a capable working dog and a keen, alert guardian of people and property.

In the 1890s, the Belgian shepherds were for the first time identified into four main types: the Groenendael (also referred to as a Belgian sheepdog), the Malinois, the Tervuren, and the Laekenois. It should be noted that the four types shared a very similar stature and temperament; the defining factor for each type came down to coat.

The Laekoenois became known by its wiry, curly coat. The inspiration for the name came from the town of Laeken, located in a region closely associated with the breed. Interestingly, the Laekenois had another interesting occupation, aside from guarding livestock. This breed is also said to have been responsible for guarding linen drying in the field.

Like many other European breeds, the Laekenois and other Belgian shepherds were nearly decimated in the wake of World War I and II. However, breed enthusiasts diligently worked to keep these Belgian bloodlines alive and the breed slowly saw a resurgence. Although the word ‘resurgence’ is to be taken lightly, since the Laekenois is still very rare.

The breed’s arrival to the United States hasn’t been with noticeable fanfare or commotion. But like many other imported dog breeds, the breed has developed a passionate and devoted following of breeders, exhibitionists, and owners. In 1995, the American Belgian Laekenois Association was formed. Just a few years later, the breed started down the road toward full AKC acceptance. The first step was acceptance into the AKC’s Foundation Stock Service in 1998. Later, it became eligible to compete in AKC events—first in the Companion group (in 1998), and later in the Miscellaneous group (in 2005). 

Now, the Laekenois is poised to cross the threshold into full AKC recognition. On July 1, 2020, the breed will become a member of the Herding Group. 

Belgian Laekenois Care

There are a few things you should know about the rare and striking Belgian Laekenois. The most important thing to realize about their training and care is that this breed originated with a job to do. While your Laekenois might be several generations and thousands of miles removed from a sheepfold in Belgium, the mentality of this dog is ever alert and always “on.” If you don’t give them enough work and attention, they can become neurotic, destructive, and willful.

The breed standard describes their temperament as, “watchful, attentive and always in motion when not under command.” Owner experience confirms this to be true for the majority of this breed. People report that these alert and sensitive dogs are hyper-aware of anything novel in their environment—including objects, people, noises, and more. This constant motion can be especially challenging during puppyhood and adolescence, while your dog is still learning to settle and control impulses.

It’s no surprise that exercise is paramount for the health and mental well-being of a Laekenois (and its owner). Plan to give this dog several hours of your attention each day, divided between physical outlets and mental engagement. It’s been said that you can’t out-exercise a Belgian shepherd. So you must do your best to give them a physical outlet and then mentally tire them with training and challenges.

Obedience work will help to strengthen the bond between you and your powerful shepherd, while establishing that you are the pack leader. This is important since the Laekenois has a strong sense of duty when it comes to guarding people and property. If you lose the top spot in this dog’s mind, you lose the ability to control his impulses and actions. Experienced owners frequently advocate for early training and socialization. As soon as your puppy has had sufficient vaccinations to make public outings, begin introducing him or her to as many people, animals, and situations as you can. Doing so from an early age can help to increase your Laekenois’ adaptability.

While some breeds are said to mature slowly and retain their puppyhood for several years, the Laekenois has been described as fast to mature if given the opportunity to make advancement. They do exceptionally well at obedience training, even as puppies, and this sets an excellent stage for more advanced training down the road.

The Laekenois is known to be incredibly affectionate and attached to its family members, including children. It isn’t known to be particularly aggressive toward strangers, but is best described as very wary of them. Laekenois owners often report that their dog’s wariness of unfamiliar people or dogs is heightened at night. They tend to evaluate unfamiliar faces to assess the threat level and won’t hesitate to guard against intruders. This underscores the reason why Laekenois, like other Belgian shepherds, require early socialization and ongoing training.

They do well with other animals and can be comfortable with other dogs and even cats, as along as they’ve been properly socialized and introduced. They don’t have a particularly strong prey drive, since the breed originated to protect other animals rather than catch them. However, their herding nature makes them somewhat ‘mouthy’ and they may try to herd people and animals. When overstimulated and under-exercised, this tendency can make them more liable to bite.

While the training and care of a Laekenois is a lot of work—a hobby in and of itself—these dogs make wonderful companions for the right household. Their intelligence makes them a delight to train and work with, and they live to please their owners. You just need to be sure that you have the time, patience, and interest in devoting several hours each day to your dog.

Grooming a Laekoenois regularly is important, though not overly time consuming. With a tousled coat about 2.5 inches in length, you will need to brush it at least weekly to prevent matting and remove debris. You should not clip the coat, since doing so damages the double layer of fur that acts as a natural regulator for body temperature. 

Belgian Laekenois in agility competition
S5iztok / iStock / Getty Images
Laekenois puppies on white background
Cynoclub / iStock / Getty Images 
Two Belgian laekenois in snow
Gittev / Pixabay

Common Health Problems

The Laekenois is considered to be relatively healthy for a large breed dog. However, as a large breed dog, there are a few problems that the Laekenois should be screened for. The National Breed Club recommends the following: Hip and elbow evaluation, cardiac exam, thyroid exam, ophthalmologist evaluation, and a dentition exam.

Diet and Nutrition

Like any other dog breed, it’s important to feed a Belgian Laekenois a diet of high-quality dog food, with treats given sparingly. Too many treats or table scraps can negatively impact your dog’s weight and long-term health. In addition, the concerns of dental health in this breed make it advisable to skip wet food and feed only hard, crunchy kibble that will help to keep plaque from developing. 

Pros
  • Alert and watchful

  • Affectionate with family members

  • Excels in many canine sports; highly trainable

Cons
  • Requires hours of exercise and training

  • Can become restless and vocal when bored

  • Guarding instincts may lead to aggression

Where to Adopt or Buy a Belgian Laekenois

Buying a Laekenois won’t necessarily mean importing a dog from Belgium—although it might. The number of breeders in the United States is still very limited. You should do diligent research on breeders and come prepared with a list of questions regarding the lineage and temperament of a litter’s parents. The attributes of a puppy can be strongly influenced by the temperament of the line he is bred from.

Alternatively, you can look into Belgian shepherd rescues where you may find a Laekenois in need of a new home. This approach might be a needle-in-a-haystack scenario since the breed is so rare, but it’s worth investigating if you have the patience and love for a rescue. 

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

The bottom line with any Belgian shepherd—including a Laekenois—is to do your homework and make sure this type of dog is right for you. The Laekenois is often said to be a more mellow version of the Belgian shepherds, but they still aren’t a breed for the casual dog owner. However, they will reward you with abundant opportunities for growth and learning and they make wonderful partners in many different canine sports.

Also take time to learn about these other shepherd breeds: