The Belgian Sheepdog or Shepherd is the only breed in the world that comes in 4 varieties. They are;
- Belgian Shepherd Groenendael – have a long straight black coat.
- Belgian Malinois – have a short coat of red, fawn or grey.
- Belgian Tervuren – are long-haired fawn, red or grey
- Belgian Laekenois – are rough-coated reddish fawn and are rarer than the other varieties.
They all originate from Belgium and are named after the areas in Belgium from which they came: Malines, Tervuren, Groenendael, and Laeken. They are all similar in type with the main difference being the coat.
In Belgium all four types are considered to be varieties of a single breed, differentiated by hair color and texture. In many other coutries they are considered different breeds.
For example, the AKC (American Kennel Club), recognizes only the Groenendael under the name Belgian Sheepdog but also recognizes the Tervuren and the Malinois as individual breeds. The Laekenois can be registered as part of the AKC Foundation Stock Service and should eventually be recognized fully by the AKC.
The Australian National Kennel Council, Canadian Kennel Club, Kennel Union of South Africa, and UK Kennel Club consider them all varieties of the same breed. The New Zealand Kennel Club recognizes all four as separate breeds.
For the purposes of discussing the exercise and mental stimulation needs of the four types of Belgian Sheepdog, we will treat them as the same breed.
They are all high energy working dogs that are highly intelligent, athletic, and agile. These dogs often excel in dog sports such as agility, Schutzhund, Frisbee, etc.
How much exercise does a Belgian Shepherd, Belgian Malinois, Belgian Tervuren need
All these varieties of Belgian Shepherds are an extremely active high energy dog and require at least 60 to 90 minutes a day of energy-burning activity, but more is preferred. They were bred to work hard and all day long.
If they don’t receive the exercise they need to release their pent-up energy they can become quite destructive or develop behavior issues.
The Belgian Shepherds are also very intelligent so it is important to challenge their minds. They learn new skills quickly making them easy to train with the right guidance.
There are three main types of exercise and activity you must provide your Belgian Shepherd every day.
- 1. Daily walk
- 2. Purposeful High-Intensity Activity (see exercise ideas below)
- 3. Mental stimulation
It is often a good idea to break their daily exercise into three sessions. This simulates their natural activity as a working dog.
We will look at each of these three categories in turn. These recommendations relate to a healthy adult dog. The exercise needs for a puppy are different due to the fact that they are still growing and developing. See the bottom of this article for details of how to exercise a puppy.
For older senior dogs from around 7 to 8 years of age on the volume of exercise needed will decrease. However, it is still crucial to provide sufficient exercise to maintain a healthy weight and to keep muscle and tendons supple and strong. See the bottom of this article for more on the exercise needs of an older Belgian Shepherd breed.
Can you over exercise a Belgian Shepherd
Is it possible to over-exercise your Belgian Shepherd, Belgian Malinois, Belgian Tervueren? Over-exercising any dog can have severe consequences such as muscle, tendon and joint injury, overheating and heatstroke and even collapse. It is important for a dog owner to know the signs to watch for to prevent over-exercising their dog. Read “Over exercised dog symptoms” to learn more about potential problems and solutions.
Walking requirements for Belgian Shepherd, Belgian Malinois, Belgian Tervuren
The daily walk is essential for all high energy breeds like the Belgian Shepherd breeds. This is not only to release some pent-up energy. The walk allows your dog to stimulate the mind with the sights, sounds, and smells they come across.
The length of the walk is only limited by your time and energy as a working dog like this can go all day long. Ideally, the minimum should be 45 to 60 minutes daily. This can be just once a day, or two walks a day would be better if your schedule allows. A gentle walk around the block simply will not be sufficient.
If your Belgian Shepherd dog has good recall and comes on command, walks at the park off the leash are ideal. Alternatively, you can use a retractable leash to allow them more freedom while maintaining control. In general, working breeds are obedient and usually have good recall if trained.
Dogs also like routine, so try to schedule the walk for around the same time each day. Daily walks are much better than nothing all week and a big walk at the weekend.
These dogs make excellent hiking companions and can walk for long distances over difficult terrain. If you have access to a location where you can take them hiking, it is highly recommended.
You can add extra resistance to the walk by using a weighted vest or dog backpack. It is recommended that no more than 10% of their body weight be added. This is more than sufficient to tire them and strengthen their muscles without overworking them. Other ways of increasing the resistance on the walk are to walk on sand or include uphill sections in the walk.
Exercise Ideas for Belgian Shepherd, Belgian Malinois, Belgian Tervuren
The Belgian Shepherd breeds are energetic, strong and has bucket loads of stamina. Ideally, you need to find activities that can burn energy in a short period of time and use these skills.
This can include high-intensity games and strength training is recommended to keep their muscles in peak condition. By keeping the muscles strong they will support the joints and tendons preventing injury.
These are some of the recommended activities and exercise ideas to play with your Belgian Shepherd dog.
A Flirt pole is like a giant cat tickler for dogs. It has a long handle with a bungy type rope with a lure or toy attached to the end. You simply move the lure along the ground around in circles or in different directions as your dog chases it. This activity is ideal for a Belgian Shepherd breed as it works the whole body and strengthens their muscles. Be sure they have a good “leave it” command and don’t allow them to destroy the toy. It is important that this be a controlled exercise. For a full guide to flirt pole exercise for dogs see here.
View Flirt Poles on Amazon
Playing Fetch with your Belgian Shepherd is another fantastic way to burn pent-up energy. Belgian Shepherds are generally ball or toy crazy can play this for hundreds of throws. A great alternative is to use an Automatic Ball Launcher so your dog can play Fetch by themselves. As the Belgian Shepherd is highly trainable as long as you focus their attention they learn to use this quickly. For more information check out “Automatic Ball Launchers for Dogs”
A Jolly Ball is a nearly indestructible ball for dogs that they push and chase around. They come in a variety of sizes, styles and are also available with a handle or rope attached for tug of war. Being a herding dog this is a great activity that caters to their natural herding instincts. Check out the video to see what great exercise and fun they are for dogs.
Most dogs can chase and catch a ball. But a Frisbee requires a little bit more skill, coordination, and timing. Belgian Shepherds look spectacular playing this due to their agility. Roll the Frisbee on the ground towards your dog. They will instinctually want to grab it in his mouth. Once you’ve accomplished this, try tossing it at a very low level first to your dog. If you feel like your dog is ready to go to the next level, toss the disc a little higher and further. Great energy burner and you may be amazed at your dog’s agility and acrobatic skill.
Set up an agility or obstacle course in your backyard. You can use items you have around the home, build your own agility or you can get reasonably priced agility sets on Amazon. You can include tasks such as the weave, hurdle jumps, tunnels, or jumping through hoops or a platform to jump on and stay.
A good energy burner if you have stairs in your home. Start at the bottom of the stairs and have your dog “stay”. Throw the ball to the top of the stairs and then say, “Go!” Let your dog dash up the stairs as fast as they can. Have them return down the stairs at a slower pace to avoid injury.
Walking up stairs or a hill strengthens the rear legs as the full body weight of your dog is on each leg as the step. As they descend the stairs they are using the opposing muscles for stability. For more on stair exercise for dogs see here.
Running, biking or skating with your dog
The faster your dog is moving the more energy they will release. Try running, biking, or skating with your dog to really get them moving. As the Belgian Shepherd has good levels of stamina and can go for long distances, they can make great running partners. Just be sure to build up the distance and intensity of the activity over time to prevent causing injury to your dog. Read “Running with your dog” for more on this.
Many Belgian Shepherds are keen swimmers. Swimming is a great exercise for a Belgian Shepherd as it burns energy and uses all the muscles groups, in particular, the front legs and shoulders. It is also a low impact activity so it doesn’t put a strain on the joints and tendons. It is a good exercise for dogs recovering from injury. See “What is Canine Hydrotherapy” to learn more.
For more on swimming exercise for dogs see here.
Tug of War
A firm favorite of all strong dogs. Make them crouch and pull back to use extra energy. Ensure that this is a controlled game and they release when you want them to. Also, a great way to build muscle and strength.
A spring pole is simply a spring connected to a rope that hangs from a tree branch or beam with a lure or toy attached to the end. This allows your dog to play tug of war with him or herself even if you are not there. Popular with a lot of dogs that love a good game of tug of war.
Dog toys that move on their own
There are many dog toys available that shake, rattle, roll and move about on their own. This activity would be best as a supervised and control game as a dog like the Belgian Shepherd could destroy these type of toys. See “Dog toys that move on their own” to learn more.
Self Playing Dog Toys
There are a variety of dog toys that your dog can use to play by themselves. These are great for times when your dog is home alone, you don’t have the time or you are otherwise occupied. This way your dog can still get some physical activity and mental stimulation without your direct involvement. See “Self Playing Dog Toys” for some ideas.
Play with other dogs
Provide the opportunity for your Belgian Shepherd to play with other dogs. This is not only great to burn energy and stimulate their mind, but teaches them important social skills. Not all Belgian Shepherds are dog-friendly, so ensure yours is to prevent the possibility of fighting.
There are many dog sports that your Belgian Shepherd would enjoy including agility or fly ball. Consider enrolling your Belgian Shepherd in a local club. You can enter as a serious competitor or simply for fun.
Provide a digging area or pit
Many dogs love to dig including many Belgian Shepherds. Provide an area or digging box for them so they can dig to their heart’s content. Just be aware that if the weather is warm and you use sand, it may get hot. You can wet it down with the hose if it is. See “Dog Toys for Diggers” for more ideas on catering to a dog’s natural digging instinct.
There are countless more activities you can do with your Belgian Shepherd breed to burn pent-up energy quickly and condition their muscles. For more ideas, check out “How to tire a hyper high energy dog” and “Tire a dog quickly”. You may also like “50 Boredom Busters and games for dogs”
Mental stimulation for Belgian Shepherd, Belgian Malinois, Belgian Tervuren
All dogs need an outlet for their minds. If they are not provided the opportunity to challenge their minds they will come up with their own ways to achieve this. This usually manifests itself in bad behavior such as excessive barking, digging, escaping and other destructive behaviors. Read “Mental stimulation and mind enrichment for dogs” to learn about the 6 types or categories of mind stimulation a mental enrichment and some great ideas to provide this.
Some ways to provide mental stimulation and enrichment include;
Puzzle toys are ideal for dogs like the Belgian Shepherd breeds to challenge their minds and test their problem-solving skills. Due to their high intelligence, try to find puzzle toys that are a bit more challenging as they tend to work these out quite quickly. Check out “Top puzzle toys for dogs” for my top picks.
In addition to puzzle toys, Kongs for dogs are another great way to get your Belgian Shepherd to solve a problem and challenge the mind. Read “How to use a Kong for dogs“.
Scenting and nose games
Belgian Shepherds can have a keen nose. Playing scenting and nose games helps to provide mental stimulation. Read “12 Scenting and nose games for dogs” for some ideas.
Provide your Belgian Shepherd with good strong chew toys. Chewing is a great way to occupy them. In addition, chewing releases endorphins and helps to relax a dog. Many dogs hold stress in the jaw.
For more on the benefits of chewing and the best chew toys click here.
Teaching new commands and tricks is also excellent to provide mental enrichment. A popular game that involves learning is to teach them the names of their toys. Dogs can learn hundreds of words and names.
Turn mealtimes into an opportunity for your Belgian Shepherd to get a mental challenge and enrichment. Instead of feeding them from a bowl, give them activities that require them to work for their food. To learn more about feeding enrichment for dogs see here.
Enrich their environment
Environmental enrichment is the process of making a dog’s living space more engaging and interesting. To learn more about environmental enrichment for dogs see here.
Puppy exercise for Belgian Shepherd, Belgian Malinois, Belgian Tervuren
The exercise suggestions above relate to a healthy adult Belgian Shepherd. The exercise needs of a puppy are quite different. With puppies, their bones, muscle, and joints are still growing and developing.
Overly strenuous walks are not necessary and in fact, could possibly cause harm. An activity that is high impact on the joints should also be avoided.
The best exercise for a young puppy is free play with age-appropriate toys.
Socializing with other puppies or friendly adult dogs is a great way to burn some of that puppy energy along with teaching them the social skills they need.
As your Belgian Shepherd puppy gets older you can take them for short informal walks allowing them to sniff and explore and get used to being on a leash. Puppies under three months probably haven’t had all their vaccinations so shouldn’t be walked in public. Check with your vet when it is alright to venture out to the park or street.
The general rule of thumb for walking a puppy is around 5 minutes for every month of age. So, for example for a 4-month-old puppy, a walk of 15 minutes to 20 minutes is enough. Monitor your Belgian Shepherd puppy on the walk for signs such as lagging behind, lying down or panting. End the walk if they seem too tired.
Mental stimulation is important for puppies and can tire them just as much as physical activity. For more on mental stimulation for puppies see here.
For more on exercise for your Belgian Shepherd puppy read “How to exercise your puppy”
How much exercise does an older Belgian Shepherd breed need
As a dog gets older they become less active and have lower energy levels. However, it is still important that they remain reasonably active to keep their joints and muscles mobile and to manage their weight. Read ” Dog exercise for a senior dog” to learn more.
Many dogs develop arthritis as they age. Exercise for them becomes a balancing act. It is important to keep their joints mobile and manage weight, but too much can make them sore. Read “How to exercise an arthritic dog” to learn more.
Belgian Shepherds are also a breed that is prone to hip dysplasia. Read “Exercise for a dog with hip dysplasia” to learn more.
Summary – Exercise for Belgian Shepherd, Belgian Malinois, Belgian Tervuren
The Belgian Shepherd breeds are high energy, strong and has good levels of stamina. They are also very smart and need to have their minds occupied as well.
It is crucial to provide adequate physical and mental exercise and activity to release pent-up energy and prevent boredom. A minimum of 60 to 90 minutes a day of exercise including purposeful activity and muscle strengthening and activities that provide mental stimulation is recommended.
The cost of not doing so can be an unhappy and frustrated dog. This can lead to behavior issues such as barking, digging, escaping, and destructive behavior.
Let us know in the comments which variety of Belgian Sheepdog you have and how you exercise them.