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History of the Breed

The Laekenois is considered the oldest of the four varieties of Belgian Sheepdogs. The Bouvier and Dutch Sheepdogs also trace their pedigrees back to the fawn wire-haired shepherd dog, Vos I de Laeken, who was born in 1885.

Jean Baptiste Janssens, who was one of the early breeders of Laekenois and profesional shepherd from Laeken castle at the suburb of Brussels, bought Vos I de Laeken from a cattle handler in a north Belgium village Boom. It is assumed that Laekenoises originated from the region of Boom or from the Northern Kempen where Janssens was born. In the region of Boom some old scripts and some illustrations were find which represents a dog that resembles the Laekenois. At that time Laekens were called "Bleechoven biter" and they were used for herding and protection. Boom lies in the valley of the Rupel in Flanders and there were large flax fields. Laekens were employed to guard the fields and quickly gained a reputation for vigilance and intelligence. They were well-known for their desire to bite and for their strong bite, so robbers were afraid of them and they avoided them. Laekens took their job seriously and were also exceptionally loyal to their families.

Also Mr. Janssens used his Vos I for guarding his cattles and properties, but he also used him as a stud dog for his females. He first mated Vos I and Liske de Laeken, who was a grey brown/brindle shorthaired female. From this mating came short-haired females Diane and Mouche, who played important roles in the development of the Malinois. Diane was the grandmother of the famous Malinois Tjop and Mouche was the mother of Dewet, other pillar of the Malinois. Among rough hair descendandts of the same Vos I and Liske de Laeken we find male Tom de Vilvorde, a grey rough hair, and female Spitz, also presumed a rough hair. Spitz was bred back to Vos I to produce Moor, a black rough hair who is also apparently one of the first recessive blacks in the history of the Belgian Shepherd Dogs. Moor, bred back to her grandsire, Vos, produced Poets (or Pouts), a light fawn rough haired Laekenois female who did well in several exhibitions at the end of the 19th century.

Poets played a larger role in this history than previously realized. Bred to her great-uncle, Tom de Vilvorde, she produced Vos II and Belle de Saint-Nicolas. This couple, mentioned only once in the Saint-Hubert studbooks as parents of Turc, appear numerous times as the ancestors not only of Malinois, but early Laekens, Dutch Shepherds and Bouviers. Bred to Duc II, Poets produced Pitt and Belle II, who appear in the ancestry of some Dutch Shepherds, but remain unmentioned in Belgian Shepherd history.

1901 was the first year that the Belgian Shepherd Dogs were admitted to the Société Royale Saint-Hubert studbooks, but an 1898 color decision by the breed club (Club du Chien de Berger Belge) that the Belgian rough hairs could only be grey, had effectively shut out the more prevalent fawn and yellow rough hairs until the decision was reversed in 1908 when all colours have been allowed again. And in 1978 the colour fawn has been determined as the only colour for the Laekenois, as it says in the standard today.

The grey rough haired Basoef LOSH 6137, whelped in 1897, sired by Tom de Vilvorde, son of Vos I and Lieske, became the premiere sire of the grey rough hairs in Belgium for several years. His son, Boer-Sus, whelped in 1901, sired a few grey rough hairs, but the lines from Basoef and Boer-Sus ultimately died out.

With fawn rough hairs originally unable to be registered with Saint-Hubert, many began appearing in the Netherlands, registered in the NHSB studbooks. Many aggravated breeders of fawn and yellow rough hairied Belgian Sheperds resolutely separated from CCBB and established a new Berger Belge Club. As a protest they participated with their dogs on the dog show in Rotterdam, Netherlands on 14th April 1901 where their dogs won many valuable prizes. The Raad van Beheer studbooks, in the first decade of the 20th century, listed pedigrees of the registered dogs who were not from unknown origins. The pedigrees ranged from one to four generations, and it is here that we can find ties between some of the rough haired Dutch Shepherds and early Bouviers to the Laekenois Belgian Shepherd dogs descending from Vos and Lieske.

Queen Marie Henriette and Castle Laeken
Queen Marie Henriette
and Castle Laeken
Rough haired Belgian Shepherds were most spread in the suburb of Antwerpen, while the sheperd family Janssens was breeding them in the royal park of the Laeken castle. The breed got its name "Laekenois" after the name of the castle Laeken, because they were favourite dog breed of the Belgian Queen Marie Henriette. She admired their working skills as a sheperd dog on her royal properties, yet some of them, who became her pets got a right to live in the Castle. Because of this fact some Laekenoises nowadays are still aware of their past. They are most docile and dignified among Belgian breeds.

Up to the turn of the 20th century the Laekenois was the most spread variety of Belgian Sheperd due to numerous reasons. They were Queen's favourite breed and beside that they were excellent herding and guard dogs. With the starting industrialization and the decline of the sheep breeding Laekens have been given new tasks. In the early 20th century the Brussels police used Laekenoises as police dogs and the Belgian army used them as liason dogs. During first and second World War Laekens were working as military dogs.

After the wars Laekenois population was bankrupt and it became almost extinct. For all of its postwar history the Laekenois has remained the least popular of the varieties in Belgium, occasionally almost disappearing from the Saint-Hubert and Kennel Club Belge studbooks during the first 60 years of their history. Elegance, beauty and a unified apperance became more important for the modern breeding. But the Laekenois did not correspond well to this contemporary taste as he has a rather unkempt appearance. Its coat wasn't as attractive as the coat of Groenendael and Tervueren and his working skills were not so good as those of energetic and brisky Malinois. But Laekenois is a very hearty dog and his rough, wiry coat is very adept at protecting him from the quite diverse weather of his country of origin. Beside that the development of the Laekenois variety was hardly affected with the long-years lasting dispute in view of the desired coat colour. Some wanted him grey, the others wanted him red brown. Because the Janssens family spoke only Flamish language they had very few contacts with Vallonian breeders which was another barriere.

Thanks to Dutch breeders, who have always admired the rough hair Belgian Sheperds, the Laekenois did not died out. In Holland, through the 1960's, Laekenois was the most popular of the Belgian varieties, and it was to Holland that breeders had to turn when outside interest in the Laekenois was reborn in the late 1960's. Ironically, no modern Laekenois can trace its ancestry back to Vos and Lieske through its Laekenois ancestors, but can through its Malinois ancestors.

Unfortunately, during this time when they were protected by Dutch breeders, the Laekenoises moved away from the Belgian Sheperd dog type. Some of the Dutch breeders, who were very fond of robust and heavy dogs, probably introduced Bouvier de Flanders into the variety. That effect gave an impression of heaviness in the dogs, with widening of the skull and reduction of the desired conformation of the typical Belgian Shepherd Dog.

In the beginning of 1980's the Laekenois experienced a revival and was getting more popular. Some very serious and dedicated breeders in Belgium were making efforts to establish the original Belgian Sheperd Dog Laekenois type again. To achieve this they were inbreeding Laekenoises with Malinois upon the prior agreement with the St. Hubert Society. This unision between the two varieties is the basis of the renewed success of the Laekenois in Belgium. In keeping with his original qualities and his rusticity, the Laekenois regained elegance and fineness in the head lines and body. Now we can see dogs with typical Belgian Shepherd Dog expression and movement. All this has helped the variety to be more appreciated by people and furthermore by other Belgian Shepherd Dog breeders who have respect for the rough hair.

Laekenois is still quite rare today, most of the population is in Belgium and Holland. The breed experienced a revival in the last 20 years and there is an international concern for keeping the breed alive. Every year Laeken Fun Days in Belgium or Holland are organized and they attract many breeders, owners and admirers of the lovely Laekenois and of course nearly 100 Laekenois are presented at such meetings. So the breed is gaining popularity also in other European and non-European countries. Scandinavian countries showed great interest for the breed, especially in Finland, Sweden and Denmark there are some very dedicated breeders. Laekenois can be found also in France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Greece, Canada, United States. Some Laekenois can be found even in Australia and South Africa.

With many dedicated breeders and new interest shown for the lovely Laekenois variety, we hope that in the future the Belgian Laekenois will not stay the stepchild of the Belgian Shepherd Dogs.

Source of information: Mara Lee Jilles & Bernard Rie

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