I like reading stories about how someone chose a certain breed to live with. Sometimes it is so obvious, but usually, the choice is more like coincidence and people do not plan to spend the rest of their lives with the certain breed when they are having their first dog. But somehow the second dog usually tends to be the same breed as the first one… I was not a fan of Belgian shepherds from the very beginning, I did not even know that such breed existed. I always wanted a German shepherd, such as Inspector Rex. My first touch with Belgians was really a coincidence.
I was not able to have a dog of my own due to my mother’s allergy. Luckily I had lots of dogs in my neighbourhood that I used to take for walks. There was this one special dog with whom I was able to behave like a real dog owner. This dog was Miska. She was my uncle’s dog and happened to live near us. Miska was a mixed-breed, a combination of Belgian shepherd groenendael and Golden retriever. She was absolutely a gorgeous dog, looked just like black Golden retriever, some mixed her up with Hovawart. I loved taking her to walks and taking care of her during my uncles long working days at that time. I taught her some tricks and for treats, she did everything I ever asked. When the treat bag was empty, Miska just stopped. She lied down on the yard and did not move a muscle until I filled treat bag again. This was the phase I learned what the word ‘motivation’ meant in dog training.
I was about 12 years old when I read an article on a magazine about agility. I was sold, it looked so much fun and the article told that it was a suitable hobby for any dog. So I took some buckets and broomsticks and made obstacles, I took all the ski poles from our garage and stick them into the grass to create weave poles. So it began. Later my dad helped me to build more complex and more functional obstacles. I also dreamt about taking an actual agility course and starting to compete, but the fact that Miska was getting old was slowing me down. At that time Miska was about 8-9 years old which is not that old, but she was not very lightweight dog either.
So I started telling my parents how I wanted an own dog. Not that I had not told them that my whole life, but this time it was all different, as I had these goals as a dog trainer too. My mother’s allergy issue was a risk, but after seeing how motivated I was and how seriously I wanted to train agility, my parents decided it was worth the risk. After all, we lived in a large house with large yard and possibility to let the dog live outdoors during days. We also happened to be lucky as it later came out that a dog worked as sort of immunotherapy for my mother and she did not get symptoms from our dog.
My parents let me choose the breed but there were some rules about it. The dog had to be inexpensive, be a size of a “real dog” and it could not be German shepherd, Collie or Golden retriever as those breeds were too risky (health, character) due to their breeding. I now know that it is not the whole truth, but at that time those were the rules. I first tried to search for an inexpensive mixed breed, but all of those seemed to have a hunting dog as the other parent and that was something that I did not want. I knew that Miska’s father was Groenendael, so I started to learn more about that breed. I somehow managed to assure my parents that purebred dog was really not that expensive, which was hard as purebred Belgian shepherd cost about 700 euros at that time and mixed breed dogs cost 100-300 euros.
I called two breeders near my area and told them I was interested in a puppy. I was happy that I was taken seriously by the breeders even tough I was only 13 years old. Of course, they wanted to talk to my parents too, to see that it was the whole family that wanted the dog, but they understood that I would be the one to train with the dog. We decided to take the puppy from kennel Nallehukan, which located only 15 kilometers apart from us. I was also impatient and Nallehukan had puppies earlier than other breeders. Yeah, not very wise, but I was young and having my first dog.
So Vilma arrived to enlighten our family’s life. She was a smart puppy who knew how to annoy and who to annoy. Our part was definitely not easy, as she was a bit of a dominant type (at least for a first dog). At some phase, I was certain that I would never ever get another Belgian shepherd as they are so out of their mind and control and their behaviour is completely untrustworthy. It is a thought that still comes to my mind every time I get a new dog. And it is true, first 1,5 years with a Belgian shepherd really seem to be a trial of determination and my weakness is that I always begin to doubt my own skills. It is sort of a good weakness, as it forces me to get some advice from other, more experienced trainers, which always teaches me more.
First 1,5 years with a Belgian shepherd really seem to be a trial of determination.
However, when the time comes for me to get another dog, I always end up looking for Belgian puppies. It is not really an option to switch breed, as during these years I have fallen in love with this breed completely. I love their attitude towards everything, how they get excited about anything. They are same time dumb and smart, always giving their everything and even more. They compensate their lack of skills with a huge amount of enthusiasm, which sometimes causes problems, but usually just funny moments. This breed is so suitable for any activity, any dog sport you might have in mind, that is it (in my opinion, might not be objective) impossible to find such features in any other breed.