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Form and Function - A Day in the Life of a Belgian Tervuren

by Joni L. Freshman, DVM

Sunday, September 14 dawned to a cool day with a brisk wind. "Caper," a 4 year old Belgian Tervuren bitch, and I were in fine spirits as we left the conformation ring having gone Best of Breed. Time to change-collars for her, entire outfit for me.

We jumped in the minivan and drove 20 minutes to the AKC herding trial. While these sheep weren’t used to Belgians working them, they were honest sheep, and Caper and I enjoyed a good run to finish her Herding Started - "A" Course, Sheep (HSAS) title with a 4th place. Then it was back to the show site to prepare for Group judging.

As a good herding breed dog should, "Caper" took the entire day-and weekend-in stride. She serves as a good example of form following function. Watching a herding breed dog work stock illuminates what the standard is all about. Correct gait-in Belgian Tervuren "covering the maximum ground with minimum effort" both allowed "Caper" to work easily in an arena three times the size of the one she trains in, and allowed her to exhibit correct breed movement in the conformation ring. The "ease of movement rather than hard driving action" allows a Belgian Tervuren to do her job all day long. Every judge who judges a herding breed should see that breed working on stock-nothing makes the standard more clear.

And correct coat-those of us who herd prize it. As stated in the standard "the guard hairs of the coat must be long, close-fitting, straight and abundant. The texture is of medium harshness, not silky or wiry." That coat allows dirt, mud, and less pleasant substances to just fall out of the coat, leaving it clean and ready for the Group ring (thank heavens!).

Feet are vitally important in a herding dog-those correct feet ("rounded, cat footed, turning neither in nor out, toes curved close together, well-padded, strong nails") allow a dog to work on any kind of surface, making quick turns and stops, without injuring a pad, and allows them to go immediately to the show ring without any signs of soreness.

Correct working temperament is vital as well. The standard notes "he must be approachable, standing his ground and showing confidence to meet overtures without himself making them"-this temperament allows the herding dog to go from one venue to another easily, without concern or stress.

A well put together Belgian Tervuren, who is bred to the standard and who also is bred to work stock, will exhibit the most prized qualities in our standard: "the Belgian Tervuren is a herding dog and versatile worker. The highest value is to be placed on qualities that maintain these abilities, specifically, correct temperament, gait, bite and coat." By keeping function in mind, correct form will follow. Breeders must never lose sight of the reason this breed was developed. This goal allowed "Caper" to be not only a Eukanuba Award of Excellence and Best Bred By Belgian Tervuren winner, and multiple group placer, but also for us to earn a herding High In Trial at our first ever AKC herding trial, and to, as a novice herding team, finish that prized herding started title in good form. I am proud to have produced her in my fourth generation of dogs, and look forward to a long, multitasking career with her.

Belgian Tervuren are indeed a breed that can do it all. By keeping in mind and in our vision what it was they were bred to do, we can keep them that way.

"Caper" (CH Zephyre Chutes and Ladders HSAS) working sheep
"Caper" (CH Zephyre Chutes and Ladders HSAS) working sheep

"Caper" prepares for the conformation ring
"Caper" prepares for the conformation ring