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Life With A Terv

Belgian Tervuren herding cows.

This article was originally published in Showsight Magazine, September 2013 issue.


Life With a Terv

Living with a Tervuren… what do you think it is like? THINK VERSATILE… think way smart… think active… think agile… think easily trained…. think alert! Your average Belgian Tervuren is wicked fast. Owning one is like driving a Ferrari… not a minivan! Any Terv owner will attest… there is absolutely nothing these wonderful dogs cannot learn.

Our Belgians truly want to please… it is hardwired into their very nature– they are “biddable”. They bond quickly to “their humans” and become your second skin. If having a loyal dog shadowing you everywhere is irritating… well a Tervuren just is NOT for you. Terv owners will tell you that it has been years since they’ve done much of anything without the “help” of their dogs!

The 3 AKC Herding Group Belgians (Tervuren, Belgian Sheepdogs named Groenendael in other countries, and Malinois) were first developed in different areas surrounding Brussels. They were herders, guardians of the farmer’s property, family dogs, and protection dogs. Subsequently used by law enforcement and the military, they were one breed with variations in coat color and coat length/texture. All were square dogs with high set erect triangular ears, long tails and medium long heads. They were medium in bone and moderate in just about everything except their ability to learn.

Physically, Tervs are typically elegant with proud carriage of head and neck. The coat of a Tervuren male is truly a thing of beauty. Rich base color caressed by a black overlay is often the first quality attracting newcomers to the breed. The girls are less ornate in their furnishings, but are equally lovely.

My first Tervuren was “Bravo” a pet male who earned his UDT back in the day when there was no OTCh, no MACH, no CT and no HT. I wanted a dog to show in AKC obedience, and he won many High in Trials! While Bravo thought I hung the sun, moon and stars, he was wary of strangers as a youngster… certainly too reactive to be part of anyone’s breeding program. As undergrad students my husband and I lived in a higher crime area. Neighboring townhouses were vandalized… not the Redmer residence… good boy, Bravo!!

Today, Tervuren are used as search and rescue dogs, drug dogs, military dogs, leader dogs for the blind, therapy dogs, tracking dogs, all purpose farm and herding dogs, agility dogs, obedience dogs, and yes, especially as devoted family pets. There are generations of toddlers who have learned to walk pulling up on their family’s Terv. Versatility is the breed’s middle name. In 2012, AKC registration statistics ranked Tervuren 106th out of 175 breeds. Here in the USA the AKC registers Tervuren as a separate breed from the other Belgians–not the norm in the rest of the world.

Versatility is the breed’s middle name.

Is a Terv the right breed for you? Well honestly Tervuren are NOT for everyone. They make terrible kennel/back yard dogs. They require early socialization to new people and environments. Reactivity and shyness can be an issue for some puppies even in litters from parents possessing stellar characters. A bored Belgian can be destructive, so plan to keep both your dog’s mind and body busy. Tervuren are NOT frenetic dogs and they definitely have an “off switch”… but it works ever so much better in dogs getting regular exercise!

They require no elaborate grooming. Regular brushing, nail clipping, a quick trim of the hair on the feet and hocks and your Terv is good to go. Shedding happens… you will be brushing daily to triumph in that “hair battle”. Their double coats carry no real doggy odor. And, blessedly, Tervs frequently live to be 13-16 years old.

The American Belgian Tervuren Club ( urges you to link with a breeder who screens breeding stock for hip and elbow dysplasia, as well as inheritable eye problems. Fortunately (with thanks to our vigilant breeders) the incidence is pretty low for these diseases. It appears that Tervuren have a higher incidence of epilepsy and gastric carcinoma than the average population of dogs. The ABTC supports research in these areas. If you are considering a Tervuren for your family, always ask health and temperament questions of the breeder before purchasing a puppy.