The four varieties of Belgians are: Groenendael, Laekenois, Malinois, Tervuren. When the Belgian Shepherd was first being organized into a breed, these types were recognized as different coat variations of the same breed. (In the U.S. they are recognized as having their own breed standards - it wasn't my idea.) Overall, these are square, athletic, intelligent dogs who have worked on farms and with police; they are versatile, athletic dogs who do best when they have a job to do. They can also be excellent pets for families that train and exercise them and I am aware of some working as service dogs for the disabled.
This is the black long haired member of the Belgian family. The dog to the right is working/living on a farm in the U.S.
This is perhaps the variety that is still showing up most often in working farm environments outside its homeland. (Feel free to disagree with me in the comment section - I'm using personal observation more than scientifically gathered data in making this statement...I've found examples of this breed on farms in multiple countries.)
They are also the least common of the four varieties and not as well known. In the U.S. this is the variety that is not currently recognized (registered with) the American Kennel Club in part because there are not enough members of the breed in the country.
I would love to have one of these fuzzy-wuzzies one day if fate should ever care to make that happen....
This is the short, straight haired variety; their color is fawn with a black overlay and black mask. The amount of black overlay apparent varies considerably from member to member of the variety. This is the variety that shows up most often working with police departments. I know of police in both the U.S. and Canada who used to work with German Shepherds and now work with Malinois -- this breed has stayed closer to their working origin and the blood lines have been less adjusted for showing at bench trials.
This is the long haired variety that is fawn or grey, with a black overlay and black mask. This may be the most popular variety - I am certainly seeing them increasingly often. They are showing up at more and more small dog shows and over the last decade they've become almost common place as companion dogs.
In my opinion, these are all lovely variations on a great breed. They do require firm but fair handling and need exercise. Overall, I would not recommend these as dogs for first time dog owners -- but I would say that about any breed that still has strong connection to their working roots -- dogs that are smart and willing to work need consistent training and preferably a job to do. If one lacks experience with dogs than I've noticed it often is not a good idea to start with really smart, energetic dogs.
If however, you have a job for a dog to do -- agility, sport, obedience etc.,-- then here are four variations on a great working dog. Medium-large, short or long haired, dark or light colored, square, athletic build and eager to work with people.
And as always, I would love to hear reader's experience with Belgian Shepherds; if you have pictures to share please send them along as well.