MyDogDNA Breed Data: Belgian Shepherds

Working dogs originating from Belgium, Belgian Shepherds were created for herding purposes but are nowadays used in many different dog sports and as military and police working dogs. There are four distinct types of Belgian Shepherds defined by coat colour and texture. The registration of these types varies between countries. In FCI countries, these varieties are called Belgian Shepherd Malinois, Belgian Shepherd Tervueren, Belgian Shepherd Groenendael and Belgian Shepherd Laekenois. In the United States, these breeds are considered as separate breeds and called Belgian Malinois and Belgian Tervueren. Belgian Shepherd Groenendael is called Belgian Sheepdog.

Breed-defining appearance traits tested with MyDogDNA

Belgian Shepherd breeds are distinguished by coat type and colour. All of the breed-defining appearance trait tests for Belgian Shepherd breeds are included in the MyDogDNA test panel.

The coat colour in Belgian Shepherd Groenendael is usually caused by the dominant K allele causing black colour. In Belgian Shepherd Tervueren, Malinois and Laekenois the colour is usually sable with a dark mask. Occasionally other colours pop up, such as tan points, recessive black, wolf grey and brindle. Colour testing enables breeders to produce offspring of the wanted breed variety and of standard colour.

The panel also includes tests for coat type, for all breed-defining coat characteristics of Belgian Shepherds. These important variants include short coat, long coat, curly coat and furnishings. These tests can be useful, for example, when making breed crosses between different Belgian Shepherd varieties or if breeders want to produce puppies of a certain Belgian Sheepdog variety.

Belgian Shepherd varieties vary genetically

Our database of Belgian Shepherd varieties indicate the existing genetic variation between the breeds. Interestingly, many countries allow crosses between certain Belgian Shepherd varieties. Puppies of different varieties can be born out of pure litters of one variety, which occasionally makes the comparison more challenging.

According to the collected MyDogDNA data, the Tervueren and Groenendael varieties are genetically the closest (see illustration at, in fact, the dynamic illustration shows that these breeds also partly overlap. The genetic overlap is most likely due to Tervueren puppies that have been born from Groenendael matings, and the fact that Groenendael – Tervueren matings are allowed in many countries. Groenendael puppies can also be born from Tervueren matings but these dogs have a different genetic background (recessive black) for their black colour than typical Groenendael dogs.

The graph also shows some Belgian Shepherd Tervuerens being genetically very close to the Belgian Shepherd Malinois. Pure Malinois breedings sometimes produce Tervueren puppies. These dogs are most probably Tervuerens that have been born in a pure Malinois litter. Malinois – Tervueren matings are also allowed in many countries.

The small breed of Belgian Shepherd Laekenois is genetically closest to the Belgian Shepherd Malinois. Laekenois – Malinois matings are also allowed in many countries and Malinois puppies can be born out of Laekenois matings.

The Malinois variety is genetically the most diverse

The median genetic diversity of the Belgian Shepherd Malinois is quite high, at 39.0%. It is over the average of all dog breeds and the highest of all Belgian Shepherd breeds. For reference, the median diversity for mixed breed dogs is 43.2% so the Malinois has a little lower genetic diversity than mixed breed dogs. The high genetic diversity in the Belgian Shepherd Malinois is most probably due to the breed’s developmental history. Malinois have historically had less evolutionary pressure on their appearance than other Belgian Shepherd varieties.

The genetic diversity of Belgian Sheepdogs (U.S.-bred Groenendael dogs) seems to be lower than the genetic diversity of the Malinois, and it is lower than the all-breed average of 34.0%. This is most probably due to more pronounced evolutionary pressure for appearance traits and geographical isolation from the European Groenendael population.

Genetic disorder test content for the breeds: Spongy degeneration with cerebellar ataxia, (SDCA1 and SDCA2) in Belgian Shepherd Dog and Dutch Shepherd Dog

Among the 200+ mutations that can be tested with our MyDogDNA panel, there are two mutations causing a condition called Spongy Degeneration with Cerebellar Ataxia. Within the dog population, the SDCA1 and SDCA2 genetic disorders affect the Belgian Shepherd Dog, especially the Malinois type. In addition to Belgian Shepherds, the SDCA2 has also recently been encountered in the Dutch Shepherd Dog.

Please read a veterinarian’s description on what Spongy Degeneration with Cerebellar Ataxia is, and why it is important to test these breeds for the underlying mutations!

IN BRIEF SeSAME/EAST is a rare hereditary neurological disorder encountered in humans. Belgian Shepherds, especially the Malinois type, can suffer from a syndrome that is very similar to this human condition. In Belgian Shepherds, this syndrome is called Spongy Degeneration with Cerebellar Ataxia. The inheritance pattern is autosomal recessive.

CLINICAL OVERVIEW The age of onset of spongy degeneration with cerebellar ataxia is usually 4-8 weeks. The first observable sign is poor coordination of movements (ataxia) and generalised cerebellar dysfunction. Affected dogs may also suffer from episodic seizures and demonstrate pacing and circling behaviour. Disease progression is rapid and often results in euthanasia over welfare concerns.

SIMILAR DISORDERS Different forms of ataxia have been reported in the Belgian Shepherd which could be confused with this disorder. Other diseases of the cerebellum may also cause ataxia.

DIAGNOSIS The disease should be a differential based on age of onset, breed history, and clinical presentation when other possible causes have been ruled out. Blood sampling, EMG, and BAER can be used to further diagnose the disorder.

The underlying genetic defect can be found by genetic testing from a dog of any age. The test differentiates the dog as normal, carrier or affected. Dogs carrying the disease are not affected by the disease but may pass the genetic defect to their offspring.

TREATMENT There is no curative treatment for the disease. Antiepileptic drugs can be used to decrease seizure activity but long-term prognosis is still poor.



• Ataxia
• Myokymia
• Neuromyotonia
• Seizures

MUTATION(S) FOUND IN Belgian Shepherd Dog, Dutch Shepherd Dog


​ONLINE DATABASE Online Mendelian Inheritance in Animals, OMIA (

SCIENTIFIC ARTICLES Mauri N, Kleiter M, Leschnik M, Högler S, Dietschi E, Wiedmer M, Dietrich J, Henke D, Steffen F, Schuller S, Gurtner C, Stokar-Regenscheit N, O’Toole D, Bilzer T, Herden C, Oevermann A, Jagannathan V, Leeb T. A Missense Variant in KCNJ10 in Belgian Shepherd Dogs Affected by Spongy Degeneration with Cerebellar Ataxia (SDCA1). G3 (Bethesda). 2017 Feb; 7(2): 663–669. Published online 2016 Dec 21. doi: 10.1534/g3.116.038455 PMCID: PMC5295610 Van Poucke M, Stee K, Bhatti S, Vanhaesebrouck A, Bosseler L, Peelman L, Van Ham L. The novel homozygous KCNJ10 c.986T4C (p.(Leu329Pro)) variant is pathogenic for the SeSAME/EAST homologue in Malinois dogs. Eur J Hum Genet. 2017 Feb;25(2):222-226. doi: 10.1038/ejhg.2016.157. Epub 2016 Dec 14.