By Adnan Khan*
A beautiful and quite rare dog breed, recently introduced to Indian dog lovers, is one to watch out for, known as Dutch Shepherd. A close cousin to the Belgian Shepherd and the German Shepherd Dog (GSD), this breed is fast gaining popularity in its second phase of life. One of my personal favourite breeds, the Dutch Shepherd is one of the very few breeds that have faced extinction and then revival for many years, which is still an ongoing process today.
I, along with a few other patrons of this breed introduced Dutch Shepherds to India. I was responsible for bringing in 4 of the formative dogs from the KNPV-Dutch Police Dog Program to India. Today, along with a few of my friends, we have almost 10 founding dogs brought in to India. Out of them, we have less than 20 puppies as progeny and we are in the very formative years of developing and introducing this breed.
Some famous personalities like MS Dhoni and Preity Zinta are proud parents of the Dutch Shepherd and it is fast picking up interest from many others. There is no doubt that it is a near complete breed with less recognition as it checks in all the points for me, be it health, looks, fitness, or temperament.
The Dutch Shepherd is currently the best breed preferred and selected by the International Police, Military, and Special forces alongside the Belgian Malinois. Hopefully, we will soon be deploying some of our Dutchies into the Indian defence forces and private security.
The ‘Dutchie’ has a vast history, which will raise any working dog lover’s interest and curiosity. Fondly known as ‘Herder’ by the Dutch, the initial dogs very closely resembled their Belgian and German cousins. A standard fit herding companion, who was also helpful in cart-pulling and protecting the family and the flock.
It is a complete dog for the Dutch farmers. The breed standard and coat colour were differentiated and the Dutch Shepherd was made into an ‘official’ breed in 1898.
However, this breed became extinct around the First World War and very few specimens of Dutchies were left in Holland. It has taken decades since then to bring back that kind of a dog over successive years of breeding. To diversify the gene pool, ‘Herders’ fans would not be shy to add GSD and Malinois blood into the breeding.
There are about 2000–2500 Dutch Shepherds registered under FCI, who would only accept pure breeding of the brindle herders to each other.
There are probably many more Dutchies being bred and raised by the KNPV program of the Dutch Police, who do accept Malinois into the mix as long as they get the right nerves, drive, and temperament.
The current trend, till this breed is big enough in numbers, is that in a Malinois x Dutch Shepherd litter, the brindle ones would be considered as Dutch and the solid coloured ones would fall under Malinois category. This is the mindset of only KNPV trainers and breeders, and the FCI ‘purists’ would have a contrasting opinion.
The Dutch Shepherd is a strong, agile, muscular and well balanced dog in terms of size and appearance. The structure is usually well squared. As per the breed standard, the body length:height ratio should be about 10:9.
They usually weigh between 25 and 32 kg; however, some massive specimens are present in KNPV due to the diversity of gene pool used from various breeds. I personally know of a few between 45 and 60 kg. These kinds of giant Dutchies are usually out of the standard but if they have the right drive and training, they are well sought after with the elite protection dog clients.
Their height ranges from 22 to 25 inches at the withers; however, some could be taller than that. Very few are on the smaller side of 22 inches in this breed.
The Dutch shepherd coat is bred into three variants of the dog:
Short Haired: The most common and presently most preferred of the three variants, this short-haired dog has a coat like the Malinois. They would not demand intensive or regular grooming, thereby making them easy to handle in the military and defence forces.
Long Haired: The long-haired Dutchie is more prevalent with the herding dog handlers. This dog resembles the GSD or Belgian Tervuren when it comes to coat length. There are very few breeders of the long haired ones and sometimes a puppy will come out in a short haired litter as a recessive gene.
Wire Haired: It’s a type that is slowly gaining attention and popularity. A raggedy looking breed, to some it resembles a wolf while others match it to the Beauceron. There are some wire-haired Dutchies working in professional security jobs these days.
One of my favourite reasons besides health that I consider Dutchies as my favourite breed is their commendable temperament. Dutch shepherd is an active, high energy dog with an undying stamina. Their athleticism allows them and their handler to attain remarkable feats and challenges, which most other dog breeds cannot physiologically match.
This dog has a balanced temperament, which is very clear with its on/off switch towards humans. They are extremely loyal to their family/pack and especially their primary handler or trainer.
They are very alert and intuitive, so one of the perfect breeds to guard and protect the home and family after their day of working. They do not tire out easily and will never be too tired to stand up for their family whenever required.
A breed with one of the highest prey drives, which makes it an amazing dog for the experienced handler. On the other hand, the novice handlers may find it too much to manage at times.
They are very sociable and malleable for their temperament and will easily adjust with other dogs and kids if raised from the start. They can adapt to any lifestyle or living situation as long as their needs are taken care of by the family adopting them.
Another favourite aspect I love about this breed is their health quality, which could easily be counted in one of the top 10 breeds of the world. Along with my Malinois, the Dutchie is another breed which I rarely need to consider taking to the vet besides the routine visits or vaccinations.
This breed has very negligible occurrence of genetic diseases, which is almost as low as 2–8% likelihood of issues like allergies, myopathy etc. Hip and elbow dysplasia also has very low possibility of cropping up, which is likely to be passed on from the German Shepherd Dogs used to revive them in the past.
There is a point to consider based on my personal experience with working breeds. The health and lifestyle quality of the dog also highly depends on the right kind of training and exercise being provided to the dog as much as is needed, throughout their life.
Once these dogs are worked less, they start to become weak with a dull coat and develop higher chances of health issues.
So, a happy and fit dog is also a healthy dog.
The Dutch Shepherd Dog is a great dog to have for handlers who do not have enough time for regularly brushing or grooming the dog. It is a fairly ‘easy to manage’ breed, which would be fine even if we brush them twice or thrice a week only.
The longer or wire haired variants, however, would need more regular exercise.
The shorter haired Dutchies are much more preferred by defence and security forces due to their minimal exercise requirements.
A working Dutchie will have their nails filed through activity, but we must keep track of the nail length and condition so that their paws are in good shape. This is important to avoid injury to the dog as the nails being too long or ingrown can injure them.
One of the most important factors of living with a high intensity working breed like the Dutch Shepherd is their exercise requirements. If not physically and mentally stimulated, these dogs can turn neurotic and develop severe behavioural issues. The Dutchies can also jump very high, which means it’s easy for them to escape a kennel or a boundary wall in case they are bored.
During their initial years, it is important to take care of the developing bones and muscles, so over exercising must be avoided at all costs. It is advisable to have multiple short sessions and different forms of exercise instead of one long and tiring one as this can hamper the growth, motivation, and fitness of the dog.
The Dutchie is a great running and cycling companion, if trained to accompany peacefully. They can also be risky with runners or cyclists if their prey drive is not properly channelized from an early age.
They love to play tug and bite on things so that would be one of the best forms of exercise advisable for Dutchies. Young pups before and after the teething phase would love to play this game. It is suggested to get professional guidance before doing such activities. The tug and bite pillow games really help the dog once they later pursue the protection training. The confidence to bite and ability to take pressure comes from regular tug sessions in different environments.
An adult Dutch Shepherd requires a minimum of one hour exercise per day in different forms. Repeating the same exercise can become mundane for the dog. Most important thing to keep in mind is that the physical and mental health of the dog is dependent on the quality and consistency of exercise provided to the Dutchies by their handlers.
Here comes the most favourite aspect of this article, both for me and the breed. This dog is a ‘trainer’s breed’ in its true sense. Anyone who is highly experienced and passionate about dogs and getting their true nature out of them will love to raise a Dutch Shepherd. The Dutch Shepherd is a multi-talented dog who is perfect for guarding, scent detection, tracking, herding, cart pulling, and many other advanced activities. Dog sports like agility, dock diving, bite sports etc. know the true value of the Dutch Shepherd.
My advice for getting in a puppy is to have already researched a reputed trainer with a good track record of training such breeds. Early socialization to sights, sounds, and smells is a huge benefit to raising a stable Dutchie. Crate training is highly recommended especially if the family has elders and children or other dogs in the house. They are not dangerous to any family member or strangers, but leaving them open for the entire day means they have license to be highly notorious.
They do great as family pets if their exercise and training needs are met. It is one of the most preferred dogs for me, to guard family and personal property. Do remember, no dog is born with the training, just the right drive, and instincts. A suitable owner and trainer can get the best out of the dog but it can also be difficult to get results if left untrained.
In closing, I would like the readers to think for themselves. Are you the right owner for a Dutch Shepherd? Yes, they look great and have the highest work ethic. Their reputation and rarity compliments their complete qualities and health. But getting this dog as a status symbol or because of their reputation will be a mistake. Research long and well, and then choose wisely. The Dutch Shepherds do not come cheap and are an investment for 15 years. Do not get this dog if you do not have the time, energy or funds to manage them. A Dutchie puppy will cost somewhere between $2000 and $3000 but it is a very worthy investment. What we spend on the quality of the dog, we save on vet bills and excessive training or damage costs. Do set aside a decent budget for working equipment and early training as well as courses for yourself.
All the best with one of the most underrated breeds of dogs as they are!
*Adnam Khan is the owner of K9 – a well reputed and sought after canine training school located within Delhi NCR.
He has been working with and training police and military dogs world wide since 2010.
He is amongst the pioneers who have introduced Police line Dutch Shepherds to India.