Dutch Shepherd

Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
Photo of adult Dutch Shepherd

The Dutch Shepherd was recognised in the late 1890s as its own breed when it was officially separated from its close relatives, the German and Belgian Shepherd. While similar in appearance, they have a brindle coat, which may be short, long or wire-haired. They have been used for several hundred years on Dutch farms, where their versatility was evident as they acted as watchdogs, herders and family pets.

While rare today, they can be seen competing in a number of events within Holland, including search and rescue and tracking, as well as working for the Royal Dutch Police Dog Association. Their bravery, independence and eagerness to work alongside people has meant that they have found a place in society as working animals, as well as beloved household pets.

About & History

Also known as the Hollandse Herder, the Dutch Shepherd originated organically, without human intervention, in the south of Holland. It is closely related to its more popular German and Belgian cousins (the German and Belgian Shepherd). In fact, these breeds are so closely related that it wasn’t until the late 19th century that the Dutch Shepherd was acknowledged in its own right. The main characteristic that set the Dutch Shepherd apart was its brindle coat colour.

Traditionally used as a herding dog, the Dutch Shepherd Dog directed the large number of sheep flocks within the Netherlands. A large amount of the farming land was arable, and they were used to stop the sheep from standing on and eating the crops. A versatile breed, they would also guide the sheep to new grazing pastures and to market, pull carts and act as guard dogs for the farmer and their family.

The breed went into decline when conventional farming methods went out of fashion and farm dogs were replaced by technology. They also suffered during World War II when a large number of animals died from hunger, or were taken over the border to Germany, and breeding within the Netherlands was paused. Due to the lack of Dutch Shepherds available for breeding, it was agreed that other breeds could contribute to the population for a short time. Both the Malinois and Laekenois dog were used to bolster breed numbers.

A relatively rare breed today, even in their native Holland, they are not often spotted. They are generally kept as companion animals, but are also a valuable member of the community, acting as guide dogs and assisting local police. They are driven by nature and can be highly-trained, commonly seen participating in a variety of competitive activities including obedience, agility, nosework and even weight pulling.

Internationally, the Dutch Shepherd is most famous for its work with the Royal Dutch Police Dog Association or Koninklijke Nederlandse Politiehond Vereniging (KNPV). This association was founded in 1907, and it certifies dogs who are suitable for police work. An animal with a KNPV title is highly sought after all over the world.


Dutch Shepherd Large Photo

Often described as a brindle German Shepherd or Belgian Shepherd, the Dutch Shepherd closely resembles its cousins. They are a medium-sized dog with a powerful and well-balanced body.

Their head is wedge-shaped and should appear somewhat elongated, with a flat skull. They have a black nose, and dark-coloured almond-shaped eyes. In an adult dog, the ears will stand erect, and will be triangular. They should possess a deep chest with well-developed limbs and a straight back. Their tail should reach their ankle and is carried above them when active.

They weigh between 23 and 32kg. Females stand at 55cm to 60cm, and males stand at 57 to 63cm tall. Their body should be slightly longer than they are tall. Their coat may be either short, long or wire-haired (which is of a medium length and is sometimes referred to as ‘rough-haired’). The short-haired version of the breed is by far the most common, while the wire-haired Dutch Shepherd is extremely rare. Regardless of the coat length, the colour must be brindle. Dark, golden and silver colours are all acceptable. While too much black is undesirable in the show ring, a dark mask is preferred.

Character & Temperament

Renowned for their adaptability and ability to excel in a number of different tasks, the Dutch Shepherd is undoubtedly one of the most intelligent breeds in existence today. They enjoy their work and will diligently participate in any role they are assigned to. They are obedient and eager to please, making them a superb dog to train.

They can be protective of their family, but when well-socialised from a young age, will happily make friends with new people. Loyal to their owner, however, if they perceive any threat, they will not hesitate to switch to guard dog mode. They tend to do well with other animals, as long as they have been exposed to them early in their life.

Playful and happy, they are laid-back when not working, and can make very affectionate pets. Aggressiveness and shyness are undesirable traits in this breed, and the ideal Dutch Shepherd will be confident and well-mannered.


Photo of Dutch Shepherd puppy

Smart and obedient, the Dutch Shepherd is a joy to train for the experienced owner. They require their trainer to be a leader, and can quickly sense uncertainty or hesitation. They may attempt to assume the dominant position in the relationship, which is to be avoided to prevent unwanted traits such as aggression or boisterous behaviour.

Firm training, without punishment, works best for this independent breed. They can quickly become bored, so repetition and overly long training sessions are to be avoided.


There are several conditions that we need to be aware of in the Dutch Shepherd. These include:

Hip Dysplasia

While Hip Dysplasia has been recognised in the Dutch Shepherd, it is much less of an issue than it is in its close relative, the German Shepherd. Hip Dysplasia is a debilitating orthopaedic condition that leads to chronic osteoarthritis as an animal ages.

It can be screened for with x-rays, and affected animals should be removed from the breeding pool. This condition is thought to affect roughly 5-8% of the Dutch Shepherd population.

Elbow Dysplasia

This is a condition that encompasses several abnormalities that can occur in the developing elbow. Affected dogs will show signs of discomfort and will often be lame on their front limbs. Imaging can diagnose the issue, and in some cases, surgery may be helpful. Around 3% of the population are thought to suffer from elbow dysplasia.

Atopic Skin Disease

Allergic skin disease is one of the most common reasons a pet will be brought into a veterinary clinic for treatment. Affected dogs tend to suffer throughout their life with flare-ups of varying intensities. Itchy skin, rashes and watery eyes are all common symptoms. Several medications are available, each achieving mixed levels of success.

Masticatory Myositis

An inflammation of the muscles near the mouth that leads to jaw pain and difficulty opening the mouth. Biopsies can confirm the condition, and it has a good prognosis if treated correctly.


This condition is more technically referred to as chronic superficial keratitis. A greyish-pink film may cover one or both eyes, and if left untreated, blindness will ensue. Lifelong medical treatment is usually required.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

When inflammatory cells infiltrate the gastrointestinal system, food is not properly digested, and dogs may vomit, develop diarrhea and lose weight. It can be a difficult condition to diagnose, and it will often take a long time to settle on a treatment plan, which will likely include lifelong medications and a diet change.


This is a very rare condition that has been reported in the wire-haired population of the Dutch Shepherd. It is not yet known if it is genetic, but screening tests should be performed in breeding animals. It will cause fluid to build up within the eye and may ultimately result in blindness.

Exercise and Activity Levels

A variety of walks, runs and activities are needed to keep this high energy dog entertained. Mixing up their training, tiring them out with long hikes and providing them with toys and puzzles will help to keep their minds and bodies stimulated. Dutch Shepherds indeed make superb running partners.


Short and long-haired Dutch Shepherds need regular brushing, while the wire-haired version should not be brushed at all, but instead taken to the groomers once or twice a year for a trim. Over-bathing of any of the coat varieties is not advised, as their coats will lose their weatherproofing ability. From an early age, you should introduce tooth brushing, claw clipping and ear cleaning into the routine of your Dutch Shepherd.

Famous Dutch Shepherds

Several Dutch Shepherds have won first place in the KNPV championships throughout the years.


It is not unusual to come across Dutch Shepherds that are crossed with either German or Belgian Shepherds today.

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