A close up on a focussed Belgian malinois dog walking on grass on a warm day

Belgium Ring: A Beginners Guide To The Sport

Belgium Ring is a century-old sport that involves a dog/handler team that acutely tests a canine’s trainability and courage with three groups of exercises in a program, focusing on obedience, jumping skill, and biting work. 

From 1903, ring-style trials were held in Mechelen, Belgium and from 1908 formal trials started taking place across the country and rules were published. 

The sport consists of competing dogs with their handlers, dedicated people to act as decoys (attackers fitted with a protective body suit), and judges that score a dog’s performance as it proceeds through the program of events, held on a trial area of various sizes. The Belgium Ring trial area is generally smaller than that used in “French Ring”, with most courses being around 100m2 in total. 

We’re going to share everything you need to know about this exhilarating and unique sport. 

If you’re considering entering a competition or are curious about how the events work, we’ll start by explaining the general rules of the game first. This will include need to knows such as leash length and what handlers can do and what will get them disqualified. These rules will typically apply to all clubs. 

Next, we’ll look at the different organizations there are and when they were established. From there we’ll delve into the specifics that the event program follows. Different organizations can run challenges in an alternative order but all will have the key three trials to challenge the dogs and handlers. 

Finally, we’ll talk about various competitions and awards associated with the Belgium Ring sport.

What are the rules of Belgium Ring?

There are different rules applied by the various clubs and organizations, and it’s worth consulting with a specific organization before registering for any Belgium Ring competition or event. 

Generally speaking, these are the most common rules that do not vary from club to club: 

  • The leash can be up to a maximum of 1.20 meters plus neckline
  • The handler must not communicate with anyone else except with their dog
  • Dog abuse will equal dismissal from the field and disqualification from the competition
  • The handler must take excellent care of their dog, with points being awarded for dog attitude, obedience, presentation, and willingness to work with the handler. Dog’s must also be in good health
  • Before and after an exercise, the handler is permitted to touch the dog, however, touching the dog intentionally during the trial will result in a penalty
  • During an exercise, the handler cannot have toys, treats, mobile phones, keys, etc. on his or her person

The canines are primarily Malinois Belgian Shepherds, with breeding and training circles often associated with specific breeding clubs, or ‘kennel clubs’ that favor these larger, powerful dogs. 

All dogs participating in NVBK (Nationaal Verbond der Belgische Kynologen) ring trials are of Malinois pedigree. 

While other breeds are permitted to enter, they may not participate in the official competitions. Malinois from other registries or breeding lines must obtain NVBK papers in order to enter an NVBK trial and formally participate. 

Although NVBK is the most recognized organization, there are several other regional organizations within Belgium that host competitions with prizes and certifications being awarded to winning teams of dogs and their handlers. 

A Belgian malinois dog lying down on grass
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Belgium Ring organizations

There are multiple Belgium Ring organizations that have been established for around 100 years, such as Kennel Club Belge (K.C.B) established in 1913, and Union Royale Cynologique Saint-Hubert (U.R.C.S.H) which was established in 1926. 

We already mentioned that the most significant Belgium Ring organization today is NVBK and it was actually established more recently in 1964. There are around 50 NVBK ring judges and thousands of members that make up the organization.  

Each event is judged by a panel of two judges, who allocate points for each exercise. 

Let’s look in more detail at what each program entails, and also look at what training is required to enter into the sport of Belgium Ring.

What exercises make up the Belgium Ring program?

The varying clubs and organizations host events with slightly different exercises, although most will follow formal Belgium Ring trial guidelines and include the same series of challenges, although they may appear in a different order in the competition.  

Typically, the program is divided into three parts: obedience, jumping skill, biting/defense/attack work

Each part has a series of exercises that progressively become more challenging, testing the dog’s skill, obedience, and willingness to work. 

The events are scored accordingly based on difficulty and there are four levels of difficulty:

Level 1 – 100 points

Level 2 – 200 points

Level 3 – 300 points

Level 4 – 400 points

 

Here are the typical challenges for each coursework section.

1. Obedience

This section of the program involves testing the obedience of the dog as its handler leads it through various obstacle courses. These are the most basic series of challenges.

This section includes exercises such as the following:

  • Following with or without a leash. 
  • Following a certain path as specified by the handler (or judge).
  • Following specific commands from the handler (i.e. walk straight ahead, lie down, etc).
  • Retrieving an object that the handler throws.
  • Searching and retrieving a stick using smell alone (the handler first hides the stick).
A Belgian Malinois dog in a grass field with a mountain range in the background
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2. Jumping (bursting)

This round of exercises tests the dog’s agility and ability to respond to commands in various challenges. As each event progresses, the obstacles become more difficult and require greater skill from the competing dog. The handler must also be able to signal to the dog, with each command notifying the dog to begin each challenge.

This section includes exercises such as the following:

  • Wooden fence – The dog must jump over a wooden fence of 2.30 meters in height and return on command. 
  • Hedge – The dog must jump over a hedge at a height of 1.20 meters, wait there and return on command. 
  • Canal with hedge – The dog must jump over a canal with a length of 1.50 meters, and a hedge with a height of 1.20 meters.
  • Canal – On command, the dog must jump over a canal of 3 meters in length. After the first jump, an obstacle is put in place, extending the jump to 4 meters in length. 
A Belgian Malinois dog barking at a decoy whilst competing in Belgium Ring
Image by RKSS on Canva Pro

3. Biting work (attack/defend/guard)

This series of challenges is the most demanding of the dog as they must obey their handler and either attack a decoy or defend their handler from a decoy who is fitted in a full bodysuit. Distractions are often added to the course to further test a dog on its given task (see additional challenges after this topic).

This section includes exercises such as the following:

  • Attack – With two different attacks required, ranging from 20-50 meters, the handler gives a command to attack, and the dog must return when instructed. 
  • Interrupted attack – The same as above, however, the handler will call the dog to return as soon as an attack is engaged. 
  • Defense of the handler – The dog must follow a specific trail by the handler and protect the handler from an attacker (the decoy) fitted with a protective full bodysuit. The handler will also give signals and command the dog to return after an attack is initiated. 
  • Guarding work – In two separate challenges, the dog must guard a specific object and guard the handler from an attack.
  • Search and locate – The dog must search and locate an object under a series of challenging situations, from capturing and retaining an attacker to being signaled by gunshots to search and retrieve an object. 

 

Additional challenges

Most Belgium Ring organizations also award points based on additional criteria, such as the general temperament and attitude of the dog, the manner and relationship between the handler and the dog, and also the grooming of the dog. 

Depending on the judges, many also propose additional challenges throughout certain sections of the coursework by introducing decoys, either as civilians entering the course and distracting the dog or by placing other distractions, such as meat on the course.

Competitions and awards 

There are a number of Belgium Ring competitions held each year, with many taking part within Belgium, and also some informal competitions being held around the world. 

Each competition is based on a theme and is set up on a field with various obstacles, props, distractions, or decoys placed in strategic positions around the course trial. While many of the exercises remain the same from trial to trial, no two trials are ever the same, preventing training dogs by rote. The setup will vary with each judge and organization that hosts the event. 

Depending on what kennel organization is hosting the event or competition, a number of awards and certifications are presented to winning entries. Dogs of various ages are permitted to compete, and awards are often presented to best represent each age group, such as junior or puppy classes and veteran classes. Awards include:

  • 1st place for a junior or puppy class
  • 1st and 2nd placed dogs
  • All veterans 

Final thoughts

The fascinating sport of Belgium Ring has been conducted and formalized over more than 100 years of development, although the premise for the sport remains the same. The rules and trial courses vary in form, challenging a canine and handler team with a series of increasingly difficult tasks based around a trial area, where no two are the same.

From the more basic categories of obedience exercises to the agility and jumping challenges, and finally, the biting, attack, and defense trials that are sure to challenge even the most advanced pedigree and training of the competitors. The sport is engaging and exciting for participants and spectators alike and well worth taking some time to discover.