Incredibly intelligent, highly attentive, athletic, and loyal, the Belgian Malinois is one of four related Belgian Shepherd breeds that were originally developed as herding dogs. These days, Belgian Malinois find themselves serving on the front lines in military and police units as well as in search and rescue operations – but don’t let that stop you from considering this breed if you’re looking for an active companion.
What’s the Belgian Malinois temperament like? Do these dogs shed a lot? Are Belgian Malinois prone to hip dysplasia? What is their average lifespan? These are just a few of the questions we’ll answer in this complete guide to the Belgian Malinois breed.
Belgian Malinois characteristics
With their European backgrounds and striking similar physical appearance, lots of people confuse the dogs with German Shepherds. However, there are many differences.
The Belgian Malinois is easily distinguished by its lovely fawn to mahogany coat, which is short and sleek, with black tips and a softer undercoat. The muzzle is black, as are the alert, naturally erect ears.
Male dogs weigh between 55 and 75 pounds and measure 24 to 26 inches at the shoulders, while females are generally smaller at 40 to 60 pounds and measure an average of 22 to 24 inches at the shoulders.
With proper care, the average Belgian Malinois lifespan is between 10 and 12 years, although many of these dogs live to the ripe old age of 15.
Like many other shepherds, Belgian Malinois express themselves with plenty of barking, which can become problematic with boredom. These dogs aren’t terrible diggers, but if left alone in the back yard with nothing else to do, it can create enormous craters.
A Belgian Malinois requires plenty of activity. Highly athletic and capable of jumping, pulling sleds, enjoying agility competitions, and of course, herding, these dogs do best when they have a “job,” whether that’s accompanying you on a long jog every day or actively working as an assistance dog or in a law enforcement capacity.
Is a Belgian Malinois a good dog to buy? This is a tough question since it’s possible to get an exceptional dog from a reputable breeder or find yourself worrying at every turn when you discover that you’ve adopted a puppy with health problems.
Before we take a closer look at common health problems in Belgian Malinois, it’s worth mentioning that reputable breeders offer complete transparency about the parents’ health clearances including certifications on hips and elbows, heart, and eye health. Certifications don’t prevent issues from occurring, but they do provide proof that the pup’s parents are sound.
A good breeder will allow you to meet the puppy’s parents and interact with them. They won’t hesitate to provide you with reliable references, including prior clients and their veterinarian. Run the other direction if anything seems less than aboveboard.
There are a few common health issues associated with Belgian Malinois:
- Hip dysplasia
- Elbow dysplasia
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy
- Corneal disease
- Sensitive skin/allergies
- Thyroid disease
- Anesthesia sensitivity
Since genetics factor into the asking price of a Belgian Malinois, it’s essential to recognize that you’ll pay more for a puppy that comes from an excellent line. Even with those health certifications, though, there are no guarantees that your dog will be free from common health issues for a lifetime.
At the same time, purchasing a Belgian Malinois for a low price can be a recipe for disaster. If, for example, your dog has hip dysplasia, you could pay thousands for surgery or opt to have your beloved pet put to sleep. It’s a choice no one wants to make.
The first thing you’ll notice about a Belgian Malinois is the dog’s intense intelligence and high energy. These dogs are almost always on the move, and without tons of exercise and stimulation, they quickly find ways to keep themselves entertained. This breed isn’t the best choice for a first-time dog owner, nor is it ideal for someone who tends to prefer watching TV over more active pursuits.
Individual temperament varies, but there are some general characteristics you need to know about. The Belgian Malinois is often quite aloof with strangers, but they will make friends once it’s clear that someone new is welcome in your home. These dogs take the task of guarding home and family seriously, and once bonded to you, will be highly protective.
While the Belgian Malinois is attentive and can be very good with kids, it’s important to note that not all Malinois have the right temperament to share a home with small children. Their herding instinct makes them prone to trying to corral toddlers, particularly when running and screaming is involved. Additionally, these dogs have a very high prey drive. Smaller dogs, cats, and other small pets don’t usually make excellent companions for Belgian Malinois.
Speaking of companionship, a Malinois isn’t well-suited to being left alone for hours on end – this can lead to severe problems, including introversion and fear biting. Another large dog makes the ideal companion for those times when you can’t be by your Malinois’ side. It’s best to adopt the dog around the same time or bring your puppy into your home when the other dog is an adult. Another Malinois would be a fantastic companion, but be very careful about getting two of these dogs at once unless you’re an experienced dog owner who can handle the demands of training, exercise, and upkeep.
Frequent brushing and bathing will keep your Belgian Malinois coat looking and feeling their best. Even with regular grooming though, you can expect your Belgian Malinois to shed a bit. The undercoat will “blow” or shed out twice annually, which can create quite a mess if you don’t stay on top of things.
Like all other dogs, Belgian Malinois need to have their nails trimmed regularly. Pay close attention to the dewclaws since these aren’t worn down with activity like the rest of the dog’s nails.
If you’re adopting a Belgian Malinois puppy, be sure to socialize them by exposing them to many people and different situations, as well as to friendly dogs in supervised situations. Keep socializing your Malinois to prevent shyness and keep aggressive tendencies to a minimum.
Additionally, ensure that you set up a solid routine for your puppy, so they know what to expect, and so they’re set up for success. These pups love to play fetch and will have fun finding objects you hide from them. Puzzle toys and interactive feeders keep the dogs active and engaged, but avoid “tug” games to prevent accidental biting can. Whichever games and training techniques you choose, always reward your puppy for doing the right thing!
While your dog will grow to adult size within about a year, Belgian Malinois mental development takes longer. These dogs are not considered mentally mature until about age three. They need lots of interaction and plenty of stimulating playtime to develop their minds.
While Belgian Malinois are fast learners, they do exhibit some willfulness. Making expectations clear, being firm but kind, and avoiding harsh treatment are three keys to success with training. If you’re not experienced, you and your Belgian Malinois will benefit from some of the assistance of a professional trainer. Do your homework when looking for the right dog trainer since Malinois learn best in a supportive, rewarding environment that allows them to make the most of their instincts.
If your Malinois will be a pet and not a working dog, there’s no need to fall for the misconception that “only a Belgian Malinois trainer can teach a Belgian Malinois correctly.” Any good trainer can help your dog learn whatever it is you’d like them to know.
As for how much your dog should learn, the sky is the limit. Basic obedience training is enough, but your Mal is capable of a whole lot more. The dogs enjoy agility training and do well in competitions. As for protective work, they have strong instincts. Unless your dog is destined for a lifetime of police or military work, there’s no need to teach them how to guard your home and protect you from intruders. They’ll do it on their own!
When it comes to exercise, leisurely walks don’t cut it – unless perhaps you adopt a senior Malinois. These dogs require intense play sessions and plenty of running, either on their own or with you. Long walks – at least 40 minutes to an hour per day will do the trick if you’re not into running.
Without plenty of exercise and lots of exciting chew toys, they quickly become destructive. Stop to think about whether you’re prepared to provide the necessary amount of activity when considering whether a Belgian Malinois is the right dog for you!
Finding a Belgian Malinois
Those hoping to buy a Belgian Malinois puppy should dig deep when looking for a reputable breeder. Check references, read reviews, and see if you can interact with others who have purchased puppies from the same breeder. Double-check to ensure that the breeder in question is not operating a puppy mill.
If you don’t have your heart set on a new puppy, consider adopting a Belgian Malinois from a rescue. There are many wonderful dogs that have lost their homes and need new families to love.
Choosing the right dog
Is a Belgian Malinois the right dog for you? Although Mals are intense and energetic, they make loyal, loving companions when treated relatively, trained appropriately, and given every opportunity to stay physically active and intellectually engaged.