Incredibly intelligent, highly attentive, athletic, and loyal, the Belgian Malinois is one of four related Belgian Shepherd breeds initially developed as herding dogs.
The Belgian dogs serve on the front lines in military and police units and search and rescue operations. They are also exclusively used by the Secret Service and the Navy SEALS — but don’t let that stop you from considering this breed if you’re looking for an active companion.
Before you choose a Belgian Malinois puppy, you’re probably wondering about their temperament, average lifespan, and whether they shed a lot or are prone to health conditions like hip dysplasia.
Find answers to those questions in this complete guide to the Belgian Malinois breed.
With their European backgrounds and striking similar physical appearance, many people confuse the dogs with German Shepherds.
However, there are many differences between the breeds.
The Belgian dog’s lovely fawn easily distinguishes it. The dog’s coat 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 breed’s average lifespan is between 10 and 12 years, although many of these dogs live to the ripe old age of 15.
Like many other shepherds, the dogs express themselves with plenty of barking, which can become problematic with boredom.
These dogs aren’t terrible diggers but can create enormous craters if left alone in the backyard with nothing else to do.
A Belgian Malinois requires plenty of activity. Highly athletic and capable of jumping, pulling sleds, enjoying agility competitions, and herding, these dogs do best when they have a “job,” whether accompanying you on a long jog every day or working as an assistance dog.
The dogs are popular choices for use as military dogs, guard dogs, or in a law enforcement capacity.
Is a Belgian Shepherd dog an excellent breed to buy? That is a tricky 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 sheepdogs, 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.
Certificates 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 and interact with the puppy’s parents. They won’t hesitate to provide you with reliable references, including prior clients and their veterinarians.
There are a few common health issues associated with the breed:
- Hip dysplasia
- Elbow dysplasia
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy
- Corneal disease
- Sensitive skin/allergies
- Thyroid disease
- Anesthesia sensitivity
Since genetics factor into the asking price of these dogs, it’s essential to recognize that you’ll pay more for a puppy 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 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 need to put your beloved pet to sleep. That’s a choice no one wants to make.
You’ll first notice the dog’s intense intelligence and high energy. These dogs are almost always on the move, and without much 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 prefers watching TV over more active pursuits.
Individual temperament varies, but there are some general characteristics. The dogs are 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 guarding home and family seriously and will be highly protective once bonded with you.
While the dogs are attentive and can be very good with kids, it’s important to note that not all Malinois have the right temperament to be a family pet and share a home with small children.
Their herding instinct makes them prone to trying to corral toddlers, particularly when running and screaming are involved. Additionally, these dogs have a very high prey drive.
Smaller dogs, cats, and other small pets don’t usually make excellent companions for these dogs.
This breed 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 dogs at once unless you’re an experienced dog owner who can handle the demands of grooming and exercise.
Caring for your pet, including frequent brushing and bathing, will keep your dog’s short-haired coat looking and feeling its best. Even with grooming, you can expect your dog to shed a bit.
Because the dogs have double coats, the undercoat will “blow” or shed twice annually, creating quite a mess if you don’t stay on top of things.
Like all other dogs, this breed must have its nails trimmed regularly. Pay close attention to the dewclaws since activity doesn’t wear them down like the rest of the dog’s nails.
If you’re adopting a Belgian Malinois puppy, socialize them by exposing them to many people and different situations and friendly dogs while supervised.
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 are 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. Whichever games and training techniques you choose, consistently reward your puppy for doing the right thing.
While your dog will grow to adulthood within about a year, the breed’s mental development takes longer.
These dogs are not considered mentally mature until about age three. They need lots of interaction and stimulating playtime to develop their minds.
While these dogs are fast learners, they do exhibit some willfulness. Making expectations clear, being firm but kind, and avoiding harsh treatment are three keys to success in training your dog.
If you’re inexperienced, you and your dog will benefit from some of the assistance of a professional trainer.
Do your homework when looking for a dog trainer. Malinois learn best in a supportive, rewarding environment using positive reinforcement that allows them to make the most of their instincts.
Suppose your dog will be a pet, not a working dog like police or military 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 what you want 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 much 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 be a protection dog to guard your home and protect you from intruders. They’ll do it on their own!
Regarding exercise, leisurely walks don’t cut unless you adopt a senior dog. These dogs require intense play sessions and plenty of running, alone or with you.
Long walks — at least 40 minutes to an hour daily- will do the trick if you’re not into running.
They quickly become destructive without plenty of exercise and exciting chew toys. Consider whether you’re prepared to provide the necessary activity for a Belgian Malinois.
Finding a Belgian Malinois
If you’re hoping to buy a puppy, dig deep when looking for a reputable breeder through the American Kennel Club Marketplace.
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 is not operating a puppy mill.
If you don’t have your heart set on a puppy, consider adopting an adult dog from a rescue. Many wonderful dogs 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 well, trained appropriately, and given every opportunity to stay physically active and intellectually engaged.