What to Expect From the Belgian Malinois: Temperament, Traits and Origins

Updated January 25, 2022
Belgian Malinois On Field

Belgian Malinois are impressive, fearless dogs prized for their service in the military and police, and in a variety of working dog jobs. Their intelligence and athletic ability make them a perfect choice for active duty and in the right home, they can be an excellent family pet.

Origin and History

Although the Belgian Malinois is often associated with military and police work, the breed actually began as a sheep-herding dog. They were developed in the 19th century in the city of Malines in northwest Belgium, and are closely related to three other breeds used for herding, each with a different coat type and named for an area of Belgium. They came to the United States in the early 1900s and originally were considered the same breed as the Belgian Tervuren and the Groenendael or Belgian Shepherd. In 1959, they were split into three breeds, each of which is recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in the Herding Group.

Breed Characteristics

Belgian Malinois dog head shot

Known for their service in the armed forces, and as drug detection, search-and-rescue, and police canines around the country, Belgian Malinois also make wonderful family companions.

Appearance

The Belgian Malinois is a large dog, with males weighing between 55 and 80 pounds and females between 40 and 60 pounds. They have an agile, athletic, and square frame with a long muzzle, erect ears, and an intelligent face.

The breed's coat is short and hard with a thick undercoat. Their coat is designed to withstand harsh weather. Their coat is slightly longer at the tail, around their necks, and on their back legs. The dog has a black mask on their face accompanied by black ears. The rest of the coat is either fawn, fawn sable, red, red sable, or mahogany.

Temperament

Beauty of Malinois

The Belgian Malinois is a fiercely intelligent and motivated dog and they are extremely loyal to their people. The downside to this breed trait is their need to be given a "job" with daily mental and physical enrichment appropriate to their energy needs. These dogs can quickly become destructive and difficult to handle in a home that cannot accommodate their basic needs. In some cases, this can appear as aggression, particularly if the dog has not learned bite inhibition as a puppy.

A nickname of the breed is the "malinator" for their tendency to bite and hold, which makes them perfect for police work, but can be a problem in a regular home where this behavior hasn't been managed and channeled properly. They also need to be properly socialized from the start as puppies to make sure they don't become fearful of strangers. Also, their protective instincts must be managed and directed through appropriate training.

A Belgian Malinois can be a good family dog if raised with children and properly socialized and trained from an early age. This scenario also requires a home that provides these dogs with all the daily exercise they need, as well as mental enrichment through training. This is not a breed for owners who do not have experience training dogs, or who are sedentary.

The Belgian Malinois may be a bad choice for families with young children, as they will herd and nip at toddlers and small kids. They also are not the best choice for a home with too much activity and competing demands. In such an environment, owners may not have enough time or energy to properly care for and manage this type of dog. They also may not do well in a home with other dogs or pets, as they have a strong prey drive.

Exercise Requirements

To keep a Belgian Malinois physically fit and to prevent behavior problems, an owner needs to commit to daily exercise with their dog. This means that a simple walk around the block twice a day will not be sufficient. They're a great fit for a jogger or runner, or someone who loves outdoor activities like hiking.

They will not do well being left alone to exercise themselves in a fenced yard, and these dogs have phenomenal jumping skills, so don't expect your 6-foot fence to contain a bored Malinois intent on finding something to do. If you plan to keep a Belgian Malinois, speak to other owners who have experience with the breed, and make sure you can provide the training and stimulation this working dog requires.

Training

The Malinois is actually an easy dog to train because of their intelligence and focus on people. Like most herding dogs, they have been bred to work with humans and this makes training flow smooth, provided you have good training skills and use reinforcements that the dog is interested in. Belgian Malinois dogs are popular in obedience competitions, schutzhund (a canine sport that emphasizes protection, obedience, and tracking ability), dog agility, and other dog sports because of their high trainability and athleticism. It's also why they're so popular in search-and-rescue and military work.

Health

Belgian malinois busy

The Belgian Malinois is a hardy breed with a few known, common health conditions:

  • Hip and elbow dysplasia: A painful skeletal condition that can lead to lameness.
  • Progressive retinal atrophy: An eye disease where the retina degenerates, which can lead to blindness.
  • Cataracts: A degenerative condition of the fibers in the lens of a dog's eye, leading to vision problems and possible blindness.
  • Pannus: Another eye condition where the cornea is affected by an inflamed third eyelid. It's a hereditary condition that can be treated but not cured and may require a dog to wear eye protection when outdoors.
  • Epilepsy: A condition affecting the brain that leads to seizures and loss of body functions.

Lifespan

The Belgian Malinois has a lifespan of about 10 to 12 years depending on genetics, diet, activity level, and overall health.

Grooming

The Belgian Malinois requires minimal grooming, though they do have a double coat. They should be brushed once a week and more during the two periods a year when they shed, or blow their coat. Baths are only necessary if they've become dirty from play or work. Their teeth should be brushed on a weekly basis and nails should be checked regularly for trimming.

Famous Members of the Breed

In the past few decades, Belgian Malinois have become a critical part of military teams, and a member of the breed took part with Seal Team Six in the infamous raid on Osama Bin Laden's compound. More recently, a Belgian Malinois was in the news for playing a part in the 2019 raid against Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The breed has become so strongly associated with their role in the military that a life-size bronze statue featuring a Belgian Malinois was installed in Fayetteville, North Carolina, to honor dogs who have died serving in Special Operations Forces since September 11, 2001.

Purchasing or Adopting a Belgian Malinois

Belgian Malinois puppy

If you feel you have the right home for a Belgian Malinois, you can start your search through the American Belgian Malinois Club's breeder directory. Because these dogs can be a handful, it's critical to research your breeder well and find one producing dogs with sound temperaments and health clearances. A puppy will run from about $1,500 to $2,000, although dogs from particular lines can cost much more.

Rescue Organizations

If you prefer to rescue, the first place to look is the American Belgian Malinois Rescue Inc. The group lists dogs available for adoption all over the United States. Be prepared for a thorough adoption and screening process, as volunteers will want to ensure these dogs go into homes that are equipped to handle their behavioral needs.

Belgian Malinois frequently appear in the news and are quite popular, and many of these dogs lose their homes because potential owners did not research their needs. Through no fault of their own, many Belgian Malinois end up being surrendered or abandoned when their owners find out these dogs are incompatible with their lifestyle.

A good rescue group will want to make sure rescued Belgian Malinois are going to a forever home that understands what it means to care for a member of this breed. You can also search Petfinder and Adopt-a-Pet to see if local shelters or rescues near you have any Belgian Malinois.

Is the Belgian Malinois the Right Dog For You?

The Belgian Malinois is a beautiful, confident, and stalwart dog that any dog lover would admire. However, as wonderful as they are, they are not the dog for everyone. If you're thinking about getting a Malinois, take the time to talk to other owners and breeders about what daily life will be like. It's in your and the dog's best interest to make sure your home and lifestyle are suitable for this courageous and loyal canine.

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What to Expect From the Belgian Malinois: Temperament, Traits and Origins