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Belgian Malinois

Bred as herding dogs for sheep, the Belgian Malinois are highly intelligent, hard-working and extremely loyal dogs which will create an unbreakable bond with their owners. They are the most popular of the four closely related Belgian Shepherd Dog breeds.

Mals are commonly used as police dogs, as well as for guard dogs and family companion dogs.

They can become the best companions to any experienced owner who is ready to dedicate the time and work they require due to their temperament, their natural intelligence, their high activity levels and their strong connection to their humans.

Read on to find out everything you need to know about the Belgian Malinois breed.

Highlights

Temperament: intelligent, hardworking, self-assured

Height at the shoulder: 24-26 inches for males, and 22-24 inches for females

Weight: 60-80 lbs. for males, and 40-60 lbs. for females

Life expectancy: 14-16 years

Breed Group: Herding group

About the breed

These Belgian bred medium-sized, muscled and strong herding dogs are hard workers which can take up any task along with their human partners. They are among the dog breeds which establish one of the strongest and tightest bonds with their humans, and they thrive on being with them and serving them at all times.

The Belgian Mals do not have the frills, bells, and whistles of some of the more attractive dog breeds, but they are proud, confident, square-built dogs which are strong and very elegant. They hold their heads up high, and their black face masks and ears are in stark contrast with their bright and alert eyes.

Watching a Malinois work or perform an obedience program is a true pleasure, and is proof of just how intelligent and eager these dogs are.

The Belgian Malinois is the perfect working dog, herding dog, and companion dog but only when the owner has the time and the desire to keep it busy, interested and loved.

At first glance, the dogs from this Belgian breed can be mistaken for German Shepherds, but they are fawn, brown or red-colored, with short coats have and very specific black masks on their faces. Plus, their body structures and their personalities are quite different than those of the German Shepherd Dogs.

They are smaller sized, and lighter boned than the German Shepherds, and their figure is more square-like.

They were originally bred in Malines, in Belgium, and are one of the four herding dog breeds from the Central European country.

The dogs from this breed were bred as herding dogs, but are commonly used as police dogs, as well as for search and rescue and for various competitions and dogs sports like agility and obedience. The breed was recognized in the USA in 1959.

They are very alert and respond quickly to directions, commands and training. Mals are also very sensitive pups which have a hard time accepting harsh training methods.

While some dogs from this Belgian breed are assertive and outgoing, others are more reserved and can be suspicious of strangers.

The standard does not accept fearful or aggressive individuals from this dog breed.

Due to their high energy needs and their sensitivity, Belgian Malinois dogs are recommended only for owners who have experience training and caring for dogs of such breeds and temperaments.

They like to be with their humans and will gladly take part in all family activities, which makes them unsuitable for people who travel a lot or work long hours.

If you want to adopt or buy a Malinois puppy, then you should do your best to socialize it from day one. Enrolling it to puppy kindergarten, inviting guests, meeting it with friendly dogs, and taking the Mal pup to get acquainted with different places and settings is essential for its proper development of character and its behavior later on.

If not socialized in time or properly, the dogs from this breed can become fearful, shy and even worse – aggressive.

The dogs from this breed are highly intelligent and learn very quickly. They are often winners or among the best performers at different dog sport and events like agility, obedience, tracking, herding, flyball and showing, as well as at Schutzhund and other guarding sports. They are also among the best dogs for police work and for search and rescue operations.

Mals took an active part in both World Wars in Europe, and today are among the most sought after K-9 service dogs by the Police, the Military and other services in the USA and around the world.

Malinois dogs even participated in the operation of the SEALS in 2011 which ended up with the capture and elimination of Osama bin Laden.

At the same time, the Belgian Malinois has an incredibly high play drive and will consider nearly all of your directions and commands as a form of play, and respond quickly and eagerly.

Then again, the Mals were originally bred to herd livestock, so they do have a tendency to herd animals and even children by nipping them on their feet while trying to herd them. This is a type of behavior you should curb from an early age in order to avoid accidents, especially if you have young kids.

These Belgian dogs are definitely not suitable for households with toddlers.

Overall, Mals are intelligent and obedient dogs, which have strong territorial and protective instincts, which makes extensive and early socializing and obedience training a must.

These dogs are highly sensitive and should never be trained with harsh methods. They don’t need protection training unless you want a dog which will compete in a protective sport, because guarding comes naturally to the Belgian Malinois.

Obedience training needs to be firm, fun-filled, consistent, fair and with positive reinforcement, if you want the best results.

Mals will do well in homes with medium-sized yards but can adapt to apartment living, if they are given the exercise, playtime, and attention they need.

They do shed throughout the year, and heavily during the spring and fall. Dogs from this breed prefer cooler climates, but can adapt to warmer ones as well, as long as you keep them from overheating.

Personality

The temperament of each and every dog from the Belgian Malinois breed depends on its genes, as well as its socialization and training.

In general, Mals are confident, intelligent and excellent work dogs with strong protective instincts. They are loving and affectionate towards their families, but are wary with strangers, at least until they assess the situation.

They have outstanding watchdog abilities and will do everything necessary to protect you and your property when needed.

Aggression, fearfulness, and shyness are never desirable traits for dogs from this breed.

The Malinois is the best in herding, but also in law enforcement, the military, for protection, bomb, drug and gas detection, tracking, search and rescue operations, agility, obedience, sledding and as therapy dogs.

When choosing a Mal puppy, choose one which is friendly, willing to come to you and be held. Stay away from those that are hiding away or beating up their siblings.

You should also meet the mother and if possible the father of your future dog to get an idea of what your dog’s temperament will be when it matures.

In order to end up with a well-rounded dog, which is not aggressive or fearful, you need to do your best to socialize the Malinois from as early as possible. Expose the young dog to different people, friendly dogs, sounds and sights to ensure that it grows up with a nice temperament.

These dogs are people dogs and want to be with their families, which makes them completely unsuitable for kennel dogs or for families where there is no one home for long hours.

Nutrition

Overall, the recommended amount of high-quality dog food for the Belgian Malinois is 2-3 cups a day, divided into two meals.

But you should always adapt the quantities of food you give to your dog, depending on its age, its activity level, its metabolism, its weight, and its health. The portion size also depends on the digestibility and quality of the food. The more nutritious and digestible it is – the smaller the quantities your dog will need to eat to feel full, healthy, happy and to stay active.

Working and highly active dogs will need much more calories to stay healthy and well than older and more sedentary ones.

You can feed your Mal with either commercial or homemade dog food, but do not feed it with table scraps, high-fat human food, and other foods which we people enjoy but which can be harmful and even dangerous for dogs.

Some dogs, especially older ones can be prone to becoming overweight and obese. Obesity in dogs is even worse than obesity in humans, as it can lead to very serious health problems, mobility problems, and can shorten the lifespan of the pup by several years.

So, make sure you speak to a nutritionist or to your vet if you are worried that your dog weighs more than it should. You may have to adjust the portion sizes, the exercise regimen or the type of food to ensure that your Malinois pet gets back in perfect shape.

Also, measure the food portions every time, and abstain from feeding your four-legged companion too many treats. The recommended amount of treats per day is less than 20% of the daily caloric intake.

Always give your pup good quality dog treats, or healthy human treats like veggies, fruit or others which are not fattening, and are not toxic.

Grooming

The middle-sized herding dog breed from Belgium doesn’t require too much or too expensive grooming. Mals have short and waterproof coats which do shed but only require weekly brushing with a hound glove or a medium bristle brush to remove the dead hairs, and to distribute the skin and hair oils.

The coat consists of a dense undercoat and a harder topcoat, which is a tad denser around the neck of the dog.

The breed standard accepts fawn to mahogany-colored coats and a black mask on the face. The hair of the Belgian Malinois has black tips at the end.

Some dogs from this breed can have small white spots on the chest or on the tips of their toes.

The Mal does shed in the spring and fall when a daily brushing can help remove most of the falling hair and keep it off of your furniture and floors.

These dogs need only occasional baths so that the skin and coat don’t dry off too much.

As with all other dogs, you should brush the teeth of your Malinois twice or three times a week. This will help remove any plaque and will remove the bacteria from the teeth and gums, and ensure that they are healthy. Regular brushing of the teeth will also minimize the risk of your pup developing bad breath.

If your pet doesn’t wear off its nails naturally, and you can hear them clicking on the hard floor, then you will need to trim them on a regular basis as well. This will help the dog feel more comfortable and will reduce the risk of a longer nail getting splintered.

Keep in mind, that dogs do have blood vessels in their toenails, so you should be careful when trimming them. Use an appropriate dog nail trimmer or grinder, and follow the advice of your groomer or vet on how much to trim.

As you are grooming your pup, perform a close inspection of its skin and body. Look for any signs of an infection or other health problem, including a rash, lumps, sores, hair loss, and others.

Clean the inner part of the dog’s ears once a week gently with a cotton ball and a pH-balanced dog ear cleaning solution. Look for any redness, excess ear wax or an unpleasant odor which can indicate an ear infection. Do not attempt to clean the ear canals though – let your vet perform this delicate operation instead.

Inspect the eyes, nose, and mouth for any irregular discharge or other signs of a potential health issue.

If you notice anything out of the usual, then you should contact your vet for further advice and for a checkup. The earlier you notice any symptoms that something is wrong with your pet, the easier its treatment will be.

Grooming a dog could become a dreaded task if you don’t get your four-legged friend used to the procedure from an early age. Make sure you teach your pup to stay still and calm during the grooming early on. This will make life much easier on you and your dog, as well as on your vet and groomer later on.

Exercise

The Belgian Malinois is an athletic, intelligent and strong herding dog breed which requires a lot of physical and mental exercise on a daily basis. Leaving the dog to run around in the backyard, or taking it on brisk walks around the block is not sufficient for the pups from this breed. The average Malinois needs about 20 minutes of intensive activity 3-4 times a day.

You will need to have the time, the energy and the desire to spend time with your four-legged companion, and keep it busy and interested – both physically and mentally in order to keep it happy.

Also, spending time with your Mal is what this dog truly desires. It thrives on companionship with its human family, so you will need to take the time to engage with your pet, and to show it your love and devotion if you want to receive the same back.

A bored or isolate Belgian Malinois will not only be unhappy but can also become destructive and even aggressive.

Although these dogs are bred and equipped to work outdoors in all kinds of conditions, they do feel better in cooler climates. Still, the Mal is definitely not a kennel dog, so do not attempt to leave it to live outdoors, or let alone chain it outside alone.

The best way to keep the Belgian Malinois happy and well is to include it in your family activities, such as jogging, hiking, camping, cycling, and others.

You can also strengthen the bond with your dog, and ensure that it is living life at its fullest by training the pup and participating in various agility, obedience, herding, tracking, and Schutzhund competitions along with it.

If you can, make sure you provide your dog with some off-leash play, running, and exercise.

If the Malinois gets the mental and physical stimulation it needs, it can easily adapt to living in smaller homes and even in apartments in the city.

For Mal puppies from 9 weeks to 4 months of age, participating in puppy kindergarten several times a week, as well as 15-20 minutes of exercise and playtime outside twice a day is sufficient.

When the puppy is 4-6 months old, you can enroll it to obedience classes, but it will still need half-mile walks every day, as well as some playtime outside.

Once your puppy is 6 months to a year old, you should take it on half-mile walks, and spend about 40 minutes of playtime outdoors, but not when it is too hot outside.

While the Malinois is growing, try to avoid allowing your pup to run, jump and play on concrete and other hard surfaces, and limit its walks to half a mile per walk to avoid deformation of the growing bones and joints.

When it is mature enough, you can start increasing the mileage of your walks and runs.

Training

The Belgian Malinois has a strong prey drive, just all other herding dog breeds. These dogs will be interested in just about anything that moves, which includes animals, bicycles, vehicles and even children. This means that you should start working on controlling this type of behavior as early as possible.

Mals are known to nip animals, people and kids on the heels in an attempt to herd them, which can be quite dangerous for the dog and for the children and other people. Teach the dog that this behavior is absolutely unacceptable.

Obedience training should be consistent, firm, fair and fun-filled. Also, you should always praise and reward the dog for its good behavior and refrain from using any harsh punishments and training methods because the latter can backfire, and can make the dog unwilling to comply and even aggressive.

Mals may look tough but they are very sensitive dogs and do not react well when being mistreated.

First of all, show your dog that you are the leader of the pack, and then start teaching it the basic commands like come, stay, down, sit, heel and others. Always reward the pup for obeying your directions.

The Malinois is one of the most intelligent dog breeds so it will learn everything you are willing to teach it very quickly, as long as you use the right method and approach.

Socializing the puppy from as early as possible will allow it to develop proper social skills and to behave itself properly when meeting people, dogs, or when you take it anywhere out in public.

Dogs from this breed should never be fearful, shy or aggressive.

One of the best ways to start socializing the Belgian Malinois is to enroll it to puppy kindergarten and obedience classes. There it will meet other pups and will polish its social skills while having fun.

If you have the time, patience, energy and desire, you can keep your Mal extremely happy, and physically and mentally stimulated by training for participation in various dog sports and events such as herding, tracking, obedience, agility, flyball, Schutzhund, or others.

Not only will the Belgian Malinois be among the best in any of these sports, but it will be happier than ever that it can perform alongside you.

The dogs from this breed can live along with other dogs and pets at home, as long as they have been socialized properly or have been raised together.

They can be aggressive towards unknown dogs so you should always keep such interactions under close control.

Belgian Malinois dogs develop a very strong bond with their owners and families, and will love your children, but only if the children are old enough to understand how to safely interact with the dog. You should tell your kids to never attempt to take food away from the dog, or mistreat it by pulling its tail, ears or other.

Also, due to the nipping instinct, it is not a good idea to get a Malinois if your toddler is just making its first steps unless you keep the dog under strict control at all times.

Health

Belgian Malinois are sturdy, strong and tough dogs which are generally pretty healthy. Still, the breed is prone to certain health conditions and diseases, most of which are hereditary, and it is a good idea for the owners of these dogs to be aware of them.

Here are the most common health problems which Belgian Malinois dogs can have:

Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is a genetic condition which a pup will inherit from its parents, which can worsen due to environmental factors and with age.

It causes the thigh bone of one or both rear legs to not fit properly in the hip joint.

While some dogs do not display any symptoms of show discomfort, others may feel pain and become lame.

Hip dysplasia is diagnosed with an X-ray examination and can be treated with supplements for joint health, but in more severe cases may require hip replacement surgery.

Factors like rapid growth or injury when the dog is young, as well as degenerative arthritis when the dog is old,  can worsen the condition.

This is why, reputable breeders never breed dogs with Hip dysplasia, and perform tests on all their dogs for it.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)

PRA is another inherited disease, which is easily preventable if breeders test their dogs and refrain from breeding pups with this condition.

It causes the gradual deterioration of the photoreceptors located in the back of the eye. It can be diagnosed long before the dog loses its eyesight.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy is irreversible, and will most probably cause the dog to go blind.

The silver lining is that canines are highly adaptable animals and can quickly get used to blindness, as long as you don’t move your furniture around or change the dog’s settings.

Elbow Dysplasia

Just like Hip dysplasia, Elbow dysplasia is a heritable health problem. It affects the front leg or legs of the dog and causes a misalignment of the bones which form the elbow.

The condition is diagnosed with X-rays and can lead to discomfort, pain, and lameness.

In severe cases, when the misalignment cannot be fixed manually, surgery may be required.

As the dog gets older, the dysplasia will become worse due to arthritis.

Reputable breeders should be able to show you valid health clearance for both of your dog’s parents for elbow and for hip dysplasia.

Anesthesia Sensitivity

Mals are known to have a sensitivity to anesthesia. Statistics show a higher rate of deaths among dogs from this breed which are put under anesthesia, which is probably due to their muscle to fat ratio.

Remember to talk to your vet about a potential sensitivity to anesthesia if your dog needs to have its teeth cleaner or surgery.

Pannus

Pannus, a.k.a chronic superficial keratitis affects the cornea of the third lid of the dog’s eye. It looks like a pink-gray film on the eye, and as it progresses, the cornea becomes opaque.

The exact reason for the development of this condition is unknown, but certain factors may contribute to it, including high altitudes, airborne irritants, too much direct sunlight, inflammation, eyelashes turned inward and others.

Pannus requires lifelong treatment and continuous monitoring by the veterinary ophthalmologist.

Hemangiosarcoma

Hemangiosarcoma is a type of malignant cancer which starts from the cells and from there spreads to other tissues and organs in the body.

The most common location of this cancer is in the spleen, but it can grow just about anywhere else, including the lungs and heart of the dog.

It is an aggressive form of cancer which affects middle and large-sized adult or senior dogs. It is common among German Shepherds, and slightly less common among Belgian Malinois.

Some of the most common symptoms include weakness, tiring easily, pale gums and eye membranes, pot-bellied appearance, lack of appetite, labored or rapid breathing, nosebleed and others.

The treatment depends on how much the cancer has spread, the location, and size of the tumor, and the overall health of the dog.

The prognosis is usually not very good, because Hemangiosarcoma is considered an aggressive form of cancer.

Cataracts

Cataracts cause the lens of the eye to lose its transparency, thus impairing the dog’s vision. In severe cases, and when left untreated, it can cause blindness.

The main reason for cataracts is genetics, but in some cases, it can occur due to another disease, an infection, an injury or due to nutritional disorders in puppyhood.

The main symptoms of cataracts include a bluish, white or grey layer on top of the eyeball, clumsiness, eye irritation, scratching and rubbing of the eyes, a reluctance to climb up or down on stairs or on furniture.

The treatment depends on the severity of the problem and can include placing eye drops, or the surgical removal of the cataract.

General advice regarding the health of the Belgian Malinois

When buying or adopting a Malinois puppy, always ask for health clearance for both of its parents for hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, von Willebrand’s disease, hypothyroidism, as well as for thrombopathia and for eye health.

History

The Belgian Malinois was first bred in the region of the town of Malinois in Belgium. It is one of the four closely-related Belgian Sheepdog breeds.

In some countries, like in the UK, the Malinois is classified together with the Belgian Shepherd, the Laekenois, and the Tervuren under the collective name Belgian Sheepdog.

The Belgian Malinois has been registered by the American Kennel Club as a separate breed ever since 1959. It has also recognized the Tervuren and the Groenendael as separate breeds as well. The only one which is still not registered with the AKC is the Laekenois.

The Belgian Shepherd Dog Club was formed in 1891. In the same year, the breeders of the different Belgian Shepherd breeds got together to examine the differences between the dogs. As a result, veterinary professor Reul along with the other judges decided that the Belgian Shepherd dogs are medium-sized, square-shaped, dogs with triangular ears and chocolate dark brown eyes. The difference between the breeds was only in their coat color, length, and texture.

In 1892, the same professor wrote the Belgian Shepherd Dog Standard which recognized three types of the local sheepdogs: long-coated, short-coated and rough-coated.

The Belgian Shepherd Dog Club asked the Belgian Kennel Club for recognition of the breed status, but it was given after nearly a decade – in 1901.

The first ancestors of the Belgian Malinois were a breeding pair of dog owned by a shepherd called Adrien Janssens.

The shepherd purchased a male dog called Vos de Laeken in 1885, and later a shorter-haired brindle female called Lise. After mating them, the male dog was mated with his daughters, which established the first line of the modern Belgian Sheepdogs.

Following that, the breeders decided to distinguish the different varieties of these herding dogs with different names.

The name Malinois comes from the town in which the godfather of the breed Louis Huyghebaert started breeding and popularizing the short-haired, fawn-colored Belgian Shepherd Dogs in 1989.

Right before the formation of the Malines Club in 1989, Huyghebaert suggested that field trials are held to show the loyalty, obedience, and intelligence of these dogs, rather than just focusing on their herding abilities.

The first dressage trial which tested the ability of the dogs to jump and to perform other exercises was held in July 1903. It was won by the Malinois named Cora van’t Optewel.

After the Industrial Revolution began, shepherd dogs became less desirable, so the Belgian Shepherds were used as police dogs, and draught dogs.

The dogs were used as messenger dogs, cart dogs, light machine gun dogs and Red Cross dogs in World War I.

Dogs from the Belgian herding breeds became one of the most popular dogs for police work not only in Belgium but around Europe before World War II. They were the first dogs ever used by the Belgian Police forces.

In the 1920s and 1930s, several leading Malinois Kennels were established in Belgium. The Malinois and the Groenendael became the most popular of all the Belgian Shepherd breeds which were exported to other countries around the world including the Netherlands, Switzerland, France, the USA, Canada, Brazil, and Argentina.

In 1911, two Malinois and two Groenendaels were the first dogs registered by the American Kennel Club as German Shepherds.

In 1913, the AKC changed the name of the breed to Belgian Sheepdogs.

After World War I, multiple American servicemen brought back Malinois and other Belgian Shepherd Dogs back to the USA, and the registrations with the AKC began increasing rapidly.

In 1924, the first Belgian Sheepdog Club of America was established, and it soon became a member of the American Kennel Club.

A lawyer from Jacksonville, Florida named Walter Mucklow started popularizing the Malinois breed by writing articles in the AKC Gazette in 1924-1925. He also proceeded to breed Malinois dogs at his Castlehead Kennel.

Soon, the Malinois and the Groenendael Belgian Sheepdogs became the most popular of all of the Belgian breeds and reached a rank of the top 5 most popular breeds in the USA.

But when the Great Depression came, breeding became a luxury which a very few could afford, and pretty soon the first Belgian Sheepdog Club of America ceased its existence.

In the 1930s only a few dogs from the bred were registered with the AKC.

Following the Great Depression, the interest in the Malinois breed became so low, that the American Kennel Club placed it in the Miscellaneous Class in the dog shows during the 1930s and 1940s.

In 1949, the interest toward the breed was resurrected in the USA, and the second Belgian Sheepdog Club of America was established in Indiana.

In the same year, breeder John Cowley imported a pair of Malinois dogs and stated up his Netherlair Kennel.

After showing several of his dogs, he was able to restore the popularity in the Malinois breed.

By the 1960s, more and more Malinois dogs appeared at AKC’s shows.

In March 1992, the American Belgian Malinois Club was accepted by the AKC.

During the last decade, the Belgian Malinois has been recognized as one of the best dogs for police, military, search and rescue, drug, bomb, and gas detection work and forces around the USA.

This further boosted the breeding and the import of dogs from this breed to the US. Today they are among the top sought after breeds by the US Police Departments.

Mals also serve alongside the Navy SEALS, and it was dogs of this breed that helped the SEAL Team 6 capture and kill Osama Bin Laden in 2011. Today, some of the Malinois working with the SEALS even have their own body armor and night-vision goggles.

Even military parachutists use Belgian Malinois for their skydives and operations.

There are many service dogs from this breed which are featured in the CIA official online K-9 Hall of Fame as well.

In honor of the loyal service of the Belgian Malinois, there is even a life-size bronze statue of the dog of this breed at the Fayetteville memorial to military dogs in North Carolina.

The breed currently holds the 43rd place in popularity among all breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club.

Apart from being an excellent, loyal and hard-working service dog, the Belgian Malinois is an exceptional watchdog and protector, and also an amazing and loving companion and a beloved family pet for owners from around the world.

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