Belgian Malinois vs German Shepherd – it’s a tough choice.
Ask any Belgian Malinois owner which dog is the finest dog on the planet, and then brace yourself for a monologue on the superior breed that is the Belgian Malinois!
Then go ask a German Shepherd or “GSD” owner the same question – and prepare for an equally lengthy education on the wonders of this breed!
The truth is, the debate about the Belgian Malinois versus German Shepherd is an ongoing one that occurs in nearly every walk of life, from people who have pet dogs to service dogs to true working dogs.
To further complicate the choice-making process, the difference between German Shepherd and Belgian Malinois breeds is significantly slight in some areas to make it hard to even tell the two apart, let alone choose one breed over the other!
But if you are currently wrestling with this very issue, unsure about choosing between a Belgian Malinois and German Shepherd for your next pet dog, that is exactly what this article is designed to help you figure out!
Read on to learn important similarities and differences between the Belgian Malinois dog vs German Shepherd.
Belgian Malinois vs German Shepherd – which pet to choose?
Even as so-named “designer dogs” are skyrocketing in popularity around the globe, the mainstay breeds that rank in the top 10 “most popular breeds” list year after year are purebred household names to most of us.
For example, the German Shepherd has ranked as the American Kennel Club’s (AKC) number two most popular pet dog year after year and shows no sign of relinquishing the position anytime soon.
The Belgian Malinois comes in at number 47 on that same list, up from position 51 and then 60 over the last four years.
So this dog breed is gaining in popularity but certainly has a long way to go to catch up to the GSD!
Popularity ranking, of course, is just one of many facets worthy of consideration as you choose your next pet dog.
But it can influence how easy it is to find a healthy, reasonably priced puppy as well as the quantity of breed-specific care and training information available as you and your puppy start your new life together.
What is the difference between Belgian Malinois and German Shepherd dogs?
This is the million-dollar question, isn’t it?
In a side-by-side comparison of the Belgian Malinois and German Shepherd, you may find you are hard-pressed to truly tell the two dog breeds apart.
But while they can look very much alike, there are some important differences to be aware of in size, overall temperament, and personality as well as certain breed-specific genetic health issues.
Belgian Malinois vs German Shepherd Size
The first difference you will notice in the Belgian Malinois compared to German Shepherd is in size.
German Shepherd dog size
The GSD is considered to be a large size dog. An adult female German Shepherd dog will typically weigh between 50 and 70 pounds.
An adult male German Shepherd can weigh in at up to 90 pounds.
The German Shepherd dog will stand anywhere from 22 to 26 inches tall (from paw pads to shoulder) in adulthood, with males being around two inches taller than females.
Belgian Malinois dog size
The Belgian Malinois is considered to be a large size dog.
An adult female Belgian Malinois will typically weigh between 40 and 60 pounds.
An adult male Belgian Malinois can weigh up to 80 pounds.
The Belgian Malinois will stand anywhere from 22 to 26 inches tall (from paw pads to shoulder) in adulthood, with most males being slightly taller than females.
So, while both dogs are considered large in size, and although there is no real difference in height, there can be 10 pounds or more of difference in weight between the two.
Malinois vs German Shepherd Grooming
Some dog breeds shed a little and others shed a lot. And the bigger the shedding dog, the hairier your life can become.
So how intensive will your grooming chores be with a Belgian Malinois dog vs German Shepherd dog?
Let’s take a look!
German Shepherd dog grooming
The German Shepherd has a medium-length,double-layer coat. The under layer is short and thick for insulation.
The outer coat layer is longer,somewhat coarse, and water-repellant.
This dog sheds seasonally and more intensely in the fall-to-winter and winter-to-spring transition times (called the semi-annual “blow”).
To keep the GSD looking neat and tidy, you should commit to at least weekly grooming and brushing sessions and perhaps a bit more during the seasonal sheds.
While it isn’t necessary to take a German Shepherd to the groomer, this can help ease the grooming chores!
Monthly baths should suffice during much of the year.
Bathing too frequently can strip out the natural oils that help repel moisture and keep the skin healthy.
During the weekly grooming sessions, you should make it a point to check this dog’s deep ears for mites, wax buildup, and debris.
You should also check claws and make sure they stay trimmed to a safe length.
Belgian Malinois dog grooming
The Belgian Malinois dog has a short, thick, double-layer coat.
The upper layer is coarse and water resistant and the under coat is soft and thick for insulation.
Weekly brushing will help keep your dog’s shedding under control.
You may want to do more frequent brushing during the twice-annual coat transitions when your dog may seem like a shedding machine.
Monthly baths are typically sufficient to keep an indoor Malinois clean and tidy.
You want to avoid bathing this dog too frequently, which can leach out the natural oils that keep your dog’s skin and coat healthy.
The Malinois also has deep-set ears, which makes checking the inner ears for mites, wax, and debris a weekly must. Checking the claws and trimming them should also be done regularly.
Belgian Malinois vs German Shepherd Temperament
Both the German Shepherd dog and the Belgian Malinois dog are popular pet dogs today.
And when looking at Belgian Malinois vs German Shepherd temperaments you are going to come up with some very similar answers.
Both are also very intelligent, eager to please, loyal, protective, territorial, and quite strong.
In fact, each breed is so similar in these ways that the choice of Belgian Malinois vs German Shepherd police dogs is often as hard for K-9 working dog handlers as it is for pet dog owners who are choosing between these dogs for a new family pet!
But what this means for you, the new dog owner, is that both of these dog breeds will need high quality training, and lots of it!
Your new pet dog will need training just to live successfully with you.
If your household contains babies, young children, and/or other household pets, your new dog will need even more training to socialize successfully with these other new family members.
German Shepherd dog temperament
The German Shepherd is considered a medium energy dog, which means this dog will benefit from regular daily periods of exercise interspersed with periods of rest and napping.
The German Shepherd dog was originally bred as a working dog to herd sheep.
From there, the GSD became popular as a military working dog with the motto of “mental stability and utility.”
After World War II ended, word spread (often in the form of post-war positive publicity as well as word of mouth from soldier-handlers) about this dog’s gallant nature and steadfast loyalty.
This allowed the German Shepherd quick access to a cushier life as a pet dog as well as an enduring legacy in the show ring.
Today, German Shepherd dogs are still sought-after for K-9 work roles, dog shows, and pet dogs.
This breed will learn quickly and retain what they have learned, especially if they are trained from a very young age.
Training is vital if your new pet GSD will be sharing a home with pets, babies, or young children.
Belgian Malinois dog temperament
The Belgian Malinois, in contrast, is considered to be a high energy dog, which means this dog is born and bred to go-go-go.
The Belgian Malinois has herding roots and has come from a continual background of working dogs, herding sheep and cattle and other livestock.
What this translates to in terms of temperament is that the Belgian Malinois has a high “prey drive.”
This dog is very motivated by moving objects and can require some dedicated training and reinforcement (always positive – NEVER negative!) to resist that urge.
To put this into practical terms with a pet dog, here “moving objects” can mean anything from motorized toys, to other household pets, to babies and young children, and even cars.
The best method for including a Belgian Malinois dog in your family life is to socialize this dog as a puppy to all other family members, including children and pets.
Socialization should also include other people and pets outside of your immediate family to moderate this dog breed’s strong territorial, protective, and sometimes jealous and possessive instincts.
The Belgian Malinois CAN make a great family pet.
But typically this is not a pet dog breed that is suitable for beginning dog owners, especially for those who have a family and other pets.
When looking at Belgian Malinois vs German Shepherd as a family pet, the GSD might have the edge.
Malinois and German Shepherd Guarding Tendencies and Training
Both the German Shepherd and the Belgian Malinois need a specific type of training in order to be properly socialized to live in a family as a pet dog.
Belgian Malinois vs German Shepherd training should be identical.
If you have ever heard of the “dominance theory of dog training,” bookmark this as the WRONG type of training to offer to these smart, driven, hardworking, confident, courageous, eager-to-please dog breeds.
The now-outdated dominance theory of dog training was based on the idea that dogs travel in hierarchical (alpha, beta, et al) packs like wild wolves do.
But now modern canine scientists and researchers have discovered that wolves actually do not form “packs” as was previously thought. Rather, wild wolves cohabitate in family groups and live largely peaceful lives together.
The same holds true of their closest cousins, Canis familiaris, aka the dog.
This newfound knowledge is changing everything about how dogs are trained and socialized to live with Homo sapiens, aka us.
For this reason, we now know that dogs respond poorly to the kind of negative dog training that was common in past decades.
We also know that pet dogs respond quite well to positive reinforcement-based training, and this type of training is especially critical with powerful, strong dog breeds like the GSD and the Malinois!
NOTE: To learn more about newfound scientific research into wolf and dog group life and why positive training is a must for pet dogs today, we invite you to read this informative article.
Belgian Malinois vs German Shepherd Health
Many dogs bred for specific purposes such as excellence in the show ring have developed certain breed-specific genetic health conditions.
The GSD and Malinois dogs are no exception.
In fact, the American Kennel Club (AKC) even maintains a list of recommended breed-specific genetic health tests for breeder and pet owner reference!
It is always a smart idea to learn about major breed-specific health concerns before you select a purebred puppy, especially if you plan to work with a breeder.
A number of high quality resources exist to help you screen a puppy for possible serious health conditions before you make a lifelong commitment.
The truth is, both German Shepherd and Belgian Malinois puppies are so cute, it is all too easy to get swayed by a set of warm, liquid brown eyes and think, “Oh, I’m sure this puppy is healthy!”
Yet the average cost of treating elbow dysplasia, hip dysplasia, and cataracts, each of which are fairly common genetic health conditions in both breeds, is anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000 per condition.
You don’t want to get into a financial bind by committing to a puppy whose health care will later stretch your budget beyond bearing!
For this reason, the first step to picking a healthy puppy is to learn about the health conditions of the Belgian Shepherd Malinois vs German Shepherd, which we will review in this section.
German Shepherd dog health
The AKC recommends genetic testing for elbow and hip dysplasia.
The GSD is also prone to allergies, skin issues, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, intervertebral disc disease, osteochondrosis dissecans, panosteitis and degenerative myopathy.
Then there is also hemophilia A, diabetes mellitus, progressive retinal atrophy, cherry eye, bloat and cryptorchidism.
Not to mention bilateral cataracts, subaortic stenosis, epilepsy, Von Willebrand’s disease, and pancreatitis.
Wow – that is quite a list, right?
It may even look sufficiently daunting that you are re-thinking whether bringing home a German Shepherd dog is a wise decision after all.
But while learning about possible congenital (inherited) health conditions is always wise, the goal is to be able to choose a healthy puppy, not to rule out the breed altogether!
Basically, German Shepherds are prone to heritable skin issues, eye issues, elbow and hip issues, spine/disc and bone issues, blood disorders, heart conditions, and dysfunction of the pancreas and thyroid.
A reputable breeder is one that will disclose any heritable health conditions present in the breeding line.
You can also cross-check what a breeder tells you by visiting the CHIC database to learn about recommended screenings for that dog breed.
Many breeders voluntarily participate in the CHIC screening program by submitting data on their dames and sires.
Submitting data can qualify a breeder for CHIC certification of their breeding line.
This is very desirable and can give you peace of mind about working with a particular breeder!
Belgian Malinois dog health
The AKC recommends genetic testing for elbow and hip dysplasia and an eye exam.
The Belgian Malinois is also prone to allergies, bloat, dermatitis, epilepsy, gastric cancer, hemangiosarcoma and hypothyroidism.
There is also inflammatory bowel disease, progressive retinal atrophy, cataracts, pannus, neoplasia, and osteochondritis dissecans.
Basically, what this means is that Belgian Malinois dogs are prone to skin issues, blood disorders, eye issues, bone and joint conditions, epilepsy, some cancers, and thyroid dysfunction.
Here again, you only want to work with a breeder willing to disclose all heritable conditions associated with the breed and present in that breeder’s line.
A reputable breeder should be very forthcoming with this information – if you encounter any resistance or vague answers, this is not the breeder to choose!
Here again, you can cross-check what a breeder tells you by visiting the CHIC database to learn about recommended screenings for that dog breed.
Genetic health information on a particular dog may be less available if you choose to rescue a German Shepherd or Belgian Malinois from a shelter or adoption center.
However, some rescue organizations are now willing to allow or even provide genetic testing for popular breeds in an effort to place quality dogs in good homes more rapidly.
When you decide to work with a breeder to select a puppy, your breeder should provide you with a guarantee of initial health. This guarantee usually covers the first six to 12 months of life.
The breeder should also provide you with a “take back” guarantee in case the puppy does not work out.
Most breeders want to reclaim puppies from their breeding line rather than risk having them sent to shelters or euthanized.
There are many, many healthy GSDs and Malinois living in good homes with loving families!
Remember, the goal of learning about possible health conditions is to have the information you need to select a healthy puppy to share your life!
Belgian Malinois vs German Shepherd – which pet is right for me?
So – Belgian Malinois vs German Shepherd – which to pick!
There is no doubt that choosing between a German Shepherd and a Belgian Malinois can be an especially difficult decision.
Both breeds are so smart, loyal, attractive, and loving.
So take your time – this is not a decision that should be rushed.
When you do decide, Belgian Malinois vs German shepherd – please drop us a comment to let us know what breed you select and tell us a bit about your new puppy so we can celebrate with you!
References and Further Reading
- ABMC, “Malinois & Children,” American Belgian Malinois Club, 2018.
- GSDCA, “Suggestions for Pro-Active Training,” The German Shepherd Dog Club of America, 2018.
- Day, J., DVM, “Belgian Malinois Diseases,” Glendale Animal Hospital, 2018.
- Giguere, M., “Health Issues in the German Shepherd Dog,” Les Anges Gardiens Breeder, 2017.
- Dodds, J., DVM, “A Guide to Congenital and Heritable Disorders in Dogs,” The Humane Society of the United States, 2011.
- Beachat, C., PhD, “How breeding the best to the best can be worse,” The Institute of Canine Biology, 2014.