The Belgian Malinois is one of those dogs which turns heads.
There’s something undeniably impressive about this breed’s proud bearing, light, athletic build, and alert intelligence.
Yet the striking physicality of this dog is only scratching the surface of this confident and versatile breed’s growing popularity.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about the Belgian Malinois.
Including its history, its temperament, and what you should know if you’re considering bringing one into your home.
Finally, we’ll give you some advice on how to find your Belgian Malinois puppy and what you should ask a breeder before deciding.
We hope you enjoy learning about this fascinating, charming, and demanding dog.
Origins of the Belgian Malinois Breed
Up until the 1880s, the Belgian Malinois was grouped together with German, Dutch, and French Shepherds, all of which were collectively referred to as Continental Shepherd Dogs.
These dogs were working dogs from the very beginning and were fastidiously bred to be accomplished herders, fiercely loyal and blessed with an unbreakable work ethic.
In the 1890s, the Belgian Shepherd Dog Club determined that this breed was sufficiently congruous to be identifiable and distinct from its Shepherd cousins.
Named for the Belgian city of Malines, the Belgian Malinois was born.
In the early 1900s, the Belgian Malinois made its way across the Atlantic to the United States but it was only in the late 1950s that it was registered as a separate breed.
From Pasture to Law Enforcement: The Changing Roles of the Belgian Malinois
The Belgian Malinois story is one of a truly adaptable working dog.
With its insatiable work-drive and its versatile physicality, it’s probably not surprising that the Belgian Malinois has worked in a wide variety of roles since its herding origins.
Today, the Belgian Malinois is prized as a military dog. Lighter and more nimble than a German Shepherd, the Belgian Malinois is capable of working in a wide-range of settings.
It’s also strong and agile enough to provide a guarding and protective role.
Belgian Malinois police dogs are also valued for their natural intelligence and aptitude for policing activities, from drug-sniffing, to bomb-detection, to search and rescue.
Their natural desire to please coupled with their physical strength and a readiness to learn has also made them a perfect breed for therapy and elderly-care.
This knack for versatile usefulness is the hallmark of a Belgian Malinois. Indeed, it could be its guiding trait.
What Does a Belgian Malinois Look Like?
This breed ranges from 22 to 24 inches (female) and 24 to 26 inches (male). It weighs from 40 to 60 pounds for females and 60 to 80 pounds for males.
The Belgian Malinois is striking and something of a contradiction physically.
The first physical trait many people notice is its physical strength.
With its thick neck and strong chest, this dog is an obvious athlete.
Yet for all that power, there’s a lithe, slender grace to the Belgian Malinois. An elegance, even.
The result is an extremely attractive dog.
Their working heritage glows out, revealing a no-nonsense dog with an obvious lean athleticism.
Facially, a Belgian Malinois is frequently confused with a German Shepherd.
Its ears are upright and triangular. It has a black mask and intelligent, searching eyes.
Its coat is black-flecked and ranges from deep fawn to chestnut mahogany.
Temperament and Behavior
To understand the Belgian Malinois temperament you need to know one thing: it’s a working dog. Everything about this breed’s temperament is geared toward being useful.
The Belgian Malinois will develop a close and powerful blond with its human family and will typically see its role as both guard and protector.
For this reason, early socialization is vital to ensure the dog understands appropriate behavior.
It’s also imperative to keep a Belgian Malinois busy.
This is a dog that will not do well with boredom or neglect.
A big part of this is regular exercise, but just as important will be keeping your dog intellectually occupied.
Remember, this breed is all about intelligence and work.
This is also a herding dog, so if you have small children or other animals, you’ll likely need to focus on early training to manage chasing and nipping.
Most Belgian Malinois also have a strong prey drive. While they can get along with cats if they’ve been raised together, this will require early, firm, and consistent socialization.
In terms of training, the key is to start early. Use of positive reinforcement is vital.
It’ll also be important to build a solid regimen of exercise into your training.
It’s the best way to keep the breed’s vast reserves of energy and enthusiasm in check!
Grooming and General Care
The Belgian Malinois has a short and easily maintained coat.
Weekly brushing with a medium-stiff brush or glove will be sufficient to maintain the coat’s luster and will keep it free from irritants.
Twice a year, a Belgian Malinois will shed.
During a shed it’ll be beneficial to provide less intensive, daily grooming using a lighter brush.
This will help stay on top of burrs and keep those drifts of dog fur to a minimum.
Every breed of dog needs a regimen of regular nail-trimming and the Belgian Malinois is no exception.
This is particularly important for this breed because it is such an active dog, and poorly kept nails will cause pain and discomfort while exercising.
Generally speaking, the Belgian Malinois is an easy dog to groom and maintain.
Health Issues and Special Needs of the Belgian Malinois
The Belgian Malinois has a life expectancy of around fourteen years and is by and large a healthy and hardy breed.
Nevertheless, before you make any decisions it’s important to do your research and know what to ask when you’re interviewing breeders.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recommends early health screening just as you would for your own health.
A useful resources you can use to evaluate the health screening recommendations for Belgian Malinois dogs on the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) website. Here are the recommended screening evaluations.
Elbow and hip evaluation
Hip and elbow dysplasia are hereditary skeletal conditions in which these joints fail to develop properly, causing a gradual deterioration in function.
While hip or elbow dysplasia is a relatively infrequent condition among this breed, screening is still recommended.
Ocular disease screening
Belgian Malinois are somewhat prone to ocular disease so this is also worth evaluating.
While these conditions do not develop until later in life, early screening can identify potential problems.
The OFA’s overview on ophthalmic evaluation is a good resource.
Evaluation for spongy cerebellar degeneration
This is an inherited neurodegenerative condition known to affect Belgian Shepherds, including the Malinois.
Symptoms can typically be observed at 4 to 8 weeks of age.
As with all dogs, it’s important to make sure that you check with breeders that they screen their pups for genetic problems and can provide paperwork to verify a clean bill of health.
If possible, it’s advisable to meet the puppy’s parents.
Visually checking their condition may provide some important clues on potential health issues for your Belgian Malinois puppy.
Additionally, always ask for evidence of health tests of the parents. If the breeders are not forthcoming, we suggest you find a different breeder.
Should I Consider a Belgian Malinois Puppy?
The Belgian Malinois as a pet is hardy, intelligent, insatiably active, and devoted.
If you’re an active family who is looking for an equally active dog, the Belgian Malinois is well worth considering as the right dog for your home.
However, before living with a Belgian Malinois, it’s important to know up front that the breed is not a low-maintenance dog!
They crave activity and if you don’t keep them busy and challenged, they can become a challenge to handle.
They’re also a herding breed, so they may not be suitable for a family with young children or small pets, unless you’re willing to spend significant time and energy socializing your puppy early on.
Before making a decision, make sure you read widely about socializing your Belgian Malinois pup and talk to the breeder about what to expect.
So long as you’re prepared to set firm boundaries, the Belgian Malinois can be a wonderful furry addition to your family.
- UK Kennel Club
- Orthopedic Foundation for Animals
- Bates, M., 2016, “Detection Dogs Sniff Out the Droppings of Endangered Primates,” Public Library of Science Journal
- “Belgian Sheepdog and Tervuren Gastric Cancer Study Update,” Tufts Medical Center, 2016
- Causmaecker, V., et al., 2009, “Diabetes ketoacidosis and diabetes ketosis in 54 dogs: a retrospective study,” Vlaams Diergeneeskundig Tijdshrift
- Martin, G., 2017, “Anti-poaching dogs a game-changer for Kruger,” DefenceWeb
- Mauri, N., et al., 2017, “A Missense Variant in KCNJ10 in Belgian Shepherd Dogs Affected by Spongy Degeneration with Cerebellar Ataxia (SDCA1),” US National Library of Medicine
- Obergauer, A.M., et al., 2017, “Long-term genetic selection reduced prevalence of hip and elbow dysplasia in 60 dog breeds,” Public Library of Science Journal
- Peterson, M.R., et al., 2000, “A Study of the Lifetime Occurrence of Neoplasia and Breed Differences in a Cohort of German Shepherd Dogs and Belgian Malinois Military Working Dogs that Died in 1992,” Wiley Online Library
- “Spongy cerebellar degeneration with cerebellar ataxia (SDCA1) in Belgian shepherds,” Genomia Genetic Laboratory,
- “Veterinarians Underuse Human Health Care Prevention Tactics,” 2005, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association