Belgian Malinois

The Belgian Malinois (Mal) is a high-energy herding breed who loves to put its intelligence and intense focus to work. Learn more about living with Belgian Malinois.
By Abby Gilman
August 24, 2020
Belgian Malinois
Breed Group
Dog Size
Other Traits
Temperament
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Belgian Malinois

height
  • 22 to 24 inches
weight
  • 40 to 80 pounds
life span
  • 14 to 16 years
breed size
  • large (61-100 lbs.)
good with
  • families
temperament
  • gentle
  • playful
  • aloof
  • protective
intelligence
  • high
shedding amount
  • seasonal
exercise needs
  • high
energy level
  • hyper
barking level
  • when necessary
drool amount
  • low
breed group
  • herding
coat length/texture
  • short
colors
  • brown / chocolate / liver
  • fawn
patterns
  • sable
other traits
  • easy to train
  • easy to groom
  • good watch dog
  • highly territorial
  • high prey drive
  • cold weather tolerant
  • hot weather tolerant
  • strong loyalty tendencies
  • good hiking companion

One of four Belgian herding breeds, the Belgian Malinois—affectionately called the Mal—is a medium to large dog with a strong yet elegant body. This high-energy breed needs plenty of daily strenuous exercise and mental stimulation, but is otherwise low-maintenance. Revered for their strong work ethic and high intelligence, the Balgian Malinois is a top pick for police and military K-9 units. Though more frequently seen on the job than at the park, the Mal’s gentle, playful demeanor and loyalty can make it a great family companion. 

Appearance

The Belgian Malinois (pronounced MAL-in-wah) is a medium to large herding dog. Bred to work, the Mals are packed with powerful muscles, yet their bodies have an elegant appearance. They’re tall—up to 2 feet at the shoulders!—and always alert, with perked-up ears, kind, dark chocolate eyes, and a slightly bushy tail. The Mal’s thick, short coat comes in shades of fawn to mahogany, and it’s common to see a black mask and ears. At a glance, the Mal is often mistaken as a German shepherd. Though they have similar appearances—and both are favorites of police and militaries around the world—these dogs are unrelated, unique breeds.

They'll weigh between 40 and 80 pounds, with male Mals usually bigger than the female dogs, according to the American Kennel Club.

The Mal’s waterproof coat is easy to maintain. Weekly brushing will rid their coat of dead hairs and distribute healthy oils, keeping your Mal looking healthy and shiny. This breed does blow its coat twice a year—during these periods, you’ll want to keep up with brushing at least once a day or risk your home being overrun by dog hair. Thanks to their slicking coats, Mals can go a while between baths and, unless they’ve rolled in something smelly, won’t need to be fully bathed more than a few times a year.

Temperament

There’s good reason the Belgian Malinois is a favorite among working dogs. With its strong, powerful body and confident demeanor, there isn’t much this dog can’t accomplish. From working with Navy SEALS to protecting his family at home, the Mal is a steadfast companion. Extremely loyal and eager to please, Mals take to obedience training well—and they’ll need it. Though sweet, sensitive, and deeply devoted, the Mal is an intense dog and will be too much for the inexperienced owner. 

“When you’re looking for a purebred dog, what are the characteristics you’re looking for? You see a lot of Malinois now used for police work or the army. Those are specifically bred working dogs; they’re not pets, and they’re certainly not for a novice owner,” says Brian Kilcommons, founder of The Great Pets Resort, a training facility in Connecticut.

Mals are highly energetic dogs with sharp minds and will require lots of daily physical exercise and mental stimulation. Their high prey drive and ceaseless energy levels can become problematic if not properly channeled. Because of their intensity and demanding desire to work, Mals are more often employed on a job than kept as a family pet. For decades, Mals have made an excellent choice for search and rescue, bomb and narcotics, tracking, and therapy assistance to the elderly, ill, or disabled.

Though not considered outright or overly aggressive, Mals can be territorial and protective of their people—coupled with their alert nature, this makes them great as watch and guard dogs. Early socialization with other humans and animals, exposure to different sights and sounds, and obedience training are a must for a well-rounded Mal. Bred to herd moving prey, Mals can be too much for young children and other pets. If you plan to bring a Mal into a family with existing children or pets, a puppy may be a better choice as Mals who are introduced at a young age tend to do better. It’s important to teach children how to properly interact with dogs and always supervise them when playing with any dog. If you’re willing to put in the work, you’ll reap big rewards, as Mals are some of the most loyal and loving dogs you can find.

Living Needs

Belgian Malinois were historically bred to herd sheep for hours on end. Though rarely employed as herding dogs today, their stamina remains. Mals require lots of daily outdoor exercise and mental stimulation. Though they can adapt to many living situations—including apartments if properly exercised—a Mal will be happiest in a home with a large, securely fenced yard to stretch his legs. Mals enjoy spending time outside, but what they most want is your constant companionship.

Mals form intense bonds with their owners and are happiest accompanying their humans in anything, and everything, they do. This devout loyalty makes them unsuitable to be alone for long periods of time and a lonely Mal will likely develop separation anxiety. They also are not meant to be outdoor dogs, as they need lots of loving companionship. If not properly exercised or cared for, they can become unhappy and problematic.

Their sharp intelligence and high energy levels make them a great pick for an active, dedicated owner looking to spend quality time with their dog. If you’re looking for a fearless friend to accompany you on long adventures—biking, hiking, and running are great!—the Mal might be a good fit for you. If you're looking for a beuatiful dog to simply sit at home with you, adopting a Mal probably isn't a good idea, the American Belgian Malinois Club says. It’s important to consider your lifestyle before committing to any dog. Talk to a Belgian Malinois breeder or rescue group about expectations to see if a Belgian Malinois is a good fit for you.

Care

The Belgian Malinois is pretty low-maintenance in terms of grooming, requiring a weekly brushing to control shedding and promote a healthy coat. The Mals do shed seasonally, so you’ll want to increase your brushing routine to once a day as they blow their coats, the AKC says. Their thick, waterproof coat keeps most messes at bay, which means fewer full baths! Unless your Mal is prone to rolling in something smelly, you can go weeks to months between baths.

Regular brushing is a good time to check for things like coat sheen (dull hair can mean a lack of nutrients in diet), nail length, and ear health and dental health. Nails should be trimmed if you can hear them tapping against the floor. Ear canals should be pale pink with very little—and fairly odorless—wax. Be sure to look for any signs of movement (mites!) and foreign objects in the canal, especially if you and your dog spend a lot of time outdoors or have recently been in tall grasses. 

It’s equally important to care for your dog’s mental and emotional needs. Mals need plenty of mental stimulation and social interaction with their owners to be happy and stave off boredom. Consistent training is a great way to bond with your dog and will be extremely important in shaping a well-rounded, even-tempered Mal. 

“Some dogs were bred to work with man, like the Belgian Malinois,” Kilcommons says. “People tend to make training dog-centric, something you do to the dog rather than with the dog. There’s a huge differentiation. I train on two things: relationship and behavior. Because the relationship has to be there in order for the behavior to stick. Be generous with praise and enjoy working with your dog. When you have a relationship, it has to be built on trust and positive experiences and setting boundaries. The relationship comes from spending time doing fun stuff and learning how the dog communicates.”

Health

The Belgian Malinois is considered an overall healthy breed with a lifespan of 14–16 years, according to the AKC. Like all breeds, the Belgian Malinois is prone to certain diseases. The American Belgian Malinois Club, the official breed club, requires registered breeders to test for hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and complete a thorough eye exam. The club also recommends testing for epilepsy and cancer, specifically hemangiosarcoma. It’s also important to discuss the history of thyroid or cardiac issues, and overall temperament. 

Not all Mals will encounter serious health issues, but you should be aware of these common concerns when considering this breed. And it’s important to purchase all dogs from reputable breeders who will introduce you to the dog’s parents and siblings. If adopting, ask the rescue for all available health history.

History

Though the Belgian Malinois may resemble the German shepherd in passing, the breeds are distinct and historically unrelated. Mals were originally bred in northwestern Belgium—near the city of Malines, hence the name—where this strong, intelligent breed was prized for its hard-working character and employed to herd sheep and cattle. Back then, all four Belgian shepherd varieties (Malinois, Tervuren, Laekenois, and Groenendael) were typically lumped into one breed. According to the American Kennel Club, Mals were one of the first Belgian shepherd dogs brought to America (in 1911), and experienced a long streak of popularity until the outbreak of World War II, which paused the European imports. The Belgian shepherd dogs were officially registered by the AKC as separate breeds in 1959, and the Mal saw a resurgence in interest (though it fell behind the three other Belgian shepherds in popularity).

Belgian Malinois have often been used in the military and were reportedly used as message carriers, ambulance dogs, and to pull machine guns in World War I. In fact, the breed is so revered for its service that a memorial to military dogs in Fayetteville, North Carolina, features a life-size statue of a Mal. More recently, and perhaps most famously, a Mal named Cairo assisted Seal Team Six in the 2011 raid that killed terrorist Osama Bin Laden. Today the breed is a sought-after working dog, from herding and protecting livestock to serving alongside policemen—they’re more in-demand for these roles than even German shepherds. With their gentle, playful demeanor and strong loyal tendencies, modern Mals also make great family pets. As of 2020, the Belgian Malinois is the AKC’s 41st most popular breed.

Fun Facts

  • The Belgian Malinois is one of the fastest breeds in the world—it has been clocked to run up to 30 mph.
  • Mals performed important jobs in World War I, such as carrying messages, pulling ambulance carts, and assisting the Red Cross, the AKC writes.
  • In John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, Halle Berry didn’t just portray a character who commanded a pair of canine soldiers, she actually became a dog trainer, bonding with and training the five Belgian Malinois used during filming.
  • Belgian Malinois like to have a job to do. But sometimes it's hard to channel their enthusiasm. Like with Ryker, a trainee at the Double H Canine Training Academy. He bombed his service dog test in hilarious fashion and is still a very good boy.