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Tara Gregg, Animal Photography
Intelligent and easily trained, the Belgian Malinois exudes confidence and is an exceptional watch and guard dog. Active and energetic, he's terrific at search and rescue, agility, and pretty much anything else you can teach him.
This breed's strong tracking skills made the Malinois a popular choice for police, military, and search and rescue work. That's why many of these dogs were conscripted into World War I.
Although his fawn-colored coat and black mask mean he's often mistaken for a small German Shepherd, the Belgian Malinois (pronounced mal-in-wah) is a distinct breed. His native country, Belgium, is home to four herding breeds that vary by color and coat type. Named for the town of Malines where he originated, the Malinois is the short-haired variety. He is a medium-size dog with a protective personality and, among other things, has proven adept at police work.
The Malinois has high energy levels and needs much more activity than a simple walk around the block. Choose this breed only if you are a high-energy person who enjoys active daily exercises such as running, bicycling, and hiking. He’s well suited to just about any dog sport or activity you can teach, including agility, flyball, herding, obedience, rally, search and rescue, and tracking.
Begin socialization and training early to make the most of the Malinois’ intelligence, rapid learning ability, and drive. He is sensitive to harsh corrections. Be firm, fair, and consistent, using positive reinforcement techniques such as praise, play and food rewards.
Malinois temperament ranges from aloof to outgoing, but he should never be fearful, shy, or aggressive. He is an excellent watchdog and has the size and ability to be protective when neccessary.
The ideal Malinois has parents with good temperaments and has been socialized from an early age to be accepting of people when introduced. Those elements -- combined with companion dog training -- make for a discriminating dog that can make appropriate decisions when it comes to protection.
When the Malinois is raised with children, he can be very accepting. But don’t forget that he is a herding breed and may have the tendency to chase or nip at children. This should never be permitted! He is best suited to a family with older children who understand how to treat him with respect.
The Malinois may or may not get along with cats. He has a strong prey drive and may chase cats or other small furry animals. That said, some Malinois do get along well with indoor cats if they have been raised together.
The Malinois can be aggressive with dogs or other animals he doesn’t know. If your home has a yard, it should be securely fenced to prevent the dog from leaving the premises as well as to keep other dogs from coming onto the property. That doesn’t mean an underground electronic fence! If the Belgian Malinois wants to leave the yard, a shock isn’t going to stop him, and this type of fence doesn't prevent other dogs from coming onto your property, either.
Brush the Belgian Malinois’ coat weekly to remove dead hair. He does shed and will need more frequent brushing during that time to control the amount of loose hair floating around. Trim his nails as needed, and keep his ears clean and dry to prevent infections. Strong dental hygiene is also important.
This is an indoor/outdoor dog. While the Belgian Malinois should certainly have access to a securely fenced yard, he should be with his family when they are home. He is best suited to an experienced dog owner.
Known as the Chien de Berger (bair-zhay) Belge (belzh) in Europe, the Malinois is often seen riding in a police car. This herding breed from Belgium — he takes his name from the town of Malines — does not have a well-known history before the late 19th century the late 1800s. He may have been helping shepherds care for flocks for centuries, but it wasn’t until 1891, in a burst of national enthusiasm, that Belgian herding dogs were divided into types and given names.
The shorthaired Malinois became quite popular as a herder, and his abilities were later turned to police and military work. Photos at police dog trials in 1903 show Malinois climbing 10-foot ladders and performing other displays of agility. It’s not surprising that many of the dogs were conscripted during World War I.
The American Kennel Club accepted the breed in 1911, calling them Belgian Sheepdogs and not separating them by coat type. There was little interest in the breed, though, and they had disappeared in the United States by 1939. After World War II, more were imported, and in 1959 the AKC decided to separate them into three different breeds (the fourth breed, the Laekenois, is still not recognized by the AKC because so few exist in this country). The Malinois was less popular than the Tervuren and the Belgian Sheepdog, so he was relegated to the Miscellaneous Class and was not fully recognized again until 1965.
Today the Malinois is a popular police and military dog and can be a good family companion in the right home. He ranks 76th among the breeds registered by the AKC.
The Malinois is a serious working dog, but that doesn’t mean he isn't lively and full of fun. Paired with an active family who will make the most of his intelligence and athleticism, he is a happy and affectionate companion who’s known for his sense of humor. He will play with the kids as well as protect them, but as a herding dog with a strong prey drive he may instinctively chase children who are running. Do not allow this! Work with your trainer to teach him a strong “Come,” “Down-Stay,” or “Leave It” command that you can use to stop the behavior. Always supervise play when children are around. He can get along well with cats and other dogs if he is raised with them, but tends to be on the bossy side. Some Malinois are not cat-safe because of their high prey drive.
The Malinois is a great companion for a runner, jogger, or bicyclist. You will probably run out of steam before he does. While a Malinois may easily run for five miles or more, make sure to have your dog examined by your veterinarian before embarking on any exercise program. If your dog is free from any physical or medical conditions that could limit exercise, take him on strenuous hikes or let him run alongside your bicycle. A fenced yard is also essential for helping him get the exercise he needs in a safely confined area. He’ll enjoy fetch games and will chase a ball or flying disc for as long as you can throw it. Agility, flyball, obedience, rally, and tracking are just a few of the dog sports in which he excels. The Malinois loves games and is often described as having a high play drive.
If you work outside the home, schedule daily exercise both to wear him out and give him something to look forward to. If he gets bored, he can do a lot of damage.
It’s important to the Malinois to be a part of the family, and he loves having their attention. He’s wary of strangers and makes an excellent watchdog, but he needs lots of socialization to make sure he doesn’t become overly suspicious. The more people he meets, the better his judgment becomes. A Malinois who is well socialized is a confident dog. When he meets people outside the family, his temperament can range from outgoing to reserved, but he should never be shy or aggressive. Say no thanks if a puppy’s parents aren’t approachable or if a puppy seems either fearful or aggressive.
Train this sensitive and highly intelligent dog with a light touch. He learns quickly and responds to mood and tone of voice; harshness or rough treatment is counterproductive.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know about your lifestyle and personality. Whatever you want from a Malinois, look for one whose parents have approachable personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
All purebred dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines. Health problems that have been seen in the Belgian Malinois include hip and elbow dysplasia, progressive retinal atrophy, cataracts, pannus, and epilepsy.
The American Belgian Malinois Club, which is the American Kennel Club parent organization for the breed in the United States, participates in the Canine Health Information Center Program. For a Belgian Malinois to achieve CHIC certification, he must have OFA or PennHIP certification for hips, an OFA clearance for elbows and an eye clearance from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation. Breeders must agree to have all test results -- positive or negative -- published in the CHIC database. You can check CHIC’s website to see if a breeder’s dogs have these certifications.
Do not purchase a puppy from a breeder who cannot provide you with written documentation that the parents were cleared of health problems that affect the breed. Having the dogs "vet checked" is not a substitute for genetic health testing.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Malinois at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
The Malinois has a short, straight coat that sheds heavily. The coat is heavier around the neck, on the tail, and near the back of the thighs. Brush it at least weekly to remove dead hair and distribute skin oils. Brush a little more often to help keep loose hair from landing on your floor, furniture, and clothing. Bathe him only as needed.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed, usually every few weeks. Brush the teeth frequently for high overall health and fresh breath.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Locating a quality breeder is the key to finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will have completed all the health certifications necessary to screen out major problems. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances, and what the dogs are like to live with. They will come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes take to avoid those problems. A breeder should want to be a resource for you throughout your dog’s life.
Look for more information about the Malinois and start your search for a good breeder at the website of the American Belgian Malinois Club. Choose a breeder who has agreed to abide by the ABMC’s code of ethics, which prohibits the sale of puppies to pet stores and calls for the breeder to obtain recommended health clearances on dogs before breeding them.
Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy and whether your credit card will go through. Breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical and should be reported to the American Kennel Club. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who isn't? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost rarely associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of a Malinois puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show). Ideally, they should have working titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Malinois might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort. An adult may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive, and demanding. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Malinois in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Malinois available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter.org can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Malinois. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Most people who love Malinoises love all Malinoises. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The American Belgian Malinois Club rescue network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Malinois rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a Malinois home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a dog. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Malinois, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, take your Malinois to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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