The Belgian Malinois

The Belgian Malinois
The Belgian Malinois
The complete package: beauty, brains, and brawn

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If you like the German Shepherd, check out the Malinois! Intense, muscular, and sleek, the Belgian Malinois is a ‘stop you in your tracks’ kind of dog. The arresting Malinois is tough, with a one-track mind focused on work, work, work. But contrarily, it’s also an elegant breed; the females especially are downright dainty. The Mal may be the toughest pretty-face in the dog world, and the story of the breed’s development is fascinating. 

Existing records pertaining to this breed’s origins date back as far as the late 19th century. The Mal was developed in Belgium, where fanciers sought to create a uniquely-Belgian sheepdog. Their goal was a skilled herder, a dedicated protector, and devoted family companion… all bundled into a manageable, medium-sized package. 

The breed they developed was known as the Belgian Sheepdog, and four varieties emerged—all named after the various areas from where they came. A wire-haired fawn variety was similar to the Malinois, but lacked the black mask and ears. It became known as the Laekenois, for its native region of Laeken. The short-haired variety—today’s Malinois—was named after Malines, its city of origin. The long-haired fawn is the Tervuren, named after its village east of Brussels. And lastly, from the village of Groenendael came its namesake—a long-haired black version of the Belgian Shepherd.

The original intention of the Malinois was to assist farmers with herding and protection, but the breed quickly became a runaway success, making a name for itself as arguably the most versatile over-achiever of the dog world. The Mal accepts virtually any new task with enthusiasm. Being highly intelligent, easy to train, strong, and agile, it’s no surprise that this breed caught the interest of police and military canine handlers in the earliest days of its development. Even by the turn of the Twentieth Century, Belgian Shepherds were working in a wide range of capacities for law enforcement and military agencies throughout Belgium, Europe, and, soon after, North America.

Records indicate the Malinois first made its way to the United States in 1911. By then, debates were emerging among breeders, fanciers, and different clubs with regard to the various colours and types within the Belgian Sheepdogs, as well as the ethics of inter-breeding among them. The AKC separated the four varieties in 1959. In some other countries, the varieties are still classified and shown in the same category. 

After its debut in North America, the breed gained in popularity, but during and following World War II, imports ceased and the breed’s development in North America was uncertain. Over the years, fanciers worked to re-ignite interest in the breed, with its most notable surge in popularity occurring in the 1960s. The American Belgian Malinois Club (ABMC) was founded in 1978. 

Today’s Malinois is medium in stature—a very manageable size for a tough working dog. The AKC standard accepts ranges from 40 to 80 pounds. Females are not as tall or heavy and should have a more identifiably-feminine appearance. 

The coat being the distinguishing factor among the varieties, it is short and straight on the Malinois. The top coat is weather resistant, and the undercoat is dense and warm. The AKC accepts the coat in a range of colours from fawn to mahogany, with black tips on the hairs. Black ears and mask are important features in that beautiful face and do a great job of accentuating the Mal’s soul-piercing eyes. 

While he bears a resemblance to and shares some genetic history with the German Shepherd Dog, the Belgian Malinois is sleeker and more fine-boned. His lighter frame and smaller stature has made him the preferred choice for military work, especially tasks that involve parachuting or rappelling.

The breed has, for many years, played a vital role in police and military K-9 service across the globe. The strength, fearlessness, agility, and intelligence of these dogs—along with their high prey drive—makes them ideally suited to serve in a wide range of capacities. Malinois served in both World Wars, in various capacities, ranging from carrying messages to protection work. 

Certainly, the most famous military Malinois was ‘Cairo,’ a member of US Navy Seal Team Six and a key player in the assault on Osama bin Laden’s compound. But that’s just one example of the kind of work these dogs undertake on a daily basis. Their contribution to law enforcement and human safety is impossible to quantify—but it, like these dogs, is extraordinary. 

Can he be a good choice as a family pet? Perhaps. But it should be clear by now that the Malinois is not the right dog for everyone. 

For starters, he’s a dog that needs a job. Every day, he’s mentally “on” and needs guardians who can give him what he needs to thrive. Any number of canine sporting activities will provide him with a challenge and a sense of purpose. Agility, herding, tracking, protection work, obedience… this breed has the smarts and stamina to excel in these and countless other activities. 

The Malinois guardian must be committed to training and socialization, ideally from the puppy stage onward. It’s important to remember that the traits that make this breed ideally suited for herding and protection work can also make him a challenge as a family companion. Ongoing training and a daily commitment to providing outlets for mental and physical exertion are key. 

Work-mode aside, the Mal does have another side—a surprisingly soft one. This is a breed that bonds very closely with his family. He’s good with children, though perhaps most notably with kids who’ve been in the picture with him since day one. Supervision with kids and Malinois is advised, but that rule applies for any breed of dog. Do not leave children and pets unattended.

The Mal wants to be with the ones he loves. If you’re active and would love a canine companion for hiking, running, biking, or other activities, this may be a great choice for you. If you’re not and don’t plan to be active, or if you anticipate being away from your dog for extended periods of time every day, he’s simply not right for you. And he’s tough, yes, but he is definitely not suited for a life as an outdoor dog. 

You may choose him as a pet, but the Malinois will be the one to choose you as his soulmate. If you’re lucky enough to be chosen, it can be a bond unlike any other, and one that’s virtually unbreakable. Is it an easy ride? No. But it is one of the most satisfying and rewarding, to be sure. The bond between Mal and man is quite a remarkable thing to behold or, for the lucky few, to experience firsthand.

For more breed profiles, go to moderndogmagazine.com/breeds

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