BELGIAN MALINOIS 101! Everything You Need To Know About the Belgian Malinois
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Where does the Belgian Malinois come from?
As the name suggests, the Malinois – or “Mali”, as often called by friends of the breed – originates in Belgium. They are one of the 4 shepherd breeds the country calls their own - but have clearly overtaken their brethren in terms of popularity.
All of these 4 breeds were developed in the late 1800s for the purpose of effectively herding flocks of sheep, whilst working together closely with the Shepherd in charge. In the year 1885, Adrien Janssens, a professional Shepherd himself, laid the foundation of what would later become the world-renowned Malinois: He started his project of creating a highly effective and agile sheepdog with a male called “Vos” and a female named “Lise. These two dogs not only became the ancestors of all the 4 Belgian Shepherd breeds – but also of the Bouvier and the Dutch Shepherd Dogs.
In the years following that first litter, the Belgian Shepherd breeds evolved considerably, but only the Malinois gained worldwide recognition. Its name, by the way, is owed to the Belgian city of Malines – the location of the first club promoting this fawn shorthair version of the Belgian Shepherd dog.
As the 19th century came to a close, there were less and less sheep left in Belgium. Hence, early breeders of the Malinois decided to develop dressage trials for these promising working dogs. These trials tested the dog's intelligence, obedience, and agility. Of course, the Malinois performed beautifully, and subsequently, their popularity began to soar. They were the first breed to join the Belgian police force and proved their capability by winning several international police dog competitions.
During World War I, the military used the Malinois as guard dogs, couriers, and Red Cross dogs. Intrigued by their extraordinary performance, American soldiers brought several Malis back to the US after the war. Since then, the breed has spread all across the globe.
What is their temperament like?
In the recent years, the Malinois’ popularity has been exploding – and, today, the sheepdogs from Belgium rank amongst the TOP 10 of America’s most popular guard dog breeds. This leads us straight to the question: Why do so many standard dog owners choose the Mali over so many other breeds?
To find out the reasons behind this boom, let’s start by discussing the temperament of the Belgian Malinois. These beautiful, elegant dogs are naturally joyful, enthusiastic, and friendly. Usually, they get along wonderfully with people and other dogs, provided they were socialised properly. In a family environment, these dogs absolutely thrive on spending time with their favourite humans. When trained properly in terms of obedience and house-manners, Malinois can make superb family companions.
Nevertheless, as they are extremely high-energy dogs, they will be happiest when engaged in some kind of activity: You are guaranteed to be rewarded by joyful tail-wags whenever you ask your Mali to join you for playtimes, training sessions, walks or even a dip in the pool.
However, let’s not forget that these Belgian Shepherds do come with an inborn instinct to guard and protect their own – which makes them naturally reserved towards strangers. This instinct is amplified by the immensely strong bond that Malis form with their owners. Coupled with their extraordinary intelligence, your Malinois will be able to adapt their response to any given situation.
Say, for example, you are out walking your dog at night – and some intoxicated person starts yelling and stumbling towards you. When obedience-trained and socialised properly, your Mali will probably switch to a state of alert at that point - and look to for guidance. This gives you as the dog’s leader the opportunity to bring them to a heel-position, and to verbally diffuse the situation.
However, should that other person cross a certain threshold and invade your personal space, your Mali will in all likelihood attempt to stop them – first by growling and barking, and, should that not stop the approach, by issuing a warning-bite. In the vast majority of cases, this will be more than enough to make any attacker back off.
Serious dog-bite injuries are usually only caused by Malis who have been formally trained as guard-dogs - and who either were given the “Attack”-command for good reason, or who attacked because of a person suddenly charging their handler.
All in all, we can say that the Malinois makes a very decent guard dog who will listen to their owner for instruction – rather than blindly charging and biting a potential attacker. In family environments, they are amazing, fun companions, when sufficiently exercised and trained. Of course, them being such a high-energy breed, Malis are better suited for slightly older children, as they can be quite boisterous in their play.
How intelligent and trainable are Belgian Malinois?
The Malinois is a straight 10 out of 10 – both in terms of intelligence and trainability. These smart and athletic dogs can be trained to extremely high levels. And by “high levels”, I do not only mean obedience, but also guarding, and tracking, as well as search & rescue work. These dogs are top-performers and a pure pleasure to work with. They are immensely eager to please their handlers and guaranteed to give their very best in each training session. This high trainability, couple with their immense intelligence, makes them learn extremely quickly.
These top-notch working dogs have received a lot of attention for their work in the military and police force in the last few years: Malis are the breed of choice for several Special Forces, such as the Navy SEALS and the US Marines. This in itself speaks for the Malinois being a super high-achiever in challenging roles, such as the role of service dog in the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq.
As service dogs and sports dogs, these amazing Belgian Shepherds have quickly overtaken the German Shepherd – whom they are said to trump in terms of intelligence, trainability and agility. As actual sheep herding dogs, they are at least as keen, quick and efficient as the Border Collie and the Australian Shepherd. In search & rescue roles, they tend to work faster and more efficiently than, for example, the Rottweiler or the Golden Retriever.
Of course, this extremely high capability as working dog also makes the Malinois fun dogs for the average owner, provided they give them sufficient mental and physical stimulation. Your Mali will greatly enjoy learning new commands and even tricks. You can easily make such training sessions even more fun by adding in some play: Due to their immense prey drive, Malinois absolutely love to play.
Are Belgian Malinois healthy dogs?
Whilst the Malinois is generally a robust and healthy breed, they can suffer from hip and elbow dysplasia as well as progressive retinal atrophy, which is a degenerative eye disorder. Also, they are unusually sensitive to anesthesia, which means their risk of dying when put under anesthesia is higher than in other breeds.
Of course, as they are not only a rather large dog breed, but also an extremely active one, they are prone to bloat. Therefore, it is important to never feed your Malinois directly after workouts. The rule of thumb is: Do not exercise them for at least 60 minutes before, and after, mealtimes. As well, avoid feeding them large portions. Instead, feed your Mali twice or three times a day in smaller portions.
The life-expectancy of Malinois lies somewhere between 10 and 14 years.
Because the Mali is such an active breed, make sure to provide them with a diet appropriate for sports dogs. As a balanced raw food diet has the highest nutritional content, this may well be the perfect way for feeding your Malinois. If possible, ensure that all products you feed to your dog are sourced from organic farming.
How much exercise does the Malinois need?
Quick answer to that: lots and lots! Keep in mind that, when handling this breed, you are dealing with the canine elite in terms of athletic abilities. Without sufficient daily exercise, Malinois can easily become destructive. They are prone to barking quite a bit when bored and under-stimulated. Especially when left to their own devices, they are prone to launch serious chewing-attacks on their owner’s possessions. Digging deep holes into perfectly nice lawns – or flower beds – is another popular activity amongst bored Malis.
So, what kind of positive outlets for your Malinois’ energy should you provide?
Whilst not every single walk with your Mali needs to be an intense workout, these canine athletes certainly need a lot of exercise. There are a number of fun ways to work out your Malinois, for example:
Runs off-leash: Your Mali will need at least one nice run off-leash a day. One good way to make a normal walk into a nice workout for them is playing fetch: Bring a toy along for your walk, such as a ball, frisbee or Kong, and enjoy your super-achiever sprint after it!
Interactive play: Invest in a variety of different toys for your dog, and let the fun begin! Thick rope-toys and durable tug-toys are excellent for a nice game of tug-of-war. Another interactive toy that is excellent for the agile Malinois is the flirt-pole. These kinds of interactive games provide great workouts for your dog, but beware: Malis are extremely quick in their movements. This also applies to their teeth – accidents can easily happen, so you want to keep your eyes on the dog at all times during play sessions!
Cycling: There is no doubt about it – Malinois are wonderfully suited to accompany you on outings with your bicycle or your mountain bike! Apart from their superb endurance, they are also very easy to train. Therefore, making them trot to “heel” on a nice loose leash is quite easy to achieve.
Canine sports: If you are open to trying out any kind of canine sports, you are guaranteed lots of enjoyment with a Malinois as your team-mate. Malis excel in obedience, Flyball, Agility and dock jumping competitions, to name only a few.
Swimming: Should you have a pool in your garden or a natural swimming spot nearby, you can easily enjoy the water together with your Malinois. Especially when acquainted with water at an early age, Malis make excellent swimmers and will take immense pleasure in retrieving floatable toys for you.
What are their grooming requirements?
The beautiful, short, fawn-coloured coat of the Belgian Malinois is fairly easy to groom. However, they do shed – not only during shedding season in spring and autumn, but also throughout the year. Therefore, a daily once-over with a good brush is recommended.
As Malis are on the top end of the spectrum when it comes to energy- and activity-levels, they tend to get themselves dirty and wet quite a bit. But, again, because their coats are short and not very dense, this is not a massive problem: a spray-down with a garden hose is usually enough to get return them to their natural clean state.
Of course, if your Mali lives in the house with you, cleaning off their paws before letting them come inside is a good idea on rainy days.
To sum up our discussion of the legendary Belgian Malinois, we can say: This breed is indeed the superstar amongst all the guardian breeds. Their popularity is well-deserved and will, in all likelihood, even increase in the years to come. Malis not only excel in professional roles, but also as active and fun companion dogs. With a Mali by your side, you will never know boredom ever again! As well, you will be protected from home intrusions and attacks to your person.
All in all, I think the Belgian Malinois not only is the perfect fit for all enthusiasts of canine sports and dog training, but also for all dog-lovers who want a very active canine companion: Provided they are educated and socialized properly, Malis are a sheer joy to have around.
Therefore, if you are willing to fulfil your dog’s needs for physical and mental stimulation, there is no reason why you should bring a Mali into your home