If you asked us to sum up the Belgian Malinois in just three words, we would use smart, confident, and hardworking. There’s no doubt about it, this breed isn’t suited for every family. But, for the right family, he makes an incredibly loving and loyal dog who makes a fiercely dedicated canine companion.
The Belgian Malinois is commonly referred to as the “Belgian Mal,” or “the Mal” by breed enthusiasts. “The Mali” is also another common nickname. To say they are “active” is an understatement. This is why they aren’t perfect for every family. It’s also why they can excel under pressure and are one of the top police and military service dogs.
In this guide, you’ll learn about the breed’s history, and how they were bred. This will provide insight into their genetic makeup and how they got their personality. You’ll also learn about his training, exercise, and food requirements. Let’s jump in and find out if you have the stamina to handle this energetic dog breed.
The Belgian Malinois (pronounced ‘Mal-in-wah’) is affectionately known as the Mal. He is one of four closely-related Belgian herding breeds. Just in case you are curious, the other three Belgian breeds are the Tervuren, Laekenois, and the Belgian Sheepdog. In some countries, all four breeds are lumped together under the Belgian Sheepdog’s name. The Mal comes from the northwestern part of the country, in particular the town of Malines.
The late 19th century was the start of the four Belgian breeds’ journey. In September 1891, the Belgian Shepherd Dog Club (also known as the Club du Chine de Berger Belge) was formed. This club covered all Belgian herding breeds. Over the next decade, Belgian dog lovers examined the different variations amongst the herding dogs. And in 1898, the Club of Malines established their club and focused on the short-haired fawn herding dogs. Which we now know today as the Mal.
In his native Belgian land, the Mal was used as a solo livestock herder and protector of his land and family. He was designed to be a driven and task-focused canine that was tirelessly obedient to his masters. His energy, loyalty, and work ethic led him to excel in the police and military world too. The Belgian Malinois was the first dog breed to be used by Belgian police. One of the most famous Mals, named Cairo, was part of Seal Team Six that famously took down Osama Bin Laden.
The Mal made his way to America in 1911, but imports of the breed dried up during the World Wars. It wasn’t until the 1960s that he became popular in the USA again. Now, he is relatively popular, but he isn’t suited to your average family because of his intense exercise needs. He commonly finds himself in the top 50 most popular dog breeds in America.
When it comes to the breed personality, the word “intense” describes them well. The Mal is deeply passionate about everything he does. This can come across as needy. And despite his hard-as-nails demeanor, he is a sensitive canine that loves his family. An original velcro dog, one minute away is too long. He’ll definitely sit by your side as you pee. Some people love this trait, and some people find it too much.
His intensity is what makes him so loyal. This means you couldn’t do much better than the Mal if you are looking for a family guard dog. He will protect his master and the whole family with his life. Of course, his protectiveness comes with extra responsibility. Potential intruders will think twice about entering your home with one look at a determined Mali.
His protectiveness makes him aloof with strangers. If you are a sociable family who is forever throwing parties, you may want to consider a different breed. Instead, he prefers the quieter life just with his family. Early socialization is key, as is early training to limit their protective instincts.
Thankfully, he isn’t shy with his family, and he is very affectionate with them. He is also known to bond closely with one family member in particular. This will usually be the one who he sees as his main caregiver. If you are looking for a cuddle companion, you’ll first need to wear the Mali out with a hard day’s work.
His energetic body and mind need activity. This means if you are looking for an active playmate, the Mal could be the breed for you. He will happily play for 12 hours straight if you have the time and energy yourself. He is play-oriented, and he always has to win. There is never a dull moment with a Mal around.
Size & Appearance
With his wolf-like appearance, the Belgian Malinois is often confused for his better known German cousin, the German Shepherd Dog. And despite looking similar, they have their differences. He weighs between 40 and 80 pounds, making him a medium to large-sized dog breed. He measures between 22 and 26 inches tall, from paw to shoulders. Males are usually larger than females, with females looking more elegant.
He is more athletic and leggier than the German Shepherd. Overall, he is a well-balanced dog with a square appearance. He looks powerful without appearing bulky in any way. The Belgian Malinois breed standard describes him as having an effortless gait. The Mali’s feet are small and rounded, and they are similar to cats feet.
His thick neck carries his clean-cut head with pride, and he always appears alert. A Mali’s ears are large and triangular, and again, always standing to attention. His eyes are almond-shaped and suspicious. His muzzle is moderately pointed. The top line, or back, should be level rather than sloping. His tail is long and reaches his hocks. But when in action, it will raise into a slight curve.
Coat & Colors
Their coat is what separates them from the other Belgian herding breeds. Officially, he has three color variations that are accepted in show. These are fawn, mahogany, and red. Some Mals have a sable coat, which is where the fur is darker at the tip. All Mals should have a black mask. Other colors are found in the Mal breed, such as brindle, cream, liver, gray, and black, but these colors are disqualified in show.
The Mal has a short and straight coat. His coat has two layers, with the underlayer being soft and dense and the out layer being hard and weather resistant. His hair will be very tight around his face, ears, and lower legs. The fur around his neck, tail, and the back of his thighs are sometimes slightly longer. He sheds moderately all year round.
This is a super energetic breed that needs consistent daily exercise. If you are not active, or you’re not an outdoorsy type, turn around now. Many people take the Mal on, not realizing how much activity he needs. So, you need to be realistic about what you can offer him. He needs between 60 and 90 minutes of intense exercise every day, at the very least. An hour’s stroll around the park will not cut the mustard with this guy. He needs full-on extreme activity to get his heart racing.
Think hours of mountainous climbing, an hour or two jogging, or constant fetch and games in the local park. He is extremely agile and is an award-winning contender in various dog sports such as the agility ring or flyball. Obedience is another strong point of his, so whatever sport you love to play, he’ll pick it up in no time. You like jumping out of planes? He’s an adrenaline junkie who is pretty good at skydiving too!
He is an athletic power-machine, and if you don’t direct his energy, he will become destructive and problematic. This is where many Mal owners come unstuck. If you don’t keep him busy, he will destroy your lawn, sofa, fridge, BBQ, etc. He also needs hours of playtime and mental stimulation, in addition to his daily exercise. Invest in lots of doggy toys, from chew sticks to ropes and interactive toys. He needs a wide selection.
The Mal is happiest in a larger home with access to his own yard. His yard needs to be secured. He is also a champion jumper. Jumping up walls and trees twice as tall as his master, he’ll scale high fences if there’s something he wants. He can also tightrope walk. Ultimately, there is nothing this guy cannot do! We also hope you aren’t too precious about your lawn either. His breed is famed for running in circles, which is from his herding livestock days.
He does well with children, just be mindful of his size and boisterous nature. He might not be the best canine suitor for a family with young children. But with children who can hold their own in play will love the fun Mal as a brother or sister. He can be very standoffish with other dogs. But if he is brought into a home as a pup with another dog, he will grow up well with them. The Mal has a high prey drive, and he LOVES to chase things. So he isn’t suited to other non-canine household pets.
This is an extremely intelligent breed. And his loyalty and eagerness to please his master are what makes him easy to train. He’s one of the most versatile and chosen canines for the military and law enforcement for a reason! But if his master isn’t equally intelligent and adaptable, he will become bored with training, and you too. He needs an experienced dog owner who can captivate his mind.
Left with an inexperienced owner, these dogs can struggle. Remember that he needs to be shown how to be obedient. Aversive methods are not recommended, although may be needed for stronger willed dogs. The Mal is very object focused, so invest in balls and toys to motivate him. Fun training sessions are the way to go with the Mal!
Socialization is critical, and this leads us to the additional Mal responsibility that we mentioned earlier. Without socialization, he will become overprotective, unpredictable, and dangerous. Start with puppy obedience classes, doggy park visits, and simply walking through town will expose him to new things. You must learn about it and implement it, and it will be a life-long commitment.
You might not use your Mal as a herding dog, but he is a herding dog by nature. This means that he might try to herd things, including other animals, smaller humans, and cars. This behavior needs to be discouraged as soon as you notice it. Don’t think he will eventually grow out of it. If you see that he is circling or chasing, redirect his attention. It is also a sign that he is bored and restless, so increase his activity levels.
The Mal has an excellent track record when it comes to their health. They usually enjoy a long lifespan of 14 to 16 years. To ensure your Mal is healthy, buy from a reputable breeder, and stick to a daily exercise routine. Keep up to date with vet visits as well. Top-quality nutrition is also key to his long-term health. Like all pedigree breeds, the Mal is predisposed to certain health conditions. Below are the most common.
Hip and Elbow Dysplasia
This affects many large dog breeds. It is where the bones develop rapidly, and it results in uneven growth. This inconsistent growth results in increased wear and tear, which causes pain and mobility issues in later life. Lameness in the affected joints, stiffness during exercise, or difficulty standing up or climbing the stairs are symptoms.
There are two eye concerns that Mal owners need to know about, but they are the most common to affect all dog breeds. The first is progressive retinal atrophy, which is the deterioration of the retina. And cataracts are a common cause of blindness in older Mals. Without treatment, they can lead to blindness, but they are both age-related conditions.
This is not a condition as such, but it is something that you need to be aware of. It is thought that due to his low body fat, his body does not react well to the anesthetic. There is a high death rate of Mals during surgery and other procedures. It’s worth reminding your vet of this every time you see them – it’s better to be safe than sorry!
This is a large dog who is very very active. Which means he needs fuel! A typical adult Mal will eat around three cups of food every day. If he is a working Mal, he might need more than this. Senior Mals will need less. Follow the package instructions as it will offer you tailored advice according to his age and weight.
Always feed your Malinois the best quality nutrition that you can afford. High-quality food will keep his body energized and keep him with you for longer. They will also offer plenty of omega fats, which is important to support his hardworking joints and nourish his skin and coat. It will also provide a well-balanced diet that he cannot get from raw meat alone.
The Mal has particular nutritional needs throughout his life. The most important is the puppy stage, and it will lay the foundations for a healthy body. Always choose food that is designed specifically for large breeds. They contain the optimum calcium and phosphorus ratios to help control his rapid bone growth. Essentially decreasing the chance of him suffering from joint dysplasias mentioned above.
Most Mali’s follow a simple grooming routine. This is great because, by the time you’ve finished exercising and playing with him, you’ll be exhausted! He has a short and straight coat, which only needs brushing once a week throughout the year. During the shedding seasons, you should increase this to twice a week to help you manage his coat. A bristle brush is the best brush for the Mal, with a deshedding tool for the shedding seasons.
He only needs bathing once every three months or so. He is a clean dog, and he will rarely need bathing more than this. Never wash him more frequently than once every two months because you risk damaging his natural coat oils. Use a doggy shampoo made with natural ingredients, such as oatmeal shampoo, to get him looking his best.
Other grooming routines, such as dental and ear cleaning, should be completed once a week like other dog breeds. His nails should wear down naturally, but if you hear them tapping on the floor, they will need clipping. As part of the socialization process, start his grooming schedule from a pup. This will allow you to groom him as an adult without any trouble at all.
Breeders & Puppy Costs
While the Mal isn’t the most popular dog breed, they aren’t rare either. This means it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a reputable breeder. Expect there to be a waiting list for puppies, but remember that all good things come to those who wait! A great place to start your search is with the AKC’s list of Belgian Malinois breeders.
Be sure to research breeders, and look for breeders with years of experience and a professional website. Always meet the breeder and their pups in person, and look out for healthy puppies in a clean environment. They should ask you questions, answer yours, and make you feel comfortable.
The average price for a Belgian Mal puppy is around $1,500. You can expect to pay much for a puppy from an award-winning protection lineage. It is important not to work with puppy mills or poor-quality breeders for many reasons. The Mal is a popular breed to be puppy milled because they typically fetch a higher price than other breeds.
Large breed dogs are not cheap to keep. They need everything in large, from beds to crates and better quality harnesses and boots. They also need more food, and insurance and medical bills are more expensive too. Before committing to a Mal puppy, be sure that you can financially commit to him for all his years to come.
Rescues & Shelters
Raising a puppy is not for everyone, and for whatever reason, sometimes rehoming an adult is the better option. If this is you, head out to your local rescue centers. As you already know, this is an intense breed. So, get ready for the staff to ask you lots of questions about your suitability to be a Mal mom or dad. Don’t worry, if you’ve made it this far, you’ll have all the knowledge you need.
If there aren’t any Mals in your local centers, fear not! There are many dedicated breed rescue organizations out there that focus solely on one breed and their mixes. The American Belgian Malinois Rescue website lists adoptable Mals. Just select your state and preferences, and get in touch with them. Take it from us, rescuing is one of the best things you can do! Keep an open mind, as you may have the opportunity to adopt a mixed breed Mal as well.
As Family Pets
- The Belgian Malinois is an intense dog.
- Ideally, they fit best with an experienced family with prior breed experience.
- Malis need 60 to 90 minutes of daily intense exercise.
- Also, try to plan plenty of playtime in between
- Mals hate to be left alone.
- They will become destructive without adequate exercise.
- The Malinois is highly intelligent and obedient.
- He is affectionate with his family, and he’ll stick to his master like glue.
- The Mal is suspicious of strangers and will guard his family with his life.
- He has a high prey drive and will chase everything in sight.
- He needs a larger family home with access to a secured yard.
- The Mal can live with children and other dogs, but can struggle with other animals.
So, there you have it. Now you know all there is to know about the Belgian Malinois and whether you have what it takes to invite him into your life. As long as you have the doggy owner experience, the patience for lifelong training, and the energy for hours of exercise and play. You’ll be sure to get on like a house on fire!
This Velcro Velociraptor canine is a wonderful dog, but it has to be the right family. Get it wrong, and it will probably end in destroyed furniture and surrendering him to a shelter. But get it right, and you’ll meet the best playmate you could wish for. And we think you’ll have the best 14 to 16 years of your life with him too!