When we think about hero dogs honorably assisting law enforcement, the German shepherd comes to mind thanks to many films and television shows. (For instance, Chase on "Paw Patrol" is a German shepherd). But some people are surprised to learn that most law enforcement and military dogs are actually Belgian Malinois, which are similar-looking, midsize working guard dogs with a few key differences.
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The Belgian Malinois, also called the Belgian shepherd, is leaner, more agile, and fiercer than the German shepherd yet can be gentle and protective when necessary. Bravery and drive exceed intelligence, making the Belgian Malinois the working dog of choice for military operations ranging from explosives detection to skydiving. However, with the right training, many are successful as pets. After all, this is one of the high-energy yet hard-working dog breeds you want on your team.
Belgian Malinois history
The Belgian Malinois was first bred in the northwestern region of Belgium around the city of Malines. It is one of the four dog breeds that is closely related to Belgian herding dogs. Along with the Belgian sheepdog, these dogs were the number one pick for Belgian cattlemen and sheepherders. These medium-size dogs were imported in America in 1911, and while they are still popular today, they're mostly seen in service positions with the military, as search and rescue dogs, and as police dogs.
In the early 1900s, the New York City police department started using these dogs to assist with operations. In World War I, they were messengers for the Red Cross, and one of them even helped take down Osama bin Laden in 2011. In Fayetteville, North Carolina, where there is a memorial for military pups, a life-size bronze statue of a Belgian Malinois stands tall.
Belgian Malinois characteristics
Despite their hardworking reputation, Belgian Malinois are actually members of the American Kennel Club herding group and were originally sheep herding dogs in Belgium. They bond closely with their chosen person and usually don't do well if they are left alone for long. Malinois are strong, muscular, short-haired canines who stand proudly between 24 and 26 inches (males) and 22 to 26 inches (females) at the shoulder.
A healthy male Belgian Malinois should weigh 60 to 80 pounds and a female between 40 and 60 pounds, so these are not portable dogs. Similar in color to German shepherds, they range from fawn to mahogany with black ears and dark hair on their face that can make them look as if they are wearing a black mask. Their eyes are deep brown and intense, and they have a black tip on the end of their tail.
Belgian Malinois temperament & training
The Belgian Malinois are a brave and obedient breed, which are necessary characteristics for some of the tasks they are called upon to perform. Of course, breed is not a guarantee of personality; however, Belgian Malinois are focused, confident, and hardworking. They have the ability to be as gentle as they can be aggressive.
Belgian Malinois have a strong prey drive, run up to 30 miles per hour, and can be trained to take down a fleeing suspect with one clamp of a powerful jaw. They can also be remarkably loyal household dogs if provided with training, tasks, and activities. Ultimately, they need to be busy, and they are not for everyone.
Training for this breed is particularly important because of the tasks they are bred to perform. Some trained as working dogs have made the transition to cherished pet. But if it's a Belgian Malinois family member you're seeking, starting from a puppy is the best idea. Even then, find a trainer who has experience with working dogs of a high energy level from an early age, particularly this breed. Positive training techniques are essential because a traumatized or reactive Belgian Malinois can be dangerous. Early socialization is also important.
Belgian Malinois grooming
What these dogs need in exercise they make up for with minimal grooming requirements. Occasional brushing to distribute natural oils is all that's necessary for the Malinois' short, waterproof double coat. Twice a year, use a slicker brush to remove loose hair from their dense undercoat during fall and spring shedding seasons. Bathing frequently is not required nor recommended, and like all dogs, nails should be kept trim to avoid problems while running, which these dogs do often.
Belgian Malinois exercise & health
Belgian Malinois are active and athletic dogs requiring a lot of exercise, activity, and attention. Excelling at obedience, agility, herding, and other protection sports, the Malinois needs both mental and physical stimulation to avoid developing behavior issues. These are the dogs for outdoor enthusiasts and people with active lifestyles who can provide them with daily exercise.
General health concerns specific (but not exclusive) to Belgian Malinois include being susceptible to bacterial and viral infections, which can be prevented with vaccines, including parvo and distemper. Also, dental disease is more common in this breed than in others.
Malinois are genetically more prone to bloat; epilepsy; eye diseases, such as cataracts; thyroid problems; and, like the German shepherd, hip and elbow dysplasia. Since these dogs need to be active, a high-quality dog food that provides the calories and nutrition they need will be important.
Belgian Malinois puppies
The average life span of the Belgian Malinois is 12 to 14 years, so like any dog, this is a commitment. Malinois tend to mature slower than other breeds, so expect your puppy to be a teenager for longer than other dogs. Puppies should be socialized early in puppy classes because this is an important part of Belgian Malinois development.
Reputable breeders will provide documentation on the pedigrees and registration of your dog's mother and father and other relatives going back three generations, health certifications, and a purchase agreement (contract) that explains the details of the health guarantee, price, agreement for future spaying and neutering (if any), and any other terms.
- American Kennel Club: Belgian Malinois
- American Belgian Malinois Club: This Is Not Your Typical Pet Dog
- Animal Health Center: Belgian Malinois
- American Kennel Club: No Ordinary Dog: The True Story of the Dog in the Osama bin Laden Mission
- American Belgian Malinois Club: Breeders & Rescue
- Stars and Stripes: Belgian Malinois: ‘No Better Dog’ To Track Down Insurgents, Bite Armed Terrorists, Trainer Says