Malinois Dog

Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
Photo of adult Malinois Dog

The Malinois Dog is a herding dog that is closely related to the other three ‘varieties’ or breeds of the Belgian Shepherd. A black and tan short coat with a black muzzle sets this canine apart from its relatives, though it is largely identical in every other way.

Known for their versatility, the Malinois Dog makes both a sociable family pet, as well as an intelligent working dog and is often used for police work, among other respectable roles. Hailing from the Belgian region of Malines, this breed has now become quite popular worldwide.

About & History

One of the four ‘varieties’ of the Belgian Shepherd, the Malinois is easily distinguished by its black and tan coat and black mask. The Malinois Dog shares its history with the other three Belgian Shepherd types: the Groenendael, Laekenois and Tervuren.

Internationally, there is a lively debate as to whether the four types of the Belgian Shepherd are indeed true breeds within their own right, or varieties of the one breed (the Belgian Shepherd). Many organisations take different stances on this matter, with the FCI (along with a large number of kennel clubs, such as the UK Kennel Club) documenting them as breed types, and the New Zealand Kennel Club classifying them as four distinct breeds.

The real turning point in the history of the Belgian Shepherd was in 1891, when Professor Reul of the Belgian school of veterinary medicine (Cureghem) gathered groups of dogs and started to consciously define breed examples and design a standard, aiming to improve the traits of the animals over time. The Belgian Shepherd Dog Club, or ‘Club du Chien de Berger Belge’ was formed around the same time. Quite soon after, in 1901, the Belgian Shepherd became a registered and recognised stud dog.

The Malinois is thought to originate from the Belgian city of Malines (or Mechelen in Flemish) and derives its name from this location. In 1898, the city formed a club for what were then described as ‘fawn Belgian Shepherds’. At this time, rural shepherding had begun to fall out of fashion, and it was felt that the breed should instead be judged by participating in trials. In 1903, a Malinois Dog called Cora van’t Optewel came in first place.

Over the next few decades, it was the Malinois Dog and the Groenendael that were the more popular of the four breed types – many being chosen for international export.

Traditionally used as a herding dog on mainland Europe, the Malinois Dog very much resembles (and is likely very closely related to) other local working breeds, including the German Shepherd and Dutch Shepherd.

Today, the Malinois Dog is commonly seen as a family pet and in dog shows, though is also often employed as a functioning member of society, assisting the police and military and acting as both a watchdog and a guard dog. Owing to their adaptability, this breed is relatively well-known and popular worldwide, particularly in America.


Malinois Dog Large Photo

The Malinois Dog is perhaps the Belgian Shepherd that is most often confused with the German Shepherd, as it bears a close physical resemblance to its German cousin, though its body is more square in shape. With a fawn or mahogany and black coat and a black mask on the face, the short fur of the Malinois Dog may also have an agouti effect (black tips). Classically, the Malinois Dog’s underside will have more of a light brown colour. A small number of white markings are acceptable on the fur. It is the coat which distinguishes the Malinois Dog from the other three Belgian Shepherds.

Thanks to their proud posture and agile movements, there is something regal about the conformation of the Malinois Dog. A medium to large working dog, this breed has an athletic body. Like the other Belgian Shepherds, males reach heights of between 60 to 68cm while females measure slightly smaller, reaching between 56 to 62cm at the withers. The taller males will weigh between 25 to 30kg, while females weigh around 20% less, at 20 to 25kg.

Character & Temperament

Unlike many guard dogs, the Malinois Dog should never be overly aggressive, nor are they shy or reserved. Confident in their abilities, they will protect their family and property in a poised and assertive manner being ever alert. Bonding strongly with their families, the Malinois Dog can be wary of strangers at least initially. They will then tend to look to their master for instruction as to whether or not the ‘intruder’ should be accepted into their home.

Impressively intelligent, the Malinois Dog does have a tendency to become highly-strung and anxious, often over-thinking situations. It is usually the more active and busy Malinois Dogs that are the most stable.


Photo of Malinois Dog puppy

Famed worldwide for their trainability and obedience, the Malinois Dog is surely one of the best dogs in the world to train. Trainers must avoid repetitive or boring sessions, as this smart dog requires plenty of diverse interaction and should be set challenging tasks whenever possible.

Due to their potentially sensitive personalities, any form of negative reinforcement should be avoided, as it may only lead to aversion behaviours and defiance. With ancestors who served to guard livestock, there is always the potential for aggression in this breed, though with adequate training and proper socialisation, this should be easily preventable.


There are quite a few medical conditions that owners of the Malinois Dog must be aware of. There are several injuries that the working dog is particularly prone to, including traumatic dental injuries, such as fractured canine teeth and tail injuries. All breed members are predisposed to the following health conditions:


It is not yet fully understood why some deep-chested Malinois Dogs will develop a bloated, twisted stomach (Gastric Dilatation Volvulus or GDV) in their lifetime, while others will not. There does exist a possible link between eating a large meal and then immediately exercising, so it is wise to avoid this if possible.

Signs to be aware of include: sudden abdominal bloating, panting, retching and drooling. An affected dog should be brought to a vet as an emergency, where a surgery will be advised to put the stomach back into position. Some surgeons will then ‘tack’ the stomach in place, to prevent recurrence.

Hip Dysplasia

An orthopaedic condition affecting many purebred Malinois Dogs, those with hip dysplasia will display a hind limb lameness that gets worse with age. A veterinarian will perform X-rays to assess any breed members’ hips, and those that have hip dysplasia should not be allowed to reproduce.

Elbow Dysplasia

Similar to hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia ought to be screened for in Malinois Dogs, and those affected with this debilitating orthopaedic condition should be neutered to avoid their offspring inheriting this life-limiting condition.


Young, healthy Malinois Dogs that develop seizures suddenly and for no apparent reason may well be suffering from epilepsy. While mild cases may not require intervention, some animals will need lifelong medication.

An animal suffering a seizure should be kept calm in a quiet, dark room and people should not approach their head for risk of getting bitten. Owners should call their veterinary clinic immediately.


One of the most common health conditions suffered by dogs, atopic dermatitis or atopy can result in lifelong itchy and irritated skin that flares up. For some Malinois Dogs, a cause can be identified and avoided, while others may need medication to control their symptoms.


Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) is a cause of blindness in older dogs and affects a variety of breeds, including the Malinois Dog.


Chronic Superficial Keratitis or Pannus is a condition that causes a film to form over a Malinois Dog’s eye or eyes that will progressively worsen if not treated.


A haemangiosarcoma is a malignant tumour of blood vessel cells that can occur in several locations, though is often found on the spleen. Some tumours can be removed, especially if diagnosed early, and many animals will benefit from adjunctive therapies, such as chemotherapy.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Utilised over the years to work long and tiring days, the Malinois Dog has a high requirement for daily exercise and loves to be kept active. The more variable and challenging tasks that can be provided to them the better, and they truly excel at agility, obedience and a range of other canine activities.

If an un-experienced owner fails to provide enough exercise and mental stimulation, it is quite possible that the Malinois Dog will become frustrated and may act out.

With a thick, double-coat, the Malinois Dog requires brushing once or twice a week, though tends to be less maintenance than the other Belgian Shepherds due to their shorter coat. Owners should be aware that they can be heavy shedders.


With a thick, double-coat, the Malinois Dog requires brushing once or twice a week, though tends to be less maintenance than the other Belgian Shepherds due to their shorter coat. Owners should be aware that they can be heavy shedders.

Famous Malinois Dogs

Max is a movie featuring a Malinois Dog that was released in 2015. The story revolves around a service dog whose owner was killed in duty in Afghanistan. And, more recently, a military Belgian Malinois named Kuno, made the news for heroically saving the lives of British soldiers in Afghanistan. He even received the Dickin Medal from vet charity the PDSA for his heroic efforts.


The Belgian Malinois is a cross between the Malinois Dog and the German Shepherd.

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