Belgian Malinois (Mal-in-wah) are the flavour of the month. And movies like Max and John Wick are helping to fuel their popularity. The reality is, though, these dogs are not for everyone. But they are fantastic companions in the right hands. They are like your Formula 1 cars, with a skilled driver the cars can reach their full potential. But would you give that car to a novice driver on their learner license? Because you know it will go very wrong.
These dogs are not Labradors or Staffies or Border Collies. They’re not even the same as German Shepherds. They do not have the same temperament so you cannot compare the breeds. They are Malinois. Self-assured, confident, fast and called “Maligators” for a very good reason. You cannot expect them to act like other breeds. And you cannot train a Malinois the same as those other breeds either.
Why do you want a Malinois?
True Malinois enthusiasts do not want to see this breed in rescues. We don’t want them put to sleep because good people did not know what the breed is like. It’s not wise to romanticise the breed based on a movie or cool YouTube video. What you see is a trained dog. And if you get one without similar commitment to their training it will lead to disaster.
True Malinois enthusiasts do not want to see the breed ‘dumbed down’ so they can make suitable pets either. There are plenty of breeds that are shadows of their former working ancestors. Look at the Dobermann, or Rottweiler, they can make much better companions than a Malinois.
Malinois are one of the last working breeds available. Dobermanns, German Shepherds, and other breeds have already suffered the fate of popularity. It has lead to a decline in health and working traits (Dobermann, Rotweiller, German Shepherd, etc.).
Why Belgian Malinois Do Not Make Good Pets
Belgian Malinois are difficult dogs to live with. They are very fast and very mouthy and it takes nothing to get them overexcited. If you add those ingredients together, you can end up in A&E as I’ve done (or hospital, like some of my friends).
These dogs bite. If you have one, you’ll have to rethink your definition of a “bite”. (You can credit Malinois for raising my pain tolerance). Society though does not share that opinion. So it is up to us as handlers to protect our dogs from themselves.
You can make a Mal crazy about almost anything. And as much fun as it may seem at the time, it doesn’t stay fun for long and can make them more difficult to live with.
Malinois excel as Military Working Dogs for a reason
To be successful in war zones and as frontline dogs, they need a level of mental toughness. This means that they don’t obey you because you want them to. I tend to describe it this way. If you teach a GSD to go round, the German Shepherd will always go round. If you teach a Malinois to go round, they will find the shortest route to what they want.
You need to be consistent and help them believe in you as their guide, mentor and leader. This either inspires their handlers to step up and meet the challenge. Or the dogs find themselves without a capable handler.
Without capable leadership, the dogs can become nervous. Appear ‘unstable’. And even become aggressive. Then they only have two options available to them: and end up getting into trouble. Or the green needle. I have not met an unstable Malinois in NZ. I have, so far, only come across incapable handlers.
Expecting a Malinois not to bite is like getting a huntaway (or a Sheltie) and expecting it not to bark. Or a retriever not to retrieve. Or a Border Collie not to round everything up. Hang on a minute, Malinois do all those things as well!
If you decide you want a Malinois, you must get well informed on aggression. And dealing with bitey-mouthy dogs. If you do not raise your Malinois right, there is a high probability that the dog will be a problem. Unmanageable, show reactiveness or aggression. Too many Malinois have already got the green needle because of incompetent handlers.
The Owner Determines How The Dog Turns Out
Handlers are often quick to blame the dog instead of their own shortcomings. But I have seen too many dogs deemed not good enough go on to do everything the previous owner claimed it could not. Genetics do matter, but the best genetics cannot compensate for your lack of skill.
As a handler, it is your job to make your soft dog strong and your strong dog biddable. A dog from the best imported bloodlines will only reflect that if you’re a good trainer. Good dogs are made, not born.
No one is born a great artist. Or a F1 racecar driver. And you weren’t born a dog trainer. You need to work at your craft to make your Malinois into an amazing dog. I am not saying genetics does not play a part, it does. But remember Malinois are bred to be sharp, dominant and driven. So don’t be surprised if your Malinois is like that.
Can Malinois live as family dogs
Anything is possible. But not everything is a good idea. Our Malinois have always lived as family dogs. But be prepared that a Malinois will probably be a wild ride of highs and very low, lows while we learn. Many experienced dog trainers have failed with this breed. Back in 2016 when I originally wrote this article, more than 4 had been put to sleep. And many more had already been rehomed. And that’s only in NZ. And that’s only the dogs I knew of.
Many people with Malinois find that they now can no longer go away on holiday. The kennels and dog sitters can’t handle the breed. So guess what… when you get a Malinois, there might be no more holidays for you! Unless, by some miracle, your breeder will take the dog back for holidays.
Then you will get a vehicle that suits your Malinois because, in order to go anywhere, your dog now has to go too. Your life will now start to revolve around your Malinois. And in some cases keeping your Malinois as far away from the family member that teased them. And so it goes on and on and on… some Malinois keep grudges better than an elephant.
Egos and Malinois don’t mix
Leave your ego behind. Your dog is a reflection of you and your skills. Their behaviour does not lie. If they are not the dog you expected, you need to do a self-assessment. Because selling your dog and getting another one might not be the answer to your problems. And you’ll likely have the same issues next time.
You will probably need help. So, look for people experienced with the breed. Not your local Agility trainer or Obedience club. But also be aware of trainers who love the reputation of being able to handle very aggressive dogs. Just as many dogs have failed with these owners as they make mistakes because of their ego.
I have learned these lessons myself. And I have seen others make this mistake. It has cost good dogs their lives. I know of only one person in the whole of NZ I would now go to for advice on the breed. Guus Knopers who lives in the Bay of Plenty. He has been involved with the breed and KNPV with his dad and grandad since age 6. And I’ve been to all the clubs and know the people involved in the breed currently.
Malinois and Relationships
Then there are relationships to consider. Malinois have affected more than one relationship (yes, really! A good friend has given up career prospects and relationships for the sake of her Malinois). Getting the “it’s me or the dog” ultimatum with the average pet dog, is one thing. But it takes on a whole new meaning with a Malinois that you’ve worked so hard on.
And it goes one of two ways: you choose to give up the dog to save your relationship. And then resent your partner forever. Or you give up your relationship because of the dog. And no, no one wants a destructive, aggressive Malinois as a flatmate. Because let’s face it, if your Malinois was that bad to affect your relationship… you have a long way to go.
You need a very special person to put up with your Belgian Malinois. And usually, there’s only one crazy dog-nut per household. Let’s face it, these dogs aren’t really the dogs that sane people get. Seriously, reduce your stress, get a Lab from hunting lines, or a Spaniel instead! My journey has not been fun or easy. Are you sure you need to complicate your life?
Still Want a Malinois?
I love the breed. As a dog trainer they keep me on my toes. There is never a dull day. And they stop me from being lazy. Because I need to continue working on their training.
If you still think you would like a Malinois read
Note to the American Public: Belgian Malinois, Look Don’t Touch. This article made me a better trainer. If you want a Malinois, this article is a must-read! Then reassess your motives and commitment carefully against this article.
Did that article trigger you? Good. Now assess if you want a Malinois to stroke your ego. Or if you’re prepared to become the person that a Malinois needs.