Get to Know the Belgian Malinois: One Tough Customer

Excellent police and military dogs, a Malinois even served on the Navy Seal team that raided bid Laden's compound.


The few, the proud — the Malinois. He used to protect livestock; now he protects lives. No wonder he’s one of the fastest-growing breeds in terms of popularity.

More interesting things about the Belgian Malinois:

  • The name is pronounced “MAL-in-wah.”
  • The Belgian Malinois is the short-coated, fawn version of what some people consider one breed: the Belgian Shepherd (or Chiens de Berger Belge).
  • The Malinois may be confused with the three other Belgian Shepherds. Here’s the difference: The Belgian Tervuren has long hair and a sable coat color, the Belgian Sheepdog has longer hair and black coat color, and the Belgian Laekenois has a curly coat in a sable color. The Malinois is also often confused with the German Shepherd, but the Malinois is always fawn colored with black mask and ears. The dog never has a dark saddle, and is never pure black, and he is not nearly as long-bodied and is slightly lighter in build.

  • Belgian Shepherds were working farm dogs expected to both herd and guard. The coat tended to differ in length, texture, and color in various regions. Those with a short fawn coat were named Malinois after the Malines region where they were developed.
  • In the early 1900s, Belgian Shepherds were already being used as police dogs in Europe, with a few even performing that duty in America. In World War I, they served as sentries, messengers, and even draft dogs.
  • The AKC recognized all the coat varieties as one breed, the Belgian Sheepdog, in 1912. The AKC divided them into three separate breeds — the long-coated black Belgian Sheepdog, the long-coated sable Belgian Tervuren, and the short-coated sable Belgian Malinois — in 1959.

  • The Malinois remained fairly rare even as a show dog. The first one was not entered at the Westminster dog show until 1967. Only one has even placed in the group there, in 2003.
  • The Belgian Sheepdog breeds were initially in the AKC Working group. In 1983, the Working group was split, and they became part of the new Herding group.
  • They are among the better obedience and agility competitors, and also perform fairly well at herding trials.
  • The Belgian Malinois has become one of the most, if not the most, popular military and police breeds in the world. More heat resistant than the German Shepherd, and equally if not more nimble and responsive, the dog is a better choice for warm climates. The dog is also lighter and more compact, which makes him better for tandem parachute jumps. She doesn’t have quite the takedown strength of the German Shepherd, but still does a good job of bringing down foes.

  • A decade ago, the Malinois was the 96th most popular AKC breed, which meant few people knew what they were. Now they are the 60th most popular, a huge surge in numbers.
  • A Malinois named Cairo was the only dog in the Navy SEAL group that raided Osama Bin Laden’s compound.
  • A Malinois named Bear is a regular cast member on the television series Person of Interest.
  • Owners include Eva Mendes, Michael Schumacher, Jim Caviezel, Michael Emerson, Cameron Bright, Johnny Hallyday, and Bryan Adams.

Do you own a Belgian Malinois? Have you spent time with one? Let’s hear what you think about this fascinating breed in the comments! And if you have a favorite breed you’d like us to write about, let us know that, too!

Interested in other breed profiles? Find dozens of them here.

Get to know other large-breed dogs with Dogster:

About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier.

13 thoughts on “Get to Know the Belgian Malinois: One Tough Customer”

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  6. Over my lifetime (I am in my 60s) I have had a Terv (starter Belgian LOL) and four Malinois — two AKC champions and two rescue dogs through American Belgian Malinois Rescue. They have all been amazing dogs. I will say that two of them that were particularly high energy moved a tremendous amount in the house — for example, if you were sitting at the dinner table they would just trot around and around the table while you ate, although you could put them under command and tell them to sit or stay. That might drive some people crazy. But it’s perfectly possible to tell the breeder (or the rescue organization) that you are *not* looking for a super active dog (unless you actually are, for example you plan to do agility or some other highly active sport). I’m getting my fifth Mal (a two-year old rescue) in two weeks and I’m excited out of my mind!

  7. Yes Joel, there are 4 Begians with the Mal being one of them. There is the Belgian Laekenoi, Belgian Tervuren, Belgian Groenendael and the Belgian Malinois. I can speak to the Malinois which I have had 2 of both of which lived to 16 yrs. The first one was very true to Malinut form and he would drive you crazy with his games but he was amazing. My 2nd was a rescue and he was pretty mellow other than when I’d take him to the woods or the river (So. Oregon) but I don’t know how much his life before me had to do with that. I lost him 2 years ago this month and we had a very intense bond even for the breed. Both of them were pretty healthy right up to the end other than their eyes at the very end. I was just given my 3rd Mal today who is a 4 year old female and she is amazing as well. She comes home in a few days and I’m sure she will be just as funny and unique as my boys were. I am now into my 4th decade with Malinois and the only thing that even remotely compares would be the Siberian Husky or a couple of Malamutes I have known through the years.

  8. i believe there are four variations of the belgian mal that are recognized world wide. however the AKC splits them into four different breeds. that generates some confusion. easy to get more info on the web. hope this helps.

  9. I’m the proud owner of a female Malinois. She’s my service animal, companion, friend. I would not trade her for anything in this world. I honestly believe we loved each other at the first meeting. We are never apart.
    She enjoys helping me, going on walks even if they are short but numerous through out the day. A very loving and protective animal, just what I required.
    She also knows her job well and performs it without hesitation daily.
    I did have her spayed before I received her as I did not want any SURPRISES later on.

  10. after owning two well bred GSD’s, one of them of champion Schutzhund lines, i got a Belgian mal three years ago. DOG WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE!!!. im sorry but this breed can run circles around a GSD everyday and twice on sunday. they are smarter, more athletic with more endurance and heat resilience. they require much less grooming and so far, fever trips to the vet. above all they are very, very loving and affectionate. mine also tolerates all my other animals. i have chickens a duck and a few cats all roaming freely. she will even let the cats curl up with her. she is also the best watchdog i have had. nothing gets past this dogs attention and if its something she needs to deal with she has the bite to it. she also goes down to our gate to retrieve our u.s. mail and ups parcels and brings them into the house for us. even helps with the groceries just dont give her the bag with the steaks. im 59 and have owned many dogs of various breeds. she is the best

    1. Hunter, my Belgian Malinios is 15 months old, Male, and the most amazing dog I have ever known with germen commands built in at birth! I lost my lab of 12 years to a Mohave Green Rattlesnake and the worst emergency vet service in the world! Hunter sat on Shadows grave (my lab) for an hour and would not leave the spot. Then without any understanding by me, Hunter ran to the car, jumped in and to this day I think that Shadow and Hunter became one!

    1. I am a 73 yr old single woman and I am a proud & loving owner (mom) of a 7 yr old malinois. He’s been with me since he was 4 months old and we had a full year of training & he’s my best friend. He’s very protective but also playful & social. Always alert to our surroundings so that I always feel safe with him by my side.

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