Belgian Malinois

Although he is sometimes mistaken for one, with his fawn-colored coat and black mask, the Belgian Malinois (pronounced mal-in-wah) is not a small German Shepherd Dog but a distinct breed in his own right. His native country, Belgium, is home to four herding breeds that vary by color and coat type. The Malinois, named for the town of Malines where he originated, is the short-haired variety. Often seen doing police work, he is a medium-size dog of 60 to 65 pounds with a protective personality. Here’s what you need to know if you’re considering acquiring a Belgian Malinois.

Traits, Personality and Behavior

Malinois temperament ranges from aloof to outgoing, but he should never be fearful, shy or aggressive. He is an excellent watchdog and has the size and ability to be protective if needed.

The ideal Malinois has parents with good temperaments and has been socialized from an early age to be accepting of people to whom he is introduced. Those elements, combined with companion dog training, will help him to become a discriminating dog who can make appropriate decisions about when to escalate to protective status.

When the Malinois is raised with children, he can be good with them. Don't forget that he is a herding breed and may have the tendency to chase or nip at children. This should never be permitted. He is best suited to a family with older children who can understand how to treat him with respect.

The Malinois may or may not get along with cats. He has a strong prey drive and will likely chase cats or other small furry animals outdoors, but some Malinois get along well with indoor cats if they have been raised with them.

The Malinois has high energy levels and needs much more activity than a simple walk around the block. Choose this breed only if you are a high-energy person yourself who enjoys active daily exercise such as running, bicycling and hiking and can take your dog with you. He's also well suited to just about any dog sport or activity you can teach, including agility, flyball, herding, obedience, rally, search and rescue, and tracking.

Begin socialization and training early to make the most of the Malinois' intelligence, rapid learning ability and drive. He is sensitive to harsh corrections. Be firm, fair and consistent, and use positive reinforcement techniques such as praise, play and food rewards.

The Malinois can be aggressive toward dogs or other animals he doesn't know. If your home has a yard, it should be securely fenced to prevent the dog from leaving the premises as well as to prevent other dogs from coming onto the property and causing trouble. That doesn't mean an underground electronic fence. If the Belgian Malinois wants to leave the yard, a shock isn't going to stop him. Nor does this type of fence prevent other dogs from coming onto your property.

This is an indoor/outdoor dog. While the Belgian Malinois should certainly have access to a securely fenced yard, he should be with his family when they are home.

Brush the Belgian Malinois' coat weekly to remove dead hair. He does shed and will need more frequent brushing during that time to control the amount of loose hair floating around your house. Trim his nails as needed, and keep his ears clean and dry to prevent infections. Good dental hygiene is also important.

Health Issues Common to Belgian Malinois

All purebred dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don't walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.

Belgian Malinois have some health conditions that can be a concern, especially if you aren't cautious about whom you buy from. They include hip and elbow dysplasia, progressive retinal atrophy, cataracts, pannus and hemangiosarcoma.

The Belgian Malinois Club of America, which is the American Kennel Club parent organization for the breed in the United States, participates in the Canine Health Information Center Program. For a Belgian Malinois to achieve CHIC certification, he must have OFA or PennHIP certification for hips, an OFA clearance for elbows and an eye clearance from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation. Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. You can check CHIC's website to see if a breeder's dogs have these certifications.

Do not purchase a puppy from a breeder who cannot provide you with written documentation that the parents were cleared of health problems that affect the breed. Having the dogs "vet checked" is not a substitute for genetic health testing.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Hip Dysplasia Medium $1,500-$6,000
Elbow Dysplasia Medium $1,500-$4,000
Cataracts Medium $1,500-$5,000

5 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Belgian Malinois Puppy

Finding a good breeder is more important than finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. A list of breeders, can be found on the website of the American Belgian Malinois Club.

Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health problems in Belgian Malinois aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an adult dog, most of them can be ruled out. Since a Belgian Malinois can live to be 10 to 12 years old, even an adult dog will be with your family for a long time.

Puppy or adult, take your Belgian Malinois to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.

Don't ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store or Internet site that offers many breeds and popular mixes, or that ships with no questions asked. If you buy a puppy from these sources, you'll be more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to house-train puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills.

Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with "puppy lemon laws," be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Pet Insurance for Belgian Malinois

Pet insurance for Belgian Malinois costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Belgian Malinois are more likely than mixed breed dogs to require claims for genetic conditions that are expensive to treat.

Embrace dog insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Belgian Malinois are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Belgian Malinois is when he's a healthy puppy. You can't predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can't get when you need it the most.