Belgian Malinois: Dog Breed Characteristics & Care

History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Standing side profile of a Belgian Malinois on the grass

Michel VIARD / Getty Images

The Belgian Malinois is a medium to large herding dog breed with a short coat and a square, well-balanced build that's native to Belgium. One of the breed's trademarks is its high head carriage. These dogs are generally very intelligent, loyal, and diligent. They thrive when they have a job and are extremely well-suited to becoming a working dog, such as in police and military operations. They also can make an excellent companion for the right person, especially an active household.

Breed Overview

GROUP: Herding

HEIGHT: 22 to 24 inches (female), 24 to 26 inches (male)

WEIGHT: 40 to 60 pounds (female), 60 to 80 pounds (male)

COAT: Short, smooth double coat

COAT COLOR: Fawn, mahogany, red, red sable, or fawn sable with a black mask

LIFE SPAN: 14 to 16 years

TEMPERAMENT: Intelligent, active, loyal

HYPOALLERGENIC: No

ORIGIN: Belgium

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Characteristics of the Belgian Malinois

The Belgian Malinois' temperament is marked by its high energy level. It needs lots of mental stimulation and physical activity every day. These dogs generally have a moderately affectionate and friendly personality, but they do form strong bonds with their owners.

Affection Level Medium
Friendliness Medium
Kid-Friendly Medium
Pet-Friendly Medium
Exercise Needs High
Playfulness Medium
Energy Level High
Trainability High
Intelligence High
Tendency to Bark Medium
Amount of Shedding Medium

History of the Belgian Malinois

The Belgian Malinois is a native of Belgium and one of the four related varieties of Belgian shepherd dogs. The other three varieties are the Tervuren, the Groenendael, and the Laekenois. These Belgian shepherds date back to the 1800s, and the Malinois gets its name from the city of Malines where it was developed. Breeders were looking to create a strong herding dog and protector with a steadfast work ethic. 

The Malinois first arrived in the United States in the early 1900s. Some were used as military dogs during World War I. The Great Depression and importation restrictions during World War II caused the breed to diminish in the U.S. But its popularity rose again in the 1960s. The American Kennel Club first recognized the Malinois in 1959.

By the turn of the 21st century, Belgian Malinois were commonly seen working as police dogs, military dogs, drug-detection dogs, and search-and-rescue dogs. The Secret Service even employs them to patrol the White House grounds. Plus, Belgian Malinois are part of Navy SEAL teams and have been used in operations, including that which resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011.

Belgian Malinois Care

The Belgian Malinois is not the right breed for everyone. These dogs generally aren’t well-suited to living in an apartment, as they need lots of space to run and play. They’re best for owners with an active lifestyle who can provide plenty of ways for the dogs to exercise their minds and bodies. These dogs also require proper training and socialization to ensure they are well-mannered. And their grooming is fairly simple. 

Exercise

It is essential for a Belgian Malinois to receive vigorous daily exercise and mental stimulation. Otherwise, it might become anxious or develop behavior problems. Aim for at least one to two hours of exercise per day, including brisk walks, running, hiking, and playing fetch. This breed also is an excellent candidate for dog sports or any activity that involves focus and endurance to challenge it mentally and physically.

Be aware that the Belgian Malinois’ herding instinct might create a tendency to chase cars, bikes, and other moving objects. So it must be kept on leash or in a secure fenced area. 

Grooming

The Belgian Malinois has a short, straight, weather-resistant coat with a dense undercoat. In general, little more than basic grooming is necessary. Plan to brush at least weekly to remove loose fur and prevent mats. Shedding often increases as the weather changes in the spring and fall, necessitating more regular brushing.

Check whether your dog needs a nail trim roughly once a month. Some dogs can go longer between nail trims if they naturally wear down their nails through activity, such as walking on pavement. Also, aim to brush its teeth daily.

Training

In general, this breed is highly trainable, intelligent, and eager to please. It responds well to positive reinforcement and consistent instruction. 

Training and socialization should begin early in a Belgian Malinois’ puppyhood. Enroll in a puppy obedience class as soon as your dog meets the age requirement, and expose your dog to different people, other animals, and situations. Belgian Malinois don’t always get along with other dogs, but having positive exposure to other dogs from a young age can help. 

Likewise, this breed isn’t always appropriate for families with children. Its high herding instinct can cause it to try to nip at kids’ heels. Even if you don’t have kids, it’s important to train your dog to be well-mannered around children, so you’re always able to safely control situations. 

Belgian Malinois puppy

Ron Armstrong / Getty Images 

Belgian Malinois running outside
Drazen_ / Getty Images
Woman riding bicycle and walking Belgian Malinois dog
Drazen_ / Getty Images

Common Health Problems

Some hereditary health problems can occur in the breed. The following are some conditions to be aware of:

Belgian Malinois as pets illustration

The Spruce / Kelly Miller

Diet and Nutrition

Always make sure your dog has access to fresh water. Feed a high-quality, nutritionally balanced canine diet; most owners feed two meals per day. Discuss the variety and quantity with your veterinarian, as this can vary based on age, size, activity level, and other factors. And be sure to account for treats in your dog's daily caloric intake to prevent overeating.

Where to Adopt or Buy a Belgian Malinois

Check local animal shelters and breed-specific rescue groups for a Belgian Malinois in need of a home. If you're looking for a breeder puppy, expect to pay around $2,000, though this can vary widely depending on bloodline and other factors. For further information to help connect you with a Belgian Malinois, check out:

Belgian Malinois Overview

Pros
  • Highly intelligent and trainable

  • Excellent working dog

  • Requires little more than basic grooming

Cons
  • Might not be appropriate for families with small children

  • Can have a high prey drive

  • Requires lots of activity and mental stimulation

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

As with any breed, if you think the Belgian Malinois is right for you, be sure to do your research before you get one. Talk to your veterinarian, other Belgian Malinois owners, reputable breeders, dog trainers, and rescue groups to learn more.

If you're interested in similar breeds, check out:

There’s a whole world of potential dog breeds out there—with a little research, you can find the right one to bring home!

FAQ
  • What's the difference between a German shepherd and a Belgian Malinois?

    The Belgian Malinois can look quite similar to the German shepherd at first glance. But the breeds have a different head shape, and the Belgian Malinois is leaner than the German shepherd and has shorter fur.

  • Are Belgian Malinois good family dogs?

    The Belgian Malinois can be quite an intense dog with a high prey drive and instinct to chase and herd. Thus, it often doesn't do well around rambunctious children and might become nippy.

  • Are Belgian Malinois aggressive?

    Belgian Malinois generally aren't aggressive when they're well trained and socialized from a young age. However, they can have a protective streak and are somewhat reserved around strangers.

Article Sources
The Spruce Pets uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Chesney, Will, and Layden, Joe. No Ordinary Dog: My Partner from the Seal Teams to the Bin Laden Raid. First edition, St. Martin’s Press, 2019.

  2. Belgian Malinois. American Kennel Club.

  3. Belgian Malinois Puppies For Sale. American Kennel Club.