Belgian Malinois running in a grassy park

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The Belgian Malinois — or Mal for short — is often mistaken for a German Shepherd at first glance, but this breed of dog has its own unique qualities and history. A classic working dog with a slightly lighter build than German Shepherds, Mals are quickly becoming one of the most popular dogs in the world. Their loyalty, enthusiasm, and strong protective instincts make them great family dogs and easy to train.¹

Belgian Malinois’ need extensive socialization from a young age, so they do well in households with children. While many dogs love to dig, Mals aren’t as inclined to root around in the garden or bury things. Rather, they enjoy running and playing outdoors and if given the chance, their tactical herding instincts will kick in.2

In this post we’ll take a closer look at the history and characteristics of this fascinating breed, as well as the best diet, grooming routine, and exercise plan to care for them.

History & Origin of the Belgian Malinois

The Belgian Malinois was first bred in and around the northwestern Belgian city of Malines and is one of four similar Belgian herding dog breeds. They’re sometimes collectively referred to as Belgian sheepdogs.¹

In the United States they were officially recognized as a separate breed in 1959, but they have been around since 1882. Notably, the Belgian shepherd dog club was founded in 1891. Members of this club began researching various characteristics of different breeds, hoping to be able to officially classify a general Belgian shepherd dog. Eventually, they categorized four similar breeds under the name Laekenois, inspired by Château of Laeken — the royal residence of Queen Marie Henriette who preferred this type of dog.³

The Belgian Malinois breed’s origin dates back to 1882

Belgian Malinois’ began appearing in the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century. They were shipped over from Europe to help American shepherds herd livestock and steadily rose in popularity outside of farming, as well, particularly with the founding of the American Belgian Sheepdog Club. However, when World War II broke out, the importation of the Belgian Malinois breed came to a halt as economic resources shifted towards the war effort.

The population of Mals declined significantly in the immediate post-war years, but interest in the breed picked up again in the early 1960s. Thereafter, Belgian Malinois’ were quickly recognized for their usefulness, high work drive, easy trainability, and versatility. Nowadays, they’re still used for herding livestock as their ancestors once did, but they’re also regularly used as search and rescue dogs, drug and bomb detection dogs and service dogs.⁴

Belgian Malinois height, weight, life expectancy information

Physical Attributes of the Belgian Malinois

Although Belgian Malinois may look like German Shepherds, they have a different head shape, longer legs and are more finely boned than their shepherd counterparts. They’re generally described as having a square proportioned body build, meaning that they are about as long as they are tall.¹ Muscular, yet lightweight, with a solid, agile carriage and long shoulders, Mals are ideal working dogs.

Their legs are strong and straight with round feet and a long tail. This breed has short fur ranging from light tan to red or mahogany and their defining feature is the black fur mask on their face and ear tips. Like other shepherd breeds, Belgian Malinois dogs have erect, triangular ears of equal proportions and a tapered snout that’s not too pointed.⁵ Their dark, curious eyes reflect an eagerness to learn and play, making them a great choice of breed for various kinds of physical labor or agility training.

Words describing Belgian Malinois behavioral characteristics with photo of the breed

Behavioral Characteristics of the Belgian Malinois

Belgian Malinois dogs are a highly intelligent and obedient breed with strong protective instincts that can sometimes manifest as territorial behavior. Despite this, properly trained Mals are rarely aggressive. These dogs are enthusiastic and energetic, so a lot of exercise is a must if you own one. Due to their intelligent and curious nature, they make great companions on outdoor adventures like hiking and camping.

Mals are a particularly social breed and should be properly socialized from birth. They thrive in family settings where they can interact with multiple people and run around playing outside. If left to its own devices too often, a Mal will find ways to entertain itself, which can include destructive behavior or excessive barking.

Common Belgian Malinois Health Issues

Belgian Malinois dogs are generally healthy, but should be regularly checked for elbow and hip dysplasia as well as minor skin and eye problems.¹ Of course, old age makes these conditions more likely to occur.

Excessive aggressiveness could also indicate an underlying condition, such as anxiety, so it’s always best to consult your vet if you’re concerned about your Mal’s behavior. A responsible Mal breeder should carry out these checks in the breeding stock to make sure the dogs are healthy.

If you’re using treats during training, then don’t overfeed your Belgian Malinois when it comes to dinnertime, as this can lead to weight-based health problems. Like with any dog breed, regular grooming, teeth brushing, nail trimming, and ear cleaning are important to help prevent infection and keep your Mal feeling at its best.¹ Speak to a vet if you notice a sudden decrease in your Mal’s energy levels.

Caring For A Belgian Malinois

Due to their herding nature, these working dogs are highly energetic and need a lot of mental stimulation as well as physical exercise. Daily walks are essential, but not enough. Once your Mal has mastered basic obedience training, consider other enrichment activities, such as teaching them more challenging tricks, treat-based puzzles or toys, hiking together, setting up an obstacle course, and lots of time to run outside.

On average, Mals need about 80-90 minutes of exercise per day, so it’s important to prioritize playtime. Consider also that this breed is very social, so any time spent together with you or your family is sure to be a big hit. They’re highly trainable dogs, which makes them perfect for agility training or dog shows.⁶ A Belgian Malinois will do best in a household that has a medium to large yard in order to burn off excess energy. Apartment living is acceptable, as long as it’s given sufficient exercise and mental stimulation.

Their short, water-resistant coat makes grooming fairly easy. Mals shed twice per year, so it’s a good idea to use a slicker brush during those times to remove loose fur. Brush your Malinois occasionally using a medium-bristle brush or grooming mitt to get rid of dirt and encourage new hair growth. Grooming also helps to distribute the natural skin oils evenly throughout the fur. Most Belgian Malinois enjoy their grooming sessions. It can be a calmer way to bond with your Mal.

Every dog needs a well-balanced diet and Mals are no exception. As a highly active breed, Mals should ideally be given 1-2 meals per day, consisting of high-quality dog food that is rich in protein. Puppies should eat more frequently. This can vary depending on the dog’s individual age, height, and weight.⁴ Incorporate some extra mental stimulation and keep mealtimes fun by using puzzle feeders or making them do a trick before being allowed to eat. A Mal that is both mentally and physically stimulated is a happy Mal.


Are Belgian Malinois easy to train?

Yes, they are generally responsive to training. Belgian Malinois are an intelligent breed and are able to master basic obedience training, as well as more complex tricks and challenges. If you’re looking for a dog that will happily learn a bunch of tricks, then a Mal is a great choice. Provide clear instructions and boundaries when training your Mal and they’ll do well. They’re also the ideal candidates for fun training programs or agility courses.

Is a Belgian Malinois a wolf dog?

No. Belgian Malinois were originally bred as herding dogs in Belgium. Although they bear some physical resemblance to wolf dogs, Mals are not categorized as such.

What is special about a Belgian Malinois?

Belgian Malinois dogs are great working dogs, specifically herding, and make loyal companions with a strong drive to protect their family. This makes them a good family dog. They’re very intelligent, which makes them easy to train. For these reasons, Mals are commonly used in law enforcement, search and rescue, and therapy settings.

Two Belgian Malinois puppies playing with a ball

Final Notes

Belgian Malinois — called Mals for short — are a sturdy, smart, highly trainable, and loyal breed. They often make great family dogs and enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking or camping. They need plenty of physical exercise, so a yard is a good idea. However, they can do fine in apartment buildings as long as they get lots of time outdoors.

Bringing home a Belgian Malinois? Our licensed vets at Dutch will be happy to advise you on the breed and answer any questions you may have regarding health and behavioral conditions.


  1. Kriss, Randa. “Belgian Malinois Dog Breed Information.” American Kennel Club, 6 Nov. 2017,

  2. “CKC Standard.”,

  3. “Scraps Breed Profile Belgian Malinois - Spokane County, Washington.” Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service, Spokane County,

  4. “Belgian Shepherd Dog (Malinois).” The Kennel Club

  5. Bryant, Megan. “Belgian Malinois – Smart, Elegant & Athletic Canine Breed!” World Animal Foundation (WAF), 8 Feb. 2023,

  6. admin. “Belgian Malinois.” Native, 27 July 2020,

  7. “Belgian Malinois Residential Training: Malinois Puppy Training: Royvon.” Royvon Dog Training & Hotels, 29 Mar. 2023,

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