A Belgian Malinois dog grins at the camera while running with a large branch.

Belgian Malinois: Is Rising Popularity Causing Major Turmoil?

Belgian Malinois are rising in popularity. What does that mean for the breed and well meaning dog owners?

As professional dog trainers, our job is to tell clients what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. Due to the rising popularity of the Belgian Malinois, we’re receiving more and more inquiries asking us to help “fix” these dogs as they mature into adults. They’re biting house guests, chasing the children, and getting into bar fights at the dog park…. and their families are feeling hopeless and frustrated, realizing they bit off more than they could chew.

We understand the appeal. They’re beautiful, athletic dogs with hilarious personalities and they’re smart as can be. Videos of their impressive training and abilities regularly go viral on the internet. Done correctly, you’d be hard pressed to find a more loyal breed. But these dogs are not without extreme challenges that can make them completely unsuitable for the average home.

For those of you that know us, you know that we are incredibly passionate about the breed. For those of you that don’t, a little background on us. Lisa Lucero won the USA Mondioring Nationals in 2021 and 2022 with her Malinois, Hero; and competed in Romania in the International competition with him in Oct. 2021 – placing in the top 15 in the world. She has been in the Malinois breed for twelve years, with her third competition dog of the breed. Shaina Zimmerman won the MR1 Nationals in 2019 with one of her Malinois, Atom, took 3rd place at MR3 in 2021, 2nd place in 2022, and has two dogs currently competing in Mondioring and French Ring. Both have also been involved in rescue and placement of the breed, as well as puppy selection and rearing for some of the top breeders in the country. Shaina’s female Malinois just had a litter of puppies for a well known kennel, and she is currently raising one of those puppies until he is placed in an appropriate home. Prior to Malinois, Lisa and Shaina both competed with working line German Shepherds. We have titled in AKC and ASCA Obedience and Rally, in addition to protection sports. We have trained with the best of the best in the country, and in the world. The point is, we have extensive breeding and training experience with Malinois.

We aren’t going to sugarcoat what it takes to be successful with a young Malinois in a pet home. One of our well-respected colleagues, that we refer to for private lessons and group classes (since we do not offer those services) has decided to refer out all Malinois inquiries that come in as she has had almost no success helping people with these dogs as pets. The breed has gained exponentially in popularity since the rise of the public’s exposure to them. Unfortunately, this has led to many more of them being bred and put out into the world – from those in shelter situations, to those being purchased from working line breeders, to those being bred by less scrupulous breeders looking to cash in on their popularity. It’s easy to find breeders regularly mixing Malinois with Dutch Shepherds and German Shepherds, touting them as the perfect family protector and companion, selling them to ill-prepared families. They are a truly singular breed in their needs, and in how their brains work. Even those from the very best breeders require a completely different type of life and training than most trainers offer, or most homes are willing to provide. While we do not subscribe to the theory that Malinois need hours of intensive training and exercise every day, we do know that they need more structure and understanding of training theories and genetic behaviors than most homes are willing to learn and implement.

Malinois are purposefully bred to be a bit neurotic, with a lot of drive, suspicion, and aggression. This can be a hard balance to get right, as genetics have a huge influence on behavior and despite the most thoughtful of breeding, the result can be undesirable. Some Malinois like dogs. Some like people. If you’re lucky, you end up with a dog that likes both (we call this a UNICORN)… but most often, they dislike both. And that doesn’t make them a bad Malinois.

No matter how social a Malinois is (or appears to be), dog parks and daycare are not appropriate outlets for their energy. These dogs are obsessive — of their toys, their interactions, and their environments. Putting them in situations where they are able to obsess over dogs, people, and items will inevitably result in behaviors such as barking and lunging on walks, aggression due to possession of their toys, running off after dogs while off leash, etc.

Any interactions our own dogs have with other dogs and strangers are well thought out, and for the benefit of the dog. This is not a breed to hang out at a backyard BBQ with intoxicated houseguests who don’t understand high drive dogs. Even sober overzealous greeters can get into trouble with a Malinois. (HIIII PUPPPY!)

While I am not saying owning a Malinois is akin to a tiger that needs to be kept in a cage, I am telling you that they require a much higher level of obedience control, and coaching other people how to interact (management) than other dogs in order to be mentally well adjusted, happy dogs, to prevent dog fights, and bites to people. Even an accidental bite can have devastating consequences for a dog and it is our job to respect this breed for what it is, and for what it isn’t, and to avoid and/or intervene in bad situations. While we can help our clients get rock-solid obedience training, direct them to appropriate training outlets, and help them live the best life together, we cannot, and will not, help them make a Malinois what they are not (a Golden Retriever, by example). It is not possible, and it would be unprofessional and unethical for us to take a clients money promising to do so.

If you’re considering this breed, feel free to reach out. We’d be happy to discuss your needs and whether or not this is the dog for you.