If you have been active on social media recently (particularly if you are in any dog training or ownership groups), you will have seen many posts concerning the release of a recent Hollywood movie, Dog. The movie stars Channing Tatum as an Army Ranger, accompanied by a Belgian Malinois named Lulu. Together, they face a race against time to make it home for the funeral of a fallen soldier.
The concern amongst many in the dog community is that the movie may inspire inexperienced or novice dog owners to seek out a Malinois of their own – simply because they have seen it in a movie. This has happened in the wake of many dog-focused movies in the past. The problem is that after the initial enthusiasm wears off, the owner realises they are unable to manage living with the breed. Essentially, they are totally out of their depth. What happens next? The dog is surrendered to an already overcrowded animal shelter.
As an experienced Malinois owner and breeder over a number of decades, I want to give my perspective and advice to anyone considering bringing a Belgian Malinois into their home. In this article, we’re going to cover the temperament, drive and qualities of the Malinois, and give some pointers for who should – and shouldn’t – own one of these incredible dogs.
The origins of the Malinois
To get a complete picture of the Malinois, we have to take a couple of steps back to understand the origins of the breed, and how this translates into the Mals we see today.
Originally bred in the city of Malines in northwestern Belgium, the Malinois was initially bred as a herding dog. With a high prey drive and an agile, athletic frame, they were primarily used by farmers to control sheep and livestock – Mals are often referred to as “Border Collies on steroids”.
A typical Malinois has an unparalleled work ethic and boundless energy – and because of the nature of the work they were originally bred for, they have become accustomed to using their mouths to control moving things (more on this in a moment).
Development of the breed
As time progressed, it was recognised that the Malinois was not just adept for herding purposes. The same qualities that made them such a great candidate for herding work – their agility, their speed, high prey drive, and unbeatable work ethic – meant they could be used for other work, such as police or military dogs. Whilst possessing similar traits to German Shepherds, the Malinois is not as prone to inherent health problems such as hip dysplasia.
As the Malinois increased in popularity among law enforcement teams, breeders started to focus on particular characteristics. Already a naturally suspicious breed with a tendency to bite, their defense drive combined with their prey drive made them ideal for patrol or apprehension – a great tool for police teams to have at their disposal. Their work ethic also makes them a good choice for personal protection dogs, search and rescue work, and dog sports such as agility or French Ring.
However, the traits that make them ideal candidates for these specialised tasks can make them a nightmare for the inexperienced pet dog owner.
What are common problems for inexperienced Malinois owners?
One essential thing to remember is that dogs are not just a blank slate, where the outcome is solely a result of their environment. Although we, as humans, can exert some influence on their behaviour, there are some behaviours that are just inherent in their nature that we cannot necessarily control. This is the same for any breed, not just the Malinois.
Here are some common issues that Malinois owners may encounter, which can make living with a Malinois difficult if you aren’t prepared for them.
- Lack of exercise – Mals are bred to work, and they need constant exercise. They are the total opposite of a regular pet dog and need to be running and expending their energy.
- Lack of socialisation – An undersocialised Malinois can become dangerous! They need constant socialization to ensure stability around people and other dogs.
- Potentially unsuitable around children – With such high prey drive and a desire to control moving things, a Malinois may not be suitable to have around younger children.
- Lack of mental stimulation – Your Malinois doesn’t just need physical exercise – they need mental stimulation, too! If you don’t give your Mal a job, they will find one for themselves (whether it’s a job you want them to do or not…).
For a Malinois to be integrated successfully into your home, they need your time, attention and focus to prevent destructive or unwanted behaviours from occurring.
A Malinois might be a good choice for you if…
- You are an experienced dog owner who has worked with a number of different breeds.
- You are assertive, and are able to enforce ground rules and discipline with your dog.
- You are able to provide your Malinois with the necessary physical and mental stimulation.
- You are involved (or intend to be involved) in a specialised dog sport which requires a breed with the characteristics of a Malinois.
- You have the time, dedication and focus available to ensure your Malinois can be successfully integrated into your home.
A Malinois might be a bad choice for you if…
- You have little to no experience of owning dogs – especially a breed with a high drive like a Malinois.
- You have a laid-back approach to managing your dogs and their behaviour.
- You work a full-time job or have other commitments that will prevent you from spending the necessary time with your Mal.
- You want a low-maintenance family pet with a gentle temperament.
- You have young children in your home.
- You only want a Malinois because you saw one in a movie and thought it would be ‘cool’ to own one.
Owning a Belgian Malinois can be a challenging proposition – believe me, I know it, having worked with them for so long! However, the one thing that has always stood me in good stead is that I know how to manage them, and I have the time available to provide them with exercise and stimulation. Those factors, along with the others we have outlined in this article, are pivotal to successfully integrating a Malinois into your home.
Bringing any dog into your home is a huge commitment, but please, think carefully before you decide to acquire a Malinois. Movies aren’t real life! Make sure you are prepared for what lies ahead of you – and don’t just get a Malinois because you saw one in a movie alongside Channing Tatum.