Whole books, not to mention thousands of web pages, are devoted to describing the minutiae that distinguish one breed from another. However, the official AKC breed standards are supposed to be the breeders’ blueprints, so I found myself wondering if we could recognize the distinct personality of the Belgian Malinois based solely on its description in the AKC breed standard. Does the standard provide enough guidance to the breeder?
From the standard's section on temperament:
Correct temperament is essential to the working character of the Belgian Malinois. The breed is confident, exhibiting neither shyness nor aggressiveness in new situations. The dog may be reserved with strangers but is affectionate with his own people. He is naturally protective of his owner’s person and property without being overly aggressive. The Belgian Malinois possesses a strong desire to work and is quick and responsive to commands from his owner. Faulty temperament is strongly penalized.
When I compare this to the descriptions of the other Belgian breeds, I find it more businesslike, less folksy, less forgiving of quirks. There are no “shoulds,” only simple statements of expected character. The Malinois standard also seems to draw the boundaries of acceptable temperament more narrowly than for the other Belgians, with an emphasis on penalizing faulty temperament.
At first, I thought that this somewhat taciturn recital left the Malinois a bit of a cipher compared to the breezy profiles of some other breeds. However, I eventually concluded that it is best either to be brief and definite, or to take all necessary space to explain the nuances of a breed. The descriptions of the German Shepherd and the Rottweiler both take the detailed approach. It works well, for I feel that I have an idea of the breeds’ personalities after reading the text. The description of the Golden Retriever, on the other hand, is bracingly short. Yet it is equally efficient in conveying the essence of that breed’s temperament. I never felt that I might be reading about some other type of dog.
Let’s try that test on the Malinois description. Could it describe another breed? The Border Collie, maybe? The Border Collie certainly has a strong desire to work, and is undoubtedly quick and responsive. However, “naturally protective” is not an essential BC quality.
How about the Doberman Pinscher? The Doberman standard mentions many traits that describe a Malinois: “Energetic, watchful, determined, alert, fearless, loyal and obedient.” However, the Malinois description is unique in specifying that the breed possesses a strong desire to work and is quick and responsive to commands from his owner. Of course Dobermans are also responsive—but their style is different. Let me translate from Breed Standard Language into everyday English: the Malinois is a blunt, plainspoken dog. He will spend his life force for “the mission” (whether chasing a ball, a bad guy, or an errant sheep). He can corner like a Ferrari, swear like a sailor, and sleep like a baby. He never says die.
I asked friends in a Facebook group for a Malinois personality profile that would fit within the 140-character limitation of a Twitter update. Susan McSherry quickly fired back: “JoyousFocusedKindIntenseLovingIntelligentFierceLoyalBeautifulRegalDiscerningMotivatedPersistentTrainableSolidSleek!”
Notice how she figured out a way to cram 10 pounds of description into a five-pound bag? A Malinois would do that.
For a breed blueprint, the official description is admittedly more useful. It unmistakably describes a Belgian Malinois. But I think our narratives are fun too. They make me feel like I’m sitting in a red Corvette going a hundred miles an hour, hair streaming straight out behind me—which, come to think of it, is pretty much how working a Malinois makes you feel, too.