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Confident, intelligent, and curious, the Belgian Malinois is a tireless worker who maintains a lifelong attachment to their owner. This medium-sized, sparkling-eyed breed has a no-frills fawn or mahogany short coat that sets it apart from three closely related Belgian herding dogs. At home, the breed is a sensitive and affectionate family companion. As a police and military K-9, the Malinois possesses exceptional strength and stamina and is poised to face danger if asked.

Malinois On the Farm

The Belgian Malinois was bred in and named after the city of Mechelen (pronounced “Malines” in France) in the northwestern region of Belgium in the late 19th century.

“Developed by Belgian farmers, the Malinois descended from local shepherd dogs,” says Linda Friedow, judges’ education chair of the American Belgian Malinois Club. “Belgium is a small country, so the farms were small — one to 20 acres with only a few cows for the farmers’ use,” Friedow says. “The dog did everything from guard the farm, herd, pull carts, and keep track of small flocks of sheep, goats, geese, and ducks.”

Without fences on the compact tract, the Malinois understood the boundary and didn’t need to cover much ground. With non-boundary-style herding, this dog relied on their instinctual ability to move the animals. The Malinois lived inside the home but remained hyper-vigilant.

Belgian Malinois laying down in a field of dandelions.
©Grigory Bruev -

“The dog’s attachment to its owner is strong,” Friedow says. “My Malinois wants to know where I am and what I’m doing at all times. I never go upstairs or to the bathroom by myself.”

Friedow is continually amazed at the breed’s intelligence and sense of humor. “We once stayed at a motel on our way to a dog show,” she recalls. “In the middle of the night, our female, ‘Hester,’ nudged the lever down on the door, let herself out, and explored. We found her across the highway at a Waffle House, jumping up and down at the windows.”

One of Four Belgian Herding Breeds

The Malinois is one of four Belgian shepherds. The other breeds included are the Belgian Sheepdog (aka Groenendael or Chien de Berger Belge), Belgian Tervuren, and Belgian Laekenois. Anatomically identical, they vary in coat textures, colors, and length. “Each variety was named for the region around Brussels where it was developed,” the American Belgian Malinois Club notes. “The long-coated black Belgian Sheepdog (Groenendael) from the town of Groenendael, the long-haired fawn Tervuren comes from the town of Tervuren, and the wire-coated fawn Laekenois from the town of Laeken.”

In the late 1800s, European and Belgian breeders developed dogs with regional identities. While valuing the dog’s structure and trainability, they focused on fixing coat types and colors.

“In Belgium, Canada, and all European countries, the four Belgian shepherds are all considered one breed and called Belgian Shepherds,” says Friedow. “In the U.S., the Belgian Sheepdog, Tervuren, Malinois, and later the Laekenois were all recognized as Belgium Shepherds. The American Kennel Club split Belgium Shepherds into three varieties as separate breeds in 1959.”

Coming to America

Belgian Malinois mother with her puppy lakeside.
©Dogs -

Two Malinois and two Belgian Sheepdogs came to the U.S. in 1911. Other Malinois followed from the best European breeding stock, but the outbreak of World War II stopped any more from coming in. The number of Malinois declined, and without enough American Kennel Club registrations and competition for championships, the breed joined AKC’s Miscellaneous class in 1959.

In 1963, Malinois numbers increased, and the breed moved to the Working Group to compete for championships. The breed moved to the newly-formed Herding Group in 1983, where the three Belgian breeds competed (the Laekenois wasn’t eligible to compete in the Miscellaneous Class until 2011)

Popular Playmate

As more people learned about this herding dog, the breed’s popularity climbed. “The breed’s athleticism appealed to me because I wanted a dog to participate in all dog sports with me,” says Tasha Masina, a retired dog trainer in Winnemucca, Nevada, who bought her first Malinois 25 years ago.

Masina’s 5-year-old “Twyla” is an AKC Grand Champion and the first Malinois to earn a Herding Excellent title in French Style Herding with the Belgian Sheepdog Club of America. “She has titles in agility, obedience, and AKC Rally,” says Masina.

After bringing her puppy home, Masina began crate training and cultivating how to settle inside the house. “This is a hyper-aware breed that you need to keep busy. If not, this dog will find its way to entertain itself, and you may not get what you want,” she says. “One of the smartest breeds, the Malinois is a problem-solver and not a breed you can leave alone in a backyard all day.”

Police, Military Dogs, and Border Patrol Worldwide

©Jim -

The breed’s versatility has led them to careers in law enforcement, protection, search and rescue, and scent detection. They’ve found jobs as messenger carriers, ambulance dogs, and even pulled machine guns during WWI, but their connection to their owners keeps them permanently employed.

“With an intense desire to work, these dogs form a close partnership with their owners,” Friedow says. “It’s why Malinois in the police or military stay with their trainer for life, even when the dog retires.”

Agile and muscular, the 45 to 65-pound Malinois is fearless. “The dog is light on its feet and more like a gymnast than a bodybuilder. A military officer can strap a Malinois to his body, jump out of a helicopter, and hit the ground running,” Friedow says.

In the 21st century, the breed’s compact size and lightning speed have proved invaluable to national security, police departments, and the military, including SEALs and other Special Operations Command units. “Cairo,” a 70-pound Belgian Malinois and a member of SEAL Team Six played a critical role with his handler, Will Chesney. In 2011, this team captured terrorist Osama Bin Laden in his compound in Pakistan.

In his book about Cairo, “No Ordinary Dog,” Chesney writes, “The relationship between a handler and a canine SEAL is profound and intimate. It goes beyond friendship and the usual ties that bind man to dog.”

Photo by Pix 'n Pages ©American Kennel Club
Jantra Van De Duvetorre UDX2 PUTD OM2 BN GN GO RM RAE10 CGC TKN. DN40007801. Belgian Malinois. F. 8/25/2010.
Breeder(s): Johan Weckhuyzen. Cougar Van De Duvetorre – Gekkie Van De Duvetorre.
Owner(s): Tracie Kolnsberg, 3519 Golden Terrace Court, Katy TX 77494-4921.
Handler: Tracie Kolnsberg

Scent-trained Belgian Malinois work alongside police in airports and train stations to sniff out drugs and bombs. Daily news reports include stories of brave Belgian Malinois who assist in apprehending criminals on the run. “The Belgian Malinois excels at everything it does,” says Paige Johnson, president of the ABMC. “Unsurprisingly, they appeal to many people for various jobs.”

The breed competes in many dog sports—conformation, herding, obedience, AKC Rally, agility, tracking, AKC Therapy Dog, Diving Dogs, and Barn Hunt. “While the strong working drive of the Malinois appears attractive, for success, the dog requires confident, experienced owners who understand the dog’s intense personality,” Johnson says.