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Reference Shelf – FQA

Frequently Questioned Answers

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Is the Malinois related to the German Shepherd?
Probably. The Malinois is really a very generic, shepherd-type dog. Malinois "type" seems to have been fixed earlier than GSD type. (OK, I hear the gasps of shock and disbelief from German Shepherd fans…I defer to Max von Stephanitz’s "The German Shepherd" for early pictures of Malinois (with dates) that prove my point for you guys. I know it’s on your shelf somewhere :-)
Is the Malinois healthier than other "Working Breed" dogs?
The Malinois is not without health concerns, but yes, it’s easier to find a physically sound Malinois than it is in several other breeds. That is not to say that the Malinois does not have any skeletal defects, eye problems, or health concerns. Reputable breeders screen for hip dysplasia (and usually elbow dysplasia) and have their dogs certified by OFA, GDC, or PennHIP in the United States. Most also have their dog’s eyes cleared by CERF, since PRA is a fairly new concern. Epilepsy also occurs in the Malinois, both working and show lines. Let the buyer beware..there are lots of excuses for not getting health clearances in dogs used for breeding. It’s up to you to sift through them. I personally can’t imagine buying a puppy from parents without clearances (whether they leap tall buildings in a single bound in their spare time, or not)– and there are no excuses for not asking to see the parent’s clearances before you buy a puppy. For an interesting discussion of the interplay between OFA, GDC, and PennHIP, read Fred Lanting’s Article "Why Look Into PennHIP?"
What about anesthesia? I’ve heard Malinois (and Belgians in general) need special treatment when anesthesia is necessary?
Treating a Belgian like a sighthound is apt advice. Most carry less body fat than the average dog a vet sees in their practice and many seem unusually sensitive to aneshetic effects. There are online articles and printouts about anesthesia and Belgians located at that you may want to print and give to your vet.
Is it true the Malinois isn’t a breed but a composite working dog made up of bits and pieces of other breeds?
Yes, and no. It depends on who you’re talking to. The Malinois has existed as a variety of the Belgian Shepherd breed for a very long time. Because the Belgian Shepherd was bred for utilitarian purposes first and foremost, there were large variances in appearance, most notably color and coat type. When things were "formalized" a bit, the breed was separated into varieties by coat and color—but initially there were "shorthaired charcoaled fawns" and "shorthaired other than charcoaled fawns"—and both of these were considered Malinois. Some of the other colors included black, grey, blue, brindle, and spotted (black with yellow spots is an example.)
So Malinois were pretty varied in appearance earlier this century. Then came a split. Some people wanted to focus on utilitarian aspects of breeding, others wanted to focus on standardizing the appearance of the dogs. Some tried to do both. Those that focused on utility-only tended to select based solely on working ability, so appearance (or even breed) was not necessarily a consideration if the dog worked. On the other hand, those focusing on looks-only tended to select based on a dog’s ear shape, well-sprung ribs, and color, among other things.
As a result, there is a dichotomy in Malinois–there are Malinois that are are pretty but cannot work. There are Malinois that are barely recognizable as such, that work very well. And there are dogs that work and look like Malinois, to varying degrees.
So just how big is a Malinois supposed to be?
Ah, good question! There’s certainly a wide range of sizes to choose from, huh? While there is slight disagreement between the FCI standard, the AKC standard, and the UKC standard, it basically boils down to 23-26 1/2 inches for the boys, and 21 – 24 1/2 for the girls. Nice, handy, moderate sizes. That being said, in both the working arena and the show ring, you can find little dogs, and very big dogs. I personally think the FCI ideal sizes of 24 1/2 for the boys and 22 3/4 inches for the girls are perfect. There are, of course, people who like bigger dogs for more "manstopping" power. That’s fine, provided that 26", 90lb dog doesn’t have to run more than 100 yards to catch up with the bad guy! Sure, I’ve seen 100+ lb Malinois mixes take down a decoy–but I’ve seen just as many 45 lbers do it. I’m not a big fan of really huge Malinois (in the working arena, these are almost exclusively Dutch Shepherd/Malinois mixes, anyway) and I have no idea what AKC judges are doing when they put up 90 lb behemoths in the breed ring!
The bigger dogs lose speed, agility, and put a lot more stress on their bodies. I like the fact that many Malinois are spry and athletic well into their "golden" years. It’s encouraging that 10 year old Malinois are still "on the street" while most GSDs retire by age 8.
So what’s a Malinois really like to live with?
I consider my dogs fairly easy to live with, provided I exercise them. When I lived in New Orleans, the hurricane season did provide some challenges, since our house would end up surrounded by water, and they tended to get less exercise outside and more inside. The same can be said of Wisconsin winters now—fluffy snow is great…but when the landscape is covered with crunchy, icey drifts three feet high, it’s not altogether fun to romp in! So yes, they can be active and rough inside—but not necessarily, especially if they have an outlet. A good game of kong, hose, or tennis balls outside will give them a run for their money, and help you keep your sanity inside.
Many people ask what Malinois are like with kids. Little screaming banshees are not a good match for a Malinois, but it does depend on the dog. A really high prey dog would probably not do well in a house with small shrieking kids. (Really, who expects any dog to put up with that nonsense?) But a moderate dog, raised with kids intelligently, should have no problem in a family situation. Success seems to be much more a factor of rearing techniques applied to the children as well as applied to the dog. Parents who seem to have a good handle on their child’s behavior seem to be able to manage the addition of a Malinois.
Many Malinois are physically rough, so this is a consideration. But not surprisingly, many Malinois have inherent good sense when it comes to dealing with kids. My Robbie worked with disabled kids with aplomb—he had his feet rolled over, his tail walked on, and his ears pulled on many times, with never more than a patient sigh from him. My other dogs have basically learned to lay down and enjoy petting rather than get too excited.
What should I expect from a Malinois puppy in terms of temperament?
You may have different expectations than I do. My expectations are largely shaped by my experience with Malinois puppies of working breeding, not show…and there can be huge differences in how various lines develop and mature.
That being said, when I select a puppy for myself or for someone else, I expect a Malinois puppy to be social and outgoing with friendly strangers. I expect curiosity and a strong interest in exploring their environment, indoors or out. If I see a startle or fearful reaction to something, I also expect to see quick recovery. The same stimulus should not provoke fear or a startle the next time. I expect resilience. When interacting with other dogs, I expect anything from active submission (you’re the boss) to pure obnoxiousness, depending on lines and the situation. If I’m picking a working prospect, there are lots of other things I’m looking for, but this is a good start.
Things I do not expect to see? Puppies hiding behind legs or furniture. Fear of the outdoors. Big startle responses without recovery. Puppies who are unable to eat when stressed (indicating adrenalin response). Fearful aggression towards other dogs or friendly strangers. "Loner" pups with no interest in people.
While there are puppies who go through stages, there are also puppies who don’t. If you see strong fear responses without recovery as a puppy, this indicates a nerve problem that the puppy will not "grow out of" no matter what the assurances. I do not put a lot of stock into set "fear periods" because too often it’s an excuse for developmental hiccups which may or may not resolve. Too many dogs have perfectly uneventful puppyhoods for me to accept that all Malinois pups will show weirdness along the way. My preference is to avoid lines that do.
My Malinois has spots on his tongue. Does that mean he’s not purebred?
This Chow nonsense is just an old wive’s tale. Lots of Malinois have spots on their tongues, gums, etc…Lots of Malinois do not. It is not diagnostic of breed or breeding. If your "Malinois" is cinnamon colored with a mask that doesn’t extend to the eyes, tiny ears with thick cartilege, smaller than 21" at the shoulder, with a tail that curls over his back and a purple tongue, then you might consider that what you have is actually a chow mix.


The Malinut Page is the product of Jona Decker and the 'Nuts of south central Wisconsin.


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