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Get to Know the Belgian Malinois: One Tough Customer

Excellent police and military dogs, a Malinois even served on the Navy Seal team that raided bid Laden's compound.

Caroline Coile  |  Nov 10th 2014


The few, the proud — the Malinois. He used to protect livestock; now he protects lives. No wonder he’s one of the fastest-growing breeds in terms of popularity.

More interesting things about the Belgian Malinois:

  • The name is pronounced “MAL-in-wah.”
  • The Belgian Malinois is the short-coated, fawn version of what some people consider one breed: the Belgian Shepherd (or Chiens de Berger Belge).
  • The Malinois may be confused with the three other Belgian Shepherds. Here’s the difference: The Belgian Tervuren has long hair and a sable coat color, the Belgian Sheepdog has longer hair and black coat color, and the Belgian Laekenois has a curly coat in a sable color. The Malinois is also often confused with the German Shepherd, but the Malinois is always fawn colored with black mask and ears. The dog never has a dark saddle, and is never pure black, and he is not nearly as long-bodied and is slightly lighter in build.

  • Belgian Shepherds were working farm dogs expected to both herd and guard. The coat tended to differ in length, texture, and color in various regions. Those with a short fawn coat were named Malinois after the Malines region where they were developed.
  • In the early 1900s, Belgian Shepherds were already being used as police dogs in Europe, with a few even performing that duty in America. In World War I, they served as sentries, messengers, and even draft dogs.
  • The AKC recognized all the coat varieties as one breed, the Belgian Sheepdog, in 1912. The AKC divided them into three separate breeds — the long-coated black Belgian Sheepdog, the long-coated sable Belgian Tervuren, and the short-coated sable Belgian Malinois — in 1959.

  • The Malinois remained fairly rare even as a show dog. The first one was not entered at the Westminster dog show until 1967. Only one has even placed in the group there, in 2003.
  • The Belgian Sheepdog breeds were initially in the AKC Working group. In 1983, the Working group was split, and they became part of the new Herding group.
  • They are among the better obedience and agility competitors, and also perform fairly well at herding trials.
  • The Belgian Malinois has become one of the most, if not the most, popular military and police breeds in the world. More heat resistant than the German Shepherd, and equally if not more nimble and responsive, the dog is a better choice for warm climates. The dog is also lighter and more compact, which makes him better for tandem parachute jumps. She doesn’t have quite the takedown strength of the German Shepherd, but still does a good job of bringing down foes.

  • A decade ago, the Malinois was the 96th most popular AKC breed, which meant few people knew what they were. Now they are the 60th most popular, a huge surge in numbers.
  • A Malinois named Cairo was the only dog in the Navy SEAL group that raided Osama Bin Laden’s compound.
  • A Malinois named Bear is a regular cast member on the television series Person of Interest.
  • Owners include Eva Mendes, Michael Schumacher, Jim Caviezel, Michael Emerson, Cameron Bright, Johnny Hallyday, and Bryan Adams.

Do you own a Belgian Malinois? Have you spent time with one? Let’s hear what you think about this fascinating breed in the comments! And if you have a favorite breed you’d like us to write about, let us know that, too!

Interested in other breed profiles? Find dozens of them here.

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About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier.