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Belgian Malinois vs. German Shepherd: Differences Explained (With Pictures)

Written by: Kathryn Copeland

Last Updated on May 15, 2024 by Dogster Team

Belgian Malinois vs German Shepherd

Belgian Malinois vs. German Shepherd: Differences Explained (With Pictures)

If you’ve ever seen what appears to be short-haired German Shepherd, chances are that you might actually be looking at a Belgian Malinois. These two breeds are similar in appearance, but when you put them next to each other, it becomes easy to tell them apart.

But besides looking quite alike, these dogs also have similar temperament traits. So, if you’re trying to decide between the German Shepherd and Belgian Malinois, you’ve come to the right place!

Here, we compare and contrast these breeds to highlight what makes them alike and what sets them apart.

Visual Differences

Belgian Malinois vs German Shepherd side by side
Image Credit By: (L) Julia Malsagova, Shutterstock | (R) Jana Ohajdova, Unsplash

At a Glance

Belgian Malinois
  • Average height (adult): 22–26 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 40–80 pounds
  • Lifespan: 14–16 years
  • Exercise: Minimum of 2 hours per day
  • Grooming needs: Easy to moderate
  • Family-friendly: Often
  • Other pet-friendly: Sometimes, depending on socialization and training
  • Trainability: Intelligent, loyal, eager to please, confident

German Shepherd
  • Average height (adult): 22–26 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 50–90 pounds
  • Lifespan: 10–14 years
  • Exercise: Minimum of 2 hours per day
  • Grooming needs: Easy to moderate
  • Family-friendly: Yes
  • Other pet-friendly: Sometimes, depending on socialization and training
  • Trainability: Intelligent, loyal, eager to please


Belgian Malinois Overview

Belgian Malinois dog standing outdoor
Image Credit: Best dog photo, Shutterstock

The Belgian Malinois (also called the Mal) was bred in Belgium near the city of Malines to be a herding dog. The breeders were more interested in producing a livestock herder with a strong work ethic over how the dog looked. This eventually led to the Mal becoming the favorite herder for Belgian cattlemen and sheepherders.

The Mal made their way to North American shores in 1908 and 1911, and after dwindling around World War II, they saw a resurgence in the early 60s. They are still used as herding dogs today but are popular with the military and police.

Personality / Character

The Mal is a highly intelligent, confident dog that forms strong bonds with their human companions. They can be friendly but can also be quite wary of people whom they don’t know, and they need an owner with experience who can train them using positive reinforcement while providing sufficient amounts of active exercise.

Mals have a high prey drive, so they tend to chase smaller animals that cross their path. But if raised with other pets, they will likely be more accepting. They are close to their family, but young children should always be supervised when interacting with a dog, despite the breed.

They aren’t aggressive but can be assertive due to their confidence, and they tend to be territorial and sometimes jealous. It’s important to note that some Mals never adjust to living with other dogs, but this will depend on early socialization.


Training the Mal can go quite smoothly because they are eager to please, devoted, obedient, and smart. When you combine all these traits, you have a dog that can be quite easy to train. However, they do need an experienced dog owner who can dedicate plenty of time every day to their training and care.

belgian malinois dog playing in the lake
Image Credit By: Plotitsyna NiNa, Shutterstock


The Mal is a high-energy breed and requires a great deal of exercise! They need at least 2 hours of exercise daily, which should include high-energy activities, alongside walks and playtime. Walks alone are unlikely to be sufficient, and giving them the opportunity to run and go on hikes is important.

Since these are working dogs, they will excel in agility and herding trials in addition to obedience training.

Health & Care

You’ll need to feed your Mal high-quality dog food for large and high-energy dogs. The food must also reflect your dog’s current age and weight, and don’t give them table scraps.

Grooming the Mal is easy. You just need to brush them a few times a week to help reduce the shedding. They have a smooth, short coat, but they will still shed in the spring and fall, so be prepared for more frequent brushing. Baths might only be necessary every few months or when they get dirty from rolling in things, but like all dogs, you’ll need to brush their teeth regularly.

The Mal is an overall robust and healthy dog, but there are a few potential health conditions that you should be aware of:

  • Cataracts
  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Progressive retinal atrophy

This isn’t to say that your Mal will suffer from all or any of these problems, of course. Still, it’s good to be familiar with the potential health issues.

belgian malinois food bowl eating patient
Image Credit By: BoJack, Shutterstock

Suitable For:

The Mal is an excellent dog for someone looking for an active guard dog, watchdog or just a loving companion. That said, they need someone active and willing to take them out for extensive exercise every day. They would do best in a home with a fenced yard.

A Mal also needs an experienced dog owner who knows how to train and handle large, energetic, and strong dogs. They can be aloof with strangers and would be best in a home without other pets. They should be fine with children, based on their upbringing, although they should be supervised at all times, and it may be more appropriate if they are raised without young children and appropriately socialized as a puppy.

German Shepherd Overview

German Shepherd Standing
Image Credit By: PxHere

As the Belgian Malinois is from Belgium, the German Shepherd Dog (GSD) is from Germany. The first known GSD was developed in 1899, and like the Mal, they were bred to be a herding dog in addition to guarding livestock.

The primary breeder of the GSD, Captain Max von Stephanitz, emphasized that the dog’s intelligence, temperament, and devotion were far more important than their looks. But the GSD is certainly not short on beauty!

The GSD was officially recognized by the AKC in 1908 and has long been a favorite dog around the world. Like the Mal, they are commonly used by the military and police.

Personality / Character

GSDs are among the most loyal and courageous dogs out there. They are highly intelligent, loving, and willing to put their lives on the line to protect their loved ones.

They get along well with children and other pets, but it is best to socialize them starting as puppies. GSDs are wary of strangers and need experienced owners who know how to appropriately train strong and proud dogs using positive reinforcement. While they don’t make new friends too easily, they are extraordinarily loyal when they do.


Like Mals, GSDs are smart, loyal, and eager to please, so they are quite trainable. They learn quickly and retain the lessons easily. Like all dogs, they respond best to positive reinforcement.

black and tan German Shepherd playing with a ball dog toy
Image Credit By: Reba Spike, Unsplash


GSDs need at least 2 hours of exercise daily, which should include three walks a day in addition to playtime and an activity that enables them to run.

They excel at tracking, herding, and agility trials, giving them much-needed physical and mental exercise.

Health & Care

The GSD needs dog food that reflects their current age, weight, and activity level. Since these are large and energetic dogs, their diet must reflect this, so aim for high-quality dog food (you can ask your vet for recommendations).

Grooming the GSD isn’t much different from that of the Mal, except their coats are thicker, medium in length, and double coats, which means more shedding and, consequently, more brushing. That said, you’ll only need to brush them a few times a week normally and then daily during the spring and fall shedding seasons.

GSDs are prone to several health conditions, including:

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Heart disease
  • Canine degenerative myelopathy
  • Anal furunculosis
  • Cancer

Their lifespan is unfortunately often less than that of the Mal, which is about 14 to 16 years. The GSD’s are about 10 to 14 years.

vet examining a sick German Shepherd dog
Image Credit By: Roger costa morera, Shutterstock

Suitable For:

GSDs make excellent watch and guard dogs but are devoted companions overall. They need an active owner to take them out for walks and hikes and spend time playing with them.

Potential owners will need to have experience training dogs, which is doubly important for the GSD. But if you’re looking for an energetic dog that will do anything for you and cuddle up with you at the end of the day, the GSD might still be the perfect dog.


Which Breed Is Right for You?

If you are an active outdoors person with plenty of free time and need a high-energy working companion, you really can’t go wrong with either breed, particularly considering the large number of similarities. But the Belgian Malinois needs a more experienced dog owner to keep them in check. Part of the reason that German Shepherds are so popular is their devotion and love for their families.

Overall, the choice is yours. Both breeds both need plenty of exercise, attention, and time devoted to them. But if you can make the commitment, either one will be an incredible companion!

See Also:

Featured Image Credit: (L) Best dog photo, Shutterstock | (R) Alexander Naglestad, Unsplash

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