This is one of those touchy subjects where a small percentage of folks respond with, “AMEN!” While another group of folks respond with, “she’s just being elitest and on a soap box about her breed.”
I have belgian malinois. They are one of my favorite breeds, but I struggle to say that they are MY breed. I have a lot of dogs, and they are all special to me for different reasons. The pit bull was my first entry into studying dog behavior, they will always have a spot in my heart. My chihuahua taught me to appreciate patience and tolerance while training, and also how to be an efficient big spoon. My english bulldog and petit brabancon constantly remind me to laugh, to not take dog training so seriously and personally. My little mutt, Kevin Bacon (RIP) who has touched so many hearts in so many ways that are totally inexplicable.
And then there are my mals. My Maligators. My little raptors. My punishers and teachers and my hearts. The type of dog that requires you to be a little masochistic. The kind of dog that challenges you to be honest, to be fair. They are wonderful, and like everything else in the world, they were not meant for all.
When my first malinois entered my life as a 2 year old rescue, most people didn’t know what a malinois was. We’d walk down the street in 2010 and everyone would ask me, “do you know what your pretty shepherd is mixed with?” Fast forward to 2017, walking my Long Beach malinois around town and the comments now range from, “gorgeous mal!” to “looks like my friends malinois!”
So why are folks upset that the malinois are getting more popular? Because this is not an easy breed by nature. You can’t be prepared with reading. You can’t compare their energy to the german shepherds you’ve had. A job for them goes beyond daily long walks, weekend hikes, or just left alone to guard the yard. They will eat your belongings and snap at you if you try to take it back. They will jump on your guests and put their arms in their mouth. They will snatch at your clothing and tug you with a death grip. That’s all typical mal! And the difficult ones can come with a natural defense that can translate to people and animal aggression, and with a very strong focus and bite that can be dangerous if you don’t have the ability to redirect. These dogs need solid training from the get go, and that typically means more than just a puppy class at your local pet store. When these dogs go undersocialized, untrained, frustrated and pent up, they can be a dangerous breed. What does this mean, in simple terms? It means that your natural guard dog is going to decide who the good and bad guys are on his own. That means your elderly mother who visits every now and then might be an intruder to your malinois. This means that your nice neighbor, just checking in on the house is a potential ax murderer. It means your college buddy who’s a little loud and boistrous is an excellent bad guy to bite.
People see me walking mine and see how well behaved they are in public and perhaps assume they fell out of their mothers wombs like that. My dogs are a result of literal (yes, literally), years of blood, sweat, and tears. I worked hard for my dogs to be the way they are. The ones I have raised from a puppy, I had individual goals and realistic expectations mapped out from the beginning. Everything I did with them was a step towards those goals.
They demand respect, not love. They want structure, not luxuries. This breed cannot be spoiled, and you cannot let them fool you. The internet isn’t lying, when they say these are among the smartest of smart dog breeds. The problem in having a dog like this, is that while your malinois will learn sit and down and shake, faster than any other dog you’ve had, they will also outsmart you, manipulate you, pick up bad behaviors, faster than you catch on. They are fast, and you must be faster. This means very little downtime, and always having eyes at the back of your heads, and eyes of professional trainers who have experience with malinois, as well.
So what are you to do after you’ve found yourself totally obsessed with this breed? Don’t just read about them, go meet some. Contact a local club or training group and ask if you can hang out. Ask real people, real questions. Don’t just look at the dog in training mode, look at the dog when it’s “off duty.” Ask the owners about their battle wounds. Scars, bruises, cuts, scratches. They’re there. Ask about the collateral damage. Not just chewed shoes – chewed whole metal dog crates, dry wall, car interiors. Still a masochist, are you? Now go find a trainer first. If you’re in Long Beach and surrounding areas, I frequently invite those that are curious to come meet some of my malinois. Schedule a Long Beach private lesson with me, or another malinois owning trainer in your area, to really get to know what goes into training a malinois. See what it takes to get these animals (yes – they are animals before they are dogs, before they are our pets) to the point of control and reliability.
If this has deterred you from getting a malinois – thank you for being honest with yourself! There are so, so many more dog breeds out there that are equally gorgeous, smart, and perhaps much better suited for you, your family and your lifestyle!
If this has not deterred you and you’re still interested or already have one – welcome to the club of masochists! We love these beasts and would never trade them for anything less, and that love encompasses even their worse, our hardest moments and our blackest malinois caused bruises.