Belgian Malinois Vs German Shepherd: How Are They Different?

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The Belgian Malinois Vs German Shepherd breed debate is a controversial subject for many dog owners. Some owners prefer one over the other. But, many soon-to-be dog owners also struggle to choose between the two breeds.

Part of the reason this debate receives so much attention is that Belgian Malinois and German Shepherds are very similar dogs, who have similar physical traits and personalities.

In fact, the American Kennel Club (AKC) describes both dog breeds with very similar words:

The German Shepherd is described as being “confident, courageous and smart,” while the Belgian Malinois is characterized as being “confident, hardworking and smart.”

But although both breeds make good pets and exhibit most of the characteristics you’d want in a dog, they have significant differences, which new owners are wise to consider.

Below, we’ll explain some of the most important similarities and differences between the German Shepherd and Belgian Malinois, and recommend the best choice for different types of families.

belgian malinois vs german shepherd

Belgian Malinois Vs German Shepherd: Dog Breed Basics

Both Belgian Malinois and German Shepherds are herding breeds, who were originally developed to guard and escort various types of livestock. Accordingly, both breeds possess incredible intelligence, an abundance of energy and a strong work ethic.

In fact, these traits have helped make German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois some of the most desired working breeds in the world. Some owners still use them to herd and protect livestock, but they are more commonly used in police, search-and-rescue, military, protection and therapy contexts in the modern world.

Nevertheless, both breeds can make great family pets, as long as they are provided with enough exercise and stimulation. Bored members of either breed frequently become destructive and develop a slate of undesirable behaviors.

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Belgian Malinois vs German Shepherd: Similarities and Differences

Because they both hail from the same basic part of the dog family tree, Belgian Malinois and German Shepherds have a number of similarities. However, because they were developed in different places (Germany vs Belgium), by different people and to work in slightly different situations, they also exhibit a number of important differences.

For example, both breeds have a typical herding dog body plan, including a long snout, large ears, and a long tail.

However, German Shepherds are slightly larger and possess a more massive build than Belgian Malinois. German shepherds stand between 22 and 26 inches at the shoulder and weigh between 75 and 95 pounds. Belgian Malinois often reach similar heights, but they are usually between 60 and 80 pounds.

Shepherds also have a more distinct curve to their back, and their rear legs appear somewhat small for their bodies. Shepherds usually have longer hair than their Belgian counterparts do, which makes them better suited for cooler temperatures. German shepherds also tend to be heavy shedders, while Belgian Malinois do not shed much more than many other breeds.

Because they are slightly lighter on their feet and better suited for warm climates, Belgian Malinois have become the preferred choice for many military units and police departments.

Both breeds are relatively long-lived, and occasionally reach a life expectancy of 14 or 15 years. However, Belgian Malinois tend to experience fewer health problems than shepherds do, and usually reach at least 12 years of age; many shepherds only reach about 10 years of age or so.

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Both German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois come in a variety of colors. Most are some combination of brown, gray and black, but they vary widely. Some German Shepherds are completely black, but this is relatively rare among Belgian Malinois.

RELATED: White German Shepherd: Breed Information and Pictures

German Shepherd vs Belgian Malinois Temperament

While both breeds are full of energy, Belgian Malinois are typically the more energetic of the two breeds. They both love to work, play and swim, and because they bond so strongly with their owners, neither breed tolerates being left alone for long periods very well. Separation anxiety is common for both breeds.

Malinois are generally regarded as having a more alert demeanor and they are quicker to react than shepherds, who are a bit more thoughtful. Malinois are also more sensitive than their German counterparts, although neither breed will respond well to harsh training methods.

Shepherds are a little more vocal than Malinois are, and they are more likely to develop nuisance barking behaviors. They are also more likely to chew on their owner’s hands and fingers than Belgian Malinois are, so this behavior must be stopped at a young age.

Shepherds and Malinois are both very affectionate dogs, who tend to bond strongly with their families. Both are somewhat friendly with children, strangers, and other dogs, but German Shepherds are clearly the more outgoing and gregarious of the two. They both love to learn new skills and are quite easy to train.

Neither of these breeds is especially interested in darting out the front door and wandering the neighborhood, but Belgian Malinois are the more likely of the two breeds to do so. German Shepherds are rarely interested in straying very far from their families.

belgian malinois and german shepherd

Perfect Families for Each Dog Breed

Both Belgian Malinois and German Shepherds are popular family pets, but the German Shepherd is the much more commonly kept of the two breeds. According to the American Kennel Club, the German Shepherd is the second most popular breed, while the Belgian Malinois is the 47th most popular breed.

German Shepherds have also been popular for longer than Belgian Malinois have. German Shepherds became popular before World War I, while Belgian Malinois only began appearing in the United States after the war was over, and they remained rare for years thereafter.

Because of their eventual size, it is important to expose both breeds to plenty of people and pets when they are young, and basic obedience training is imperative. This will help prevent the dogs from becoming nervous or aggressive when they encounter others during walks or family outings.

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Although both breeds make great family pets, the German Shepherd is a better dog breed for novice owners. The drive and intensity level Belgian Malinois exhibit can make them challenging for those who’ve never owned a dog before. It can also be difficult for new owners to accommodate the sensitivity of the Malinois and provide enough stimulation to keep them happy.

Neither of these breeds is a good choice for families who spend a lot of time away from the house, as they’ll want to accompany you on most of your trips away from home. You’ll want to supervise both breeds with young children, as even the sweetest examples of either breed can inadvertently knock over or injure kids.

However, both will usually learn to treat your children as beloved playmates and protect them wherever they go. In fact, both breeds often exhibit a mildly troubling tendency to “herd” children and family members to keep them in the same place.

Both dog breeds will prefer to live with big families than with single adults, but this doesn’t mean they can’t excel in such contexts. It is just important to ensure that they receive plenty of exercise and mental stimulation to keep their minds occupied. Bored Shepherds or Malinois are often destructive pets.

You’ll need to plan for two or three long daily walks for either of these breeds, but this is especially important for Belgian Malinois. In fact, you may find it necessary to engage in vigorous play for about 30 minutes a day to keep your Malinois happy and satisfied.

German Shepherds are a terrible choice for those who suffer from allergies or don’t like the thought of dog hair covering everything they own. Malinois aren’t “hypoallergenic” by any means, but because they have shorter hair and shed less, they’ll irritate allergy sufferers less.

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Summing Up the German Shepherd vs Belgian Malinois Debate

Do you have a Belgian Malinois or a German Shepherd? Where do you stand on the Malinois Vs GSD debate?

Have you been happy with your choice? We’d love to hear your thoughts about these two breeds.

Let us know about your experiences with the Belgian Malinois and German Shepherd in the comments below.

You May Also Be Interested In:

The Best Dog Food for German Shepherds: 8 Top Choices

German Shepherd Training: Basic Strategies and Helpful Hints

Are German Shepherds Good with Kids?

German Shepherd Lifespan: Ways to Increase Life Expectancy in Your GSD

3 thoughts on “Belgian Malinois Vs German Shepherd: How Are They Different?”

  1. I have a Malinios/Shepard mix that is 17 months old and she is very large up to my hip and 92 pounds – but she is lean – mahogany color with black tint – a beautiful girl. She was destructive as a pup got her at six weeks – and then one day it just stopped – we live on a farm and she is active – we did have to get a shock collar for cow and car chasing – now she just hears the tone and she is great. We just rescued a 10 months Shepard and we are getting adjusted she has a much more aggressive bark than my other dog – she seems to want to be a house dog – we have had her for 3 weeks now and she and Gemma are getting along fine – they love their walks and coming at night to get settled in – this is my third Shepard and we love both of these dogs – but they need space and attention!

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  2. I have both.

    My general advice would be that a GSD is a better choice, for everyone. If a Mal would actually be a better choice for you, then you wouldn’t be getting your definitive information here.

    Seriously, don’t get a Mal. Mal’s are driven, intense, temperamental dogs. They don’t handle harsh corrections well AT ALL (GSDs do btw, the article is totally off base on that), but they desperately need a job / direction and a handler they feel comfortable letting call the shots.

    That’s a balancing act that requires experience, dedication, and coaching/advice to master. The reward is an unbelievable dog, that would fight a threat and hold on no matter what but comes home and want’s to snuggle the baby.

    But screw it up……

    GSD’s are the much safer bet, you can get one that’s a steadier Malinois or one that’s basically a Golden Retriever with prick ears (one of the definitions of prick is “to cause to be or stand erect”, that’s where the vulgar slang for something else comes from) or anything in between. They are much more forgiving of first time owners.

    Also, the author of this article must have never owned a Malinois because the idea that GSDs bite MORE than Mal’s is absurd. “Maligators” bite everything they can get their mouth around for YEARS, my 3 year old Malinios still bites my hand or sleeve every single day when I come home and we’re working on his Schutzhund II right now (in other words I’ve trained him for an hour a day for years)!

    Reply
  3. We have a black DDR GSD female that is 9months old. She is very attentive to what we do at home and always wants to go with and see what we are doing. She is very active and we have to run/play at least 3 times a day for 30min at s time. She weighs in at 29kg at the moment, all lean muscle. She is not a sensitive dog and quite tough. Love her to bits. Not a dog IMHO for first time dog owners.

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