Are you considering entering the wild world of owning a herding dog?
Do you enjoy having a four-legged shadow who won't let you use the restroom on your own? Are you on a search for both a guard dog and a family friend? Then a Shepherd breed may be right for you. Do you dream of starting your day with a tennis ball dropped in your face? And two giant ears sticking up over the side of the bed?
If you answered yes, a Shepherd breed is probably in your future.
And if you've stumbled upon this article, you're probably trying to navigate the confusing world of comparing a Belgian Malinois (also known as a Belgian Shepherd) and a German Shepherd.
It's Not As Simple As Belgian Malinois vs. German Shepherd
The best place to start learning the difference is by first understanding that there is a ton of variability within the German Shepherd breed. This is largely because, once introduced into the U.S., over breeding and breeding for the poor qualities became rampant.
A GSD (German Shepherd dog) will either have show lines or working lines (or a mixture of both). A show line German Shepherd is what most people imagine when they think of a GSD. They have sloped backs, saddle markings and are typically calmer than working line German Shepherds. These dogs have been bred for decades to adhere to AKC standards (which focuses on the dog's look) versus temperament.
A working line German Shepherd (with the appropriate ring sport or IPO titles in their breeding history) means special attention was put into breeding quality working dogs. GSDs from working lines often don't look as much like the traditional Shepherd people think of. They may be more sable colored and often lack back saddle markings.
Comparing a show line German Shepherd to a Belgian Malinois is like comparing apples to margaritas. A show line German Shepherd typically doesn't have the drive, guard dog instincts, intensity, or the absolute need to work that working line German Shepherds have. Of course, every generalization has some exceptions.
The best way when discussing these two breeds is to really compare them with these three traits:
1) Physical Differences
Both working line GSD and show line GSD are classified as big dogs. Males can reach up to 90 pounds and females 70 pounds. A show line Shepherd should have a sloped back and thin front legs. A working line German Shepherd has a straight back and is an overall bigger dog.
A Belgian Malinois is a medium dog. A female Belgian Malinois should weigh closer to 50 pounds (40-60 pounds is breed standard), and a male's weight between 60-80 pounds. Belgian Malinois dogs are more compact and less prone to hip issues due to their lack of overbreeding.
All Shepherd breeds, including German Shepherd and Belgian Malinois, have a double coat. Working line GSD tends to have longer coats. The coloring for both breeds can vary from saddleback, sable, all black, all red, and plenty of variation.
A word to the wise: if you're looking at bringing home a Shepherd dog, coloring should be the bottom of your priority list. A dog bred for a specific color pattern often means there's a lack of attention to temperament.
2) Intelligence and Trainability
If you get a few dog trainers in a room and ask them who's more intelligent, a German Shepherd vs. a Belgian Malinois, you'll be in for hours of debate. That's because both dog breeds are really freaking smart, for lack of better words.
A Belgian Malinois manages to know what you're thinking before you. They are also sensitive to even the slightest nonverbal cues and learn new things quickly. Because they are so eager to learn and desperately want to please their owners, a Belgian Malinois can be a dream to train. But, their energy level and sheer desire to work can make the process of training painful. Once they learn something, they aren't going to forget it. That statement is why they're amazing and frustrating to train.
A Belgian Malinois will learn new tasks at super speed and won't forget that task, which means if you teach them something by accident (like barking gets them out of a kennel), well, good luck unteaching that.
German Shepherds, both working and show, also love to learn. Showline Shepherds tend to be less motivated due to their lack of temperament selection, but this herding dog still ultimately wants to please its owner. German Shepherds tend to be a little bit slower on the uptake with learning new tasks, but that also makes them a more forgiving dog. A handler will find it easier to retrain incorrect habits that their Shepherd may develop.
When picking a breed of intelligence, both are very smart and are naturally inclined to please their owner. If you'd like a dog who wants to learn, has a little bit thicker skin, and is overall easier to work with, a German Shepherd may be your best bet.
If you're searching for a dog who trains at high speed, can go zero to sixty faster than a sports car, but tends to be less forgiving and more sensitive, a Malinois may be right up your alley.
3) Temperament and Personality
German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois are both herding breeds who love to work. What that means to a dog handler is that you'll be able to enjoy a relationship with a dog who truly wants to make you happy.
The Amazing: A Belgian Malinois's level of devotion is comparable to none. But, that's also because they tend to be a more emotional dog than a German Shepherd, and their sensitivity creates a bond that is nothing short of a joy to be part of.
Belgian Malinois is a breed that loves to learn, loves to work, and is ready to hit the ground, training every second of every day. If you're trying to wear a Belgian Malinois out using physical activities, you're beating your head against a brick wall. Malinois need mental stimulation to find sanity in their constantly busy minds.
The Challenging: Well, the challenging parts of this breed are also the wonderful part. Their devotion is incredible, but it also makes them more prone to things like separation anxiety.
Their commitment to working is second to none, but that means that lazy days at the house are something that has to be trained into your dog. For example, a Belgian Malinois will pace circles around the house, waiting just to do something even if you've literally just stepped back into the house from a run or hike. You have to teach a Belgian Malinois to utilize his off switch, the same way you have to teach another dog to sit. If you don't train your Malinois how to exist without working, you'll have a constantly stressed-out mess on your hands.
The Down Right Difficult: A Belgian Malinois overthinks and is often an anxious dog. They analyze situations more often than Shepherds and can be highly reactive. If they aren't taught to control that reactivity and aren't trained to tame down their nerves, they can become challenging dogs to own.
As a Belgian Malinois owner, chances are you'll deal with reactivity and aggression at some point in your dog's life. Even with socialization, this dog doesn't trust easily and is quick to act.
The Amazing: A German Shepherd will develop strong bonds to their handler, and with the formation of that bond, they will spend countless hours learning. That bond allows a German Shepherd to work and live beautifully within its family. When given the proper training, they tend to have a more balanced temperament than a Belgian Malinois.
German Shepherds have an off switch. A German Shepherd enjoys intense training sessions, plenty of physical activity and can hit that off switch and relax when it's time to head home.
The Challenging: A working line Shepherd can be just as driven as a Belgian Malinois but more stubborn. That means you have all that energy and need to work in a dog that doesn't care quite as much if his handler is mad at him or not.
Shepherds are still in tune with their owners, but often they're not as sensitive as a Belgian Malinois. This can be either a pro or con, depending on what type of handler you are.
The Down Right Difficult: Because of their popularity and the lack of understanding about the different types of German Shepherd dogs, it's more challenging to figure out precisely what you're getting. German Shepherds are overbred, which creates a lot of health issues within the breed.
So, which one is right for me?
This question is one that anyone with interest in these breeds will face. If you're still unsure, trying to look at where a Belgian Malinois excels and where a German Shepherd excels. That may help you decide what is more fitting for your lifestyle.
Belgian Malinois dogs are often the preferred choice for military and police K9s for a few reasons: they have better overall health, they're smaller and face less wear and tear on their bodies when jumping out of cars and planes, they have a lot of natural aggression, and they'll work 24/7 if their handler would allow it.
Of course, you can always find variations within Belgian Malinois breeding as well. If you want to experience the personality of a Malinois without the crazy level of drive, a great option is to utilize a Malinois rescue. This way, the rescue can pair you with a dog who fits your needs.
Overall, Belgian Malinois are typically ideal for a working dog or an experienced trainer, not a family pet.
If you don't want to own the type of dog known to be even more energetic, more reactive, and more aggressive than a German Shepherd - steer clear of a Belgian Malinois.
If you're ready to take on a firecracker and know that you have the tools and resources to train a Malinois properly, this breed may be your match made in Heaven.
Are you a dog owner who wants a great working dog, a companion who can both train and chill, and are you prepared to handle the potential of health issues? A German Shepherd may be your best fit.
Research, Train, and Enjoy
Be honest with yourself regarding what kind of life you plan to provide your dog, prepare to put energy and resources into training yours, and reap the rewards. Regardless of whether you bring home a Belgian Malinois or German Shepherd, you're in for a wild ride. Both of these breeds are full of energy, need patience and care, and deserve lifelong families.
As a future German Shepherd or Belgian Malinois parent, you're already doing the right thing by researching which breed is a better fit. Every dog has his or her quirks, and yours will too. Don't hesitate to reach out to dog groups in your area and ask for one-on-one interactions with either breed and enjoy life as a Shepherd owner.
Oh, and buy a few extra vacuum cleaners. The shedding (legit) never ends!
Welcome to the Pack!
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