When you think of police dogs, as well as search and rescue or military dogs, you’re probably picturing a German shepherd. And while the German shepherd (GSD) is sometimes used in these capacities, a breed called the Belgian Malinois (pronounced MAL-in-wah) is used just as frequently.
When you’re picking out your next family dog, you’re probably not concerned with how well the breed performs under fire. You’re just looking for a loving, loyal family pet. So, does the German shepherd or Belgian Malinois fit the bill?
Both of these canines are working dogs and have a naturally high activity level — that’s why they’re great for police and military work. If you’re looking for a pet who is content to lounge around all day, these breeds might not be right for you. But for dog owners ready to commit to the necessary exercise, training, and socialization, both the German shepherd and the Belgian Malinois can make wonderful companions.
Let’s compare these breeds — the German shepherd vs. Belgian Malinois — and learn more about their history, appearance, temperament, trainability, grooming, and health.
Sometime in the late 1800s, a military officer in Germany named Captain Max von Stephanitz bred various herding dogs into one uniform breed, effectively creating the German shepherd. The breed came to the United States in the early 20th century and has been used as a working dog ever since. In more recent decades, the GSD has become more popular as a household companion.
The Belgian Malinois hails from — you guessed it — Belgium, in particular the Malines region in the northwestern part of the country. Because of their very high energy level, the Mal was bred and used as a herding dog early on, just like the German shepherd. Thanks to their strong noses and excellent tracking abilities, the Belgian Malinois has frequently been used for police, military, and search and rescue work around the world.
Appearance and Size
The Belgian Malinois is often mistaken for the German shepherd, and it’s no wonder why. These two dog breeds look very similar. But there are a few key differences that can help you tell them apart.
When comparing German shepherd vs. Belgian Malinois size, remember that the German shepherd is slightly larger. The American Kennel Club (AKC) lists the GSD’s weight at 65-90 pounds for males and 50-70 pounds for females. The Belgian Malinois, on the other hand, weighs in at 60-80 pounds (males) and 40-60 pounds (females). However, both breeds are similar in height, with males standing between 24 and 26 inches off the ground and females about 22 to 24 inches tall.
Belgian Malinois dogs don’t have as much black in their coats as German shepherds — the Mal is usually fawn-colored, while the GSD comes in black and tan, black and cream, and black and silver coat configurations, among others. However, both dogs have black around the face, sometimes referred to as a “black mask.”
Temperament and Personality
German shepherd dogs and the Malinois are bred to be working dogs. And their history as herding breeds make both ideal for police work and other serious undertakings. But how does that impact their personality as pets?
Both the GSD and the Mal are high-energy, alert breeds that like — and need — to have a “job,” whether that’s herding something or simply walking on a leash. Both breeds make good jogging or hiking partners and do best with an owner who enjoys an active lifestyle. Ideally, they’ll have a backyard with plenty of space to roam. It’s certainly possible to own one of these dogs in an apartment or condo, but be prepared to go for frequent dog park trips and long walks and runs.
Like any other breed, these dogs are prone to separation anxiety, aggression, and other behavioral issues if they don’t receive proper guidance and training. Consult an animal behaviorist or dog trainer for help avoiding or addressing these issues. You can also try giving your companion Native Pets’ Calming Chews, which can help to reduce general anxiety and even promote better sleep.
Training the German shepherd vs. Belgian Malinois will be very similar. Both dogs are highly intelligent and very trainable (remember, they like having a job to do), so they can learn a variety of commands and tricks. Both dogs respond well to positive reinforcement via verbal praise and treats.
As is the case with any dog, proper training and early socialization will be essential for either breed — these dogs will do best when they’ve undergone a thorough dog training regimen either from you as the owner or a professional trainer.
Both of these dog breeds have a double coat consisting of a top layer and an undercoat. They’re both moderate shedders and will benefit from regular brushing and the occasional bath.
If you’re allergic to pet dander or you’re looking for a more hypoallergenic dog, either dog may be especially challenging to own. You might want to go with a breed like a poodle or a Portuguese water dog instead, which are relatively high-energy breeds that are less likely to cause allergy problems.
Neither the German shepherd or the Malinois should ever be shaved – their double coat keeps them cool in the summer and warm in the winter, and shaving it off will expose them to the elements. Longer hair around the legs and tail can be trimmed carefully with scissors if desired.
Health and Lifespan
When comparing the German shepherd vs. Belgian Malinois lifespan, there is a clear difference. The AKC lists the Belgian Malinois’ life expectancy at 14-16 years, and the German shepherd’s at 7-10. So, the Belgian Malinois tends to live nearly twice as long as the German shepherd. How long you’re looking to commit to a dog and have that companion in your life is something to consider when choosing between these two breeds.
As medium- to large-sized dogs who remain quite active, both the GSD and the Mal are prone to musculoskeletal health issues like hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and degenerative disc disease. The German shepherd is slightly larger, so they may be at an increased risk for bloat. Both breeds are prone to eye health problems such as progressive retinal atrophy. Still, both of these breeds are fairly healthy overall.
Want to help your dog have better joint health and less pain as they age? Try Native Pet’s Relief Chicken Chews, which are specially formulated for senior dogs and can help reduce pain and aid in long-term joint health.
Generally, the German shepherd is the more popular dog breed as a household pet. But the Belgian Malinois is becoming more popular as time goes on, ranked 36th by the AKC in 2021 while the German shepherd occupied the fourth spot.
The more popular a dog breed is, the more likely you are to pay a premium price if you’re purchasing a dog from a breeder or a pet store. If you’re adopting a popular breed from a shelter, the price tag will usually be much lower, although it depends on your area, the dog in question, and the shelter itself. Either way, popularity and pricing are important things to consider when you’re bringing a new dog into your life.
German Shepherd vs. Belgian Malinois: Make the Best Choice
The German shepherd vs. Belgian Malinois: These are two working dog breeds that dog lovers all over the world can appreciate. Which one is right for you? That’s up to you to decide.
Both breeds look very similar. The German shepherd is slightly larger, and usually has more black in their coat. Both of these dogs are high-energy working breeds that need a lot of exercise and mental stimulation. They have similar temperaments and grooming needs, and both are very trainable dogs. The Belgian Malinois tends to live a bit longer with a lifespan of 14-16 years compared to the German shepherd’s 7-10.
Both breeds need a lot of attention, exercise, and time devoted to them — these dogs might not be the right choice for a first-time dog owner. But for those who are willing to make the commitment these dogs require, either breed will make a wonderful pet.
For more insights into your dog’s health, wellness, and behavior needs, visit the Native Pet blog.