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Belgian Malinois Vs German Shepherds – What’s The Difference?

German shepherds vs Belgian Malinois, two breeds often compared to one another for various reasons.

Today, however, we are not only going to evaluate their similarities but also explore some of the differences in the breeds, their history’s, temperaments and pretty much everything else right down to their favorite dog food brand…. maybe.

Belgian Malinois Vs German Shepherds

History And Origins Of Both Breeds

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So, to start let’s talk about the German shepherd, one of history’s most famous and most loved breeds.

The German shepherd obviously hails from Germany, emerging in 1899 as the German people looked to standardize the breeding of dogs, forming the Phylax Society to this end, endeavoring to breed dogs with specific traits for specific jobs, such as herding sheep.

The traits that they therefore induced into the dogs varied per requirement, but in the case of breeding a dog for the purpose of herding cattle, the resultant traits were intelligence, strength, and a strong sense of smell.

This make-up, of course, endeared the breed to work in many fields, not just the farm.

The breed was made official by Max Von Stephanitz, an ex-cavalry captain, who upon being presented a dog named Hektor, a product of intensive selective breeding, purchased the dog immediately and then later formed the Society for the German Shepherd Dog.

It was shortly after this that the dog breed began to gain popularity in the country and then later the wider world, however, it wasn’t long before stock in the breed hit an all-time low.

This was due to one famous proponent of the Shepherd, famed owner of several such dogs, a man named Adolf Hitler who was known for his numerous paintings of the animals and for usually having one by his side on the countryside retreats.

Of course, the man was also one of history’s worst monsters and therefore didn’t do much for the dog’s popularity, but hey, you can’t blame the breed for that.

The German shepherd is also commonly referred to as an Alsatian.

This is due to a renaming campaign in the United States during and after the Second World War as the country wanted to distance themselves and the dogs they were using in their military and police from the German enemy as much as possible.

The Belgian Malinois, also unsurprisingly, hails from Belgium and were also breed in a similar manner for the purpose of herding sheep and other cattle.

They originated in the late 1800s also and were part of a group of dogs known as Belgian Shepherds.

The breed was officially recognized by professor Adolphe Ruel who characterized the breed as a medium-sized, square dog with dark brown eyes and triangular ears.

Once again, due to the traits of herding cattle being so desirable for every working dog, the breed was quickly adapted into working for the military and police.

Comparing Their Physical Traits

In terms of looks, the breeds are both stunning, famed for their looks and agile yet strong looking frames.

The breeds are very similar in their make-up with many people confusing the lesser-known Malinois for a German Shepherd, thinking of the breed to be just a younger or smaller Shepherd with a lighter blonde coat.

The Malinois, however, is a lot sleeker in its build, not a speck on a well looked after Malinois is without purpose. With the females of the breed averaging 40-60 pounds and the males about 60-80, all this results in a nearly tireless breed.

The German Shepherd, on the other hand, is about 10% larger than a Malinois as females are about 50-70 pounds and males averaging between 65 and 90 pounds.

However, even though the shepherd carries more weight, the Malinois actually averages as the taller of the two, roughly at 56 – 66cm compared to 55 – 65cm for German Shepherds.

Also, the Shepherd has a slightly longer coat than a Malinois with a thicker and fluffier undercoat, unlike Malinois, German Shepherd can also be found with long coats.

In short, in the gym of dog breeds, the Belgian Malinois is the CrossFit athlete and the Shepherd is the Powerlifter.

German shepherds vary from the Malinois also in coat coloring, the classic look for a shepherd being the black and tan number, however, these colors can differ and change over time, dog to dog.

Due to these differences in appearance and coats, the grooming regimes of the two breeds differ.

First of all, due to the Shepherds double layer of fur, they can be quite hard to bathe as the outer layer is water repellent, this layer also sheds seasonally in the fall and winter months.

Also, just like most dogs, both do require weekly grooming to keep their coats tidy.

The Malinois does, however, shed more on the whole and because the breed has deeper ears, they need to be examined regularly for wax build up as well as mites and other debris that could make its way down there.

What Are Their Health Risks?

This brings us on to the health of the breeds. Now, whilst not being a nice thing to think about, it is something to consider if your pondering on which dog to bring into your home.

The two dogs have different life spans, probably due to the increased size of the German Shepherd, their life span is 10-12 years compared to the 12-14 you can expect a Malinois to live for.

Throughout these life spans the two dogs will both be prone to suffer from hip and elbow dysplasia; the breeds are famous for it but you can get a vet to check a particular dog’s likelihood of developing such problems before committing.

The Shepherds, as a breed are more susceptible to develop allergies and diabetes as they grow old whilst the Malinois are more likely to develop diabetes and cancer in their later years.

What Are Their Temperments?

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Now, onto the temperament of both breeds. As expected from dogs purpose breed for work, they are smart and always willing to participate, making them, very easy to train for the experienced dog owners.

In fact, they take so well to training that the very first seeing eye dog was a German Shepherd named Buddy back in 1908. I say experienced owners as their size and intelligence can be a lot to handle for first-timers.

Also, another benefit from being off herding stock is that the breeds possess a keen awareness of their surroundings and remain vigilant at all times.

All of this makes the breeds perfect K-9 units or guard dogs. In fact, it is recorded that as early as 1908, two Belgian sheepdogs were imported into the United States to work as police dogs.

All of this, therefore, results in a breed of dog which simply cannot be kept in a back garden from dusk to dawn, day in day out.

The breeds are built to work, built for arduous exercise every day and this is what they crave.

Due to this working spirit, the breeds get along with other dogs just as well as they have been socialized to do, neither shows more aggression than the other, and neither is known to be more aggressive than any other breed.

Essentially, when properly socialized there is no reason to worry.

From all of this, you would, therefore, assume that in terms of temperament, the breeds are pretty much identical, but this isn’t true on the whole.

For example, as mentioned earlier, the Malinois’ are notoriously difficult to tire out, being a much slimmer and more efficient build result in a dog which is tirelessly searching for stimulation which if not exercised properly, could be found in ripping apart a sofa or digging a miniature trench in the back garden.

The Malinois is also notorious for two things, one being their barking. The breed is known for barking or howling to express their emotions.

Therefore, they are liable to bark a lot without proper, lengthy training.

A German Shepherd, however, is a very quiet breed with a lower barking tendency. The breed is also known for its high prey drive.

In other words, do not own, buy or adopt a Belgian Malinois if you have a cat. These dogs are not cat friendly so please, just don’t.

German Shepherds, on the other hand, are much easier to tire in comparison.

This means that the breed can live happily on decent levels of exercise accompanied by a good amount of inter pack interactions.

In other words, a lot of play with their owners.

These lower activity levels also make the breed much more adaptable, being able to adjust to living situations such as apartments or housing without gardens much easier.

These traits make the Shepherds a lot more family and kid-friendly when compared to the Malinois.

However, Malinois are by no means bad to have in a family setting, the only problem being is that the breed is known to be very protective or quick to jealousy which can result in the breed acting out.

Which Dog Is Better For Families?

A short comparison of their traits in a family setting would be that a Malinois is a breed that craves action, a goal to achieve, whilst a Shepherd craves attention from its family circle.

Due to these varying differences in temperament, both dogs, whilst being very similar require owners with different outlooks on what a dog should be.

A prospective dog owner who is looking for a warm and affectionate family pet who loves both running and lounging, who doesn’t mind a toddler hanging off its side for hours on end, should look into adopting or buying a German Shepherd.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a dog that can keep up with a very active lifestyle and enjoys various tasks and challenges without necessarily needing its owner to spend hours lavishing affection over it, then the Belgium Malinois is for you.

Speaking of good family dogs check out our Golden Retriever vs German Shepherd and best family dogs articles.

Which Breed Is More Popular?

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As mentioned earlier, the German Shepherd is fantastically popular.

More so than the Malinois, however, the gap between the two is lessening every year.

The AKC registration touts the German shepherd to be the 2nd most popular breed in the world whilst the Malinois is only the 43rd.

However, this is a staggering improvement from a couple of years ago where the breed ranked 76th.

However, due to this lower popularity level, there are less Malinois being breed today than many dogs, this means that for the few who have their hearts set on the breed may face extra difficulties securing one that’s right for them.

These difficulties, depending on where you live could vary between the sheer number available to you in a set distance to the very price some breeders will charge for one pup if you go that route that is.

The growth in the Malinois’ popularity can be linked to many things.

You could say that ever since the breed has overtaken the Shepherd as the dog of choice for the military and police, the breed’s popularity has been on the incline.

Especially after it was made public that it was this particular breed that Seal Team 6 brought into Pakistan in the successful mission of eliminating Osama Bin Landen.

This spike in popularity then resulted in a knock-on effect which showed the dogs popping up more and more on social media and TV.

So, Which Breed Is The Best?

In the end, I think its fair to say that whilst the two are very similar, they differ enough to require two very different owners who have different expectations from their pets.

But it’s safe to say whichever of these fine friends you pick, they will be a friend for life and a welcome addition to it.


Belgian Malinois

German Shepherds


I started this site because I am a dog lover. Most of my social feeds are full of dogs and I am always learning more about them. I also have a lifetime of experience with dogs packed with tactics, tips, and funny stories that I want to share with the world!

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