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Fact, Fiction, and Fun- Malinois Lore

I’ve heard and read many different ideas about malinois, but the key to remember is, malinois are dogs, highly trainable, very intelligent, sensitive, human-oriented dogs who want to work with and for their people. Some of the things you might read or hear about malinois include:

“Can never be ‘just’ pets”

“Can’t be left alone for more than an hour”

“Need six hours of exercise and training a day”

“Not good with kids”

“Destroy the furniture”
“Constantly circle in the house”

Most of the statements above are from owners or people who have observed malinois with poor training, lack of exercise and mental stimulation, poor management and/or lousy genetics.

The first statement, on malinois not being a “pet” is the most contentious. Malinois breeders are rightly concerned that the working malinois will be watered down into a nervy, fear-biting mess by unscrupulous breeders catering to the pet market. This is a valid concern, which is why I encourage people interested in malinois to do their research, and buy a working line pup from solid genetics with strong nerves and stable temperament, and from a breeder who supports and screens puppy buyers.

I also agree that “pet” the way the general public envisions it does not fit most malinois. They need active owners who work with their dogs each day and devote a great deal of time and energy into their training. I prefer to describe malinois that are not active in protection sports as “active companions” and know of many happy, successful malinois in such a role- again due to the solid genetics of the malinois, and the involvement and knowledge of the owner.

The “pet” vs. “working” description is also confusing to many because dogs who participate in the “sport” of IPO are denoted “working dogs” despite the activity being mere sport. While some “pets” are active in tracking wounded game or another activity that might actually be considered “work”. So, again, terminology gets confusing.

Given proper screening of prospective owners, I firmly believe a well-bred malinois can thrive as an active companion.

Let’s start with the basics.

As a breeder, I strive to maintain the working qualities and health of the breed, so that I produce pups capable of work in many venues, including police K9 and dog sports. But at the same time, I am well aware that many if not most malinois- even from top breeders- go to homes where the dog is not going to be active in IPO (schutzhund), police K9, or other protection sports, and where even if the dog is a sport dog, he is also going to be a house dog who needs to be capable of participating in “pet” dog activities, like going for a hike, or playing fetch at the lake where there are other people and dogs.

Malinois are Dogs, Sled dogs are Dogs

Much of what I hear about the malinois reminds me of myths I’ve heard about sled dogs. Mushers will argue that a sled dog is content on a 6 foot chain most of his life, because then he gets to be outside where he is more comfortable, and with his team mates (who are also on chains). Myths about sled dogs also include that sled dogs are difficult to train and very stubborn, need hours of running a day or they’ll go crazy, are not good with children, will just take off running if let off the leash or chain (might be true if the dog has been chained for months), and in general do not make good pets. Thus chaining the dogs their entire lives unless they are pulling in harness is OK, or, they’d argue, better than being a pet.

I own a sled dog, from a musher’s kennel, and have for 9 years now. He is just a dog, nothing more or less. He is enjoys the comforts of a dog bed by the fire, loves the house, is very trainable, and likes being with people. He does not have to run 100 miles per day, in harness, to relax, and he would not at all enjoy being chained to a 6 foot line in a typical sled dog yard, where he’d be forced to urinate and defecate within his own circle, and maybe not get off that chain for months in the off season. In fact, he is very clean, and is the only puppy I’ve raised who was instantly house trained.

Here’s the catch – the Alaskan husky or sled dog has been so removed from a “normal” dog in Alaska, that sled dogs are classified as livestock, while “pet” dogs are classified as, yes, dogs. This allows sled dogs to be warehoused on chains most of their lives, to be killed when they are no longer useful to the musher, and not subject to animal cruelty laws that apply to “pet” dogs.

I see a similar divide between “pet” and “working-dog” in the malinois world.

But first- as I have written throughout this page, ABSOLUTELY malinois need a job, they need daily exercise both mental and physical, they need involved, knowledgeable owners willing to put time and energy into training, and they need strong leadership so they do not get to decide what is and isn’t a threat. Malinois are bred to use their mouths (eg. bite and tug things), to be confident and intelligent, and to have extreme drives for ball, tug, food, and to work and engage closely with their handler.

I fully support participation and titling in protection sports as a test of breed worthiness particularly for stud dogs. I select stud dogs based on their ability to meet the challenges of protection sports, along with health, a stable temperament, clear head, and little to no handler aggression.

However, malinois, in essence, are still dogs.

GOOD training of any kind will and does work for a malinois, just as it would work for a husky, a labrador, or a yorkie. The key is that a failure of or lack of training could have more dire consequences for a malinois. If a lab isn’t trained… maybe he’d be too friendly or jump on someone. An untrained or poorly raised malinois, who follows his instinctual drives, might chase down cars, bikes, and people, bark and hold the mailman, or decide a visiting relative he’s never met is a threat.

This is where EARLY SOCIALIZATION and training are key along with GOOD STABLE GENETICS.

There is also application of MANAGEMENT which means containment and control through physical means or not exposing the dog to certain situations. For example, if I have a person coming to my house to sand down the floors, I simply put any dogs who don’t instantly welcome a strange man in the house in a secure area away from the worker. The reason for this is two-fold. First, it is not fair to ask a person who is there to do a job to take the time to make sure he is properly introduced to my dogs. Second, it is not worth the hassle, for me, and not a situation that occurs often enough for it to be a big deal.

Putting the dogs in a secure area away from the visiting workman is management. Training would be teaching the dogs to sit and greet the stranger politely, then go to a certain place or bed and stay there until released, not bothering the stranger while he works on the floors with loud machines for hours. Again, I choose management, some might choose training.

It is up to you, the owner to KNOW YOUR DOG and set him up for success.

It is also up to the owner to select a pup with the best genetic base possible to make their job easier to train in whatever sport or working venue they choose and also participate in home or family life to whatever degree that particular owner chooses or wants.

As a breeder, I love seeing my pups go to homes where they are worked in a sport like IPO or ring, and go on to title. That makes me proud and confident in the dogs I am producing.

However, if a prospective owner can offer a good environment for a malinois pup with plenty of training and exercise, confident leadership, and early socialization, I am more than willing to consider placing a pup in that situation as well. It all depends on the prospective puppy owners and the pup in question. I do my best to match the right pup with the right situation, while always being honest about what a malinois is and the time and effort a malinois takes to train, exercise, and socialize properly.

To finish, I care deeply about any puppy I breed, and want only a happy, fulfilled life for him and his owners.

This blog post from “Talented Animals” sums up the essence of what I really look for in a puppy home  (see full link below):

“I encountered an interesting question on FB—if you were creating a quiz to test the knowledge of potential puppy homes, what are some of the questions you would include?

There were many excellent answers offered: questions about breed history, training, nutrition, exercise, management, behavior…

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I would not quiz about knowledge. One does not need to start with a great deal of knowledge to be a great owner, and all the knowledge that is required can be easily acquired. Some of the most “knowledgeable” people are among the last to whom I would give a puppy. And it is often those who have a little knowledge who are least open to learning and growing.

If you are seeking to acquire an animal from me, I want to know if you are committed, dedicated, devoted. I want to know if you will reshape your life to accommodate an animal. I want to know if you will stay up all night to comfort a frightened puppy. I want to know if 15 years from now you will sleep on the floor every night to be with your old friend. I want to know what you will do if ten years from now you are offered a great job in a location where you cannot take your dog. I want to know if you will give your time and your heart to this animal. I want to know if you are genuinely open to listening, to learning, from others, from books, from your animal; and that you will remain open and critical to new ideas and opinions and will always strive to improve and grow. I want to know if you will laugh and cry and cuddle. I want to know if you will make a fool of yourself to make him happy; if you will see his innocence even when he is destroying your favorite possession, and his beauty even when he is vomiting on your carpet. I want to know that you will try to see the world from his perspective. I want to know that you are willing and able to make the hard decisions to do what is best for your animal, even when it is not easy or is not what feels best for you. I want to know what kind of leader you are, whether you relate through intimidation, coercion, supplication, or shared trust. I want to know how you will handle the hard days, the failures, the heartbreaks. I want to know that you have genuinely thought about these issues, not to give me the best answers, but to be certain in your own heart that you are ready and open to completely sharing your life with an animal, and to wherever that path may take you.

For me, these core attributes and aptitudes are what matter—if they are in place, knowledge will easily and surely come, if not all the knowledge in the world will not help….”

What I look for in an animal home