The Belgian Malinois and German Shepherd Dog are two of the most popular working dog breeds in the world. Both have a storied history working in police, military and personal protection roles.
These intelligent, driven breeds have many similarities but also some distinct differences. So how do you choose between a Belgian Malinois and a German Shepherd?
This in-depth guide will compare the breeds on everything from appearance and temperament to health and training requirements. Read on to learn all about what makes these breeds special and how to pick the right one for your family.
History and Origins: When and Where Were They First Bred?
To understand what makes the Belgian Malinois and German Shepherd unique, it helps to look at their origins and journey to becoming working dogs.
The Belgian Malinois Origin
The Belgian Malinois was first bred in the 1800s in the city of Malines, Belgium. It was one of four variations of Belgian shepherd dogs, including the Tervuren, Laekenois and Belgian Sheepdog.
These Belgian herding dogs were bred to withstand the weather and keep sheep under control. The Malinois was the shorter-haired variety prized for its intelligence and herding abilities.
As farming declined, the Malinois found new work with the police and military. Their first introduction to the United States was in 1911 when Malinois were imported as police dogs. The breed gained AKC recognition in 1959.
The German Shepherd Dog Origin
In 1899, Captain Max von Stephanitz in Germany sought to create the perfect working dog. He was impressed with native herding dogs and bred dogs with the best traits to establish the German Shepherd Dog breed.
The intelligent, athletic and driven German Shepherd quickly grew into one of the world’s most versatile working dogs. They were brought to America in the early 1900s but breeding stock was limited during World War I.
The breed regained popularity as military dogs then became favorite family companions and show dogs by the 1950s.
While the Malinois was honing its skills in Belgium and the German Shepherd in Germany, both breeds were adapting to move livestock.
This shared genetic heritage means they have similar instincts to work, high intelligence and focus that serves them well as police or military dogs.
Size and Appearance: How to Tell Them Apart Visually
Though they have similarities, these breeds have distinct appearances that help tell them apart at a glance:
|Tan coat with black mask/overlay
|Black saddle and markings
|Triangular, erect ears
|Pointed, erect ears
|Square, athletic build
|Longer body, muscular build
|22-24 in (56–61 cm) height
|22-26 in (55–65 cm) height
|40-80 lb (18-36 kg) weight
|50-90 lb (23-41 kg) weight
The Malinois has a lighter tan coat with a black mask, while the German Shepherd is known for the black saddle pattern over a mix of black and tan fur.
In body, the Malinois is square in proportions while the Shepherd has a longer, leggier outline. The Malinois weighs on average 10-20 pounds less than a Shepherd.
Temperament and Personality: Energetic Workers
As herding breeds, the Belgian Malinois and German Shepherd have energetic personalities devoted to working closely with their owner. However, there are some notable differences.
The Malinois is intensely driven to work and please its handler. This breed needs extensive daily activity and thrives when given a job to do.
Malinois form close bonds with their owner while remaining wary of strangers. They are sensitive to correction and want to get things right. The Malinois needs an experienced owner able to provide firm guidance.
German Shepherd Temperament
The German Shepherd is equally energetic but a bit calmer than the Malinois. This breed is intensely loyal and highly intelligent.
German Shepherds bond deeply with all family members. They have a natural protective instinct and are more trusting of strangers compared to the Belgian Malinois.
This breed is independent and benefits from advanced training. A German Shepherd wants to partner with their owner during activities.
- Highly energetic
- Love to work and learn
- Intensely loyal
- Naturally protective
- Require experienced handling
- Malinois: More driven, sensitive, needs a job
- Shepherd: Calmer indoors, bonds with whole family
Training Needs: Focused and Eager to Learn
The Belgian Malinois and German Shepherd are both highly trainable breeds. However, their drive and independence levels differ.
The Malinois excels at obedience work and task training. This breed learns rapidly and has a strong desire to get things right for a reward.
Repetition in training keeps the Malinois engaged as it loves perfecting a skill. Clear leadership is essential to handle this dog’s intense energy.
The German Shepherd responds extremely well to advanced training. But this breed is more independent than the Malinois, so firm, consistent handling is a must.
The Shepherd benefits from variety and challenges during training to prevent boredom. This breed is eager to learn and please handlers.
- Excellent responsiveness to commands
- Fast learners
- Need significant mental stimulation
- Require confident, experienced handling
Training these energetic breeds takes commitment. But their shared intelligence ensures they thrive when trained properly.
Exercise Needs: High Activity Levels Required
Both the Belgian Malinois and German Shepherd need vigorous daily exercise to prevent problem behaviors from boredom.
Malinois Exercise Needs
The Malinois truly thrives with 2+ hours of hard exercise each day. This breed excels at dog sports that test its speed, agility and obedience skills.
Jobs that provide mental and physical challenges are ideal for the Malinois. Long runs, hiking, backpacking and intense play will help meet this breed’s needs.
Shepherd Exercise Needs
The German Shepherd also requires extensive daily exercise but is less active indoors than the Malinois. At least 1-2 hours per day of activity is best.
This breed loves to jog alongside bicycles, play fetch and participate in dog sports. Providing interactive toys indoors helps satisfy the Shepherd.
- Need for vigorous daily activity
- Love of interactive play, learning games
- Risk of boredom/destruction without enough activity
- Enjoy dog sports (agility, flyball etc)
Proper exercise is crucial for both breeds’ health and happiness. Make sure you can commit to providing adequate activity.
Health Issues: prone toJoint Problems
With their athleticism, the Malinois and German Shepherd can be prone to certain joint and bone disorders. However, overall the Malinois is the healthier breed.
Common Malinois Health Issues
- Hip/elbow dysplasia
- Progressive retinal atrophy
This energetic breed has a lifespan of 14-16 years with proper care. Beyond joints and eyes, the Malinois is not prone to many inherited conditions.
Common Shepherd Health Issues:
- Hip/elbow dysplasia
- Degenerative myelopathy
- Heart disease
- Hemangiosarcoma (cancer)
The German Shepherd has a shorter lifespan of 10-12 years. Careful health screening of parents helps avoid some inherited conditions.
Health Testing for Both Breeds
Reputable breeders will test breeding dogs for:
- Hip and elbow X-rays
- Eye exam by a veterinary ophthalmologist
- DNA tests for inheritable conditions
Always ask for proof of health testing before getting a puppy of either breed.
Finding a Reputable Breeder
These popular breeds have plenty of questionable breeders seeking to profit from demand. Avoid buying on impulse and use these tips to find ethical breeders:
- Ask breed clubs for breeder referrals
- Search breeders who prove dogs in sports/work
- Look for health testing and titles on parents
- Beware of breeders who have many litters
- Meet the puppies’ parents if possible
- Ask to see conditions puppies are raised in
Take your time researching breeders. It’s worth the wait to get a healthy puppy!
Comparison Chart: Belgian Malinois vs German Shepherd
|Short tan with black overlay
|Medium length, black + tan/silver mix
|22-24 in tall, 40-80 lbs
|22-26 in tall, 50-90 lbs
|Intense drive and focus, sensitive, devoted to owner
|Calmer indoors but still energetic, bonds strongly with entire family
|Eager to please and repetitively practice; needs very firm leadership
|Quick learner but can be independent; benefits from variety
|Hip/elbow dysplasia, eye problems
|Hip/elbow dysplasia plus higher risk of genetic conditions
Both breeds make phenomenal working dogs and companions but have slightly different activity levels and personalities.
Which Breed is Right for You?
Deciding between the Belgian Malinois vs German Shepherd comes down to your lifestyle and experience with high drive dogs.
Good for the Malinois
- Highly active singles/couples
- Experienced owners able to provide leadership
- Homes without young children
- Owners wanting an intense exercise buddy
- Families able to commit to training
Good for the German Shepherd
- Active owners who enjoy training
- Families with older children
- Owners who want a loyal companion
- Those with time for daily exercise
- Owners able to handle strong breed traits
While both breeds can thrive with the right owners, the Malinois needs even more activity and training than the German Shepherd. Make sure you can fully commit before choosing either breed.
Finding Belgian Malinois and German Shepherd Puppies
Use the breed club (see links below) puppy referral contacts and reach out to breeders. Attend dog shows to meet breeders and get advice.
Expect to wait as reputable breeders often have waiting lists. Avoid those rushing to sell puppies and be wary of overpriced “rare” colors.
Patience pays off in finding a healthy, temperament tested puppy!
Bringing Home Your Malinois or Shepherd
Once you find a puppy, get ready for a wild ride! Enroll in puppy obedience classes right away. Use positive reinforcement and be patient – these are very intelligent dogs.
Socialize your puppy safely to new places, people and experiences. With proper training and leadership, these breeds grow into phenomenal companions.
For the highly active owner able to provide intense daily exercise, advanced training and firm leadership, the Belgian Malinois and German Shepherd are second to none.
Learn about their shared drives and unique traits using this guide, then connect with breed experts to find your perfect pup.
Life is never dull with these alert, energetic and devoted dogs by your side!