Belgian Malinois Vs. German Shepherd: What are the Differences?

Belgian Malinois

The debate over which is the superior breed, a Belgian Malinois or a German Shepherd, has been going on for decades, with both sides vehemently defending their desired breed. While these two dogs share the same physical appearance, several differences set them apart. At first glance, these two breeds appear to be the same dog. They have similar coloring and bone structures, with a large head and long body heavily muscled for their size. Both breeds were originally bred as working dogs to perform various tasks, including herding, guarding, and serving as police dogs.

History: Breed Origins

As the name suggests, the German shepherd was first bred in Germany, while the Belgian Malinois originated in Belgium. A German cavalry officer, Captain Max von Stephanitz, desired a superior herding dog and began developing the German shepherd in the late 1800s. He crossed several breeds of sheepherding dogs – most notably the German Shorthaired Pointer – to develop a canine with superior intelligence and obedience to perform various tasks on farms and ranches. The American Kennel Club would recognize this breed in 1908. Belgian Malinois was also developed in the late 1800s. They were among the four Belgian shepherd dogs developed by a breeder named Adrien Janssens, who was seeking an all-purpose working dog for his farm. The dogs he developed were the Berger Belge (rough-coated), the Tervuren (longhaired), Groenendael (black, long coat), and the Malinois (shorthaired). By around 1900, the Malinois became standardized as a breed.

Breed Information: Appearance, Size, and Colouring

These breeds are so similar that they can be virtually indistinguishable to the uninitiated. They have similar coats, which can be short or rough-haired. Both breeds share the same colors – sable and/or black with a rusty to mahogany overlay – and a large head and long body heavily muscled for their size. The German shepherd is slightly larger than the Malinois, typically weighing between 30 and 40 kgs for the male German shepherd and between 22 and 32kgs for the female German shepherd. The Malinois, on the other hand, weighs between 25 and 30 kg for the male Malinois and between 20 and 25 Kg for the female Malinois. They each have strong jaws with 42 teeth, large, almond-shaped eyes, upright triangular ears (the Malinois’ ears are more tightly pointed), and a long tail that can be either straight or kinked (The German Shepherd’s tail is usually docked at an early age). Both breeds are extremely intelligent, with the ability to learn simple tasks after only five repetitions. They are natural guard dogs and possess strong territorial instincts. Both breeds were originally created for physical labour but have since developed to become popular family pets. Unlike many other breeds classified as “working dogs,” the Belgian Malinois and German Shepherd are both even-tempered, which makes them good companions around children and other animals. In fact, the Malinois is considered a “community dog” by some kennel clubs because of its stable temperament. Unlike many German Shepherd owners, many of those who own a Belgian Malinois as a pet believe their breed is superior because of their intelligence and trainability.


The Malinois and German Shepherd share the same coat colouring: sable and black. The acceptable sable coloration for the Malinois is a range of gold colours that include mahogany, amber, tan, or dark brown with a lighter shade of golden-brown undertones on the muzzle, chest, tail tip, ears, lips, and often on the body and legs. The acceptable black coloration for the Malinois is jet-black with a bright sheen. The German shepherd, meanwhile, has a darker sable color ranging from light brown to mahogany, which underlines their musk and identifies them as such (the Malinois’ mask is more subtle). The German shepherd is almost always solid-colored, while the Malinois may have a small white mark on the chest. Unfortunately for Malinois owners, this breed of dog has recently been found to be more prone to color dilution alopecia than other breeds. This condition causes loss of hair pigmentation and eventually leads to total baldness. Acquired in adulthood, it can be found on all body areas with hair and may progress until the dog is completely depilated.


Both breeds were originally bred as working dogs and are known to be extremely intelligent. They can learn tasks and obey instructions after only five repetitions, making them perfect for obedience training. The breed standard of the German shepherd describes it as “courageous to the point of rashness,” which makes it vigilant, watchful, and devoted to its family. It will bravely confront anything it deems a threat to its people. A Belgian Malinois owner describes their dog as “intensely focused” on whatever task or instruction they are given, whatever that may be. They are known to have an endless supply of energy and stamina, which makes them excellent at agility training, flyball, or other high-intensity exercises. Most Malinois also have a high prey drive, which makes them unsuitable for homes with smaller animals such as cats or rabbits. They are known to be extremely discriminating in their playfulness and prefer tug-of-war games over fetching plastic toys. Most German shepherds can be found in service dog training programs due to their calm and confident temperaments. They are extremely obedient and never resort to aggression unless they or their handlers feel threatened. Both breeds are considered suitable for first-time dog owners, as they can adapt well to various situations. Some Malinois live in apartment buildings with no problems, although it is recommended that they receive a good amount of physical activity every day.

Temperament Differences

German shepherd owners will say that their breed is gentle and loving towards children, while Belgian Malinois owners will say their breed is more intelligent and easier to train. It’s easy to see that these are two breeds with very different temperaments.

Life Expectancy

A Belgian Malinois can live up to 10-13 years, while German shepherds only live up to 9-12 years.

Shedding and Grooming

Both breeds shed year-round and seasonally. However, since German Shepherds have a heavier coat, they tend to shed more profusely than Malinois. The Malinois has an easy-care coat that only requires daily brushing to keep the loose hairs at bay. On the other hand, the German shepherd needs to be brushed often and thoroughly for at least five minutes every day to get rid of dead hairs. Both breeds will need their nails regularly trimmed by a professional groomer or veterinarian, as they do not shed their nails like cats. They will also need to be bathed periodically (preferably with non-detergent shampoos). Be sure also to clean their ears regularly to prevent infections. Also, both breeds are known for having bad breath that’s caused by rotten teeth, so you’ll need to brush their teeth with a specialized pet toothpaste at least twice a week.

Common Health Problems

Both breeds are generally healthy, although they do share a few health problems. The Belgian Malinois has a higher rate of color dilution alopecia than any other dog breed, which causes total baldness and requires lifelong treatment. Also, both Malinois and German Shepherds can suffer from bloat, a life-threatening condition that may need immediate veterinary care.

Activity Levels

Of the two breeds, German shepherds are generally calm and laid-back indoors. However, they will still need to get outside for plenty of exercises as they are known to have high energy levels. Belgian Malinois, on the other hand, are incredibly energetic. They require several hours of vigorous exercise every day to keep them from getting restless and destructive.

Intelligence and Trainability

According to dog breed 911, both breeds are of average intelligence compared to other dogs breeds. They respond well to training, but their high energy levels can make them hard for inexperienced owners to handle. Both the Belgian Malinois and German shepherd are known for being “obstinate” or stubborn while being trained. That means both breeds will need a confident owner with a lot of patience and experience.

Relationship with Family and Kids

Belgian Malinois are known for being good family dogs. Meaning they get along well with children. They enjoy spending time with families and double as excellent watchdogs, hence a perfect choice for first-time dog owners. German Shepherds are also considered good family dogs, but they do have a high prey drive, which means they may not be the best choice for homes with small pets. They are also known to be protective of their families, which makes them good watchdogs as well. However, they tend to be too clingy and may want to follow you around way too much.


Belgian Malinois holds the 37th spot on the Popularity Index of Dog Breeds, while German Shepherds are ranked third. However, with their recent appearances on TV shows and social media, Malinois’ are rapidly gaining popularity.

Ideal Home for Belgian Malinois

Belgian Malinois is a great choice for people who have lots of energy and love to stay active. They work well with experienced dog owners and do fine in apartments, as long as they get enough exercise. They can also get along well with children if raised from puppyhood. But since their prey dive is relatively high, they tend to chase away small pets.

Ideal Home for German Shepherds

According to American Kennel Club, German Shepherds are among the easiest breeds to train, in addition to being good with kids. They work well in all types of homes, including farms and apartments, as long as they get enough exercise. They also do well with other pets, provided they’re raised with them from puppyhood.

Barking Levels

Both breeds can be very vocal but only back when necessary. Belgian Malinois also tend to howl when they get bored or lonely, so they’re not a great choice of dogs if you live in an apartment and work long hours. On the other hand, German Shepherds only bark occasionally and will do well in apartments as long as they get enough exercise.


German Shepherds’ price ranges from $300 to $900 for purebred puppies. Belgian Malinois will usually cost between $1,200 and $1,500 for a purebred with full registration.

Running Speed

Both breeds can run up to 30 mph, but their maximum distance is limited. Belgian Malinois, with their endurance and speed, are quick to tire when running long distances. They also tend to be more hyperactive than German Shepherds and may demand more exercise. On the other hand, German Shepherds will get tired after around three miles and can even develop joint problems if they’re not well-exercised.

Personal Protection Capability

Belgian Malinois are known for being great personal protection dogs. They’re agile, fast, and very intelligent. Police forces often use German Shepherds because they can be trained to do impressive things like sniffing out drugs or helping people in need. Both Belgian Malinois and German Shepherds are considered versatile and easily trainable, and as such, do well in military and police training. German Shepherds are also protective, enough to make good watchdogs, but they’re not as aggressive as Belgian Malinois.

Dog Behavior Issues

Both breeds are intelligent but can become bored if not given enough mental stimulation. That means you should take time to train them, teach them new tricks, and keep their minds active. Also, both breeds are known for having high energy levels, which means they need lots of exercises. They’re also not the best choice if you have a cat or other small animals because they may harass the critters. Be sure to teach them not to chase other animals early on, so it doesn’t become a bad habit. Both breeds can also jump over high fences, so you’ll need a high wall at least six feet tall to keep them on your property.

So which breed is better?

That’s up to you. Before you decide, you should think about how active your lifestyle is, whether you’re willing to give them enough mental stimulation, how much training they’ll need, and if you have the money for a purebred. If you decide on one of these breeds, be sure to socialize them early on, so they don’t become aggressive.

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