Originally posted to the email list Belg-L, Louise OShaughnessy clarified her observations somewhat in order that we could offer the prospective first time Malinois owner some insight into what being owned by a Belgian Malinois might be like.
My husband and I are newcomers to Belgians, although we've had many dogs over the years, and our Belgian Malinois Big Boy is almost a year old now. Adopted from a local shelter, when he was about 8 weeks old, it's been a memorable year, his super activity level has been a real challenge for us.
We've discovered no previous breed ownership can prepare you for the activity level a Belgian needs for mental and physical health, no prior warnings about the breed can adequately prepare you for the wild ride you're in for when you adopt a Belgian. We've read that the Malinois is the most driven and intense of the Belgian varieties, and that barely begins to describe the intensity with which these dogs live every moment of their lives. They are tremendously physical. Very often playing by running at you and body blocking you with a flying tackle that can knock a full-grown man to the ground. Or sometimes just bumping you in passing, a legacy of their herding heritage. They can also be very mouthy, and it's very important from a young age to teach bite inhibition, as they are tremendously strong, fast and are capable of inflicting unintentional damage, a reason a Belgian might not be suitable for a family with small children. This also is a relic of their herding heritage. Unlike the Australian Shepherds who use a lot of intimidating eye contact to herd sheep, Belgians use a lot of physicality, even to the extent of trying to drag a sheep where the dog wants it to go; our 65 pound Mal will drag our 100 pound Airedale/Samoyed across the yard and back to the house when I call them to come in, and every so often tries to drag me back to the house.
When Big Boy drives us nuts whipping around the house at 80 miles an hour, leaping over furniture, our other dogs, and jumping the cats or digging holes in our bed mattress, we've found that he really needs intensive, highly physical play time with us, and lots of it. Belgian Malinois pups don't do well cooling their heels in outdoor kennels or indoors as couch potatoes, they need to be with their people, and they need to be in motion, they can get frustrated and bored otherwise. They really physiologically need that explosive exercise level to disburse the enormous energy they have. When Big Boy is all wound up, we take him outdoors, have vigorous multi tennis ball fetch or frisbee games, tug games, or a long and interesting walk in our woods, then he'll generally come back indoors and sack out.
The Belgian pup will also enjoy having a job, and you should get him involved in something like agility, flyball or herding, where he can use his considerable energy. If your pup is hyperalert, seems easily distracted by sights and sounds, that's part of the breed too. Our Mal will pick up on the slightest sound, or spot the most minute visual cue that he thinks is strange, it's part and parcel of the herding watchfulness. You can help make your pup less skiddish by exposing it gradually to new sights, new sounds and new people. Socializing it, so it gradually becomes less likely to take every stimulus as a major one that must be dealt with, but providing very vigorous physical
activity is the key. When a Belgian has something fun to do, or can play and run like the wind, it's happy, when it doesn't, it finds it's own projects, and that's not always a good thing. But, Belgians are tremendously intelligent, intuitive, sensitive, loyal and loving, characteristics that make the struggles through Belgian puppyhood worthwhile.
Louise & John OShaughnessy , Bentley Creek, Pennsylvania
Big Boy Mal, Argos the Airedale/Samoyed, Tommie the Terrier, Charlie and Casey cats