Belgian Malinois vs German Shepherd - Similarities & Differences

Belgian Malinois vs German Shepherd - Similarities & Differences

Author WDF Staff | Last updated: May 03 2023


Most active dog community members are familiar with these two breeds. German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois are arguably two of the best working breeds in the world, and they are often a part of the police or military K-9 unit. They are very active dogs that make wonderful family pets if you know how to properly treat them.

Some of us that are not that active in the dog world could potentially mistake these breeds for one another. That is why we decided to describe the main differences between these amazing working breeds and help you differentiate them.

Similarities between Belgian Malinois and German Shepherd

If you look at these two dogs from afar, they might be difficult to distinguish. They have a similar appearance and stance, and mostly because they have such a similar heritage. Here are some of the common things these two breeds share.

1. Intelligence

When it comes to Belgian Malinois vs. German Shepherd, the first thing we need to mention is their intelligence. Both of these breeds are extremely intelligent. They can perform tasks and commands given to them by hand gestures. They can also perform complicated tasks that involve several steps. They also belong on the most trainable dogs list. They wouldn’t be picked as service dogs if it wasn’t for their intelligence.

malinois jumping

It is a good idea to start training your intelligent dog as soon as possible. It is a good idea to start with clicker training. Check out this article that can let you in on clicker training secrets - Getting Started With Clicker Training.

2. Heritage

Both German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois have a similar heritage. Both breeds have started as active herding dogs. The Malinois was known as the best working breed in Belgium. The German Shepherd was standardized in the late 19th century and came from various German herding dogs.

3. Activity level

The amount of exercise these working dogs require is very similar. Although, the Belgian Malinois is arguably a bit more energetic than the German Shepherd. Just walking them every day will not be enough. These dogs require active play sessions, training, and socialization to truly be happy. Even with all that done, it might seem like the dog still has energy for a few more rounds. They are incredibly energetic and active.

Such active dogs will need toys. Check out this article that can help you pick the right toy for your dog - What Are Good Toys for Dogs?

4. Protectiveness

Both German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois can make amazing personal protection dogs. They are loyal to their owners. If that part of their character is developed, they will become fearless personal or property protectors. They have a natural watchdog instinct, which means they will keep a close eye on anything going on in their environment. They are somewhat distrustful towards strangers, which is a trait you would want in a watchdog.

german-shepherd running

5. Dog sports

Such active dogs need healthy energy outlets. Dogs whose activity needs are not met will most likely become destructive, and they will develop behavioral problems. It wasn’t long before some owners started including these two breeds in different dog sports. As expected, they excelled and established themselves as fierce competitors others needed to beat if they wanted to become champions.

Some of the sports these dogs excelled at are

Check out the full Belgian Malinois breed profile here.

Differences between Belgian Malinois and German Shepherd

It is pretty easy to notice that these two breeds are pretty similar in their characters. They are intelligent, energetic, hard-working, lovable dogs that can make excellent pets and guardians. The only thing you need to decide is in what way you want to develop their character. Whatever you decide, both these breeds will need plenty of training and socialization.

When you come closer to these dogs, their differences start to be a lot more apparent. They might have a similar stance, but some key differences between the German Shepherd and Belgian Malinois are too hard to miss. Here are the key differences between the Belgian Malinois and the German Shepherd.

1. Size

the first key difference between these two dogs is their size. The German Shepherd is a lot more substantial than the Belgian Malinois. Malinois is slimmer and lighter, which is why these dogs are more often used for military service. Their slightly smaller size makes them ideal for assignments that involve parachuting. German Shepherds are usually 22-26 inches tall and can weigh 50-90 pounds. Belgian Malinois is 22-26 inches tall but can weigh a maximum of 75 pounds.

2. Proportions

If you study these breeds closely, other differences will present themselves. German Shepherd’s ears are less triangular than Malinois’ ears. Also, Malinois has a square build, which means they are as long as they are tall, and German Shepherds are longer than they are tall.

malinois running with toy

3. Popularity

Though these dogs have very similar personalities, German Shepherds are considered somewhat less intense. This is why they are so popular. The GSD is the second most popular dog breed in the US, and the Belgian Malinois currently sits on Nr. 46. However, social media is starting to turn things around, and videos of Malinois performing complicated tricks and exercises are skyrocketing their popularity.

RELATED: The 15 Most Popular Dog Breeds in the US

4. Coat

The most apparent difference between the Belgian Malinois and the German Shepherd is their coat. While both of them have a short, double coat, the colors are rather different. Belgian Malinois can range from fawn to mahogany, and all dogs have black masks. German Shepherds have the traditional black and tan colors, but they can also come in black, black and cream, black and silver, black and red, liver, and sable pattern.

Taking care of a dog’s coat is not easy. Here is an article that can help you do that - Shedding Season Must-Haves

5. Prey drive

One of the most significant differences is also the prey drive these breeds possess. Belgian Malinois’ prey drive is exceptionally high. These dogs are not suitable for living with smaller pets like cats, rabbits, gerbils, or guinea pigs. German Shepherds are a bit milder, and you can find evidence of many GSDs living peacefully alongside cats.

german-shepherd-dog front

If you want to read more about the German Shepherd, check out the full GSD breed profile.

Now you know some similarities and differences between these two breeds. When it comes to Belgian Malinois vs. German Shepherd, it often boils down to future owners’ preference and ability to handle and work with either of these breeds.

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