Note to the American Public: Belgian Malinois, Look Don’t Touch

I know what you are thinking. Since a Belgian Malinois was used by Navy Seal Team Six on the raid of the Bin Laden compound, it would make a perfect family pet.  Just park it in the living room  next to your Apache Helicopter!

The work of the Belgian Malinois in Bin Laden’s assassination placed a spotlight on the breed  likely to spike the breed’s popularity.  Think of it as the 101 Dalmatians effect.  Think of Creulla De Ville in Fauve Charbonné (the top-secret Malinois coat color).

Balzac working on former Department of Defense trainer Andrew Ramsey.

The fact is Malinois do not make good pets, as they are strictly working and sporting dogs.  If you are NOT already involved with dog sport, you should not get a Malinois.  (I said that ten years ago, click to watch, and I’ll say it again-  Malinois do not make good pets)

Who should get a Malinois?:

  1. Do you dream day and night of improving your performance as a dog trainer?
  2. Do you have reflexes like a Chimpanzee? Can you take a punch without feeling the need to retaliate?
  3. Are you calm in the face of embarrassment, danger,and even  chaos? Can you remain calm around a very hyper dog?
  4. Do you want  a dog that can’t and won’t be a couch potato? A DOG JUST FOR TRAINING?
  5. Do you have at least 2-hours per day to devote to training and exercise?
  6. Do you have access to a Ringsport or Schutzhund club where you can find a mentor?
  7. Are you versed in  positive and negative training modalities?
  8. Are you willing to put canine performance before your own physical and psychological comfort?

If you answer these questions with a round clear YES, you have what it takes to become a Malinois Handler.

Balzac showcasing the full driving grip of the Belgian Malinois

Sandra Mannion and Havoc du Metcalf earn blue ribbons in Rally

Hard Dogs, Soft Arts:  If you think a Malinois is perfect for Agility, Rally, Obedience, or Herding, think again. Be smart and get a Border Collie.  Border Collies are  ideal dogs for sports not requiring bite work.  Malinois are designed for Hard Arts like: French Ring, Belgian Ring, Mondioring, Schutzhund and KNPV. Sure, they also excel in non-bitework competitions. But drive-building, grip-development, and stimulus-control techniques make the Malinois Temperment complete.

Malinois temperament:  When we speak about Malinois temperament, we mean a temperament for work.  The Malinois is highly trainable, totally driven. and immensely responsive to outside factors, unlike a breed with a phlegmatic temperament such as the Labrador or Pit Bull, for example.   

If you are not a relaxed, happy person who loves physical activity, and has a willingness to take a challenge head on, life will not go well for your Malinois puppy.  No doubt it will devolve into a simpering-anti-social-fear-biting-paranoid-walking-liability and not the k9  super hero it was meant to be!

Leon Destailleur, Founder of French Ring Sport.

Tempered Steel:  When a blacksmith makes a sword he  heats raw ore until it’s red hot, and then shapes it into form.   The sword remains soft and pliable, useless for its purpose, until the Smith tempers the blade by successive heatings and coolings. Thus causing a molecular alignment that hardens the edge. By this process, too, the Malinois trainer tempers a Malinois in the forge of Ring.

One of my prize possessions: My old dogs score book with an autograph from Leon Destailleur, Founder of French Ring Sport. It reads, "For Francis my new American Friend"

Every Malinois starts off soft. Eventually, as he matures, if the dog is not tempered through work, he will either end up out of control or fearful.  The trainer taps into the pups drives, heating the steel, and gradually exposing the pup to stressors.  Eventually, as he matures, The trainer brings the pup from the euphoric prey drive state to a state of control and focus, metaphorically tempering the steel.  This plunging from hot to cold, lends the Malinois its solid temperament.

After years of daily training, your Malinois can show the same  temperament as a Lab or German Shepherd, yet have the sharpness to work.  This is how a dog with the bidability of a Border Collie becomes able to perform in stressful environments such as found in Middle East war zones.  It is the trainer’s job to insure good temperament. This happens through work, mostly bite work and character development that are part of the Ringsport foundation.  No surprise to students of the breed– since Malinois and Ringsport evolved together.

If you are interested in dog sports, start with your own dog, and work up to a Malinois.  Even in my household where Malinois are part of our lifestyle, we have them for training and not as pets. Our other dogs are pets.

So, if the dog recruited for the raid on the Bin Laden complex sparked your imagination, before you go out and get one, be aware of the commitment it takes to live with and train a Belgian Malinois.

Two Paths Diverge

If you need a dog for your secret-mission or life-journey or coming-of-age,  I recommend a pit bull from a shelter. Teach and learn from him as best you can. Use this dog as your guide.  Ask him if you are seeking emotional comfort or the honesty of the hunt.  Both inclinations express your love for dogs.  But  check your priorities.  The type of dog you get will decide your path for the next decade.

Emotional Comfort and psychic protection: 

Nothing is more comforting to the lone hominid than the company of a dog.  A furry shoulder to cry on, a best friend that sees you at your worst without passing judgment.  This is one of the pure joys of having a dog.  This is the path most dog lovers travel.  There is a dog waiting out there to share this vision with you.  He is loving, protective and stable.  He is in a shelter BUT he is not a Malinois.

Not deterred.  Keep reading. Continue reading