Breeding for the “Ideal Malinois”

What makes a sire a good sire? Those experienced in high-quality, successful breeding programs and the genetics behind such programs will tell you a good sire is one who consistently produces better than himself even when paired with what some might call “mediocre” females.

Most sires considered “prepotent” (those who seem to “always” produce certain traits) are thought to be so due to “tight” line-breeding behind them (i.e. there are breedings between related individuals in the pedigree). This is not always the case of course, as there are the rare “open pedigree” sires (where there are no common ancestors in the pedigree) whose “genotype” (what genetics they carry and pass on) and “phenotype” (the characteristics seen in the animal’s physical appearance & temperament) match.

The less-experienced breeder generally shies away from line-breeding in favor of “out-cross” combinations (parents are out of totally different bloodlines) as there is less risk of producing genetic faults. A more experienced breeder, wanting to “load the dice” and keep/produce certain specific traits in their program, usually will look to line-breed to some degree. This does increase the risk of producing genetic problems, but if a breeder truly knows the lines they are blending, and uses the available genetic tests to make sure they are not going to produce affected animals, they can very quickly develop their own unique “line.”

Though it seems the general public dislikes/distrusts line-breeding (calling it “in-breeding” in a disgusted tone of voice) the truth is that it is just a “magnifying glass” for genetics. If it is used by a breeder who has not done their homework, yes, you will see poorly bred animals out of an “in-bred” combination. A breeder who HAS done their research, a close breeding will maximize the good traits and eliminate the bad ones. Of course, every once in a while something bad WILL crop up and a good breeder needs to be able to commit to doing the right thing, such as removing the animal from the breeding program or not combining those genetics again.

An important thing to look at, when deciding on a breeder, is their breeding program and their theories behind what choices they make. There is NO EXCUSE for not doing every genetic test possible for their breed(s). If the breeder claims “it isn’t in their lines” they should be putting their money where their mouth is and proving it. Seeing multiple repeat breedings is a red flag as well – unless the first breeding produced International superstars, there is no reason to “waste” a bitch’s resources on multiple breedings to one male. There is no perfect animal, but the idea is to work towards one, which often means trying different combinations.

My personal preference is to breed for my own interpretation of my breeds’ Standards and correct temperament is my number one priority, especially as my breeds of choice do not always have such good character. In Belgian Malinois, it seems good temperament is a recessive trait. It makes sense as Mother Nature prefers shy – a shy animal does not engage in the riskier behavior a bold one might. Because it is a recessive trait, one has to be extremely strict regarding the temperaments used in a breeding program. No quarter can be given – only the most solid, stable, confident dogs should be used and even then, if it is seen that their offspring is shy/fearful, they should be removed from further use, and the offspring removed also.

In my experience in dogs (starting in 1993 – training dogs in a local shelter & learning all I could about showing, breeding, etc.), I feel that temperament is genetic, period. Yes, some traits can be modified through training, socialization, etc., it does NOT change who the dog is genetically, so that a Malinois trained within an inch of it’s life might SEEM confident, before you use that dog in your program, take it away from it’s familiar handler and environment and see what it is REALLY like. If you see ANY inappropriate behavior DO NOT use it. Once you get a recessive fault into your line, it will always rear it’s ugly head in what your produce.

So I bred a Malinois litter about 2 years ago. I leased the bitch, though the owner’s name is Breeder of Record, and bred, whelped, raised and placed the litter. It was a breeding I had been wanting to do for years – in fact, had I not done the breeding I probably would’ve left the breed altogether as I have no confidence I would be able to find what I want here in this country. As I said before, I am a stickler for correct temperament.

So the dam is a working-line female who show folks might call “plain” at best, but her character is FLAWLESS. Absolutely SOLID in every situation I have ever seen her in – and I have seen her in a lot as her owner was a friend of mine at one time. The sire is my showline male – he has excellent conformation, having proven that regularly in local and national level arenas, and he also is my Service Dog, so I personally know his character is also flawless – working for me in places such as Times Square, which shows you just a little of his solid temperament.

This was the first litter for both – the sire’s lines were 18-28 years old at that point (he was 8 years old and his own sire had been dead 10 years before he was conceived through artificial insemination) – and with such a huge outcross, I did not expect what I got. I knew, if nothing else, all the pups would have solid temperaments, but I figured it would e a few more generations before I got the Malinois I envisioned.

And then I got “ZJ” – the pick male. Though he is still going through his adolescence (the line is slow-maturing, which is nice – slow and steady avoids a lot of developmental problems like panosteitis), he embodies exactly what I was hoping to get – my ideal Malinois. He is conformationally correct and sound with the heavier bone and more masculine headpiece I was hoping to produce, without losing the refinement and grace that I love in the breed. His gait is light and free, and best of all, his character, like his parents’, is FLAWLESS.

ZJ has the working drive to always be “game” for anything his person wants him to do. He is “safe in a roomful of toddlers” as a friend says, incredibly tolerant and patient even when people of all ages and sizes do stupid things like grabbing him, bear-hugging him – you name it, he’s put up with it, and done so with JOY. Some of the other genetic gifts he has shown us, is a full, calm, solid “grip” not only in bitework, but he won’t even roll a dumbbell! He will grab metal objects in his mouth – super “retrieve” drive, is “handler sensitive” and very quick when learning what his handler wants him to, is not a dog who startles at things and is bold, confident, good with other animals (including other intact males), affectionate and easy to live with. I know I am lucky enough to have won the genetic lottery with him.

ZJ showed me it’s possible to get what you want, even with an outcross combination. The working folks poo-pooed the idea, as did the show people. I was told I would ruin the working ability and at best, produce mediocre Malinois, conformation-wise. I am happy to say neither situation happened – I got the Malinois I was hoping for.

ZJ is what made me question what a good sire is. His sire produced BETTER than himself conformationally despite the dam’s “plainness.” Yes, this could be a fluke, and ZJ may not pass on who he is genetically, but knowing I can get what I want in just one generation makes me confident I can breed what I think is correct – inside and out – and get my “ideal Malinois.”