Correct Malinois Temperament & Judging Correct Malinois Temperament

Buying a Malinois Puppy?


Belgian Malinois are not a sighthound breed, so a tucked tail is due to fear, NOT to structure. There is NO EXCUSE for fearful behavior in non-threatening environments – and I am sorry, but a show ring is NOT a threatening environment. I have heard every excuse in the book for why I see so many Mals tucking their tails in the show ring – and none are excusable. The breed is supposed to be CONFIDENT. It is in our Breed Standard! They are dogs meant to do a job – a dog can’t perform if it is fearful. And much of temperament is INHERITED, so I am seeing it passed down the generations.

Despite doing 18 months of “research” speaking off the record with every AKC Judge I could pull aside (somewhere over 100), the American Belgian Malinois Club shot down my proposal to start a “Temperament Committee” to educate breeders on correct temperament, heredity, behavioral modification, etc., in an effort to improve the temperaments I am seeing in the show ring (and, by the way, it is seen even in National events like Westminster and Eukanuba!). It seems because the numbers of Mals showing this fearfulness is so overwhelming, it is either ignored, accepted or even considered normal! Yes, I guess it IS the “norm” now, numerically, but it is NOT right. At the meeting to present my proposal I was told by a well-known breeder that there IS NO PROBLEM with Malinois temperament, that they “are better” than they used to be (that alone insinuates there at least WAS a problem), that a tucked tail is a sign of confidence (apparently she missed out on knowing anything useful about dog behavior), and then a well-known breeder-JUDGE tells me she will be glad to send me an article she wrote on the “right way to approach a Malinois in the ring.” Doesn’t that mean if you approach them the “wrong” way there is a problem? Yes, according to the judges I spoke with. Heck, I have even seen dogs REFUSE to be examined at National events – Eukanuba, actually. What is more frightening is that said dog was already a finished champion – who in heck had put up a dog that refused to be examined?! But judges tell me they can only judge what is in front of them, and even one judge remarked “if I excused all the Malinois I see with bad temperament, you would have nothing to show against.” Very sad.

I do realize that good, solid temperament is recessive – Mother Nature prefers nervous/fearfulness as those who avoid potential dangers survive longer. A bold wolf is at increased risk of dying do to sticking their nose where it is not such a good idea to do so. I also realize solid temperament is few and far between in our breed right now in the United States, and it a serious challenge to find confident breeding stock. In my experience the dam (mother) of the litter has the greater influence on puppy personality. Genetically it is a 50/50 split between the parents, but that first eight weeks of pups modeling their behavior on their dam that sort of tips the scales – I guesstimate 75% of puppy behavior is from the mother – whether it is genetic or exposure. So it is CRITICAL that the dam be solid and stable, and that is an even bigger challenge to find in the breed. To those interested in getting a Malinois, when selecting a pup, ALWAYS make sure to interact with the mom – and if she is in any way “sketchy” DO NOT get a pup out of her. As for the pups themselves, definitely interact with them and see their responses – you should NEVER see them run behind a familiar human or tuck their tails in fear. If you get a pup like that you will have an adult like that, and many fearful Malinois end up being fear-aggressive and high bite risks due to their fear. A good Malinois pup will be confident and fearless and into everything new – especially a new person to explore!

Speaking of pups, after being “in the breed” for about 15 years, I met a bitch who was just the most solid, stable, sound-tempered Mal I’d ever met. She was out of working lines, so it was even more impressive to me that she was also calm and easy to live with (a lot of the working-line Malinois have such constant energy they are a “challenge” to live with – always needing to DO something). The perfect character for a dam. I have a show-line male who has the best temperament I have ever seen in a male, not only has he collected a whole bunch of titles, but he has also been my working Mobility Assistance Service Dog since he was 4 years old. I hadn’t gotten him to be a Service Dog but he showed me he could not only do all the things I needed him to do, but also be totally calm and appropriate even in completely stressful environments – i.e. Times Square, New York City! I knew breeding the two would produce amazing pups.

It took me 4 years to convince the bitch’s owner to lease her to me for the breeding, but in the end she did and I got 1 female and 5 male pups. The pups are going on 2 years old now, and have the temperament I was breeding for: solid, stable and sound. A couple of them have gone to professional dog trainers, a competitive dog sports home and families. I have kept a co-own on the pick male and female – the male I raised until he was 16 months before he went to a professional dog trainer. That male reinforced to me how important good temperament is, as he is my personal Service Dog prospect, and despite all of the high-stress situations he was subjected to in order to prepare him for his future as a Service Dog, he always behaves in a confident, affectionate and willing-to-please way. This is the way a good Malinois should be.

So I challenge Malinois breeders to REALLY look at their stock – objectively. I am a big proponent of the American Temperament Test Society’s “TT” (Temperament Test). We had it at the Malinois Nationals – I was an apprentice judge at the event – and my own dogs are all TT’d. When I did the event at Nationals, I was amazed that it wasn’t fully booked with competitors – down here in FL within 24 hours of announcing a TT it is usually full with a cancellation waiting list! To my surprise, I was told by some folks that they “didn’t need to prove” their dog’s stability with a TT – ok, so if you know it will pass why not go for it and support the club, right? And at the meeting I was told “all the dogs entered in the TT passed” showing me that there isn’t a temperament issue in the breed, according to them, however MY OWN dogs were entered and the majority of entrants did day-of entries to support the club and they were ALL FROM 1 KENNEL – a breeding program well-known for producing solid character (1 of my own Malinois is out of their breeding), so the argument really just reinforced my own point… but unfortunately not to those who think otherwise. I think the old saying goes “there are none so blind as those who will not see.”