German Shepherd vs Belgian Malinois - What's the Difference?

These two herding breeds share enough similarities that some people ask, “What is the difference between a German Shepherd and a Belgian Malinois?”  Owners of both of these breeds will be quick to tell you, that while there are similarities, there are also important differences.


The German Shepherd Dog holds its place as one of the most popular dogs in the United States.  Bold, beautiful, and brave, these loyal dogs hold a special place in their owner’s hearts.  Many owners will tell you they can’t imagine living life without a German Shepherd by their side.


German Shepherd


Belgian Malinois owners are just as committed to this breed but the Mal, as they are fondly called, are not nearly as popular as family pets as the German Shepherd for many good reasons, which we will get into.


Belgian Malinois males are 24 – 26” tall and weigh up to 75 pounds.  Females are 22 – 24” tall and weigh up to 60 pounds.  German Shepherds are a similar size.  Males and females are approximately 23” inches tall and weigh up to 95 pounds.  We give approximates here because the German Shepherd has far more size disparity than the Malinois.


Both breeds are active herding dogs that love to have a job.  Both are loyal, highly intelligent, courageous, protective, and eager to please their handlers.  Both require mental stimulation, exercise, and lots of companionship.  Both breeds are very social and will bond very strongly with their people.  Neither does well isolated from the family, living life alone in a kennel, or relegated to a backyard.   


Both excel at jobs and often serve in the military, law enforcement, drug enforcement, border patrol, search and rescue, and much more.  They also love dog sports such as agility, protection, herding, nose work, and obedience trials.


Now that we’ve looked at some of their similarities, let’s examine some of their differences.  They both are herding dogs so they tend to be nippy or mouthy as puppies.  While it’s fairly easy to redirect and train a German Shepherd, the Mal is much more focused, intense, and with their high prey drive, will herd and nip.  Caution should always be used around children and dogs but the importance of this around the tendencies of the Malinois cannot be understated.


Both the Malinois and the German Shepherd are naturally protective and should be bred for a solid temperament.  However, the Mal’s higher energy level, prey drive, intensity, and quick reactiveness can spill over into over eagerness, potential aggressiveness, destructive behavior, and biting when not property trained. Because of their intense personality traits, it’s even more vital to know the lineage of a Malinois before purchasing.  


Some owners believe that a Malinois is easier to train than a German Shepherd, but they will also tell you that their dog requires several hours of training, work, and exercise a day to avoid very destructive, frustrated behavior. While both breeds need a physical and mental outlet, a pet quality German Shepherd is far less demanding than a Mal.


Belgian Malinois


Some common comments you’ll hear about the Malinois is they don’t have an off switch, they are intense all the time, they love to bite and have earned the moniker, malligator or land shark.


As with all dogs, there are exceptions to personality traits that are inherent to both breeds.  There are working line German Shepherds with over-the-top prey drive and Malinois’ that are easier going than most.   The big difference here is that it’s easier to find a German Shepherd that has been bred to fit into your lifestyle than a Malinois.   


One should only consider either dog breed if they are committed to giving them what they need to thrive as a great companion such as training, a job, and exercise.  However, plan to invest much more time, training, and consistent strong leadership into raising an amazing Mal.