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(Updated 22/4/01)

Malinois: the next fashion victim?

by Liz Richardson, Sabrefield Malinois

A PIECE of history was made at last week’s Birmingham National show - apart from the show actually going ahead, despite the current Foot and Mouth cancellation hysteria. No fewer than 27 Malinois were entered as part of the Belgian Shepherd Dog entry, with their own, separate classification. Twenty seven exhibits equalling 37 entries may not sound a great deal to owners of other breeds, but it is the most Malinois EVER shown at a Championship Show in the UK.

Since the four BSD breeds returned to separate classification in January 2000, Malinois entries have been increasing steadily, with discerning owners seeking out those venues who make a point of staging separate classes for each BSD breed.

So, it would seem that Malinois are gaining popularity within the dog fancy. But there is a downside to any breed gaining popularity.

There have been recent articles in the national and canine press about some police forces thinking that the German Shepherd is no longer tough enough for police work, followed by a suggestion that they may use Malinois instead, based on the Malinois’ reputation as a very effective police dog in the USA and many other countries. These stories, with lurid titles such as “The GSD Dumped In Favour of the Malinois” bring a “sweet and sour” taste for me, as a breeder of Malinois, struggling for nearly 30 years to establish the shorthaired variety of the BSD.
I am loath to get into a debate on the pros and cons of GSDs and BSDs. Both breeds are excellent workers, but I must say that the police and MoD well find Malinois a revelation. They are totally different to the GSD, not only in looks. They are lighter built, lithe, with erect ears, coloured any shade of fawn with the characteristic black mask and dark, almond eyes.

They are dogs with a keen, alert attitude, are agile and fast, with a high work/play drive. Malinois are quick to learn. Bred initially to guard the shepherd and flock against predators they will defend the owner/handler if they are ‘bonded’ well and are possessed of an uncanny intuition about people and situations.

With all this high level activity, the Malinois must have a steady character and not be outwardly aggressive.
Good training will produce the type of police dog you see working on the Continent. These are trained from a very early age with control as the uppermost consideration.

Specific

These dogs do indeed come from specific working lines and though all Malinois have it within them to work (some of my breeding are already working with a few police forces and others are with the MoD), these Continental working dogs do have an extra hardness about them.

Over here in the UK, we have tried to breed dogs to the correct standard, but with families in mind. We consider the hard working Malinois unsuitable for the average family, but even so, any family taking on a Malinois needs to be active and keen to play and work their dog.

I admit that I have consciously bred for a more sociable character, discarding dogs which I felt to be too sharp, regardless of how good they looked. The majority of Sabrefield dogs are family pets, loving, good with children. Still needing an active life, they adore agility, working trials, flyball etc. Yet these same dogs can go out and win at shows. Sabrefield Shout, who last year won Pastoral Group 4 at Bath Championship Show 2000 regularly competes in agility and flyball, and gives demonstrations at fairs and school fetes.

The ‘great divide’ will come, but I hope that police forces and the MoD are careful with their choice of working Malinois and match them to good, understanding handlers - they are not everyone’s choice of dog. Many handlers will find them too quick, but if they get the bonding right, they will find the Malinois will be an excellent worker.
However, my worst fear is that if police forces discard any of these dogs, they may fall into the hands of the general public and someone looking for a ‘ macho’ dog, a breed which can be ‘in fashion’. This will be a recipe for disaster. When Malinois, especially working Malinois bite they bite HARD, and in the hands of the wrong owners with the wrong attitudes this could be fatal.

I can only appeal to police forces: Please take care with the lives of your new ‘K9’ pals. Only train them for aggression when you have control of them. They need to be taught to hold, drop and leave before being taught to rag and more.

Buy only dogs from the best trainers and breeders and be aware that handlers need to learn how to train the Malinois. It is VERY different from the GSD. What’s more, bullying techniques won’t work with a Malinois.
Remember the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act and how it affected certain breeds perceived to be ‘macho’. If your Malinois step out of line, the whole breed will be tarnished!

We all know that familiarity - or popularity - breeds contempt... in more ways than one, so let us hope that the Malinois does not become that latest canine ‘fashion victim’...