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.”

The Mark of a Good Male

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.”


  1. We welcome any feedback, questions or comments