Belgian Malinois vs. German Shepherd: Which is the Best Family Dog for You?

Last Updated on April 15, 2023

Are Belgian Malinois (Mals) the same as German Shepherds (GSDs)? Unfortunately, despite how similar they look, the answer is no. These two dogs have many similarities but they are, in fact, different dog breeds.

They are both working dogs with police and bred as herding dogs for livestock. In addition, these doggos are highly trainable.

A side-by-side image of the Belgian Malinois and German Shepherd
The Belgian Malinois (left) and the German Shepherd (right)

So, which one is right for you and your family? Keep reading to learn the differences between them.

Breed Comparison: A Quick Overview

Belgian Malinois VS German Shepherd
Name Belgian Malinois German Shepherd
Nickname Mal GSD
Breed Group Herding Herding
Suitable for Active, Experienced dog owners Experienced dog owners
Height 22 to 26 inches
(56 to 66 cm)
22 to 26 inches (56 to 66 cm)
Weight 40 to 80 pounds
(18 to 36 kg)
50 to 90 pounds (23 to 41 kg)
Lifespan 14 to 16 years 7 to 10 years
Coat Smooth, Short Double coat, Medium
Color Fawn, Mahogany, Red, Red Sable, Fawn Sable Black, Black & Cream, Black & Red, Black & Silver, Black & Tan, Blue, Gray, Liver, Sable, White, Bi-Color
Temperament Smart, Confident, Hardworking Smart, Confident, Courageous
Energy Level High energy High energy
Exercise 120 minutes per day 90 minutes per day
Trainability Easy to train Easy to train
Puppy Price $1,000 to $3,000 $1,000 to $3,000

Where Did GSDs and Mals Originate?

Both of these dog breeds were initially bred as working dogs, herding livestock. However, they came from different parts of the world.

The German Shepherd dog came from Germany, and Belgian Malinois dogs came from Belgium.

Mals were one of four varieties of the Belgian Shepherd Dog in the late 1800s. They were named as such from the Malines region, around Brussels. They were ideal for police dog training and search and rescue dogs.

In fact, GSDs were also used for police work and as military dogs. Captain Max von Stephanitz founded the breed when he purchased a dog at a show in 1899. This was the first registered German Shepherd.

The breed was then developed to be the perfect breed as independent, persistent, and obedient. Now, German Shepherds are one of the most popular dog breeds in the world.

How Can You Tell if a Dog is a Belgian Malinois or a German Shepherd?

A Belgian Malinois and a German Shepherd standing
The mighty Belgian Malinois (left) and German Shepherd (right) dogs

It’s easy to mix up these two purebreds. Most people know the German Shepherd breed more than the Belgian Malinois and will often mistake the Mal for a GSD.

They look similar in color and size. So, how can you tell these two herding breeds apart?

While both of these doggos stand tall at the same height, 22 to 26 inches (56 to 66 cm), Belgian Malinois are usually lighter. These dogs weigh up to 80 pounds(36 kg), while GSDs weigh up to 90 pounds(41 kg).

If you’d like to learn more about the German Shepherd’s growth rate, then check out its growth chart.

There are a few slight differences in their appearances as well. For example, Belgian Malinois have ears that resemble more of the triangle. In addition, they have angles on their body.

In contrast, German Shepherds have curves on their bodies. They also have a smaller head, and Malinois will most likely have a black mask on their face.

GSDs typically have coat colors in black and tan but can have a variety of colors. On the other hand, Malinois has more of a fawn coloring or mahogany.

Read more: Belgian Malinois Colors

Are Belgian Malinois Smarter than German Shepherds?

A Belgian Malinois and a German Shepherd training
The Belgian Malinois (left) and German Shepherd (right) breeds train diligently

There’s a lot to love about Belgian Malinois and German Shepherds. Both are intelligent dogs that will make excellent family pets.

However, while these two pups are a lot alike, there are plenty of differences between the two of them.

Neither of these breeds is smarter than the other. They were both bred for the same purpose, intelligent and easy to train.

When out and about with either of these doggos, you’ll want to keep them on a leash. Due to their size, they can intimidate other people even though they’re relatively friendly.

In addition, the Malinois can go for days without stopping. Whether it’s a hike, jog, or something else, Belgian Malinois loves to work.

In fact, this is why police have started to replace German Shepherds with Malinois dogs. Mals love to work, are always happy and are willing to do anything for their owner.

Navy SEALs also favor Belgian Malinois. But, again, this is because they are agile, loyal, stealth, and intelligent.

Malinois has begun to replace German Shepherds in police work because Mals have higher energy levels, and GSDs are more aggressive.

The Malinois has a higher prey drive. They are natural protectors and have territorial instincts, making them excellent guard dogs. This is why they need to be well-trained and have early socialization.

However, both of these working dogs need plenty of mental stimulation. So they’ll do wonders in agility classes.

Are German Shepherds stronger than Belgian Malinois?

The short answer is probably German Shepherds. GSDs are physically bigger and they have a stronger bite force of 238 PSI compared to Malinois dogs which only have 195 PSI.

While larger, the German Shepherd is not nearly as fast and agile as a Mal.

When it comes to training, GSDs might be more difficult than Mals. For example, German Shepherds are intelligent and easy to train but can have a stubborn side. So, they might be less inclined to do what you ask.

On the other hand, Malinois are eager to learn new things, are curious, and enjoy activities. Plus, they’re easier to control than GSDs.

Both breeds do well with plenty of positive reinforcement. However, teaching them new commands will be smooth if training is catered to their herding and working needs.

They both need a lot of physical and mental stimulation, so training in work and games will also make the process easier.

Mals form a strong bond with their owner and can be prone to separation anxiety if separated from their family members for too long. In addition, they’re so hyperactive that they may easily get bored.

This is one reason why this doggo isn’t a good choice for first-time pet parents.

How Do You Care for Malinois and German Shepherd Dogs?

Both of these dogs are fairly adaptable. German Shepherds do great in cold weather as well as warm. However, they’ll need access to a shady spot. Mals will do great in both hot and cold weather.

In addition, both dogs are pretty high maintenance when it comes to exercise needs and grooming.

A Belgian Malinois and a German Shepherd catching toys
The active Belgian Malinois (left) and German Shepherd (right) dogs

Are Malinois more athletic than German Shepherds?

Both of these working dogs have high activity levels and require plenty of physical activity every day.

Mals are more energetic than GSDs, so they’ll require a bit more. In fact, Malinois will do better with an active family who’s home most of the time.

You’ll need to set aside at least 60-75 minutes for daily exercise. Belgian Malinois will prefer up to 120 minutes, while the German Shepherd’s exercise needs are at least 90 minutes of activity.

When it comes to exercising these pups, one or two walks per day won’t cut it. Instead, take these doggos for a run, jog, hike, or let them run loose at a dog park. 

Do Belgian Malinois or German Shepherds shed more?

Belgian Malinois and German Shepherd lying down
The beautiful coats of the Belgian Malinois (left) and German Shepherd (right)

Unfortunately, both of these doggos shed quite a bit. GSDs shed all year round and more so during the winter and summer months.

Malinois, on the other hand, shed as well. However, their fur is shorter, so they shed moderately compared to German Shepards. Belgian Malinois will shed heavily during the spring and fall months.

To keep shedding at bay for both of these pups, it’s important to brush their fur a couple of times per week.

The German Shepherd dog has a double coat that’s medium in length, while the Belgian Malinois has short fur with a dense undercoat.

You can bring both of these dogs to the professional groomers once every couple of months. Luckily, they don’t need a bath often. German Shepherds, especially, are odorless.

So, unless they get into something they’re not supposed to, you just need to worry about the shedding.

Feeding the German Shepherd and Belgian Malinois

Belgian Malinois and German Shepherd have similar nutritional needs. Therefore, you can expect to feed each of them 1.5 to 2.5 cups of high-quality kibble each day.

These two breeds should have food that’s high in protein due to their activity levels. In addition, since GSDs are a little bigger, they can have dog food with a higher calorie count.

German Shepherds can have about 1,600 calories per day, while Mals should have 1,200 calories per day.

However, every dog is different, so be sure to talk to your vet about the right diet for your pooch.

Do Belgian Malinois Live Longer than German Shepherds?

A Belgian Malinois and a German Shepherd looking up
The Belgian Malinois (left) and GSD (right) stay healthy when properly taken care of

As with all dogs, they come with some health issues. However, Belgian Malinois are generally healthier than German Shepherds.

A Malinois lifespan is about 14 to 16 years, while a GSD lifespan is about 7 to 10 years.

Belgian Malinois may have certain health conditions such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), aesthesia sensitivity, cataracts, epilepsy, pannus, diabetes, and cancer.

Common health problems for German Shepherds may include gastric torsion (bloat), exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI), degenerative myelopathy (DM), degenerative spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, allergies, pannus, and diabetes.

Belgian Malinois vs German Shepherd Puppy Prices: Which is More Expensive?

Belgian Malinois and German Shepherd puppies
The cute and adorable Belgian Malinois (left) and German Shepherd (right) puppies

You can find both Belgian Malinois and German Shepherds through rescues and reputable breeders. It’s recommended to adopt and not shop, so going through a rescue is ideal.

These pups will be less expensive than a breeder, and you’ll be able to give a dog a good home.

If you think one of these breeds is the best dog for you, then you can check out these Belgian Malinois rescues:

  • American Belgian Malinois Rescue 
  • Malinois Rescue League

For German Shepherds, try any of the following:

  • German Shepherd Rescue of New England
  • Mid-Atlantic German Shepherd Rescue

If you have your heart set on getting a puppy, then go through a reputable breeder. They’ll know all about the dog breed and won’t let you bring home the puppy until they meet you in person and the puppy is at least eight weeks of age.

The average litter size for Malinois is about 6 to 10 puppies. The German Shepherds litters can have an average of eight puppies but can have anywhere between one and 15 puppies in one litter.

For both of these dog breeds, you can expect to pay at least $1,500. You may pay up to $3,000 if the dog is from a champion line.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

A Belgian Malinois and a German Shepherd sticking their tongues out
The equally beautiful Belgian Malinois (left) and German Shepherd (right) dogs

Which is more popular, the Belgian Malinois or the German Shepherd?

The German Shepherd dog has been the most popular dog for a long time. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC) list rankings, GSDs are currently number two.

Malinois are currently sitting at the 50th spot, but they’re gaining popularity as well. 

Do German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois dogs get along?

German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois are okay around other dogs. The key is to socialize and train them well from an early age properly.

If they grow up together, they should get along just fine. However, both of these pups are energetic and medium in size and require a lot of work.

Which Dog is Better, German Shepherd or Belgian Malinois?

A Belgian Malinois standing and German Shepherd sitting
A Belgian Malinois (left) and a German Shepherd (right) enjoying the outdoors

So, which of these breeds do you think is the best family dog for you?

If you’re an active family, home most of the time, and experienced in dog training, then the Belgian Malinois might be the best choice for you.

On the other hand, if you can handle the size of the German Shepherd, are great at dog handling, and can equally be active and cuddle on the couch, then the GSD might be for you.

As with any dog breed, there are pros and cons, depending on your lifestyle. Be sure to choose which one would best suit you and your home life.

If you’re not sure where to start, here are some tips about getting a dog.

Do you have one of these herding dogs at home? Let us know in the comments below.

Further reading: Comparing More Dog Breeds

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