The difference between Belgian Malinois and German Shepherd

helloBARK! staff
By helloBARK! staff
Updated on December 16, 2019

No other dog breeds get commonly mistaken for one another as often as the German Shepherd and Belgian Malinois.

They have similar builds, facial features, breeding histories, and perform many of the same functions.

It takes keen attention to detail and some basic knowledge to be able to tell them apart.

In this article, we are going to be discussing the similarities and the differences between German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois.

The goal is not only to help you gain an in depth knowledge of both dog breeds but to help inform your decision if you are thinking of getting one or the other.

In fact, you may have thought that you wanted a German Shepherd since they are the better-known breed of the two. In reality, what you may have actually been coveting all along was a Belgian Malinois.

We’ll break this article into the following sections:

Distinguishing by Physical Attributes

German Shepherd at the park (Photo: Adobe Stock)

German Shepherd at the park (Photo: Adobe Stock)

At a glance, German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois look the same. But there are some key differences to keep an eye out for that will help you differentiate between them. The first is their coloration.

German Shepherds are largely tan with a black saddle. While some German Shepherds can be pure white or pure black, by and large, you will see them with earthen tones.

The majority of the trained Belgian Malinois for sale have tan fur that is very similar to the German Shepherd. The differences to look for though, are the lack of black fur on the back and whitish fur around the snout and possibly on the chest.

Their coats are different too. The German Shepherd’s fur is longer and more kinked. The Belgian Malinois’s fur is shorter and straighter.

German Shepherds also have a more distinguished spine. Their spine slopes downward more dramatically than the Belgian Malinois.

Finally, a Belgian Malinois will almost always be smaller than a German Shepherd. While the two are very similar in height, the German Shepherd’s build is bulkier.

If you can get them on a scale, the German Shepherd will almost always weight more.

Distinguishing by Character

Distinguishing by character is more difficult as the two have similar breeding histories. Both breeds are very intelligent trainable, and often work similar in functions.

They tend to be shy or dismissive when first introduced to a new master or playmate but develop very deep and loyal bonds with their families, and a strong need to protect.

They were both bred to be herding and work dogs so both naturally have a lot of energy. These dogs need jobs (a purpose) or a lot of physical activity to keep them happy.

German Shepherds are particularly loyal, which is a good thing for a protection dog.

However, they are prone to separation anxiety. They can become very unhappy and act out negatively if they are separated from their masters or families for too long.

Belgian Malinois generally do not display the same inclination towards all-out anxiety caused by separation. They will, however, act out in similar fashion to the German Shepherd if they do not get enough exercise or physical activity.

Belgian Malinois also tend to be the more naturally aggressive of the two breeds, while German Shepherds are more docile.

They definitely have more things in common than things that separate them in terms of temperament and characteristics, though. You can expect both breeds to be intuitive, good with children (if they are socialized properly), active and extremely loyal.

Health and Care

Belgian Malinois (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Belgian Malinois (Photo: Adobe Stock)

The lifespan for both dogs is similar (10-12 years) and they suffer from similar health problems. The most common being hip dysplasia. German Shepherds are prone to more exacerbated hip dysplasia due to the steeper slope of their spines.

German Shepherds are also prone to degenerative myelopathy which is another ailment of the spine. It can render a Shepherd crippled since it blocks the relay of information between the legs and the brain.

Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency is also a concern with German Shepherds. It is an enzyme deficiency that affects the pancreas and makes it difficult for them to digest food. Although they have some health issues, a German Shepherd guard dog is worth the investment.

Belgian Malinois have fewer health risks to worry about. But they are susceptible to Progressive Retinal Atrophy. If left untreated or caught too late, it could cause them to go blind.

As stated earlier, both dogs need a lot of attention and exercise. So if you don’t have the time to spend meeting their physical needs, they may not be good options for you.

Grooming for a German Shepherd is also more demanding as their fur is longer. They also shed all year round. Belgian Malinois, by contrast, shed during the Spring and Fall. And even these shedding seasons can be kept in check with a quick weekly brush.

Educate Yourself

While we have gone over some of the important things you need to know to distinguish the difference between a German Shepherd and a Belgian Malinois, there is more to learn. Especially if you are reading this article to help you determine which dog is best to adopt into your family.

We encourage you to learn more about these regal and intelligent breeds. They have a rich history, respond well to training and can enrich the lives of their owners in so many ways.