12 Things I Wish I Knew Before Adopting a Malinois
Updated: Jun 26
I have never had so much fun having dogs as I do owning two Malinois-type dogs!
The Malinois is a medium-sized dog bred for working due to their high energy level. Originally a herding dog, the Malinois is intelligent and versatile making them perfect for police and drug, search and rescue, military and guard, and can even make great family pets so long as they can be included in your everyday life.
If there is anything I’ve learned from having this type of dog, they don’t like to be left out of living. They want to be included in everything, and are ecstatic if you can manage it.
Before I get too far into what it’s like owning these dogs, I need to remind those of you who read the “Dozer Daze” blog so many years ago, and explain to those who didn’t, that Dozer was a HANDFUL! (Sorry, the blog is gone now, but it was a fun read.)
I am serious as a heart attack when I tell you that Malinois #1 just about killed me… and I just about killed him in return. He was a TON of work, and I couldn’t seem to exercise him enough to get him to relax.
Found on the streets of Tulsa, Oklahoma after being hit by a truck, Dozer’s life changed forever after the vet student who had repaired his shattered shoulder saved him from the gas chamber by temporarily adopting him. It wasn’t long before we noticed Dozer during video chats with my son, who happened to be housemates with the vet student. Understanding that Dozer was in need of a forever home, we decided to adopt him.
Meeting halfway between Michigan and Oklahoma at a community dog park, it was our first glimpse of the fiercely aggressive Malinois we had adopted. As he raced along the fencing chomping wildly at the other dogs, my first thought was, “What in the hell did we get ourselves into?”
As we leashed him up to lead him to our vehicle, he followed along without a care in the world unaware that he would be travelling a very long way to his forever home.
Pulling into our driveway by 11pm that night, the introduction to our 10-year-old Golden Retriever would be the next obstacle. She had always been a timid dog who had become scared of every little noise in the house after the 8-pound Pomeranian who mothered her died. Knowing she needed a lead dog in her life to keep her safe, we hoped that Dozer would fill that void for her.
Upon first sight, our poor old Golden Retriever began trembling with fear and frothing at the mouth. It was like she said, “What is THAT?!”
As if Ginger’s timid nature fell far beneath his regard, Dozer completely ignored her and marched into the house as if he owned the place.
The vet here in Michigan figured Dozer was just over a year old when he first came to live with us. It would be 2 more years to get the dog calmed down enough to be manageable.
Most likely abandoned during his youth, Dozer rarely leaves my side still to this day. The first week I had Dozer, I drove him and Ginger out to a field to try and run off some of his energy. Energy in the form of trying to murder my cats, tearing up the carpeting, shredding anything resembling a dog toy, eating all the shoes left out of the closet, eating anything left on the stove to simmer… the list is endless!
Ecstatic we were going for a run, Ginger leapt out of the vehicle ready to show Dozer the ropes, but I could barely coax him out of the backseat. After finally convincing him to come out, we began our quick jog across the field with Ginger in the lead, but it wasn’t long before my newly adopted Malinois suddenly went missing.
Thinking he had ran off, I called and called, looking all around for him, but he was nowhere in sight. Getting back to the car, I was never so shocked to find Dozer waiting in the car.
It was like he said, “There’s no way you’re leaving me behind!”
Thoughts of this dog being abandoned as a pup broke my heart, and I wondered, “Who would ever do that to such a smart dog?”
After the 2nd week of Malinois ownership, I understood why someone would abandon him, which inspired the “Dozer Daze” blog. It was a way for me to vent my frustrations of owning this crazy dog that couldn’t be worn out.
Like any pet you decide to adopt there is a period of time in which you’re figuring each other out. When it came to Dozer, I had a really hard time figuring him out, and I barely survived getting to know him.
He had SO much energy and intensity that his muscles constantly rippled like a coiled spring near the point of breaking free. I wondered what I had done adopting this dog and thinking I could manage him. Especially at 45-years-old with a bum hip… what in the world was I doing with a Malinois?!
Not one to give up easily, especially knowing that Dozer was just about out of chances, I poured every spare ounce of energy I could muster on training him, and the first goal would be trying to wear him out.
With every new experience, Dozer dove in with enthusiasm radiating a force that seemed impossible to tame. I wondered exactly how long he had been running wild in Oklahoma and categorized him with the wild Dingo of Australia.
I called our new exercise regimen the Malinois Diet Plan, and after our first few months together, I lost about 15 pounds.
Dozer not only took up every spare minute I had available, he cost me a ton of money, too, as I purchased every gadget ever made to help me control him without hurting him.
Non-pulling harnesses, a doggie backpack that could be loaded with weight to tire him out faster during walks, dog shoes and a doggie snow-suit to protect him from Michigan winters so we could continue exercising through the winter months… you name it, I bought it!
We even doubled the size of our backyard so he had enough room to run. And boy, oh boy, can he run!
I’ve never witnessed a dog so agile they he can switch directions in an instant. And have I mentioned how fast he is? Wow, is he FAST! With a light body that ripples with muscles, he glides effortlessly across any surface untroubled with the fact he isn’t so great at stopping. I think he figures he will stop when the obstacle in his way won’t give when he smashes into it. If it happens to be a person in his way, then I have no words of wisdom as to how to avoid the contusions and gouges that are sure to be in their immediate future.
Like I mentioned, Dozer loves to run, and one day this really stupid guy that liked to play rough with Dozer got it in his head to play the attack game with him. Knowing what the breed is capable of, I did NOT want Dozer to play that way because I didn’t want him to suddenly attack someone.
As the guy insisted it was fine, and would help to tire him out, I finally agreed saying, “Okay, but the next time he sees you and attacks you because he thinks you’re playing, it’s all on you. I won’t yell at him for it.”
“No problem,” he said as he egged Dozer on for a first run at him. Wearing thick gloves and a coat for protection, the guy pushed and pushed, taunting Dozer into the attack.
Of course, Dozer loved this game, and soon began running wider loops to build up speed before launching himself at the guy’s head. As the momentum increased, so did Dozer’s intensity, and what started out as a game quickly became a lesson in how powerful this dog really was.
When I saw the guy’s eyes bulge with fear, we both knew that he had started something he couldn’t stop. Luckily, I had been working with Dozer every single day, and he was learning to mind my commands. Just before he took another leap that surely would have knocked the guy over, I called Dozer down. It was a good thing he listened, too, because I don’t know what would have happened to the guy if Dozer decided to subdue him completely.
The Malinois breed is eager to play rough, and can easily become aggressive if a handler doesn’t watch it. After seeing Dozer play this way, I know now why the Malinois breed makes such great police dogs.
Those kinds of games are just plain fun for a Malinois, and they are eager to play.
For me, I wasn’t training a police dog and didn’t want to encourage Dozer’s aggression, so those kinds of games were no longer allowed.
And the guy… well, he didn’t want to play that game with Dozer again.
When first getting Dozer, there were a lot of traits and tendencies that I learned about the hard way. For one, Malinois easily get their feelings hurt when you get mad at them. They only want to please you, so when you yell at them for anything, they don’t quite know what to do other than get away from you.
Being they remember so well, similar situations in the future will be concerning for them. One time, Dozer found an area the cats had been using as an outdoor litter box, unbeknownst to me. Having eaten all the morsels he could find, it wasn’t until after I fell asleep that night that he started retching all over my bedroom.
I knew what it was the instant I smelled it.
Flipping on the light to see poop-vomit spattered all over the light gold carpet, I started yelling for Dozer to get outside. Being I was yelling, he freaked out and ran the opposite direction, which was further into the room, vomiting along the way. Of course, I couldn’t help but scream more, and when I finally chased him out of the room, down the stairs and outside, he had left a trail of poop vomit throughout the entire house.
After an hour of scrubbing carpets at midnight, and trying not to vomit from the smell of regurgitated cat poop, I was not very happy when I went to the door to let Dozer back into the house. Of course, he hadn’t vomited anymore outside because it was all inside, which perturbed me even more. Being he was so confused about my being angry, he wouldn’t come into the house unless I left the door wide open and moved away from the opening.
He slinked into the house staying as far away from me as he could get, and slithered up on the couch for the night.
Up until that time, Dozer had always slept in our room, but that night, he decided he would sleep downstairs from then on.
I felt really bad for yelling like I did and causing him so much distress. Especially being that I couldn’t coax him back into our room for nothing. The upside of the story is he didn’t sleep in our bed anymore, and that was a good thing because he is such a bed hog!
It wasn’t until Malinois #1 was well past the point of destroying things and didn’t require exercise every hour of the day that we decided to adopt Malinois #2.
One day, Tank’s picture showed up on my cell phone. “Look!” my daughter-in-law texted. “A baby Dozer!”
Indeed it was a miniature Dozer, and we were sucked into those liquid brown eyes and loved those big ears that are so typical of a Malinois the instant we saw him. After another trip to Oklahoma, we became dog owners once again, and we wondered what trials Tank would put us through.
As it turned out, it was a blessing having Dozer past his destruction stage when we got Tank because they played so much they wore each other out. Thinking about it now, had we found Tank when Dozer was working me out 4 and 5 times a day, then maybe my life would have been easier.
Of the pair, the second dog we adopted ended up a bit smaller than expected, but that’s just fine with us. He has the heart of a lion, and is just as bold and curious as his big brother, but scared of fireworks. Not so Malinois-ish, I’m guessing, but he tries hard.
Since both my boys are from shelters, there is really no telling what breed these guys truly are without sending out for genetic testing. After watching videos of a Malinois at work, if they aren’t 100% pure, it seems my guys still have a lot of the same genes.
My dogs are phenomenally smart, and like an elephant, they REMEMBER. They are fast and strong having the ability to chase down a human and take them off their feet with ease. They are so agile they can run backwards as fast as they can forwards and can change directions in an instant while in a full sprint. They can jump, crawl, and get around just about any obstacle in their way, and they are bold and fearless in most any situation.
As I have often expressed, these guys will run you down if you’re not watching where they are playing at all times. Being they love to run and show off their stuff, it’s kind of hard to keep track of their play when they can be across the yard in an instant. They also do this body-slamming move that I expect is a pack thing, but even Tank can cause you to lose balance if you’re not prepared for the impact.
It seems my guys are just excited about living! It doesn’t matter if it’s waking up time, breakfast time, going to work time, or there’s a squirrel in the yard… you name it and they are blowing across the furniture and knocking stuff down. Obviously, these dogs are not good to have around older people, or toddlers.
If you are eating, you best guard your food well, because these guys won’t think twice about stealing the food right off your plate. I don’t know how many hamburgers were filched at last summer’s family picnic, but heard enough screams of injustice to know the pair weren’t afraid to take what they wanted. One witness reported, “My grandson was taking a bite of his hamburger, and the dog walked by and stole the food right out of his mouth!”
Get too close to the talons connected on this dog’s feet and you’ll wonder if they aren’t part Volusia Raptor! Though unintentional, they’d shear every bit of flesh off your skin if it means more traction to reach their prey. Be watchful of where their feet are at all costs.
Yes, it seems ridiculous owning such powerful, high-energy dogs, but I love my guys to the moon and back. I can’t tell you how glad I am that I survived the first breaking in period, and am very happy we decided to get the second dog.
If you were thinking about getting a Malinois, I would highly recommend you have a dog trainer readily accessible that understands the breed well. (Thank you Jennifer Marenich for all of your help with my boys!)
Owning a Malinois is not for the faint of heart. They are a lot of work, and will cause you to be extremely busy every spare moment of your life.
If I were to do it all over again starting with a Malinois pup, these are some things I would do from the very beginning:
1. Take your new pup to puppy obedience school, and continue training afterward on your own until the pup is a year old. You’ll want to have the basics down really good, like sit, stay, lay down, etc.
2. Make the dog sleep in its own bed! If you start sleeping with your pup from the start, plan on having a big dog in your bed for the rest of his life.
3. Plan on getting lots of exercise. That’s a minimum of 2 long, brisk walks a day, plus some outdoor play.
4. Always walk your dog. Don’t let him walk you. That means shorten your leash and make him heel… always! Yes, when they are little you can handle them on a long lead, but when they gets bigger you won’t. Having a 1-year-old Mali lung at a squirrel when you’re hanging on hurts! Make them mind from the start.
5. Socialize your Malinois every day, including young kids and the elderly too. Teach them not to jump on people, and to sit and stay around elderly or small children.
6. Socialize your Mali at a dog park from the start. Aggression towards other dogs (and cats) is not fun to deal with. If your Malinois is showing signs of this, get help from a trainer right away so you can learn how to fix the issue before it becomes a huge problem.
7. Teach your dog to release the toy when they fetch it.
8. Make them sit and look you in the eyes before placing their food in front of them. Some people make their dog wait for the command to eat, too. It’s not a bad idea because you will always want your Malinois taking direction from you.
9. If you have a yard for them to play in, I highly suggest getting an authentic, Invisible Fence. Don’t cheap out and get a less expensive knock-off because in my experience they don’t work right all the time.
10. Plan on taking your 1-year-old to another obedience course. This should be helpful when fine-tuning the parts you didn’t get down when they were younger.
11. Always ask your trainer for ways to train away bad behavior as soon as it begins. Getting mad at your Malinois does not correct the problem, and you will want a solution right away before it grows into a bigger problem.
12. If there were a nearby dog competition, I would have them trained and entered for it. I’m thinking my guys could do anything!
The Malinois is meant to work and without a job, a Mali is getting into trouble. Always keep your Malinois busy with a task.
If you cannot dedicate the time and energy required for this breed, DO NOT get one. This dog is not meant to be cooped up all day long while you go to work, be trapped inside for days at a time before getting exercise, or not being socialized properly. That’s when big problems will arise with a very powerful dog.
Remember, these dogs are eager to please and they love to learn new tricks, so help them to be the dog they were meant to be.
You’ll be extremely proud the next time the appliance repairman shows up and says, “Wow, what cool dogs!”
Thanks so much for reading!
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