Why Are Belgian Malinois Used As Police Dogs: A Guide to This Popular K-9 Breed
Shannon Cutts
Author: Shannon Cutts
Shannon Cutts, an animal intuitive and communicator, deepens interspecies connections through her writing and advocacy work.
Published date: September 15, 2020
Updated date: April 5, 2023
This article was reviewed and fact checked If you have found any errors, please contact us!

Why Are Belgian Malinois Used As Police Dogs: A Guide to This Popular K-9 Breed

The Belgian Malinois is frequently confused with another dog breed that is often used in military and police dog work – the German Shepherd.

The two dogs actually do look quite a bit alike. As well, since the German Shepherd is the second most popular purebred companion canine in the United States, it is easy to see how any other dog that looks similar might be mistaken for the iconic GSD.

Like the German Shepherd, the Belgian Malinois dog breed has been bred for certain working-dog qualities and traits that make the Malinois an ideal choice for police dog work. In this article, find out why Belgian Malinois are used as police dogs.


Why Are Belgian Malinois Used As Police Dogs

The Belgian Malinois is a “precision instrument.” They are the full K-9 package, combining brains and athleticism, loyalty and bravery, which is why they are so popular as police dogs today, according to Police & Military K9 Sales & Training.

Watch Highly Skilled Belgian Malinois K-9s

These dogs can be literally unstoppable. They are so brave and loyal and are amazing canine athletes to boot.

In this amazing video from We Are the Mighty, you can watch Lachi, a K-9 Belgian Malinois who works as a border guard along the Moldovan border, balancing on two tightropes to retrieve a tennis ball.

Meet the Belgian Malinois Dog

According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), the Belgian Malinois dog is the 43rd most popular companion canine (out of 196 registered purebred breeds).

These dogs look larger than they are, simply because they are so lean and tall. The Belgian Malinois can weigh anywhere from 40 to 80 pounds and stand anywhere from 22 to 26 inches tall.

One trait that is rather unique in the Belgian Malinois breed is that males and females can differ in adult weight by up to 20 pounds.

Malinois also has an unusually long life expectancy for a large dog breed – 14 to 16 years.

Like the German Shepherd, Malinois comes from a herding dog background. And like the GSD, the Malinois had to find new work when using dogs to herd and guard livestock became less common.

Today, the Belgian Malinois is one of the top canine picks for police dog work, military K-9 service, and private sector protection and security work.

As the American Belgian Malinois Club explains, the New York police force is widely regarded as the first police organization to incorporate the Belgian Malinois into their ranks.

Meet Two of the Most Famous Belgian Malinois K-9 Dogs

As the Navy SEAL Museum explains, the dogs used in K-9 roles are often specifically bred for their work.

In fact, there are even special breeders that supply Malinois to the military, police force, and private sector organizations!

Cairo, the K-9 that accompanied the Navy SEAL team who brought down Osama Bin Laden, is also a Belgian Malinois. He is retired now and lives with his handler, reports the New York Post.

Conan, a male Belgian Malinois who accompanied the Army’s Delta Force elite unit to take down ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was injured in the line of duty and later honored by President Trump for bravery, as Stripes reports.

There are many, many more Belgian Malinois dogs working in K-9 operations around the world right now who are just as brave, loyal, and selfless. Most will never be recognized and celebrated to the extent Cairo and Conan have been, however.


What Specific Traits Make the Malinois Such a Great Police Dog?

The Belgian Malinois is now arguably the number one pick for working K-9s in the military and police as well as in government and private security roles.

The only other dog breed that comes close to matching the Malinois is the German Shepherd, and both are very popular for these types of working dog jobs, as Scott’s Police K-9 training program discusses.

However, what makes a dog breed a fantastic pick for military, police, and working K-9 protection roles is not necessarily the same as what makes for a great companion canine – a pet dog.

So let’s take a closer look now at the specific characteristics the Belgian Malinois was bred to have. These are the traits that made Malinois such a great herding dog and now help the breed distinguish themselves in police dog roles.

Eager to please their people

The Belgian Malinois is known to have a driving need to please their people. In the case of a Malinois working or training to work in a K-9 role, this would mean they are driven to please one person – their handler.

They are willing to do things most dogs would not even consider doing, like jumping out of aircraft, walking across tightropes, swimming in the open ocean, climbing up and down ladders, and other feats it seems almost impossible to believe a dog could do.

Tireless work ethic

The Malinois lives and breathes work. This dog breed has been developed specifically to spend long hours doing very intense, athletically demanding work. Even in civilian life, the Malinois is a superstar canine athlete.

But they also have a tireless mental work ethic and crave new learning experiences throughout life. This makes the Malinois a great choice for a dog that needs to master difficult job duties with multiple variables.

One example of this would be to determine when a true threat is present and what to do about it. The Malinois breed is known to be capable of independent thought in these cases that lead to taking the appropriate action.

Working Dog Magazine calls this trait “calculated aggression.”

Very protective

The Belgian Malinois breed has a long history as a livestock herding and guarding dog. Strong protective instincts are one of the hallmarks and strongest traits of this dog breed.

The Belgian Malinois takes their job of protecting and defending their people (and animals) very seriously.

The Daily Mail reported that superstar actress Eva Mendez enlisted the help of not just the legal system but a trained Belgian Malinois named Hugo after being stalked by a mentally disturbed man several years ago.

Strong and athletic

It takes a very high level of athleticism to handle the kinds of special operations that military and police K-9s are required to participate in.

From skydiving to parachuting to swimming to climbing to running flat-out after a target, the Malinois can literally do it all.

Sensitive sniffer

Like all dogs, the Belgian Malinois has a very keen sense of smell. However, the Belgian Malinois’s nose may be on par with the Bloodhound – a breed with such a keen nose their evidence is admissible in some courts of law!

Malinois is often used in roles that require sniffing out contraband, accelerants (flammable substances), or explosives. That very same sniffer can also come in handy in a search and rescue role to find trapped people who wouldn’t otherwise be found.

As Dogs for Law Enforcement’s Police Canines in History page explains, the Malinois noise is also very useful to track down suspects – most famously Osama Bin Laden.


Does the Belgian Malinois Make a Good Companion Canine?

Many people are starting to become more familiar with the Malinois dog breed after the famous Navy SEALS operation and Cairo the Malinois’ role in that.

Choosing a Belgian Malinois as a family guarding and protection dog can look really good on paper.

But one thing that many Belgian Malinois owners don’t realize when they first bring their adorable fluffy puppy home is that their dog is going to grow up fast.

And when their Malinois puppy grows up, that dog is going to need and crave constant exercise and activity and both mental and physical enrichment.

In fact, as the American Belgian Malinois Rescue explains, the inability to cope with the Malinois dog’s active temperament is one of the main reasons these dogs can get relinquished to shelters and rescue organizations.

The Malinois is perfectly capable of leaping very tall fences in a single bound (which you already know if you watched the YouTube videos from an earlier segment here).

They are masterful escape artists who find chasing people, animals, cyclists, vehicles, and pretty much anything else irresistible.

They do not tolerate being left alone well, especially if it happens frequently. And a bored Malinois left at home alone is likely going to become a destructive dog in short order.

The Belgian Malinois has the perfect traits to work as a police dog. It will be up to you to decide if you can provide the daily exercise, activity, and enrichment a pet Malinois dog will need.

Related Reading: How To Calm Down A Belgian Malinois

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