Belgian Malinois - A good dog for a Philly family?
It seems like Belgian Malinois breed has been on the lips of everyone in the Philadelphia region after the escaped convict in Chester County (we will not name him) was apprehended by a brave dog-on-duty named Yoda last month. Recently, ACCT Philly sent out a social media post alerting the public that this breed *probably* isn’t suited for most dog owners (after they were flooded with questions about adopting one.)
The Belgian Malinois is a glorious breed known for its intelligence, athleticism, and loyalty. They were originally bred for herding and guarding livestock (read: they are high energy and whip smart). So before thinking a Belgian Malinois might make a great dog for an environment like Philadelphia, we will explore some reasons why you should think twice and examine your lifestyle to see if you have what it takes to care for this type of dog.
Sky-High Energy Levels
As dog walkers, we work with a lot of high energy dogs. It comes with the territory. We’ve also worked with families who are in over their heads with pups that have TOO much energy and not enough outlets for that energy. It can lead to heartbreaking outcomes and dicey situations. Belgian Malinois are known for their energy and they thrive on tons of physical activity and mental simulation, which is probably why they make wonderful police dogs. Think about it, can you provide the type of mental stimulation and physical exercise this pup needs? And can you do it in a place like Philly?
Serious Training Needs
Belgian Malinois are highly intelligent and eager to please, but these smart pooches require on-going training and targeted mental challenges. Without training, these dogs can quickly develop behavioral problems, such as excessive barking, digging, or destructive behavior. If you lack the time, patience, or expertise for training (or finances to pay for expertise), it's best to reconsider this breed.
Prey Drive + Urban Environments = Messy
While living in a city like Philadelphia, many of us cannot avoid other dogs and critters. We can try to dodge four-legged distractions and be vigilant while on public sidewalks, but interactions are inevitable. On a typical walk in Philly there will be other dogs that need walks, stray cats often dart from under cars, pesky squirrels, skateboarders, bikers, runners on the same narrow sidewalks and streets. Belgian Malinois have an intense prey drive. (It’s why they can track down jail-breaking criminals.) This could lead to dangerous interactions in an urban environment like Philly where we don’t always have much room to maneuver. That’s not to say that they cannot be socialized, but owners will have to work at it in a structured and thoughtful way.
Belgian Malinois are natural born protectors, which can be awesome in the right circumstances (and when the behavior is managed.) I’ve often said that a barking dog is just about as good as a house alarm. However, these dogs can quickly become overly protective and territorial, which can be challenging if you are social and like to have visitors. Again, it’s not unworkable, but socialization reinforcement and proper manners toward visitors in the home might take WORK. In Philly, many of of live VERY close to our neighbors in row homes, apartments and condos - would you be able to handle a protective dog in this landscape?
Time and Attention
All dogs need our time and attention to thrive and working dogs require even more than most breeds. Often with working dogs, lack of structured training, exercise and mental-work can lead to boredom which leads to anxiety which often leads to destructive behavior. These dogs were bred to work and problem solve. It’s what they do! Many of our clients (not all) tend to have busy lifestyles. That’s where we come in! (Professional dog walkers are also professional time savers for our clients.) However, this is one of those breeds that might need MORE than just a few walks a day.
While generalizing about breeds can have its downsides, there is no denying that this is a VERY active and VERY smart dog. (We joke that we love our “dumb dog.”) Some dogs are low-maintenance, some are high-maintenance, some are lazy, some are divas. Personalities absolutely span different breeds and every dog is unique. But bringing any dog home is a responsibility, and a life-long one at that. If you are going to make that commitment, be sure to REALLY read up on this breed of dog. Before bringing home any dog, consider your lifestyle, not only now, but the lifestyle you imagine a decade from now. What type of dog fits that long-term vision?
Yoda the Belgian Malinois is a badass, but he’s also a working dog with a full-time job, tons of training, stimulation, and professional handlers. We love them all - from mutts to designer breeds. But know your limitations so you can build a thriving human and canine family.