I know what you are thinking. Since a Belgian Malinois was used by Navy Seal Team Six on the raid of the Bin Laden compound, it would make a perfect family pet. Just park it in the living room next to your Apache Helicopter!
The work of the Belgian Malinois in Bin Laden’s assassination placed a spotlight on the breed likely to spike the breed’s popularity. Think of it as the 101 Dalmatians effect. Think of Creulla De Ville in Fauve Charbonné (the top-secret Malinois coat color).
The fact is Malinois do not make good pets, as they are strictly working and sporting dogs. If you are NOT already involved with dog sport, you should not get a Malinois. (I said that ten years ago, click to watch, and I’ll say it again- Malinois do not make good pets)
Who should get a Malinois?:
- Do you dream day and night of improving your performance as a dog trainer?
- Do you have reflexes like a Chimpanzee? Can you take a punch without feeling the need to retaliate?
- Are you calm in the face of embarrassment, danger,and even chaos? Can you remain calm around a very hyper dog?
- Do you want a dog that can’t and won’t be a couch potato? A DOG JUST FOR TRAINING?
- Do you have at least 2-hours per day to devote to training and exercise?
- Do you have access to a Ringsport or Schutzhund club where you can find a mentor?
- Are you versed in positive and negative training modalities?
- Are you willing to put canine performance before your own physical and psychological comfort?
If you answer these questions with a round clear YES, you have what it takes to become a Malinois Handler.
Hard Dogs, Soft Arts: If you think a Malinois is perfect for Agility, Rally, Obedience, or Herding, think again. Be smart and get a Border Collie. Border Collies are ideal dogs for sports not requiring bite work. Malinois are designed for Hard Arts like: French Ring, Belgian Ring, Mondioring, Schutzhund and KNPV. Sure, they also excel in non-bitework competitions. But drive-building, grip-development, and stimulus-control techniques make the Malinois Temperment complete.
Malinois temperament: When we speak about Malinois temperament, we mean a temperament for work. The Malinois is highly trainable, totally driven. and immensely responsive to outside factors, unlike a breed with a phlegmatic temperament such as the Labrador or Pit Bull, for example.
If you are not a relaxed, happy person who loves physical activity, and has a willingness to take a challenge head on, life will not go well for your Malinois puppy. No doubt it will devolve into a simpering-anti-social-fear-biting-paranoid-walking-liability and not the k9 super hero it was meant to be!
Tempered Steel: When a blacksmith makes a sword he heats raw ore until it’s red hot, and then shapes it into form. The sword remains soft and pliable, useless for its purpose, until the Smith tempers the blade by successive heatings and coolings. Thus causing a molecular alignment that hardens the edge. By this process, too, the Malinois trainer tempers a Malinois in the forge of Ring.
Every Malinois starts off soft. Eventually, as he matures, if the dog is not tempered through work, he will either end up out of control or fearful. The trainer taps into the pups drives, heating the steel, and gradually exposing the pup to stressors. Eventually, as he matures, The trainer brings the pup from the euphoric prey drive state to a state of control and focus, metaphorically tempering the steel. This plunging from hot to cold, lends the Malinois its solid temperament.
After years of daily training, your Malinois can show the same temperament as a Lab or German Shepherd, yet have the sharpness to work. This is how a dog with the bidability of a Border Collie becomes able to perform in stressful environments such as found in Middle East war zones. It is the trainer’s job to insure good temperament. This happens through work, mostly bite work and character development that are part of the Ringsport foundation. No surprise to students of the breed– since Malinois and Ringsport evolved together.
If you are interested in dog sports, start with your own dog, and work up to a Malinois. Even in my household where Malinois are part of our lifestyle, we have them for training and not as pets. Our other dogs are pets.
So, if the dog recruited for the raid on the Bin Laden complex sparked your imagination, before you go out and get one, be aware of the commitment it takes to live with and train a Belgian Malinois.
Two Paths Diverge
If you need a dog for your secret-mission or life-journey or coming-of-age, I recommend a pit bull from a shelter. Teach and learn from him as best you can. Use this dog as your guide. Ask him if you are seeking emotional comfort or the honesty of the hunt. Both inclinations express your love for dogs. But check your priorities. The type of dog you get will decide your path for the next decade.
Emotional Comfort and psychic protection:
Nothing is more comforting to the lone hominid than the company of a dog. A furry shoulder to cry on, a best friend that sees you at your worst without passing judgment. This is one of the pure joys of having a dog. This is the path most dog lovers travel. There is a dog waiting out there to share this vision with you. He is loving, protective and stable. He is in a shelter BUT he is not a Malinois.
Not deterred. Keep reading.
Honesty of the Hunt:
Some of us feel a need to go deeper into the human-canine relationship. We want to become a wolf pack or run with a pride of lions. We want to see the honesty of instinctual behavior. We want to control it, and be controlled by it. Our path is similar to that of the Hunter and Farmer who provide their own meal even if it means discomfort.
Malinois are steely workers eager to please if you can meet their needs, they do not make a good shoulder to cry on until you have tempered them through years of work. The motivation of the Malinois handler differs from that of the pet dog lover. The Malinois Handler derives his joy from witnessing an animal engaged in the hunt, an animal at the peak of his health and power. We do not wish to see a subservient animal weakened by human domination. Ringsport and Malinois allow us to take part in the predators epic journey, not as spectators, not from behind a lens but as an equal partner.
For many of us who live in urban areas, being a hunter or a farmer is unrealistic and not pertinent to our existence. The bullet holes in the street sign in front of my house speak of a different world. Unfortunately, it is a world where protection from one another is more in the zeitgeist than pursuing your own game or rounding up sheep.
People who seek to work with this predatory energy now have a modern option. Thanks to a handful of visionary trainers on the border of war-torn Belgium, the art of Ringsport has risen from the ashes of the agricultural economy. The unemployed shepherd found work guarding his human flock, and a new type of working dog discipline was founded.
This happened 100 years ago. Since then the knowledge of how to work a Malinois has been passed from master to apprentice. The knowledge was not passed in writing, on video, not even verbally. It was passed through participation. The breed, the techniques, the selection process, the genetics, the sport is passed down by doing. The dog and the sport are inseparable. This is why if you wish to learn the secrets of the Malinois, you will not learn them at Lackland Airforce Base, or at the AKC dog show. Instead you must subject yourself to humiliation of the trial field, you must show your hard work and dedication before the secrets are revealed.
If you choose to take the Ringsport/ Mainois path you will not get much help on your journey. Your family and friends will not understand the hours of dedication it will take.
In Belgium and France almost every town has a Ringsport club. In America where the Ringsport/Malinois scene is still in its infancy, you must be self motivated, and autodidactic. When around experienced trainers, keep your mouth shut and your eyes open. Prove yourself by doing, not by talking. Learn as much as you can from the internet, but remember the Ringsport path is for the experiential trainer, not the book-worm. You must live it to learn it.
If this resonates with you, then I hope this article will lead you in the right direction. I hope you will find a working dog and make a connection that transcends the saccharine world of pet dogs. If you are like me, you will find out how sweet it is to roam from field to field learning to master your training skills and face your fears. One of my mentors Jean Jauques Jarardo told me that “Ringsport is a kind of therapy, the macho man gains humility, and the Wallflower gains confidence” I would add that some people become egomaniacs too. The Ring has different effects on different people.
I hope that those still reading will become what I call “Ringsport Citizens”. We are people who use the knowledge gained from working Malinois in Ringsport to make the world a better place. We do this by helping people overcome their issues with dog aggression and behavior problems, and by training dogs that help serve humanity. Perhaps one of the most important things we do is take part in a system that maintains a population of dogs who are not deformed by the show ring and remain useful in an ever changing world.
If you are still dead set on getting a Malinois, here are some links to organizations that promote Ringsports in the US (the first three) The NVBK is a Belgian organization widely considered to have the best working bloodlines. By following these links and by attending events sponsored by the various clubs, you can begin your journey. Good luck!