Belgian Malinois vs German Shepherd: The Top 6 Differences Explained

Written by Rebecca Bales
Updated: May 4, 2023
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Key Points

  • Both Belgian malinois and German shepherds were originally bred for herding and have similar coloration patterns.
  • Malinois tend to weigh less than German shepherds, built for running and agility.
  • German shepherds are prone to several health conditions while Belgian malinois tend to be the picture of health for dogs.

The Belgian Malinois and the German Shepherd have been confused for far too long. Despite their history as herding dogs and their similar coloring, so many physical and behavioral differences separate the pups. Finding the right one as a pet or even a working dog can be a task in and of itself but understanding what you’re in for can make a big difference.

While both the Belgian Malinois and the German Shepherd are similar in appearance, they are actually not related in any way. Bred near the city of Malines in Belgium, Malinois are one of the four herding breeds that come from that country while German Shepherds were originally bred in Germany in the late 1800’s.

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Do you know how to tell the two breeds apart? Let’s find out!

Comparing Belgian Malinois vs German Shepherd

Check out some of the ways that the Belgian Malinois and the German Shepherd differ. While both dogs are intelligent and active, they have several differences in their appearance that make them easier to separate.

Belgian MalinoisGerman Shepherd
Lifespan12-14 years10-13 years
Ear shapeTriangularPointy tips
Coat coloringSolid and consistentBi-colored

The 6 Key Differences Between Belgian Malinois and German Shepherd

While the German Shepherd has earned a lot of notoriety as being the top dog for police, both breeds exhibit many exceptional qualities. They look fairly similar in appearance, which is part of the reason that they are confused so often. However, their health issues and personality make them rather distinct from one another. Let’s address some of the common differences between these two breeds.

Belgian Malinois vs German Shepherd: Coat Coloring

At first glance, the Belgian Malinois and the German Shepherd seem fairly similar, but their coloring is the biggest clue on which one is which. While the Belgian Malinois is more blond or fawn in their coloring, they have a black mask with black ears.

The German Shepherd, however, has much darker coloring throughout its body, mixing the black and dark blonde fur together. Sometimes, this breed has three or more colors in its coat.

german shepard
The German shepherd’s coat is often a mixture of very dark brown and blond fur.

©Dora Zett/

Belgian Malinois vs German Shepherd: A Little Muscle Goes a Long Way!

The size difference between these two breeds is primarily attributed to their muscle mass. The Belgian Malinois stands tall with a lean figure. Their muscles seem to be meant more for speed, running at up to 30 mph with their compact size.

Belgian Malinois males often weigh less at 60-80 lbs., while the German Shepherd typically weighs up to 90 lbs. Much of their bulkier size has to do with their impressive muscle mass that the Belgian Malinois simply doesn’t have.

Belgian Malinois vs German Shepherd: Independence and Training

While both the Belgian Malinois and the German Shepherd enjoy careers and working in a variety of fields, the German Shepherd is a more independent worker compared to the eager-to-please Belgian Malinois. While both dogs work and work hard with a variety of humans and dogs alike, the German Shepherd maintains more stubbornness during training compared to the Belgian Malinois.

Additionally, given the high intelligence of the German Shepherd, dogs of this breed prefer learning a variety of new tasks, while the Belgian Malinois thrives on routine. So long as there is someone there to congratulate a Belgian Malinois on a job well done, they are pleased; a German Shepherd would rather do their own thing than the same tasks over and over.

Belgian Malinois vs German Shepherd: Family Matters

Comparing the behavior of the German Shepherd with the behavior of the Belgian Malinois while in a family is valuable. When it comes to interacting with kids, the German Shepherd is a bit more patient and observant of their energetic natures, while the Belgian Malinois often ends up startled by children. This is likely due to the fact that the Belgian Malinois exhibits more emotional awareness and sensitivity toward humans than the aloof German Shepherd does.

However, with consistent training and supervision, both the German Shepherd and the Belgian Malinois make fantastic companion and guard dogs. They are both incredibly loyal and bond well, though the Belgian Malinois may need more time apart from small children to decompress compared to the German Shepherd.

Belgian Malinois with orange collar and tongue out
The Belgian Malinois is easy to train and valued as a police and military dog.


Belgian Malinois vs German Shepherd: Working Dogs

royal canin large breed puppy
German Shepherds are extremely curious and will explore using their noses. They are super smart and are very protective of their family members.

©Happy monkey/

Both the Belgian Malinois and German Shepherd are prized for their working dog abilities. While they both began as herding dogs, these two shepherds earn top marks in the military, police, fire, and dog training positions. However, the Belgian Malinois is more prized than the German Shepherd, and this is likely rooted in the Malinois’s consistency and willingness to stick with one job for a long period of time.

This isn’t to say that the German Shepherd isn’t a fantastic breed for both military and police work- far from it! However, the German Shepherd is more likely to get bored and stubborn compared to the Belgian Malinois, who lives to please their owners or workplace associates. Belgian Malinois dogs are in fact preferred over German Shepherds these days, given their responsiveness to commands and desire to perform well!

Belgian Malinois vs German Shepherd: A Matter of Good Health

When it comes to the cost of veterinary care, each breed’s susceptibility to different health conditions is important. The Belgian Malinois seems to be the healthier of the two breeds, primarily prone to dysplasia in the joints and eye issues, though they can also suffer from allergies. Their overall health makes them more ideal than German Shepherds for police and military work as well.

The German Shepherd, on the other hand, has many health issues to worry about. Along with the health conditions that can plague the Belgian Malinois, this breed can also succumb to problems like chronic diarrhea, blindness, cancer, lupus, diabetes, and other problems. Though the German Shepherd is more likely to be a favorite amongst dog lovers, the cost to keep them healthy is high.

A long-haired German Shepherd at the vet's office
German shepherds are a breed that is prone to seizures.



What makes these dogs such good working dogs is their high energy. Unfortunately, high energy and a high mental capacity can turn into anxiety. Both Malinois and German shepherds can develop anxiety, but Malinois is more prone to it. When these dogs lack structured routines or are not properly trained, they can develop insecurities, fears, and possibly aggression.

Summary: Belgian Malinois vs German Shepherd

Belgian MalinoisGerman Shepherd
Blond/fawn with black mask & earsDark brown, blond, black-sable
60-80 lbs
<90 lbs
Eager to please
A little more stubborn
Triangular earsPointy ears
Generally healthyProne to hip dysplasia, cancers, diabetes, etc.

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About the Author

My name is Rebecca and I've been a Professional Freelancer for almost a decade. I write SEO content and graphic design. When I'm not working, I'm obsessing over cats and pet rats.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Is a Belgian Malinois better than a German shepherd?

It depends on the type of dog you want. While the Belgian Malinois can be more independent, the German Shepherd is more likely to deal with issues like separation anxiety if their owner is gone long. Consider your lifestyle to determine which one is right for them.

Are Belgian Malinois smarter than German shepherds?

Both breeds are incredibly intelligent. However, the stubbornness and high energy of the Belgian Malinois can make them a little harder to train.

Are Belgian Malinois like German shepherds?

The two herding dogs are strikingly similar in their appearance, though their personalities are quite different. The Malinois is often mistaken for a German shepherd in appearance alone.

What’s the difference between a Belgian Malinois vs German Shepherd?

While the German shepherd’s coat is a medium length, the Belgian Malinois has shorter and thicker fur. German shepherds have more health issues, while the Belgian Malinois is more likely to go running after prey. The two dogs are much different species.

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