Belgian Malinois vs German Shepherd Top 11 Differences

It is understandable why someone might make the mistake of confusing a Belgian Malinois vs German Shepherd. Both dogs look the same and share many similarities.

In fact, both breeds were herding dogs in Europe. But, they actually come from two completely different lineages. They are not even cousins, though they might fool some people into believing that!

Curious about what makes these dogs different?

Read on to learn all about each breed and what makes a Belgian Malinois different from a German Shepherd.

1. Appearance

German Shepherd vs Belgian Malinois
German Shepherd (right) vs Belgian Malinois (left)

German Shepherds are the third most popular dog breed in the world. Not nearly as many people know about the Belgian Malinois. They often confuse them with the German Shepherd.

One of the major reasons why people often confuse these two dog breeds is because the Belgian Malinois’ fawn color. But, there are many more differences than just color!

The Belgian Malinois will have a shorter coat than the German Shepherd. Its coat is stuck closer to its body and is thicker around the neck forming a “collarette”.

There are two varieties of GSD, a short and long haired. Even a short haired GSD has medium length fur that is longer than a Belgian Malinois’. Usually this fur is wiry and harsher too. The Belgian Malinois’s fur is smooth and soft to the touch.

The Malinois will always range between fawn and a darker mahogany, with black on the tips of the hairs.

German Shepherds have a wider range of coat colors. It is not uncommon to see one in a solid color like all black or blue.

Both dogs are well-muscled, athletic, and are about the same height. However, the German Shepherd tends to be stockier, making it appear bigger.

A Belgian Malinois has a deep chest, long legs, and a square body. The Shepherd also has a deep chest, but its body is longer in proportion to its legs.

As for the head, the Belgian Malinois has a more wedge-shaped and slimmer head. Its skull is flat and over its head are erect triangular ears. A German Shepherd has a cleanly chiseled, but not fine head. Its muzzle is long and strong but not pointed like the Malinois’

Belgian MalinoisGerman Shepherd
Height22-26 inches22-26 inches
Weight40-80 pounds50-90 pounds
CoatShortMedium to long
FurSmooth and softWiry and harsh
ColorRich fawn to mahogany with black tipsBlack and tan, black, white, panda, red, liver, blue, sable, black and cream, black and red, silver, grey and bi-color
TemperamentLively, confident and passionateCourageous, loyal and friendly
PurposeMilitary, navy, and k9 workMilitary and K9 work
AggressionNon-aggressiveHighly aggressive
Life Expectancy14 to 16 years12 to 14 years
Family SuitabilityNeeds lots of supervision and trainingVery affectionate and good with children

2. Coat Color

Black German Shepherd
A fully black dog will always be a German Shepherd.

Both dogs share tan and fawn coat colors and patterns. For this reason, they can be easy to confuse. The most common colors for the Belgian Malinois are fawn and mahogany, while black and tan are popular for the GSD.

German Shepherds come in a lot more colors and varieties when compared to the Belgian Malinois.

Belgian MalinoisGerman Shepherd
Fawn, Mahogany, Red, Red sable and Fawn sableBlack and Tan, Black, White, Panda, Red, Liver, Blue, Sable, Black and Cream, Black and Red, Silver, Gray, Bi-Color

More often the Belgian Malinois will be a solid color, while the GSD is bi-colored. The solid colors of the Belgian Malinois will always be a brownish color.

A German Shepherd can also be solid colored, but these colors are normally darker shades. It is not uncommon to see a black one. The Belgian Malinois will never have a full black coat.

With light brown it can be harder to tell them apart. But when you see them side by side, just remember that the Belgian Malinois tends to lean more to the golden side. Shepherds lean more on the redder side.

Never missing from the Belgian Malinois’ face is a black face mask and black ears. A German Shepherd may or may not have a black face mask.

3. Coat Type

Belgian Malinois and German Shepherd
Belgian Malinois (left) and German Shepherd (right).

German Shepherds have longer hair than the Belgian Malinois. Both dogs have double coats, but the topcoat will always be longer in a GSD. Depending on the type of Shepherd, the coat can be about one to three inches longer.

All standard German Shepherds have a medium-length double-coat.

The purpose of the undercoat is to provide insulation. It keeps the dog cool during the summer and warm during the winter. The upper coat is water-repellent and harsher than the undercoat. These dogs shed their undercoat all year long, especially in the fall and spring.

German Shepherds have a coat that is 1-2 inches in length. There is also a long-haired version whose hairs are over 2 inches long. These dogs are noticeably fluffier and have a gorgeous mane around their face.

It is easy to tell the difference between a long-haired and Belgian Malinois. A beautiful, bushy mane around the face is the tell-tale feature.

Spotting a regular German Shepherd from the Belgian Malinois is not hard either.

All GSDs are very fluffy while Belgian Malinois are not.

The Malinois also has a double-coat, but its coat will not exceed one inch in length. This means the Belgian Malinois’ coat is always shorter than a Shepherds.

A Belgian Malinois’ coat will be smooth and uniform because it is short, flat and straight.

They tend to shed their undercoat as well, with the heaviest shedding happening in the fall and spring too.

Just by putting your hand on their coat you can tell that a Belgian Malinois is not a German Shepherd. Your hand will glide over their smooth short hair. The German Shepherd’s hair will feel harsher and not as close-fitting (i.e. fluffier).

4. Size

Both dogs are medium-sized and are very similar in height.

A male German Shepherd can measure between 24-26 inches and females 22-24 inches. These are the exact same measurements as the Belgian Malinois.

However, the majority of German Shepherds will be heavier than the Belgian Malinois. Males weigh 65-90 pounds, while females weigh 50-70 pounds. For the Belgian Malinois, males weigh 60-80 pounds and females 40-60 pounds.

 Belgian MalinoisGerman Shepherd
Height22-26 inches22-26 inches
Weight40-80 pounds50-90 pounds

It is because the Belgian Malinois is lighter that it is considered to be nimbler.

Both dogs have a muscular build and are very athletic, but the Belgian Malinois will always appear sleeker because it is lighter, being about 15-20 pounds less.

Also contributing to their sleeker appearance is their short coat.

Dogs with a fluffier coat will seem naturally larger than those with short and straight hair.

Therefore, the additional weight of the German Shepherd and its fluffier coat gives them a bulkier body.

5. Temperament

Belgian Malinois vs German Shepherd

The German Shepherd (pictured right above) and Belgian Malinois (pictured left above) have similar temperaments because of their similar purposes. They are both very active, intelligent, protective, obedient, and loyal. They are also very passionate about their work and carry themselves with pride and confidence.

However, they are not the same dog.

There are some key differences in their personality that will let you know which is which.

The American Kennel Club describes the German Shepherd as a “dog lover’s delight”. They are known for their loyalty, confidence, courageousness, and steadiness.

They will obey without question and will save and defend those it loves. When it is on the job, it is able to work in high-pressure situations, while keeping its calm.

The German Shepherd is extremely friendly with its family, though towards strangers it will act aloof until it knows that person’s intentions. Keeping it well exercised and stimulated will help ensure that it does not become aggressive.

The Belgian Malinois is a bit more intense than the German Shepherd. Some people even call it a “German Shepherd on steroids”. It is an eager dog that is always ready to work. There is no off button for it. It will keep running or doing its job unless you tell it to stop.

For families the intensity of the Belgian Malinois might be a bit overwhelming, which is why they might lean away from this breed.

If you are keeping them as a house pet, it is important that it gets a lot of exercise every day; more than what you would give to a GSD.

A German Shepherds will be good with 90 minutes of activity a day, but the Belgian Malinois will need 120 minutes.

The Belgian Malinois will also show a certain aloofness to people who are not part of its family. Unlike the Shepherd, it is not a fan of other animals either. For this reason they should be the only house pet.

6. Protection

Belgian Malinois Dog

The Belgian Malinois is a herding dog so has the natural instincts to guard and protect. This means that while it is not usually aggressive, it can be. However, it is not as aggressive as the German Shepherd.

There is no messing with a German Shepherd.

They can cause a lot of harm with their bite

In fact, German Shepherds accounted for 17.8% of bites done between 1970 and 2017. They are considered the third most aggressive and dangerous dog breed in the world. They can cause serious harm to their victim.

They are naturally aggressive and an untrained or scared dog will not show mercy if threatened. They will do whatever it takes to protect their family. This is what makes them such great guard dogs. All it wants to do is protect its family.

A family can sleep easy at night knowing that their German Shepherd is watching over them. This dog will always be loyal.

German Shepherds can be very dangerous towards people because of their natural aggression.

Belgian Malinois dogs can be very dangerous towards small animals and pets, not people.

The Belgian Malinois really does not like other animals and has a very high prey drive. It often will show aggressive behavior or chase them.

Erratic small children could also cause this dog to start nipping at them. While you can teach it to be patient, the Belgian Malinois is better suited for a house with large children and no pets.

7. Bite Strength

Long-Haired German Shepherd
The German Shepherd has more power and capability of causing harm.

The bite force of a dog is defined as the pressure of a dog’s bite. This force is measured in psi (pounds per square inch) units. Understanding the bite force of a dog lets us know how much strength a dog uses to bite. The stronger this force is, the more damage a dog can do.

Out of the two breeds, the German Shepherd has the strongest bite force.

The GSD has a bit force of 238 psi. This pressure is so strong that it is able to break bone. This is why they are often recruited by the police for bite work.

Getting this breed is a big responsibility. They are very capable of hurting people.

Belgian Malinois have a bite force of 195 psi. This pressure is weaker, but that does not mean that their bite is not strong. That force is still strong enough to cause serious harm. This dog is also used for bite work.

What differentiates it from the German Shepherd is that it is less aggressive.

The Belgian Malinois goes about biting without creating a show of aggression. They can inflict harm with their bite, but when told to release they will do so without hesitation. They are also less likely to try and bite you.

A German Shepherd will have less control and it is harder to get them to release their bite on command. This is why it is so important to properly train and socialize this dog.

8. Health and Lifespan

Belgian Malinois

Out of the two, the Belgian Malinois tends to be healthier.

The life span of a belgian malinois vs german shepherd is longer. Belgian Malinois live for 14 to 16 years, while a GSD lives for 12 to 14 years.

The Belgian Malinois is generally a healthy dog, but it is predisposed to hip and elbow dysplasia and progressive retinal atrophy.

Among other health problems that this breed can develop are: dental disease, epilepsy, hypothyroidism, allergies, and gastric dilatation or bloating due to the stomach twisting.

The German Shepherd is predisposed to many more genetic health issues than the Belgian Malinois. The two most common are elbow and hip dysplasia, but it can also develop conditions such as: degenerative myelopathy, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, allergies, epilepsy, von Willebrand’s disease, and diabetes.

For both breeds, all reputable breeders should screen and test the parents before breeding. In particular they should screen for hip and elbow dysplasia.

9. Intelligence


There is no denying that the German Shepherd is smart. Currently they are ranked third as the most intelligent dog breed in the world. It is their smarts that make them so great in training and extremely obedient to their master.

The intelligence of dogs is measured on the basis of obedience and working intelligence.

Dogs are tested on how fast they can learn and how much of that information they retain.

Being the third most intelligent dog means they are able to learn a new basic command in just a few minutes. They can obey a learned command the first time with a success rate of 95%.

So, how does the Belgian Malinois compare?

The Belgian Malinois is pretty smart too, taking the 26th spot.

It is fair to say that the Malinois should be part of the “smart dog” category. The Belgian Malinois still learns faster than the average dog, but it is going to take a few more repetitions than the German Shepherd

The German Shepherd is slightly smarter than the Belgian Malinois, but there is no denying that both of these breeds are very smart. Both are intelligent and highly trainable.

As highly intelligent dogs, they need a lot of mental stimulation. It is important that owners of these dogs know how to pick at their brains and keep them occupied.

American families that want to adopt either breed must know that they are both working dogs.

10. Purpose

German Shepherd
Both dogs are part of the herding group.

The Belgian Malinois was first bred in the Belgian city of Malines. It is one of four herding sheep dogs in Belgium that were known as Belgian Shepherds. The Belgian Shepherd Dog Club was founded in 1891 and a year later the standard for the Malinois was created.

This dog breed was brought to America in great numbers in 1911. This was due to a cover the American Kennel Club Gazette had done in 1908 on a Belgian Malinois that had been serving as a police dog in New York City.

However, in 1911 the American Kennel Club actually registered these dogs as German Shepherds, not Belgian Malinois. It would not be until 48 years later (1959) that the breed would be registered as an official breed.

The German Shepherd was first bred in the late 1800s when captain Max von Stephanitz was trying to create the perfect herding breed. By crossing various bloodlines from northern and southern Germany with his own dog, he was able to create the herding dog he wanted.

In 1899 he started the first German Shepherd club called the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhund (SV). Shortly after, the American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1908.

Today the German Shepherd has departed from its herding roots and has become an invaluable police and military dog. In Belgium the Malinois is still used today as a herding dog.

Both dogs share a purpose to work. While they can be family dogs, they are meant to display high levels of energy and have an addiction to fulfilling some type of job.

11. Family Compatibility

There is a reason why the German Shepherd is the third most popular dog in America. It is not just because of its incredible versatility and amazing skills as a working dog. Everyone loves them because they are invaluable companions and family members.

German Shepherds are one of the best dogs you can get for your family.

They have a natural instinct to guard your family and property.

While GSDs are skeptical of people they do not know, they are anything but aloof to the people they trust and love. Expect a lot of kisses, cuddles and joy. After a long day of playing with the kids, all this dog wants to do is relax with you.

The Belgian Malinois is also very caring, but it does not display the same kind of friendliness or patience to small children.

A Belgian Malinois can get along with other pets and larger children, but it is going to take a lot of socialization to break its intense prey drive and natural protective instincts. This is why some people say that the German Shepherd is better for families.

They are also more energetic which can sometimes be a little too much for families.

The Belgian Malinois can be a family dog, but it really takes a specific kind of family to be able to own one. Taking care of them takes real dedication. They really need someone who understands their special needs.

In general the German Shepherd will be a better choice for families.

Which Is Better?

When comparing a belgian malinois vs german shepherd they are quite similar. People often confuse these dogs for their similar appearance and temperament. In fact, many people often confuse them for being a GSD mix.

While these dogs do have similarities, they are different breeds.

The German Shepherd is the more popular breed of the two. It beats the Belgian Malinois when it comes to being a family dog. Everyone loves the German Shepherd for its loyalty, intelligence, friendliness, and affection.

Belgian Malinois might not be as well-known, but they are rapidly becoming more popular. Their connection to their owner is undeniable. However, they really needs someone who can handle their fiery nature.

Which breed you choose will depends on what kind of dog you want.

If it is a family friendly guard dog you want, then the GSD is best. If you need a faithful working companion, consider getting the Malinois.

Now that you know the differences, who has won your heart? Let us know!


    • I agree with you. Having had two GSDs and a Mal, the Malinois is slightly more intelligent. Also, seems to be a more balanced and healthier breed.

  1. I’ve currently got a 9 month old Belgian shepherd malinois and a nearly 4 month German shepherd, my German shepherd appears to be smarter than my Mali, my Mali is also extremely lazy, hates walks and would rather stay in the house, where has my German shepherd wants to get out the door before it’s open! I also have a son who’s nearly 5, a daughter who’s 8 and a daughter who also almost 11 (plus a 14 and 17 year old daughters) and my Mali is absolutely fantastic with all of them especially the younger ones 🤔 They both make fantastic family pets and already protective of us and the house!!!


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