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 When it comes to the many breeds in the canine kingdom, it’s hard for dog lovers not to confuse a few at first glance — even I do it all the time (shh, that’s our little secret)! When they look so much alike, you just might slip and call it the wrong breed. It’s a forgivable offense, we promise!

One of the most commonly confused pairs is the Belgian Malinois vs German Shepherd, and there’s actually a good reason for that. The two breeds look a bit similar — at least similar enough that nobody could really blame you for mistaking a German Shepherd for a Belgian Malinois dog or vice versa.  

Additionally, both of these breeds share a herding heritage, which means they’re amazingly hard workers who need a job to do. Otherwise? They become extremely destructive, and at their size, that’s truly a recipe for disaster!  

However, on the flip side, their dedication is why you see them in the top ranks as police dog breeds and military dog breeds. They’re also best handled by experienced dog handlers; trust me on that because their intelligence ensures they’ll outsmart you at one point. 

You would think that bearing the similarities they do, both military work and police dogs, these two breeds would be related, but that’s simply not true. Let’s dig a little deeper into these magnificent creatures and see what really defines a Belgian Malinois and German Shepherd. 

Difference Between Belgian Malinois and German Shepherd 

 There are a few key differences between these working dogs.

Origins of the Breed

Both of these dogs’ names imply their origin. As the German Shepherd’s indicates, the dog was originally bred in Germany, where it was created by Captain Max von Stephanitz, who bred different herding dogs into one uniform breed. The breed dates back to the late 1800s when it was used for herding sheep in Germany before it became popular for use by police and military forces.  

german shepherd vs belgian malinois
malinois vs german shepherd

The Belgian Malinois, however, comes from Belgium, where Professor Adolphe Reul first recognized the pup. It’s one of four types of Shepherd dogs in the country, but it got its name from Brussels’ Malines region.

Like German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois was used in the Belgian agriculture sector before the industry declined. Its breed also dates back to the late 1800s.

Independence and Training 

german shepherd belgian malinois

When it comes to being independent, the German Shepherd wins this category. It’s a slight bit more aloof when working than a Belgian Malinois. The German Shepherd is also a bit more stubborn than its lookalike buddy.  

One notable difference is that the Belgian Malinois weren’t originally bred for companionship. They prefer to be work dogs and have a high prey drive, so if you’re in a home with cats or other animals, you’ll need to provide consistent training and early socialization to ensure that they don’t try to enjoy a snack when you’re not looking. 


belgian shepherd vs german shepherd

Work, work, work, all day long. That’s the very definition of what the German Shepherd and Belgian Malinois do. They love to work alongside their humans, as well, even though they are herding dogs that can thrive while herding sheep and other livestock.  

These two herding dogs are very smart, too, so much so that they might just outsmart you!

Levels of Activity

These two breeds were both bred to work, so therefore, they both have high energy levels and need an experienced hand to guide and train them. The German Shepherd dogs and Belgian Malinois will also need consistent training and socialization, as they can be protective breeds.  

However, one needs more attention than the other for the simple reason that it’s more challenging and prefers to stay busier — the Belgian Malinois. 

Coat Color and Size

belgian malinois vs german shepherd size

When you first look at the Belgian Malinois vs German Shepherd side by side, it’s immediately clear why one may confuse them for the other — they do look physically alike with similar coloring and body styles. However, let’s look a little closer and see how these herding breeds differ when it comes to their coat color and size.  

The German Shepherd has a thicker coat with a bi-color pattern. It also has tipped ears, whereas the Belgian Malinois ears are more triangular. The Belgian Malinois coat is more evenly colored and not quite as thick and fluffy as a German Shepherd’s can be. Both have a double coat, a top coat, and an undercoat.

Additionally, looking a little closer, the Belgian Malinois is fairer in terms of color, with fawn or blonde shades, a black mask, and black ears. The German Shepherd has a medium length thicker fur with the colors dispersed throughout. It may look like it has a black mask, but that just applies to its snout.

When it comes to their size, they are quite similar in this trait, as well. Both the German Shepherd and Malinois stand between 22 and 26 inches high, allowing for slight differences in females vs. males.

However, the Belgian Malinois is a lighter breed, weighing only 40 to 80 pounds, in contrast to the German Shepherd, which is heavier at 70 to 90 pounds. Males are larger than females in terms of height and weight.  

The weight difference is due to the bulkier muscle of German Shepherds. The Belgian Malinois, on the other hand, tends to be a little leaner, but it’s also faster — running up to speeds of 30 miles per hour — and has more agility as a result. The German Shepherd is stronger but slower.


One area where these two herding breeds excel is in popularity. While German Shepherds may inch out the Belgian Malinois ever so slightly, they both remain popular dogs in terms of being a great household pet and a working dog that has a purpose.  

gsd malinois

However, in terms of AKC registrations and rankings, the Belgian Malinois has a long way to go if it wants to catch up to the German Shepherd. The former sits as the 43rd most popular dog breed, while the latter is the second most popular.

However, just a few short years ago, the Belgian Malinois was in 76th place, so it has gained a lot of ground. And honestly, looking at its traits, it’s very easy to see why people love this pup so much.


german shepherd

While I’d love to say these working dogs excel in the area of health and have no concerns, sadly, that’s not the case. In this aspect, the German Shepherd is inferior to the Belgian Malinois, likely due to overbreeding.  

The Belgian Malinois does have a few health issues. For example, it’s prone to joint dysplasia and some eye issues. However, these pale in comparison to the German Shepherd, which faces a host of medical issues.

Those who own the breed are cautioned to watch out for health issues like:  

  • Blindness
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Lupus
  • Joint or hip dysplasia
  • Seizures
  • Eye issues

 Therefore, when it comes to veterinary care, you’re more likely to spend extra money keeping a German Shepherd healthy than you are a Belgian Malinois.  

However, I would caution you to remember that these are only generalities. You can have perfectly healthy German Shepherds that give you zero issues for their entire lives and Belgian Malinois that rack up thousands of medical bills per year.

The true test of a dog’s health is in its genetics, so when you adopt one of these two herding dogs, be very diligent in choosing one that comes from a reputable breeder.


You’ll quickly find out that German Shepherds get bored easily. They thrive on learning new tasks, and if you find that they are acting out — because they are a typically happy, devoted breed — it’s likely due to boredom.

The Belgian Malinois, however, prefers a routine and also excels when it receives positive reinforcement. Obedience training is a must, and the trainability level of both pups is very high in both Malinois and German Shepherds.

Similarities Among Belgian Malinois vs German Shepherd 

german shepherd  and belgian malinois

While there are noticeable differences when you get to the very heart of the two breeds, there are also similarities between the Belgian Malinois vs German Shepherd, such as their complete loyalty, which is why they’re so very loved.  

Both dogs are touted for their bravery. This is why they’re often used as police and military dogs, because they have the courage to charge into situations to protect their people in the name of law and service. While the German Shepherd and Belgian Malinois thrive in police and military work, they are also extremely helpful in search and rescue missions.  

Then, who could ignore the fact that these pups are both willing to put in a hard day’s work (like the Beatles always say!), whether it’s with sheep and other livestock or as part of a workforce. They love to be kept busy; the more rigorous the activity, the better. They will sleep like babies and be wonderful house pets after they are exercised.  

These two dogs are easy to care for as well; neither has extensive grooming needs. However, be warned that both German Shepherds and the Belgian Malinois shed … a lot. Invest in a good vacuum and be prepared to sweep every day. There are two shedding seasons during the year, and you will get an extra workout during that time. 


Is a Malinois Stronger Than a German Shepherd?

Typically, a German Shepherd is stronger than a Malinois. This is true in areas of strength because the German Shepherd has a stockier build, but it is also true in the area of bite force. The Malinois is 195 PSI, while the German Shepherd’s bite is around 238 PSI. 

Why Do They Use Belgian Malinois Instead of German Shepherds?

When police, military, or search and rescue operations decide to use a Belgian Malinois over German Shepherd dogs, it’s because the dog is leaner and faster. These two traits will elevate the breed over the more muscular German Shepherd. 

Are German Shepherds More Calm Than Belgian Malinois?

Both the German Shepherd and Belgian Malinois are high energy, but the Belgian Malinois tends to like to stay busier. So, in this respect, I would say, yes, German Shepherds are a bit calmer of the two breeds.

Final Thoughts 

These two dog breeds, both Belgian Malinois and German Shepherd dogs, are truly beauts, and they’re very successful at what they do, including police work. If you’re a more experienced pet owner or have an understanding of guard dog breeds, by all means, consider adopting one.

Just be sure that you have the time and energy to devote to them because neither will be happy as a couch potato. And if you haven’t, definitely check out the white German Shepherd.

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