Dutch Shepherd vs Malinois

Dutch Shepherd vs Belgian Malinois – Medium-Sized Herding Breed Comparison

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Tim Seidler

Tim Seidler – Head of Testing

with support from the EasyPet Research Team

At EasyPet, we are committed to presenting accurate and up-to-date information to assist you in your pet care journey. When appropriate, we consult licensed and practicing veterinarians to fact-check our professionally written articles.

These smart, elegant and athletic dogs get their looks from their herding past and are now beloved family pets all around the world.

Their brains make them easy to train, but also a challenge if you’re not willing to put in the time to keep them entertained.

Are you wondering which of these breeds is the best option for your family? Here’s everything you need to know

Interested in how the Dutch Shepherd and/or Belgian Malinois shapes up against some other breeds? Check out our guides below:

Dutch Shepherd vs Belgian Malinois : Similarities

  • Born to work: Both of these breeds descend from European shepherds and were mostly used as herding dogs in farms. After WWII, when farms around Europe started using machines, these dogs almost disappeared. Now, they’re mostly found as family pets or as part of breeding programs.
  • Smart & active: Because of their herding past, these two dogs have lots of energy to burn. They also love to work independently, learn new tricks and do very well in agility competitions.
  • Great police dogs: These dogs aren’t aggressive, but they learn fast and their sturdy build makes them a favorite choice as police dogs. Since WWI the military and police in Europe and America used both Dutch Shepherds and Belgian Malinois.
Belgian Malinois - Fawn with Black Face
Belgian Malinois

Belgian Malinois vs Dutch Shepherd : Differences

  • Where they come from: One of the main differences between Dutch Shepherds and Belgian Malinois is their origin. Although European, one hails from the Netherlands (aka Holland), and the other is from a neighboring country, Belgium.
  • Their color: On the one hand, we have Dutch Shepherds. These dogs are always brindle, which is dark with a lighter background, and usually go from black to deep brown. They also may or may not have a darker “mask” around the face. On the other hand, Belgian Malinois have a very distinct fawn body and should have black mask and ears.
  • Rough vs short vs long coat: Malinois have only one coat type: short, straight and dense. In contrast, Dutch Shepherds can have a short coat (similar to the Malinois) but also long and rough coats.
Brindled Dutch Shepherd
Dutch Shepherd – Notice the brindle coloring

Dutch Shepherds & Belgian Malinois : Their History

Although both of these breeds descend from medium to large European Shepherds, the Belgian Malinois and the Dutch Shepherd are very different.

In fact, even though before 1890 Belgian Malinois weren’t a recognized breed, already a general “look” and behavior defined Belgian shepherd dogs. Because of that, local farmers and owners organized the Belgian Shepherd Dog Club. In their initial assessment, they discovered Belgian shepherds were identical except for their different by hair textures and color: long or rough hair in either black or fawn. The so-called “Malinois” is only one of those four types.

The Belgians pushed for the four varieties to be recognized as individual breeds. Nevertheless, the United Kennel Club (from England) recognizes them as a single breed: the Belgian Shepherd. On the other hand, the American Kennel Club does recognize the Malinois on its own. This American definition is the one we’ll follow throughout this article.

The UKC recognizes a single breed of Belgian Shepherd dogs, while the AKC recognizes 3, one of those is the Belgian Malinois

In contrast with the Malinois’ history, we have the Dutch Shepherd. This dog wasn’t a recognized breed until after 1910. Up until that time, farmers used these naturally occurring dogs as working animals. Their sturdy build and loyal temperament made them ideal for farm life. But, after the war, many dogs died due to lack of food and others got lost after being crossed with German Shepherds. After the 50s, the few Dutch Shepherds left changed purpose and were very effective police dogs, guards and search and rescue dogs.

Nowadays, both the Dutch Shepherd and the Belgian Malinois enjoy greater popularity and more people are trying to bring them back to the public eye.

Malinois & Dutch Shepherds : What Do They Look Like?

Belgian Malinois and Dutch Shepherd dogs might look similar to the untrained eye: after all, both are herding dogs! They also share some common ancestry and might look like German Shepherds as well. This is especially true when comparing short-coated Dutch Shepherds with Malinois.

In general, both breeds are very alike: medium-sized, well-proportioned dogs with powerful muscles. Their ears are also triangular-shaped and they carry them erect. Malinois dogs looks slightly leggier and leaner than their Dutch counterparts do, but this is barely noticeable most of the time.

Nevertheless, that’s where similarities end. If you want to know how to tell apart a Belgian Malinois from a Dutch Shepherd, the most telling sign is their coat and their color.

Their Coat

As we already mentioned, purebred Dutch Shepherds can have three different types of coat: short, long and rough [4].

Among long-haired Dutch Shepherds, their coat is thick and straight with feathered forelegs. In the case of rough-haired Dutch Shepherds, their entire bodies have rough, harsh hair with slightly longer hair on the back legs as well. Now, with the short-haired dogs is where a newbie might get confused. In that case, short-haired Dutch Shepherds have hard, thick hair that isn’t too short, a couple inches throughout the body and slightly longer in the back legs and tail.

Did you know? Dutch Shepherds can have 3 different coats, while Malinois only have one!

On the other hand, Malinois only have one type of hair: short. Their coats are also very dense and slightly longer in the forelegs, tail and around the neck. Usually it’s easy to tell apart a long haired Dutch Shepherd from a Malinois, but with short haired dogs it might be more complicated. That’s why their color is also a telltale sign.

Belgian Malinois Laying Down

Their Colors

For starters, Belgian Malinois can also have one color: fawn with a black mask. Of course, there are some slight variations, and the “fawn” can even reach a mahogany tone. The mask and ears should always be black though.

Then, in the case of Dutch Shepherds, there’s more variety. Deep, dark colors are more common, but dogs can be black, brown, fawn and even gray. This breed is also brindled: which means black or very dark stripes with a lighter background. Dutch Shepherds can also have a darker mask, but this isn’t always the case.

Dutch Shepherd running in field

Dutch Shepherds & Belgian Malinois : Health & Grooming

Because of their herding past, both of these breeds are generally healthy. Nevertheless, because their numbers dwindled significantly after WWII, their continued breeding with a smaller pool of individuals has caused some issues to arise.

Health of the Belgian Malinois

Like other medium to large breeds, Malinois have a tendency to suffer from hip and elbow dysplasia [1].

Luckily, its easy for breeders to test their dogs for dysplasia and avoid having puppies with the same condition.

Malinois also suffer from cataracts and progressive retinal atrophy, genetic conditions that cannot be prevented but can be tested to avoid breeding dogs with the gene. Epilepsy and thyroid issues can be common as well. In general, these dogs live 11 to 14 years.

PRO TIP: Ask your Malinois breeder for their dogs’ CHIC certification. This is a certification issued by the Canine Health Information Center Program. To get it, a dog should have been tested for all major health issues of the breed.

Health of the Dutch Shepherd

This is another relatively healthy breed, although they deal with a few issues. Besides hip and elbow dysplasia (very common among dogs this size), you should keep an eye out for Inflammatory Myopathy.

Clinical signs included muscle tremors, pelvic limb stiffness, progressive weakness, and severe muscle atrophy. – Wroblewski, Karen (2017), Inflammatory Myopathy, Dutch Shepherd Club of America [3]

This recently discovered genetic condition only affects Dutch Shepherds. According to the Dutch Shepherd Club of America [3], this diseases causes atrophy in the nerves. All diagnosed dogs have died within the first 2 years of life and there is currently no treatment.

PRO TIP: Ask your Dutch Shepherd breeder whether they have tested their dogs for Inflammatory Myopathy. If possible, talk to other people who have previously adopted puppies from them and ask for their dog’s health in regards to any neurological disease.

Grooming Belgian Malinois & Dutch Shepherd Dogs

On the grooming side, both of these breeds need consistent brushing to look good and stay healthy. A bi-weekly grooming session will usually suffice, although during shed season you might need to do it daily.

Because they both have a double coat, these dogs shed. It can be especially noticeable if you have light-colored furniture, because their dark hair will start getting everywhere if you don’t brush them often. It’s important to consider the grooming time if you’re wondering if this is the right breed for you.

Behavior & Training of Malinois & Dutch Shepherds

Due to their herding and working origins, these two breeds are very active and need consistent training to become the best family dogs they can be.

Both the Malinois and the Dutch Shepherd are confident, active dogs that love to accomplish tasks for their owners. They also do well working independently, which has served in their recent adoption as police dogs.

The Belgian Malinois can be reserved with strangers, so they might not be a good fit for very outgoing families that expect their dogs to immediately get along with other people and their dogs, or bring them into large crowds. Malinois aren’t shy, but they won’t usually go into a new situation wanting to say hi to everyone. They can also be protective of their owner.

Partnership implies an ongoing commitment to active interaction, and the Belgian Malinois demands and needs that commitment. But, the Malinois is NOT for everyone. -American Belgian Malinois Club [2]

The Malinois can be slightly more work-focused than Dutch Shepherds, and because of that, it’s usual to see Malinois running in big circles in the yard or the park.

This stems from their herding past, and for many Malinois it’s very tempting to chase around running children, trying to herd them around.

PRO TIP: Like all herding breeds, Malinois need consistent training through positive reinforcement to control their herding tendencies.

When left to their own devices without training, a Malinois will chase after cars, kids, wild fauna (like squirrels) and pets. 

These herding tendencies can also evolve into excessive mouthiness, so training and exercise are key to keep this breed on its best behavior.

On the other hand, Dutch Shepherds are also friendly, loyal dogs very focused on work. They aren’t shy and tend to stay alert, guarding their home and their herd.

They’re smart and need to keep busy to avoid causing damage to your yard and home. This breed wants to work, so if you’re planning on having one as a family pet, be prepared for tons of walks!

Like the Malinois, they need plenty of structured playtime to stay well-behaved. This breed also loves to learn new tricks, so you can have hours of focused fun teaching them all sorts of things, from retrieving stuff to “talking”.

PRO TIP: Socialization is key with herding breeds if you want to adopt a dog as a family pet. They need to get used to all sorts of prey-like things going around them. This is easier with puppies, but with some effort on your part, adult dogs can also re-learn and re-focus their herding and chasing tendencies.

Dutch Shepherd Belgian Malinois Mix : The Dutch Malinois

dutch malinois mixed breed

Also called the “Belgian Malinois Dutch Shepherd” or even “Dutch Shepherd Malinois”, the Malinois Dutch Shepherd is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a mix between these two breeds!

Of course, even though they might occur from time to time, this is neither a recognized breed nor a common mix to come across. Most breeders try to keep their litters as purebred as possible, and mixing these two very similar dogs isn’t common practice.

Nevertheless, when they do happen, this is a herding dog like no other. In fact, it’s probably very similar to all Western European herding dogs from a century ago! This crossbreed keeps its parents smarts and looks, as well as their good disposition to herd and follow orders.

If you’re interested in a Dutch Malinois of your own, you might have luck asking a breeder or checking your local Dutch Shepherd Club. They might know of a litter of crossbreed pups!

PRO TIP: When looking to get either a Dutch Shepherd or a Malinois, consider rescuing an adult dog. Because these breeds are very active, many families get puppies without understanding the time commitment it implies. If you’re 100% this is the dog for you, give a chance to an “older” pup. They might surprise you!

Dutch Shepherd or Belgian Malinois : Which one is best for your family?

Getting a dog should be a thought-out decision, especially when it comes to deciding between the Dutch Shepherd and the Belgian Malinois.

In both cases, you need to understand this will be a long-term commitment: at least 12 to 14 years. This is a very active breed that needs at least an hour of exercise a day, plus extra time for training.

As they are very smart, you’ll have to offer mental stimuli throughout their lives. This can be in the form of play dates with other dogs, long walks in nature, agility training or just learning new and weird tricks.

If you’re still sure one of these cute dogs is for you, here’s our final roundup to help you pick the best for your family.

Is the Dutch Shepherd the best dog for your family?

This is your best choice if you are:

  • An active family with the time to go out daily on long walks
  • Can include your furry friend in your daily life, not let them be at home alone for hours
  • Want a good-mannered dog that’s not overly shy with strangers

Is the Malinois the best dog for your family?

This might be a good fit for you if you:

  • Have experience training dogs through positive reinforcement
  • Don’t mind not going out with your dog as much (Malinois don’t love large crowds)
  • Want a family pet that’s also a great guard dog


Malinois vs Dutch Shepherd. Which one is bigger?

Short answers: they’re pretty much the same size. These are both medium-sized dogs, although the Malinois is slightly more slender. On the other hand, the Dutch Shepherd has a sturdier look.

Do Belgian Malinois like to cuddle?

Yes! Once they’re tired of course. This is an active breed that won’t stay put until their energy is completely depleted. That means at least 1 hour of exercise per day, and mental stimulation throughout. Once they’re done with the day, they’ll be the best companions to snuggle up with.

Are Dutch Shepherds and Belgian Malinois aggressive breeds?

No. Even though both breeds have been used as police dogs, they aren’t aggressive. These loyal dogs love to work and have a purpose, so they fit very well with police life. Their herding past increases their tendency to guard their home and family, but they won’t attack first.

  1. American Kennel Club. Belgian Malinois. Consulted on May 14th 2023 at [https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/belgian-malinois/ ]
  2. American Belgian Malinois Club. Belgian Malinois. Consulted on May 14th 2023 [http://www.malinoisclub.com/abmc/ ]
  3. Carlson, J (2018): Inflammatory Myopathy.   Dutch Shepherd Dog Club of America. Consulted on May 14th  2020, at [http://www.dsdca.org/inflammatorymyopathy.html]
  4. United Kennel Club. Dutch Shepherd. . Consulted on May 7th  2020, at [https://www.ukcdogs.com/dutch-shepherd]

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