My Life with a Malinois -Sarah Dykes Dog Training

My Life with a Malinois

My name is Sarah, and I have a Belgian Malinois. If you had asked me 5 years ago if I would own a Malinois, I would have looked at you like you should be institutionalized in a psychiatric hospital. Then I got to know a few through my work as a behavior consultant, fell in love with the breed, and now I should probably be institutionalized. It’s time to reveal the truth behind living with a Malinois.

Our morning walk is about the same as it was pre-Malinois – a ½ hour saunter with simple training tossed in. Now I must remember to bring an item for Mulder, my Malinois, to carry. Otherwise, he gets bored and barks incessantly at the Short Dog to play with him. Because walking and training is not enough is not enough for him – Malinois specialize in multi-tasking. Once the morning walk/poop break is done, Shorty gets her breakfast and Mulder gets his breakfast through training – that’s right. Before coffee, I’m free shaping my dog. Or doing scent detection. Or tracking (back when he would eat food off the track – those were the good old puppy days). Once training is done, I then make him a Kong and put him in his crate so that I can eat my breakfast and guzzle coffee. Why is he in his crate? Because I like my couch/bed/laundry basket/cupboards/bookshelves in the current state they are in. If not being closely supervised or engaged, Mulder will find an appropriate activity to do – this ranges from destroying Shorty’s dog bed (she doesn’t have one anymore – I gave up), stripping my bed of its sheets, or bringing me my shampoo, conditioner and body wash from the shower (now complete with puncture holes).   Anything low in my house now lives up high – shoes on the kitchen counter. Why not? He only spends a few seconds here and there up on the counter. He loves to check out everything – he regularly checks out the inside of the dryer, the bathtub, the closets, and this is a dog that is not loose in the house.  A sense of humour is a must with a Malinois.

My Life with a Malinois - Sarah Dykes Dog Training

I’m bored. There is nothing to do in this x-pen.

A tired dog is a good dog, right? A Malinois doesn’t get tired in the traditional sense of the word. 2 hour hike – that’s just a warm-up. Game of fetch – he can do that in his sleep. We need to do Malinois things every day, and for Mulder, that is bite work exercises, scent detection, tracking, and obedience. Every day. I was sick for a week – too sick to work. But not too sick to work Mulder because that doesn’t exist. Once you get a Malinois, there are no days off. Don’t know how to do scent detection or train obedience? Then don’t get a Malinois. They need something to do that is challenging to them, and as Mulder is a working Malinois from the Dutch training program, he is bred to bite and smell. So that’s what we do. Oh, and on top of all of that, as a puppy, we had to do socialization and socialization exercises. If I had wanted a dog to walk to Starbucks and sit on the couch with, I would have gotten a pug.

So after a day of work in a busy vet clinic, I would have to come home and devise detection or tracking sessions. This takes brain power. Then we would have to go for a walk with my other dog. By now, it would be 9 pm and I would think about having my dinner. Dinner, shower and then more Malinois time – I did allow supervised “play” time before bed. During this time, Mulder would often play with Shorty or appropriate puppy toys or we would play tug. I once tried to read a book while Mulder played with a puppy toy – ha ha ha! Let’s just say the edges of “Puppy Tracking” are no longer even. You know you’ve borrowed a book from me because there are teeth marks in the cover – bringing me my books is helpful, right?

Just doing some detection after work.

Just doing some detection after work.

Mulder changed my life – I moved across the country for him. I now drive 2 hours each way to an amazing PSA club – if you don’t know what PSA is, then don’t get a Malinois. We go there twice per week (8 hours of driving!). Instead of going to conferences on aggression and behavior analysis, I sign Mulder and I up for working spots in pretty much any Malinois activity.

Most of my clothes have holes in them. I look like I am beaten from working with Mulder on his bite work (and that’s just from his paws!) – yes, my doctor questioned the bruising on my legs and arms. I can no longer kneel on my right knee because his mouth accidentally met with it when he was enthusiastically delivering me a ball. All of my rubber boots leak because in some moment of forgotten supervision (usually when I am taking off Shorty’s leash), Mulder has enthusiastically brought me my boot. Forget about library books, unless you want to return a bag of shredded paper.

Momma, I found these books for you.  I will put them all in my mouth!  All of them!!

Momma, I found these books for you. I will put them all in my mouth! All of them!!

I was familiar with Pavlov, Skinner, Premack, Thorndike, and friends, and thank goodness for that – those 72 papers I wrote on learning theory and behavior analysis have been put to good use in training Mulder. I took a 5 day course with my breeder prior to bringing home my puppy – thank goodness I knew how to begin his detection training and bite work foundation. I knew how to socialize him using counter conditioning and systematic desensitization – that’s what I do for work so why not do it outside of work?

Tired of reading yet? If you are, then don’t get a Malinois. I know that there are Malinois out there that sit on the couch and sleep in bed with their humans, but I didn’t get that.  I love my dog to the moon and back. I would lay down in traffic for him, and I’m pretty sure he would do the same for me, and I was prepared for what I’ve gotten. Put in the time and research and get a dog that works for your life and skill level but be aware that it may not be a Malinois. A Malinois isn’t a type of dog, it’s a lifestyle.

My Life with a Malinois

This is what I spend my weekends doing – Friday night fun!

Posted in Belgian Malinois, classical conditioning, dog professionals, learning theory, Ontario, operant conditioning.


  1. Sarah. That was so accurate and loving at the same time. Iwas laughing all the way. We love these dogs, but they are loads of work. Am I permitted to share this on facebook?
    Ellen Nygaard

  2. My son and his girlfriend rescued a Malinois. Goliath was huge. They loved him so much, but, what ended up happening is, when my son would leave for work at night, he started attacking her and the bite marks were terrible. One night she had to call and have him come home from work because he had her cornered. She couldn’t get him in his crate. He has been re-homed and is doing well.

  3. So very true we have 3 mals never a dull moment… but a lot of work would nor trade them for anything. Also mine don’t like to share me with my phone so it now stays out of site.

  4. Whoa – and here I thought Alaskan huskies were challenging. I think I’ll stick with them, though I’d love to convince my employer to establish a K9 unit. I’d be the first to sign up. Hmmm, I wonder how would a malinois fit in with a sled dog team?

  5. I love your article, I’m now also a huge Mali fan. I threw myself in the deep end not ever having met one in person but I did a lot of research and knew the breed would suit my lifestyle. I love every day on the non stop busy. It has definitely changed my life and I think I will always have a Mali as long as I am fit and able.

  6. Spot on. This breed is definitely NOT for the faint hearted or those who can not dedicate their entire waking moments to them.

  7. Thanks so much for sharing. My first dog was a Belgian sheepdog. He was very much like your Mulder. I was fortunate enough to have an amazing and experienced trainer who owned several BSDs with multiple obedience titles. He said I had the worst possible first dog, but I was strong enough to handle him. Every day was a challenge to entertain him while keeping him from taking over. He was tolerant of second place so long as I looked like a strong leader. I learned that it wouldn’t work to be the ” alpha” in a bossy pushy way. It’s much more subtle. And takes more finesse.
    Good luck with Mulder. He might be a challenge but it’s so rewarding to be successful with such a high energy and intense breed.

  8. I wish I had read your article back before I adopted an extremely hyper, anxious German/hound cross. We named him Jackson and had no idea how to keep him physically and mentally active. Shepherds are such amazing dogs with so much potential but they don’t thrive unless they’re kept busy. Unfortunately our Jackson died of bone cancer when he was only 1.5 years. You sound like an amazing dog owner!

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  10. I Too am a trainer with a Malinois and I read your blog with a huge smile because every word rings true……butI’d have another one in a heartbeat !

  11. Thank you for writing this. I will be sharing. I fear people will get this breed because of the upcoming movie. They should read your post first.

  12. is this in response to the ‘max’ movie coming out? i know there are a lot of worried malinois owners. malinois are not a breed for people who have never had a dog, who think dogs train themselves, who think one would be fine for their 3 kids to play with.. lots of people should not entertain the idea of getting one, that’s for sure.

  13. So true. Got a knpv line Mal from Holland 2 years ago and it changed my life. From a cat person, I came to be an insane Belgian Ring competitor. All for his fun.
    I thought I was the only one who is mad, since I see a lot of relaxed Mals, so thank you for this.
    One day is usually fine, but if I skip 2 days of vigorous training and getting him tired generally, my house is ruined.
    Thanks and have fun getting bitten! ????

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