Are Belgian Malinois Good With Kids?

By John Martin - January 12, 2023

Belgian Malinois playing with boy

If you’ve got young ones in the clan and also want to add a four-legged fur baby to the family, it’s highly essential to think carefully about what breed you want your puppy to be.

Calm, loyal, mellow dogs without any aggressive tendencies that are great with kids would make the ideal choice—do Belgian Malinois belong in this category? Here’s everything you need to know about Belgian Malinois and their equation with children.

A Quick 101 on the Belgian Malinois

The hitherto obscure Belgian Malinois gained attention with the 2015 dog movie “Max”, but only properly shot into the limelight when President Trump introduced Conan to the world—the brave military Belgian Malinois that helped bring down an ISIS leader.

The Belgian Malinois belongs to the Belgian sheepdog family, bred in the late 19th century in—you guessed it—Belgium! This is one of the four breeds that make the sheepdog family, and while popularly used for herding, gained more popularity as a guard dog.

Belgian Malinois were the first police dogs in the Belgian force and their intelligent, hard-working nature resulted in their wide usage in the First World War in a variety of roles, from messengers to gun-cart handlers.

It was only in the early 1900s that Belgian Malinois made it to the shores of the United States, and only in 1959 that they were acknowledged as a separate breed by the American Kennel Club.

Today, Belgian Malinois are the go-to breed for a range of military and law-enforcement-related tasks, such as detecting drugs, being an important member of search and rescue operations, working in the military in various capacities, and being the standard “police dog”—Conan is a clear example of the abundant bravery these dogs possess.

It should be noted that many folks confuse Belgian Malinois with German Shepherds; however, the former is smaller and more aggressive.

Breed Snapshot

  • Weight: 40 to 80 pounds (depending on the gender)
  • Height: 22 to 26 inches (depending on the gender)
  • Lifespan: 14 to 16 years
  • Coat: Short hair, usually fawn with black hair tips (but can also be brown or red), with a black mask

Understanding a Belgian Malinois’s Temperament

Malinois are highly energetic, sensitive, and loving dogs.

They can be quite friendly around familiar faces and would go to any extent for their owners. Pleasing you is their raison d’être and Malinois often form unbreakable bonds with their humans.

This is especially helpful in the forces, where each Malinois has one dedicated handler who looks after their every need, in return for unwavering loyalty, service, and protection.

Malinois love physical activity, games, and puzzles, which is another contributing factor to their wide usage in the armed forces. These dogs need sufficient exercise for their body and brain; they’re also very task oriented and thrive on completing assigned jobs.

However, just as every human has different personality traits, so do dogs. While, on the whole, Belgian Malinois are given to being sensitive, loyal, and loving, there are plenty of cases where Malinoises have been aggressive.

The reason behind their aggression could be manifold—improper training and socialization, insufficient mental and physical stimulation, exclusion from the family, separation from the owner, and an abusive past (especially in rescue and shelter dogs).

How Are Belgian Malinois with Children?

Given their high energy levels, many folks assume that the Belgian Malinois is too rough and careless around children.

Additionally, with a reputation that precedes them (and not in a good way), stemming from their roles as military and police dogs, there’s a widespread misconception that the Belgian Malinois can be dangerous and aggressive—that’s why they’re in the forces, right?

(Wrong. Malinois are on the forces due to their intelligence and capacity to work hard.)

Due to these reasons, many people shy away from bringing home a Malinois if they’ve got children in the family.

However, done the right way, the Malinois can be great with kids of all ages, including babies. They can be extremely loving and protective if proper socialization and training are done.

That said, constant supervision is a must. No matter how well-behaved your Malinois is, some inherited behavior, such as protectiveness, a high prey drive, and territorial instincts, can get the better of your dog and lead to dangerous situations.

Additionally, the onus doesn’t lie on your Malinois alone—it’s just as important that your kids are well-behaved around your Malinois as it is for your Malinois to do so!

How Could a Malinois Harm Kids?

Belgian Malinois were bred to be herding dogs. This means that they may view the children at home as beings that require herding and behave accordingly, i.e, chasing them around and nipping at their heels.

This also extends to babies—the crying and screaming may give rise to herding instincts in your Malinois and he or she may act on it.

Their high energy levels also mean that these dogs can really jump, and while it’s sweet when they’re puppies, an adult Malinois could easily knock a person over, young or old, with one jump.

Additionally, given their sensitivity, Malinois hate being teased or startled/scared. Any teasing, especially during mealtime, could result in an aggressive reaction.

Some other actions could also instigate the dog’s high prey drive and result in aggressive, protective reactions, such as playing rough (with the dog or with other children in its presence), screaming, pulling on the dog’s tail or hair, and startling the dog, even playfully.

Sometimes, the presence of other animals, especially smaller ones, could send your Malinois’s preying instincts into overdrive and if you or your children try to interfere in this, the aggression and biting could be directed at you.

Training Malinois to Behave around Children

It cannot be stressed enough—the right training and socialization will help your Malinois behave calmly around children. Here are a few training tips to keep in mind.

Introducing the Two Parties

Here are some tips to safely introduce your Malinois to your children:

  • Don’t go to the dog. Instead, let him approach your children (the other way around might scare him). When he does, he will most likely sniff them thoroughly. Avoid any sudden movements at this time as this could frighten the dog and lead to a scary situation.
  • Take your children along when you take your Malinois for a walk. The Malinois loves physical activity of any sort and are calm and relaxed when participating in it. Their focus will be too much on enjoying themselves to let the presence of a child bother them. Keep yourself between the dog and the children, with the former to your left.
  • Keep your Malinois leashed, whether on a walk or at home, till he or she gets used to your children, and so that you can easily pull the dog away if things should go downhill. The leash may also serve as a sort of umbilical cord, where your dog knows he’s connected to you and therefore, could be less stressed.
  • Never pressurize your dog to approach your kids, whether you’re introducing them or even later. He or she will take their own time to get acquainted and pushing this will just lead to unnecessary frustration and anxiety.

Post Introduction

Once your dog and your kids have met each other, there are some other steps that you should take to ensure a safe and harmonious continued relationship between the two:

  • Start socializing your Malinois pup as soon you bring him home so that he gets used to being around children. It’s crucial that socializing occurs between the eighth and sixteenth week, which is when your puppy’s most important developmental phase is taking place. If you’ve got an adult Malinois, socializing is going to be a harder task, but not impossible. Ensure that the children remain quiet and well-behaved when being around the dog and always move the dog away at once if you notice signs of agitation or stress.
  • Don’t encourage jumping. Use firm commands to get them to stop or simply leave the space until they stop jumping so that your doggo understands that this is undesirable behavior.
  • Professional obedience programs are a great way to inculcate good behavior in your puppy.
  • Crate training your dog may help. The crate is a safe space that your dog can retreat to if he or she needs a break, is overwhelmed, or wants to recover from something.
  • Normalize childlike behavior to your puppy, such as hugging, kissing it on the head and ears, and touching its paws and tails. Then, if and when the child does this, your puppy won’t be taken by surprise and react aggressively.

Training Your Kids to Behave around Malinois

As mentioned earlier, this is equally important! Here are a few things your kids should be taught to ensure that they don’t bring out the worst in your Malinois:

  • Prepare your kids beforehand. Talk to them about how they should behave around the puppy and make sure they understand before you bring your puppy home. Teaching them the basics of dog body language will greatly help.
  • Never bother your Malinois when he’s eating or sleeping.
  • Teasing of all kinds should be avoided, whether verbal or physical (such as pulling the ears and tail, poking your Malinois, especially in the eye, and so on).
  • While patting the dog or hugging him, never grab the dog’s hair.
  • Avoid prey-drive-inciting movements and games, such as wrestling, chasing, running away from the dog, screaming, jumping on the dog, and waving things around while running, to name a few. With time, you may identify other triggers as well and can teach your children to avoid those, too.
  • Avoid sudden, wild movements.
  • Get your children to care for the Malinois. Not only does this lead to bonding between the dog and the kids, but it also inculcates a sense of responsibility in your children.

In Conclusion

As you can see, having a Malinois around with kids takes some work, but it’s not impossible if you’re ready to dedicate the time and effort. Remember that having a Malinois is like having another child plus ten times the need for attention and engagement for 15 years, so only go ahead if you can deliver this.

If you do decide to bring home a Malinois, bear in mind that a harmonious relationship is the responsibility of each being in the household—your dog and your children need to be well-behaved and respect each other’s boundaries and you need to ensure that you’re constantly supervising the two.

If you’re afraid of even the occasional chasing and nipping and tend to get mad at the dog for even the slightest bad behavior, a Malinois may not be the right choice for you. These dogs are great for patient families that will love them and treat them as another one of their members.