The Belgian Malinois – and why you shouldn’t get one.

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This delightful creature you see on your screen is Luna. I’m sure a few of you have seen her on our Facebook and one half of you either thought:

“Oh what a lovely/unusual looking German Shepherd/German Shepherd cross,”

and the other half:

“Oh my God look at that Malinois, I need her in my life.”

Luna, as you may have guessed, is an eight month old Belgian Malinois. The Malinois very recently came to public attention in this country thanks to Hollywood movies, a higher and much needed recognition of the work of canine units in the forces and the sad fact that they seem to have quite quickly become a kind of status symbol, both in dog training/dog ownership circles and in circles frequented by people who see a dog as a weapon or a defensive strategy.

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Almost four years ago we got our first Malinois through the gates. He had been wrongly classed as a German Shepherd cross but we were hardly going to turn him away. Benson arrived to us from Dublin and he was lovely, but Bensons teeth were so worn down we thought he’d had his teeth filed by some awful human. However, we soon came to realise that his teeth were like that because he just had to chew on everything. 

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The lovely Benson

When Benson was left alone in his run for anything more than twenty seconds, he wrecked it. He got so bored with his life when he wasn’t with everyone else and when he wasn’t involved in everything going on that Ray actually had to cable-tie his water bowl to the side of the pen to actually keep him from destroying the bowl. Benson had decided that he would rather dehydrate himself to death than not be completely involved in everything that was going on…. all of the time.

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Since Benson, the Malinois’ train has just sped up and kept on coming. The odd request for help with the breed here and there has turned into a near constant stream. If you’ve ever brought up the Belgian Malinois in conversation with us, I’m sure our response is well embedded in your memory. For those of you who have not had that conversation with us, it usually goes something like:

“Do Not Get A Malinois And Expect It To Be A Good Pet.”

with the lesser titles: 

“Walking Five Miles A Day Does Not Constitute Work” 

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And

“A Belgian Malinois Is A Full Time Job”

While many Malinois may share the lovely dark masks and the pointy ears of a German Shepherd, they are as alike to the GSD as a Giant Schnauzer is to a Labrador. The Malinois is actually more akin to a working Collie, but where a collie will nip, a Malinois will bite, and they will hold that bite. This is a breed of dog that thinks fast, moves fast and expects you to keep up with it, not the other way around, and God help you if you don’t.

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The habitat that the Malinois is presently bred for. Note how none of these photographs show a dog on a sofa waiting for their owner to come back from work.

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Although they do appear to sit and wait on-top of tanks.

The Malinois as a breed, in this country at least, has not had the time that the German Shepherd has had to be conditioned to life as a pet. Forces here use very specific lines of German Shepherds for work, utilising designated breeders and importers. It’s why the dogs at the police dog display in Crufts look so much different from those paraded around the show ring.

Outside of the dog show world (in which they are sadly becoming much more popular as a breed), the Malinois is still being bred primarily for their work ethic and not their house manners and no real “pet” line exists.

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Layka. While serving in Afghanistan, U.S Military Combat Dog Layka was shot four times by the enemy at point blank range. Despite her injuries she still attacked and subdued the shooter, saving her handler and other members of her team.

Luna is a prime example of how badly things can go wrong when people believe that they can take an A-Star working breed and attempt to make a pet out of them. The standard two walks a day and basic obedience is by no means anywhere near what these dogs require on a daily basis.

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Luna will have her own page in the Welfare section very soon and if you’re looking at her thinking “I really want one of those,” please, please, please have a read of her page when it goes up. Luna has serious behavioural problems, most of them brought on, not by cruelty or neglect, but by a misunderstanding of just how much stimulation a working breed actually requires. We hope to get her case file up in a few days so watch this space.

Six Month Gus-pdate

Gus has been with us at RRR for just over six months now. While he’s put on weight and has thrived during his time with us, he still has a few behavioural and medical problems that require careful management, a lot of time and unfortunately, quite a lot of money.

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When Gus first came to us, he was extremely messy in his run. The run he was kept in at night was approximately 10ftx8ft and had three individual kennels, all filled with straw. There’s a large toileting area in this run with a drain running along the back of the area. For the longest time, Gus just seemed to go wherever he was standing at that moment in time and had no real awareness of walking through it or standing in it. On occasion during the first few months, he came out of his run in the morning and it had been obvious that he had lain in his own waste.

As we’re all aware, dogs, domestic and wild, are den animals. Instinct encourages them to keep their dens clean by eliminating somewhere outside of their sleeping place.  As both urine and faeces have strong scents, this scent in or around the den could scare away prey or attract predators. This instinct has long been manipulated by humans in order to housetrain dogs. The fact that Gus was so complacent about his own hygiene and the hygiene of his sleeping area showed us that it was more than likely that he had no other option other than to eliminate near his own sleeping area for such an extensive period that it became what he considered normal.

This behaviour is an extreme deviation from what is considered a natural instinct within a dogs psyche and is something that we have seen quite often in dogs that have been kept in small, unnatural and not fit for purpose areas. Thankfully however, over time his housetraining problems have improved greatly and he seems to have realised that he doesn’t need to go to the toilet where he sleeps anymore.

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Which, all things considered, must have been a lovely realisation for him.

Gus is also extremely focused on food. When he becomes aware that there is food close by it can be very difficult to get his attention. He is also extremely food possessive and for safety’s sake, we have to feed him separately and make doubly sure that there is no food left around when he is out with the rest of our dogs as we are fairly certain that it would cause him to become aggressive. Gus also displays Pica and coprophagia. Pica is an issue in which the dog attempts to ingest non food items (in Gus’ case items noted have been toys, pieces of tissues, plastic gloves, brush handles and various items that were left around him) and coprophagia is the eating and ingesting of faeces. On occasion Gus has been noted to recycle his own faeces straight after elimination.

While these are behaviours that at some point all dogs will display, even if only once, pica and coprophagia are two disorders that we see often in dogs that have not received adequate nutritional care and have been allowed to starve for a long period of time. Much literature exists that proves that when animals are deprived of their normal nutritional needs, they become prone to eating inappropriate materials. We have on occasion seen emaciated dogs that have developed a habit of eating stones and dirt, so much so that they have broken their own teeth. Anecdotally, we believe that these behaviours come about in cases of starvation from the dog ingesting anything to curb a feeling of hunger. It can also be due to boredom and lack of stimulation.

Due to the extremity of Gus’ displaying of these behavioural problems and as he was extremely emaciated when he came to us, it is in our opinion that Gus’ nutritional needs were not met and that this neglect happened over a long period of time.

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This emaciation added in with fur so matted with faeces that he had to have a full clip, made for a very pathetic looking Gus way back in February.

Increased aggression is also a common consequence of frustration in underfed animals. This frustration and franticness around food could be an adaptation by Gus due to a long history of nutritional neglect.  It may have been that Gus was kept around other dogs as the damage to his ears is evidence of a dog fight (the tip of both ears are ripped off). This is an injury we have seen before and has, in our experience, always been caused by another, similar sized dog.

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The damage to Gus’ ears is extensive

Whether these fights were caused because of a lack of food or sexual based aggression we cannot say for sure. Gus, who is an entire male, on occasion shows signs of being what can only be considered hypersexual behaviour and has an extreme non-tolerance of other males. These two behaviours, added in with his specific phenotype (which is unique to breeding and show circles within Ireland), and our own experience tells us that Gus was either used as a breeding dog, or was kept in an environment where breeding took place.

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This history of trauma, added in with bad hygiene, lack of physical care and nutritional deficiencies, have made for a dog who has severe physical health issues. At the moment, Gus has to be sedated and have his ears flushed out at least once a week due to severe infection that is proving exceptionally difficult to get on top of. As sedation requires the presence of a vet, it’s proving extremely taxing on the rescue resources. This issue with his ears is more than likely a problem he will have for the rest of his life as the damage was allowed to get to a point where there’s not really any returning from.

We’ve had a lot of contact from people asking about Gus, he appears to be becoming one of our most popular and most talked about residents, so we’ll be keeping these updates running indefinitely.

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While we do our best to thank everyone individually for the help that we continually receive, we’re thanking you all here again, especially to those of you who have donated towards veterinary fees for this boys physical care. We’ll continue to keep you all updated on how Gus is doing.

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Lily Update

Lilys court case has taken place and George Hugh Richardson a livestock farmer from Randalstown pleaded guilty to causing unnecessary suffering and admitted that he did not take reasonable steps to ensure the needs of the dogs under his care were met. George Richardson received a lifetime ban on keeping dogs, but as he is a livestock farmer he is still free to keep other animals.

We’re hoping to get more information on this ruling over the next few days and Lilys page should (finally) be up.