The Belgian Malinois is one of four varieties of Belgian Sheepdogs, which were developed in Belgium in the late 1800s. The four varieties are the Malinois (fawn-mahogany, short coat with black mask), Tervuren (fawn-mahogany, long coat with black mask) the Laekenois (fawn, rough coat), and the Groenendael (black, long coat). The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognizes all but the Laekenois as separate breeds in the U.S., while the United Kennel Club recognizes all four types as one.
The Club du Chien de Berger Belge (Belgian Shepherd Dog Club) was formed in September 1891 to determine which of the many different types of dogs was representative only of the shepherd dogs developed in Belgium. In November of that same year, breeders and fanciers met on the outskirts of Brussels to examine shepherd dogs from that area. After much deliberation, veterinary professor Adolphe Reul and a panel of judges concluded that the native shepherd dog of that province were square, medium-size dogs with well-set triangular ears and very dark brown eyes and differed only in the texture, color, and length of hair. Subsequent examinations of dogs in other Belgian provinces resulted in similar findings.
In 1892, Professor Reul wrote the first Belgian Shepherd Dog standard, which recognized three varieties: dogs with long coats, dogs with short coats, and dogs with rough coats. The Club du Chien de Berger Belge asked the Societe Royale Saint-Hubert (Belgium's equivalent to the AKC) for breed status, but was denied. By 1901, however, the Belgian Shepherd Dog was finally recognized as a breed.
Today's Malinois can be traced to a breeding pair owned by a shepherd from Laeken named Adrien Janssens. In 1885, he purchased a pale, fawn rough-haired dog called Vos I, or Vos de Laeken from a cattle dealer in northern Belgium. Janssens used Vos I (which means fox in Flemish) to herd his flock and also bred him to a short-haired, brindle-brown dog named Lise (also known as Lise de Laeken or Liske de Laeken). After that mating, Vos I was bred to his daughters, establishing a line of very homogeneous dogs with grey rough-hairs and short-hairs, and fawn rough-hairs and short-hairs. Today, Vos I and Lise de Laeken are recognized as ancestors not only of the modern Belgian Shepherd Dogs as well as the Bouvier des Flandres and Dutch Shepherd Dogs.
Breeders decided to give each of the different varieties of Belgian Shepherd Dogs their own names. The city of Malines had formed a club for the promotion of fawn shorthairs Belgian Shepherd dog in 1898. Louis Huyghebaert, an early breeder under the "ter Heide" kennel name, as well as a judge, author and the "godfather of the Malinois" (and the Bouvier), along with the Malines club had done much to help popularize these short-hairs, so the name "Malinois" came to be associated with the fawn shorthairs.
In 1897, a year before the formation of the Malines club, Huyghebaert, suggested that since there weren't very many sheep left in Belgium, that the shepherd dogs should have field trials that showcased their intelligence, obedience and loyalty. From this recommendation, dressage trials for the shepherd dogs were developed that tested a dog's ability to jump and perform other exercises. The first dressage trial, held on July 12, 1903 in Malines, was won by M. van Opdebeek and his Malinois, Cora van't Optewel.
Belgian Shepherds were also used as guard dogs and draught dogs. They were the first dogs to be used by the Belgian police. Before World War II, international police dog trials became very popular in Europe, and Belgian dogs earned a number of prizes at the trials.
When World War I broke out, many Belgian Shepherd Dogs were used by the military for a number of jobs including messenger dogs, Red Cross dogs, ambulance cart dogs and, according to some, light machine-gun cart dogs.
During the 1920s and 1930s, several outstanding Malinois kennels were started in Belgium. During the first decades of the 20th century, Malinois and Groenendael were the most popular varieties of the Belgian Shepherd dogs to be exported to other countries. At that time, many were exported to the Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Canada, United States, Argentina and Brazil.
In 1911, two Groenendaels and two Malinois were registered by the AKC as "German Sheepdogs." In 1913, the AKC changed the name to "Belgian Sheepdogs." The first dogs were imported by Josse Hanssens of Norwalk, Connecticut. He sold the two Malinois to L.I. De Winter of Guttenberg, New Jersey. De Winter produced several litters from the Malinois under his Winterview kennel name.
After World War I, many American servicemen brought back Malinois and other Belgian Shepherd Dogs from Europe, and AKC registrations increased rapidly. The first Belgian Sheepdog Club of America was formed in 1924 and became a member club of the AKC soon after that. In 1924 and 1925, Walter Mucklow, a lawyer in Jacksonville, Florida, popularized the Malinois through AKC Gazette articles that he wrote. He also bred Malinois for a short time under the name of Castlehead Kennel.
By the end of the 1920s, the Groenendael and Malinois Belgian Sheepdogs had risen in popularity to rank among the top five breeds. During the Great Depression, dog breeding was a luxury that most couldn't afford, and the first Belgian Sheepdog Club of America ceased to exist. During the 1930s, a few Malinois were registered with the AKC as imports trickled into the country. Even after the Great Depression, there were so few Malinois and interest in the breed had dropped so much that the AKC put them in the Miscellaneous Class at AKC shows in the 1930s and '40s.
In 1949, a second Belgian Sheepdog Club of America was formed in Indiana. In that same year, John Cowley imported two Malinois and began his Netherlair kennel. He showed several of his dogs and several people became interested in them. By the 1960s, more people were breeding and showing Malinois. In March 1992, the American Belgian Malinois Club received AKC parent club status.
In the last decade, Belgian Malinois dogs have received a lot of attention for their work in the military, drug detection agencies, search and rescue operations, and police forces around the country. As a result, many Malinois have been imported to the U.S. in the last several years. They rank 90th among the 155 breeds and varieties recognized by the American Kennel Club.