I have not yet seen Max, and have no opinion about the movie, although it sounds pretty good, but perhaps a little schlocky. However, as someone who has had many Malinois over 25 years, and who works full time training animals in the film industry–I have some considered views about the issue of breeds in movies in general, and about many of the opinions expressed by those who believe Malinois are imperiled by the theatrical release:
- Popularity is as much a great thing for a breed as it is a bad thing. It means more potential homes, more potential adopters, more opportunity to educate people. Obscure breeds struggle to maintain genetic diversity, to find enough homes, to survive. Popularity of course also increases the number of bad breeders, and good, and increases the buffer that prevents any one bad breeder from harming the breed. Popularity is both good and bad…
- Many people enjoy bolstering their own egos by going on and on about how challenging Malinois are, how only the very best and most elite trainers are capable of owning them. Stop it! Successfully owning Malinois does not make you super-human, and in fact, if you are having as many struggles as many of the authors suggest, you are probably not doing a very good job. Malinois are like high-powered sports cars—they are probably not the best daily driver for most owners, and getting the most out of them takes lots of skill, but with a modicum of thoughtfulness and willingness to adapt, most people can learn to handle them. And for people who are interested in learning and improving and doing lots with their dogs, there are few breeds more able to take them on an incredible journey through a diverse range of activities.
- What will hurt the breed is all the people making memes and writing about how difficult and dangerous they are—every insurance company and legislator will be eager to ban these monsters and will use your propaganda to do so. Not to mention that the general public will see us coming and be afraid, and will not want us near them or their families.
- If you are going to talk about the “101 Dalmatians” effect, do some research and do not simply repeat the same half-truths you heard from someone else who did no research. Over the years movies have been made starring several dog breeds, and the impact on breed numbers has been very small, or in most cases zero. Hooch did not ruin Dogues. Lassie did not ruin Collies. Dalmatian registration numbers did not climb significantly after any of the Dalmatian movies. Yes, a few people who were likely going to get dogs anyway got Dalmatians—which despite high energy and a few health and temperament issues are actually not a bad choice for many homes—and so there were a few more Dals in rescue the following few years, but fewer of some other breeds. There is very little actual data to support the notion that Hollywood has much of an impact on breed numbers, or that increased breed numbers are inherently a bad thing. (In fairness, Dalmations did experience a rapid rise and fall in popularity which created some real challenges, but this occurred roughly 25 years after the animated movie was released, and before the live action movie was released, which release had virtually no effect on Dalmatian numbers. )
- Popularity does not destroy breeds. (Labs, Goldens, Poodles have been the most popular breeds for a long time and are doing reasonably well, especially compared to the calamities people seem to believe are inevitable if a breed becomes even a little popular. Sure there are some issues in these breeds, but the issues are largely independent from popularity.) What hurts the breed is popularity with the “wrong” demographic. (Pits, Corsos, Presas) “Malinois are so intense and vicious” propaganda is making the breed less popular with potentially excellent pet homes but more popular with precisely the people who will harm the breed. Every time you assert that only a few select people can handle Malinois, you are enticing precisely those ego-driven individuals who are certain they are the exception.
- Breeders are the stewards of the breed. There have always been, and likely always will be, lots of people who are attracted to Malinois but are not prepared to deal with their intensity or activity level; it is up to breeders to breed good dogs and screen potential homes so that the best and most correct homes end up with Malinois.
Getting any dog is a huge step and a huge responsibility. Any potential new owner needs to educate themselves about dog ownership in general, about the breeds they are considering, and about the individual. Yes, Malinois are an intense breed with attributes that make them more challenging than many other breeds, and most people should be steered to another breed. All pets require time and effort and a willingness to reshape your life, Malinois require more than most.
Of course, anyone looking at a breed should meet lots of individuals within that breed, should attend dog shows and performance events, should try babysitting, and should learn about all the peculiarities and tendencies within that breed. Almost any animal will be awful if matched with the wrong home.
Hollywood is not going to take care of our breed—they are going to keep telling interesting stories about individual animals with some good and some bad. It is up to us—the dog community—to use the opportunities provided by movies like Max to increase awareness of the breed in a good way. It is up to us to shepherd and protect this amazing, versatile, and challenging breed. It is up to us, as it always has been, to keep educating, and to keep improving the breed and placing them in the right homes…