Jun 302015


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:

Max, and other projects featuring Malinois, are excellent opportunities to increase awareness of a wonderful breed and the challenges that come with owning them. IMG_2100-2-Edit

  1. 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…
  2. 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. IMG_0293-2
  3. 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.
  4. 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 IMG_4295other 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. )
  5. 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.
  6. 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 justduck2activity 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. justiceleapbite2All 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…



 June 30, 2015  Posted by at 8:17 pm Tagged with: , , , ,

  15 Responses to ““Max” the movie and Malinois”

  1. Excellent article Roland and Lauren! Thank you very much! What began as genuine concern (and likely still is for most) has gotten out of hand and is not helpful.

  2. You probably won’t believe me but you have no idea how often I have said the very things you have written here, particularly about 1. Popularity can be GOOD for genetic diversity 2. If you care, STOP the memes! 3. Movies don’t really result in everyone running out and getting that breed that stars in the flick.

    I’m so happy you wrote this! Thank you! Thank you! It’s been such an uphill battle.

  3. Definitely one of the most nuanced and helpful posts I’ve seen on the concerns everyone expresses when a breed stars in a popular movie. Thank you for writing it.

    My husband told me I should see Max so I could write about it. And although there are worse ways to spend an afternoon than watching a beautiful dog in action, it felt to schlocky for me too. 🙂

  4. Thank you,Lauren and Roland,for a well presented and thoughtful piece.I have enjoyed the companionship of Malinois since 1979; yes, they are innately more active than previous breeds I enjoyed;and yes,I learned to be more vigilant to surroundings,and the Malinois quick response.My malinois have taught ME….they have taught me discipline and consistency and the meaning and importance of an animal-human PARTNERSHIP . All of us were at one time, first time Malinois owners and hopefully guided by breed mentors who understood and loved this magnificent breed of dog. All breeds come with inherent breed behaviors and characteristics,it is up to the buyer and the breeder to recognize whether the breed and an individual dog is a right fit…I do not want to see the Malinois over popular, nor do I want to see the breed in the wrong hands; you are absolutely correct in saying that warning people off the breed seems to increase the wrong people wanting the breed. It is up to me,as a Malinois lover,to educate people about the breed,its activity levels and responsible ownership. Every dog deserves that!

  5. Wow! This is awesome! I am so glad that someone had the facts and the common sense to post this rebuttal to all of the negative and fear based junk that has popped up like wildfire. It has always been around but has definitely ramped up due to this movie. Two years ago my wife and I started to look into the breed with more depth and we encountered a lot of scare tactic information, including some borderline disturbing videos. We have cared for GSD’s and a Rottweiler, as well as mixed breeds in our past and have always had well behaved, loving dogs. Our 18 month old Malinois is an excellent pet. We were hyper vigilant about socializing her, due in part to all the things we read, and she is a much more obedient and chilled out pup than a good majority of the other pets we meet on the trail or in the dog park. Bottom line- love your pet and spend the time with them and be patient! You get what you give.

  6. One of the few sensible comments I’ve read on the subject. Our first Malinois (not our first dog), 6 months old now, is turning into a fine pet now. Basically we don’t do anything different with him than with our previous dogs: use our common sense after we did our homework on the breed first.

  7. While I have never thought that that Mals were particularly “difficult or dangerous” as your article suggests many people feel about them, I have seen an increase in the number of Malinois being turned into rescue groups over the years. My feelings are, unless you have the time, patience and energy that is required to train one of these magnificent dogs (usually about 2 years or longer) then the Malinios is not for you. While the movie depicts a wonderful bond between a boy and a dog, the best job for these energetic dogs is doing a high drive doggy job, such as S&R, Nose Work or Protection.

  8. I love what you wrote in #2. I’ve felt the same way, but I’m not as good with words as you. I’m 70 years old. I got my Groen when I was 60 and she’s a wonderful girl, and I showed her to her AKC championship. Then I got my Mal, who was a breeder re-home. He was 4 yrs old when I got him 1 1/2 years ago. He is so wonderful. We don’t have dog sports here, but I have miles and miles to hike every day, and he has learned to swim this summer, so he and my Groen get lots of exercise which keep them and me content. Love them both!

  9. We (American Belgian Malinois Rescue) have gone back and forth on whether and how to respond to Max, but are trying to educate….Most folk, who just want a companion dog, would be happier with another breed. But there is no denying the joy of working with the intensity of a Mal.

    I wish we only had good breeders. Good breeders breed stable, healthy dogs and vet their homes, matching dogs to experience, training goals, and all sorts of criteria. Most good breeders also offer support and a lifetime return policy. If we only had good breeders, rescue would be able to respond to the occasional accidental breeding or abandoned dog….Good breeders help novice owners with behavior and training issues, and help their owners and dogs develop that incredible bond.

    Bad breeders do none of that – breeding without regard to temperament, stability or health, and not checking on homes before they sell…..they are the ones abandoning entire litters to shelters, or giving dogs to unprepared and uncommitted owners who then abandon them or dump them. Through education, we are hoping to stem the demand for folk who really aren’t committed to putting in the time to train and socialize their dogs. We love the breed, and want to help owners who adopt through us understand, train, and love the breed too.

    Thank you for a very thought provoking blog…..I have shared, as have others.

  10. Very very good article. Very well said!

    Kind regards to You from Denmark

  11. I was resistent.. you know that tiny place that grows so fast and says “my head will explode if you say another word about…” I was so sick of the endless posts about Max.

    But I scanned your article, and then read more… not every word. I loved it. I nominate you for president. What a great and sane person. Balanced. Thank you.,

  12. Our concern is about those that think dogs come to you knowing these things when, in fact it takes a lot of training and not to mention their energy level. These are not dogs that will sit on the couch and fetch your beer. They are very busy and need mental and physical stimulation. If not they can become destructive or just drive you crazy wanting you to throw a ball or just do something. Dogs that don’t get this activity end up at rescues and animal control because they are not getting enough stimulation. We have an awesome Mal but she requires excercise and attention.

  13. Great article.. Took the words right out of my mouth on number “2”!!! I just adopted a 6 month old malinois, and he immediately became a family member.. While i was researching the breed, however, I ran across several articles intending to dissuade any “lay” person from having malinois!! The way I see it, these “authors” were doing nothing more than trying to exalt themselves as more “knowledgeable” or more “capable” then anyone else, stroking their own egos, while at the same time instilling nonsensical fear for the breed in people… Great job!!

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