While the new movie “Max” is stealing hearts across America, many rescue shelters and animal control centers are bracing for a large increase in abandoned Belgian Malinois in the near future.
The film “Max” features a highly trained Malinois who returns home to the United States from service in Afghanistan after his handler, Kyle, is killed. Kyle’s family adopts Max, who instantly bonds with Kyle’s teenage brother, Justin.
The main concern is that moviegoers who decide to adopt a Malinois like Max will surrender the dog after a short time because they fail to adequately research and learn what kind of lifestyle a Malinois demands. During the course of my 25-year career in dog handling and training, I have seen it happen before with St. Bernards and Dalmatians after the releases of “Beethoven” and “101 Dalmatians.”
There is concern Malinois will suffer the same fate. Because the feel-good movie highlights the beauty, intelligence, athleticism and loving personality of Malinois, not all audiences will realize that Max’s obedient behavior was the result of years of intense, rigorous training.
Since Hollywood has been known to stretch the truth in the name of making a movie, it’s important to separate the facts about Malinois from what you see on the screen before you adopt one.
From bomb sniffing in Afghanistan to tracking the scent of the villains, Max was put to work. That’s because Malinois are genetically engineered to perform tasks, making them ideal police and military dogs. They are high-energy dogs that actively seek out missions. When purchased as a pet, Malinois will need an abundance of exercise and plenty of toys. Otherwise, their desire to work will likely lead them into mischief. In order for your dog to be obedient like Max, it will require professional training and constant reinforcement at home. If Malinois do not have a proper outlet for their energy, they can channel it in undesired behaviors, such as biting.
Max’s aggression in the movie only slightly mimics real life. Even then, it’s circumstantial. While Malinois returning from war are more prone to aggression, regular Malinois are not. However, they can develop aggressive tendencies if not properly socialized.
That’s why Ken Licklider with Vohne Liche Kennels, a police and military dog training facility in Indiana, says it’s crucial to introduce the dog to as many people as possible so he learns to trust other humans. Malinois can be reserved when new people enter your home, but they tend to relax once they realize there is no threat.
The only time Malinois show aggression is if they feel threatened or sense bad energy from someone, similar to how Max reacted to Tyler, Kyle’s deceitful best friend in the movie. Otherwise, Malinois are generally very sweet, loving dogs.
From his dash through the woods to his swim in the river, Max’s athleticism in the movie transcends the silver screen. By nature, Malinois are active dogs, so if you’re seeking a laid-back companion, a Malinois won’t be a fit for you. But if you enjoy running or hiking, a Malinois could be the perfect match. With the energy of 10 dogs wrapped into one, a Malinois needs adequate exercise, because without it, he may rip your couch in a million pieces.
As evident in the movie, Malinois are great dogs, but they require a certain kind of home. So before adding one to your family, it’s important to make sure it’s a mutual fit for you and the dog. Malinois are fiercely loyal and can become a member of the family, but it requires dedication and commitment on your end to make it work.
Diana Sosa is owner and chief handler at Dog Inspectors, a Tennessee company that uses trained, certified detection dogs to find bed bugs in commercial and residential buildings. She may be reached at 855-BUGDOG1.
This article was originally published in the Knoxville News Sentinel.