|FINDING THE RIGHT MALINOIS
Having decided that a Malinois is indeed the dog for you, it's time to find the right breeder to acquire a pup from. (Unless, of course, you are wanting to give a home to a rescue dog, which is dealt with under "Rescue".)
There are several VERY important points to bear in mind here.
* Your very first consideration should be whether you are looking for a show or working type dog -or indeed a mix of both. This decision you need to base on what you want to do with the dog. An active pet, agility, obedience, rally, flyball, working trials, a running companion and of course showing, the show type dog is excellent for all of these roles. Although it can and has been done, the show type is generally less suitable for IPO, police and army dogs and other similar professional roles, simply due to their lower drive.
The working type is ideal for the experienced owner who wants to compete at a high level in whatever their chosen dog sport is, as well as the professional working dogs. It is not suitable as a family pet unless it is also worked a LOT, and although they can be entered in shows, they will never win high honours due to their different looks.
* The second most important point to realise is that it is far more important to choose your ideal breeder, rather than search for the ideal pup. A good, responsible breeder will be there for you during the life of your dog, always willing to help with advice.
* Next you need to be prepared to wait. Do NOT go out and buy the first pup you see advertised because the timing suits you. The best breeders tend to have waiting lists for their pups, often a year in advance, and if you are wanting a good quality dog that will spend the next 12-15 years or more with you, getting the right pup is worth waiting for. Many good breeders do not need to advertise at all, unless they've had a cancellation, and so it is better to get in touch with breeders well in advance. Responsible breeders do not churn out pups on a conveyor belt, they breed when they want to keep a pup back for themselves. For some this may mean once or twice a year, for others it can mean years in between each litter. Contact various breeders and if one you like are not planning any pups, ask if they can recommend somebody who is.
* Be prepared to travel. The perfect pup for you may be at the exact opposite end of the country to where you live. A long journey can be awkward, but is worth it in the long run.
* Ideally, visit the breeder to meet their dogs BEFORE they have a litter of pups. It's not the cute puppies you need to fall for -everyone loves puppies- it is the adults living with the breeder. They are your best indication of what a pup from that breeder will turn out like.
So how do you know if a breeder is a good one or not?
*Well, the first clue is whether they ask you questions and ask you about your circumstances. Why do you want a Malinois? What is your plan for it? What is your general dog experience? Is somebody at home during the day so a pup would not be left alone? Do you have children, other pets? Any questions that will help the breeder determine whether you will be able to give a good home to one of their puppies. If a breeder does not ask such questions, run a mile! Those breeders are the ones that are only interested in making money. Once you've paid for the pup you will never hear from them again, let alone be offered any help should you need it.
* Ask the breeder why they are having a litter. If the answer is that they thought it would be a nice experience, or that they decided to mate their bitch because so many of their friends had said they wanted a pup, again turn your back on this breeder. Responsible breeders have an actual relevant goal with their breeding, such as producing their next pup for agility or the show ring, or to improve on something in the variety. Responsible breeders are typically involved with dog activities such as breed clubs, training clubs, shows or other competitions. That's how they decide whether their dogs are good enough to breed from or not. Their dogs prove themselves in competition. A good tip is to Google the breeder's name and Kennel name, as you will quickly find out if there are competition results recorded on the internet. That shows you the breeder is active within the breed. If all you find is adverts of pups for sale, again be suspicious.
* Make sure that the breeder has verifiable, up to date health tests for both parents of any pups. This does not mean a general check at the vet. Both parents should be hip scored under the Kennel Club/British Veterinary Association scheme, with an acceptable score. This involves x-rays and then a panel of vets viewing the images and scoring them. The perfect hip is scored 0, the worst possible 53. The left and right hip's scores are then added together, giving a total that can then vary from 0 to 106. The lower the score, the better the hips are. The average in the Malinois is around 8, which is very good indeed and indicates that hip dysplasia is not a huge problem with Malinois. Do not be put off by a slightly higher score -anything up to 14 or 16 is still okay; it is not likely to produce pups that will develop problems. Some breeds have average scores much higher than this. Obviously the aim is for as low a score as possible, but a good breeder takes everything into account when planning a litter -health, looks and of course temperament.
Some breeders also x-ray and score the dog's elbows. The scoring process there is different, ranging from 0 to 3 on each elbow, and the total score is then whichever is the highest elbow's score. Eg. a dog scored as 0-1 would total 1, but a dog scored as 1-1 would also score as 1. A 2-1 would score 2, and so on. It is highly recommended to only breed from dogs having scored zero. Elbow dysplasia is not a big problem in Belgian Shepherds, and elbow scoring is not a KC or breed club requirement, but it certainly doesn't hurt to have it done.
Eyes should be examined by an eye specialist vet once a year, for any Malinois that has been bred from it should be done every year until 7 years of age, if still used for breeding past 7 (which would be most common with male dogs), they should still be eye tested annually. What is looked for is Hereditary Cataracts (HC). This is not the same as cataracts that appear with old age.
Do not accept any excuses for why hip scoring and eye testing has not been done. Yes, very few Malinois suffer from either Hip Dysplasia (HD) or HC, but unless the breeding dogs are tested, how would anyone KNOW if there was a problem? A dog may look perfectly healthy for several years before showing signs. If they are then bred from to others that also have not been tested, problems will sooner or later crop up. I know of a 7 month old Malinois pup who had such bad hip dysplasia that it required a hip replacement. The parents had not been hip scored, and the breeder who had sold both parents to the next breeder did not test any of their dogs.
* Look at how the breeder's puppies are reared. Inside a busy household, getting used to all household noises such as TV, vacuum cleaner, radio etc, being handled a lot from birth, getting used to a variety of people, having lots of stimulating toys to play with, and from 3-4 weeks of age being able to spend some time outside each day is ideal. Puppies bred outside in kennels can turn out fine, many breeders obviously use kennels, but it has to be said that those that are brought up indoors have a better chance of easily settling into their new homes and growing up confident.
* Finally, a good breeder will usually ask you to sign a contract when buying a pup. This would typically state that the breeder is prepared to take the dog back at any point during the dog's life, for whatever reason, should the owner not be able to keep it. The contract will state purchase price and other information, and will also state if the puppy's KC registration is ENDORSED. A puppy can be endorsed in two ways - R means it cannot have any progeny registered with the Kennel Club, X means it isn't allowed to be exported to another country and be registered with a kennel club abroad. Again, responsible breeders endorse their pups. Many will agree to lift the endorsements under certain conditions (which should be stated in the contract), typically if they have been hip scored and eye tested with good results, and have been shown or worked competitively or professionally, and proven they have the right health and character to be bred from.
Kennel Club registration is something you SHOULD expect. It is not just a piece of paper of no interest. It will state the pedigree of the puppy, the health test results of the parents, and whether the pup is endorsed or not. This is your official proof of the parents' health status. It does not cost a lot for a breeder to register each puppy (and only the breeder can do this) so if somebody is selling puppies unregistered, you want to ask yourself WHY. Is it because the bitch was endorsed not to be bred from, but the owner went ahead anyway, without health tests? Is it because the bitch has already had too many litters? Only 4 litters are allowed to be registered with the KC during the lifetime of a bitch. Or is it a bitch too old or too young to be bred from? No bitch is allowed to be less than 12 months old at the time of mating -although for a Malinois, they definitely need to be older than this to be bred from, 2 years at least. Also bitches cannot be bred from after the age of 7 -again for the puppies to be eligible for KC registration. (In some cases special permission can be given for bitches aged over 7, with the consent of a vet.)
By law all puppies have to be microchipped by the time they are 8 weeks old and before they are sold, and registered into the breeder's name. The new owner must then change the chip registration into their name and address within 7 days. Again this is the law.
The very least you should expect to be given by the breeder is a pedigree, registration certificate, microchip transfer papers, a diet sheet, worming certificate and some of the food the puppy has been used to eating. Ideally, you should also be given a blanket or vetbed with the mother's and siblings' scent on, some toys, written information, a vet health certificate, and a contract. Good breeders will want to keep in touch with their puppy buyers, will always be willing to help with advice, will never turn their back on a pup they have bred, but they will not force you to have any more contact than you yourself want. A yearly update confirming everything is well is fine. Many puppy buyers though like to keep in touch regularly, and may also become lifelong friends with the breeder.
So WHERE do you find the good breeders? You can check with the Kennel Club as they have a list of Assured Breeders that have to adhere to various rules (such as health testing) as well as allow themselves to be inspected by the KC. A good bet is to contact any of the breed clubs. (See page for links.) You can visit shows/competitions of any type where Malinois are likely to take part, and if you see any dogs you are impressed with, ask the owners who bred them. And then there are of course good old Google, leading you to the websites of breeders.