When the average person looks at a Belgian Malinois, he might easily mistake the dog for a German Shepherd. The two breeds look remarkably alike and although they are completely different breeds that originated from different areas of the world, they are both shepherds and have similar coat colors and markings. Thus the breeds are often mistaken for each other by those who do not know the differences that tell the breeds apart.
The Belgian Malinois is a slightly smaller dog than the German Shepherd. While the Belgian Malinois stands at between 24 to 26 inches tall for males and 22 to 24 inches tall for females, the German Shepherd has the same height standard; the difference comes in the dog's length. The Belgian Malinois is a square dog, his length actually equaling his height (though females can be slightly longer). German Shepherds are longer than they are tall, and this gives them more of a rectangular shape rather than a square shape.
The look of the dogs is also different, even though they look similar. The German Shepherd is tan in color for his main body; he has a black marking that resembles a saddle on his back, as well as the black mask, ears, and cheeks. The Belgian Malinois also has the black facial markings like the German Shepherd, but his body color is fawn; he does not have black marking on his body, but rather the hairs on his body have black tips, giving him a black overlay.
The dogs both stand differently as well. The Belgian Malinois stands square, and he stands on his toes giving him the look of being a taller dog. The German Shepherd stands flat footed. The German Shepherd also has a sloping back, which can make him appear shorter than the Belgian Malinois.
In temperament, the dogs are also very different. Both dogs are excellent protection and guard dogs, and they are both used frequently in police work. The German Shepherd is more easily trained and has a tougher personality; he can take harsh punishment and learn from it. Meanwhile, the Belgian Malinois is a gentler, more emotional dog; he is harder to train because he does not learn from or benefit from harsh punishment.
The Belgian Malinois is more alert than the German Shepherd, and that in some ways makes him the superior guard dog. The Belgian Malinois also has more energy than the German Shepherd; again, this makes him a better working dog and a better police dog. The German Shepherd does not respond to situations as quickly as a Belgian Malinois, and this also is a mark in the Belgian Malinois's favor. This is not to say that the Belgian Malinois is a better dog than the German Shepherd; rather, he just has different strengths and weaknesses than the German Shepherd.