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Dr Helmut Raiser on German Shepherd vs Malinois

Updated: Dec 29, 2022

In this short clip Dr Helmut Raiser touches on a few very important points in understanding the fundamental differences between the two breeds. But it is difficult to get an accurate understanding of what he is saying since his english is not the best;

He starts off with an answer to the question of whether you can train your own dog for protection; If the dog is at an age that the aggression is already developed, then you can get away with working your own dog. But if you have to raise the dog from puppy, it will be difficult to develop the aggressive (grey) area, because the dog has a personal and intimate relationship with you, which will of course dampen his aggression in bitework.

With a malinois you don’t have this problem, because the malinois works in a different drive (green and blue). The malinois operates primarily in prey drive with high compliance/biddability to the handler/owner. In other words, you don’t need to activate aggression in the malinois to get the same intensity in the bitework. If you push the malinois in grey (aggression) he will either have his tail under his chest, or the handler will land in hospital, because the dog cannot handle the conflict of the grey area, due to lack of nerve strength.

The Malinois and shepherd overlap in many areas. The more modern breeding of German Shepherds are leaning more towards the malinois type, and the good malinois breeders are trying to bring better nerves back into the breed.

The malinois has a lower threshold for stress/pressure (ie. they cannot take too much), but they have a very good prey drive and good biddability/compliance (green and blue areas). They have high adaptability (when in drive), are eager to please and have high activity levels. They also have a better structure physically that lends to fast and sharp movements. These are the advantages of the malinois over the German Shepherd.

Dr Helmut emphasises the fact that sport is not about happiness for the dog. It’s about “limit”. By limit he is referring to that state of mind the dog goes to when in peak intensity and power, just before he “breaks” and goes into avoidance. In training a dog for protection (and also obedience), we want to push the dog to his limit, his breaking point (but not passed it), because this is where all the power and intensity lies.

The malinois and the shepherd reaches this peak, or “limit” in two very different ways. A malinois reaches his peak intensity through prey drive via restraint frustration. (green area). A mali reaches his limit (peak) because he is not getting his prey. If you introduce some pressure with a stick or push the dog into the grey area a little bit, he will “overload” (go past his limit) and become unstable and hectic in his bitework. For a malinois to take pressure they must be desensitized to it, as opposed to it(pressure) being used as “fuel for the fire”, as is the case with the German Shepherd.

Dr Raiser further clarifies “limit” as follows: The grey and blue areas have the same “trigger”; it being the “load”(pressure/stress/pain) you can put on the dog to create conflict. If you put a high dose of compulsion/pressure on the dog he goes to blue (compliance in the case of obedience and avoidance in the case of protection). If you put a low dose it can make the dog more active (the fuel on fire effect). The “limit” is where it turns, or crosses over from peak performance to avoidance. In other words it is the point just before it becomes too much for the dog. You can increase the load you put on the dog to increase performance but if you do too much the dog will “break”.

The “limit” is determined by the nerve strength of the dog and how much “load” in terms of stress and pressure he can handle. German Shepherds generally have a higher limit and their nerves can carry a heavier load. For this reason we are able to use the grey area (aggression/defense) to push the dog to his limit in order to get power. We are only able to get peak power if we are able to go close to this border (limit), because it’s the conflict that creates the grey, and the grey (aggression) that brings the power.

When you work with the typical shepherd you have to bring in the grey, take him to his limit, and then channel it into the green (prey). With a malinois you cannot (and don’t have to) do this. If you put too much pressure he will “overload”, and if he overloads he will become sensitized to the pressure and become more fearful. The German Shepherd can (and needs to) be pushed further in order to reach peak power.

The malinois gained popularity in recent years mainly because our training techniques and methods improved so greatly. In the past when we had less knowledge of how to train a dog correctly, we needed dogs with high resistance (to stress/pressure). In other words, we needed harder, stronger dogs to withstand the pressures of the lesser developed training methods of those days. Nowadays there are very few people that can still handle the hard, strong old school type of dog, and because of improved training techniques people are opting to work with weaker nerved, lower threshold dogs, because it’s easier.

Dr Raiser admits that he criticizes the malinois because of the weaker nerves, but he also understands the benefit to it. With lower nerve, and if you know what you are doing with the training, you can create more power. But if you are not skilled as a trainer, you need a stronger nerved dog because the dog will need to handle the increased conflict that comes from lesser skilled training.

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