“A highly trained Malinois is a work of art” reads the post circulating on social media prompted by the movie, Dog.
The road trip buddy movie featuring Channing Tatum and Lulu, a Belgian Malinois dog earned over $18 million its first weekend — and it’s also soliciting warnings from animal groups across North America, including right here in Calgary.
The concern is that people will see the movie and want their very own Belgian Malinois dog; after all, that’s what happened when movies such as 101 Dalmatians, Beethoven, and John Wick came out.
That’s not always a good thing because the dogs often end up in shelters, animal groups warn.
It’s not just like the movies
The Belgian Malinois breed in particular is very intelligent but requires a lot of work and isn’t meant for first-time dog owners, says dog trainer and breed expert Tammy Thankachen.
Her husband, Stan Thankachen, has been training protection dogs for over 28 years through his company Ultimate K-9 Bodyguards.
“Anytime a movie comes out with a Belgian Malinois in it, it scares me because in the wrong hands or with an inexperienced handler or owner, the dog will not be able to succeed in that home,” she tells Calgary Citizen.
In the movie, Lulu is actually played by three different Belgian Malinois canines, and is portrayed as a very intelligent, however embattled former Navy dog with mischievous tendencies.
“When John Wick came out, I was like ‘oh, boy’ — everybody’s going to want them because they look so cool in the movie, and they are cool in real life. But there’s so much time, energy, and training that goes into these dogs to make them do all these behaviours that people see in movies.”
What’s a Belgian Malinois, anyways?
Thankachen says there are four varieties of this dog breed and the one in the movie Dog is a Belgian Malinois, which were less common in North America but are starting to become more prevalent.
The breed is more popular in European countries such as Belgium and France where they’re widely used as livestock herders.
She says when they first came to North America in the 1900s, they were mainly used as military dogs, just like in the movie.
“They’re highly, highly intelligent. The Navy Seals and the US Secret Service use them exclusively now… they’re faster, more sharp, more athletic, and healthier in general than German Shepherds. Plus, they’re less popular, because they weren’t overbred — yet,” Thankachen says.
They have a high intensity, high-prey drive that doesn’t always suit them as a pet in a home.
“They need a job, firm direction, and they need extensive training,” she says, adding they are quick learners who want to please their handlers or owners.
“We never recommend them for first-time dog owners at all or people who have no experience with working dogs. These dogs are definitely not dogs that just lay around on couches.”
Saving Grace Animal Society weighs in
While Alberta’s Saving Grace Animal Society hasn’t experienced the influx of animals directly related to Hollywood movies first-hand, executive director Erin Michelle Deems says she knows it happens.
“We came in at the kind of end of Game of Thrones being super popular where there was a lot of rescues in the states that felt an increase in surrenders of Husky and wolf-cross looking animals,” Deems says.
“I know that with this movie there was already some concern people will rush out and want these Shepherd-type dogs because in the movie Dog, it’s quite well trained and it might just inspire people to go get that dog.”
That, of course, comes with a caveat.
“When it comes to any movie, and any time that you go out and get an animal or a dog specifically, make sure that you’re doing research in regards to what that animal is going to require,” she says, adding that includes its activity level and its prey drive.
“And just make sure that that animal is very suited to your lifestyle before you jump into what could be a 15-year commitment.”
Deems says she knows people can get swept up in the excitement about certain dog breeds when they appear in movies.
“It’s really easy to fall in love with something that’s on TV and not actually real. And those well-trained dogs probably make it look absolutely amazing,” she explains.
“Of course, you want a dog that listens to your every word and has so much ability — but they have no idea the amount of time and effort that was put in to train that animal so that it could be doing what it is doing.”
Looking to adopt a dog?
Saving Grace was experiencing its own influx of rescues and the facility was bursting at the seams over Christmas. As Deems says, the organization is still in dire need of adoptions and donations.
“We’re still backed up, and we’ve been seeing such extreme medical cases. Those animals require a lot longer stay in our care, so that’s kind of backed us up a little bit,” she says, adding the cold weather makes it more challenging to catch up.
“We’re just hoping that adoptions do end up picking up but so far no such luck. But we will keep going.”
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