By now, everyone's seen the photo of “Conan”—the hero military working dog who took down ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. With his bright eyes and perfect posture, it’s impossible not to see the beauty of the Belgian Malinois. Papers gushed over the heroic canine, splashing his photo on the covers, with headlines that heaped the most deserved adulation. But Conan’s fame appears to have had one major downside: the demand for the breed has reportedly surged.
In addition to his charm, it was Conan's heroic abilities in taking out the world's most wanted person that was likely the biggest lure for potential owners. After all, breeders are fielding requests for not just any pup, but the biggest Mals they have available.
The interest will be to the detriment of the Belgian Malinois, however, as many will likely wind up in a shelter after owners soon realize the needs of a high-energy, smart, and athletic canine don’t exactly jibe with their lifestyle.
Marcia Tokson, president of American Belgian Malinois Rescue, told Townhall her nonprofit has seen a “steady increase” in the dogs coming to her group since Sept. 11, 2001, when the breed became popularized as a working dog. Since then, spikes have occurred after the films “Max” and “John Wick: Chapter 3-Parabellum” and now, of course, after Conan’s successful operation.
“People are enamored with the idea of a Malinois, find a less than reputable breeder, purchase a puppy and then after six to nine months when they can no longer handle the energy or temperament of the breed, ask us to take their dog,” she said in an email.
If the breed’s working-dog drive is suppressed, a dream dog can quickly turn into a nightmare for inexperienced owners.
"They’re not pets," retired Marine Corps Sgt. Brian Riddle told Townhall. "They're not made for the average person at your house. These dogs are extremely sensitive when it comes to training, when it comes to the needs of these animals. If they're not exercised and worked on a daily basis, you're just asking for problems."
Owners of a Belgian Malinois should not expect the dog to conform to their way of life. Instead, taking one in “means a commitment to altering your lifestyle” in the form of offering continuous socialization, training, mental stimulation and physical exercise, Tokson said.
"They have a switch, and it’s built-in. It’s bred into them," explained Riddle, a former handler. "And you’re not gonna reverse that just by a simple 'sit down, stay' training at PetSmart. That’s not gonna do the trick, I promise."
With a growing number of inexperienced owners taking on the breed, Riddle says he fears the "Belgian Malinois is going to turn into the modern-day pit bull."
So what should those still enamored with the breed do?
While some have advised to only buy a fully-trained Belgian Malinois, Riddle suggests people look at crossbreeds instead, like the Shepinois.
Either way, however, the first steps need to be research and reflection.
Tokson urged people to realistically consider how much time they have for this breed of dog before they rush to buy one. Riddle, for his part, said research needs to be done to understand the full extent of what is required to properly care for a Belgian Malinois. Failure to do so can put one's family and community in harm, he cautioned.
"Many people that think they’re beautiful animals," Riddle said. "What they’re not understanding is the work and time that have to go into these animals."
Author's note: After Conan's visit to the White House in November there were conflicting reports as to the canine's gender. For now, the verdict is that Conan is a male. This story has been corrected to reflect that.