Background: The Belgian Malinois dog breed (MAL) is frequently used in law enforcement and military environments. Owners have reported seizures and unpredictable behavioral changes including dogs' eyes " glazing over," dogs' lack of response to environmental stimuli, and loss of behavioral inhibition including owner-directed biting behavior. Dogs with severe behavioral changes may be euthanized as they can represent a danger to humans and other dogs. In the dog, the dopamine transporter gene (DAT) contains a 38-base pair variable number tandem repeat (DAT-VNTR); alleles have either one or two copies of the 38-base pair sequence. The objective of this study was to assess frequency of DAT-VNTR alleles, and characterize the association between DAT-VNTR alleles and behavior in MAL and other breeds.Results: In an American sample of 280 dogs comprising 26 breeds, most breeds are predominantly homozygous for the DAT-VNTR two-tandem-repeat allele (2/2). The one-tandem-repeat allele is over-represented in American MAL (AM-MAL) (n = 144), both as heterozygotes (1/2) and homozygotes (1/1). All AM-MAL with reported seizures (n = 5) were 1/1 genotype. For AM-MAL with at least one " 1" allele (1/1 or 1/2 genotype, n = 121), owners reported higher levels of attention, increased frequency of episodic aggression, and increased frequency of loss of responsiveness to environmental stimuli. In behavior observations, Belgian Military Working Dogs (MWD) with 1/1 or 1/2 genotypes displayed fewer distracted behaviors and more stress-related behaviors such as lower posture and increased yawning. Handlers' treatment of MWD varied with DAT-VNTR genotype as did dogs' responses to handlers' behavior. For 1/1 or 1/2 genotype MWD, 1) lower posture after the first aversive stimulus given by handlers was associated with poorer obedience performance; 2) increased aversive stimuli during protection exercises were associated with decreased performance; 3) more aversive stimuli during obedience were associated with more aversive stimuli during protection; and 4) handlers used more aversive stimuli in protection compared with obedience exercises.Conclusions: The single copy allele of DAT-VNTR is associated with owner-reported seizures, loss of responsiveness to environmental stimuli, episodic aggression, and hyper-vigilance in MAL. Behavioral changes are associated with differential treatment by handlers. Findings should be considered preliminary until replicated in a larger sample.