I find the Alaskan Malamute one of the most wonderful dog breeds known to man. They are affectionate companions, big clowns, powerful, and beautiful. But are they the right dog for you?
What is an Alaskan Malamute?
The Alaskan Malamute is the oldest and largest sled dog native to North America. They are often confused with the Siberian Husky who has blue eyes, is smaller and faster than a Malamute. Malamutes have brown eyes, and are larger and bulkier ranging in size from 22" to 27" at the shoulder, weighing 60 to 100 lbs or more. My female Kiana weighed 118 pounds as an adult, where as my female Kia, weighs 68 pounds.
The breed standard for a Malamute has a thick, coarse guard coat that protects the undercoat which is dense, oily and woolly. The coat is short to medium along the sides of the body and gradually gets longer around the neck and shoulders. Malamutes shed a lot, so be prepared to brush and comb them regularly. I brush my dogs every day. This is another way you can bond with your dog.
Malamutes come in a variety of colors from grays, blacks, reds with white, and all white, not pictured. Malamutes have unique markings on their face. Some have an open face, while others have shadows, goggles, or a full mask.
Alaskan Malamutes are working dogs and need lots of exercise and something to keep them busy. They are great at hunting, tracking, backpacking, hiking, sledding, carting, and weight pulling. They love to be involved with projects as you can see in the above photo of my malamute Kiana bringing my husband Don his hammer. My dogs have helped greatly with picking up twigs and sticks from our yard, and help pick up their own toys, and carry in groceries.
My malamutes love to be trained. Not only is it a time where they can be active, they enjoy the bonding time with me as well. However, during training class, my female Kia preferred to play with the other dogs rather than participate in the training sessions. But with lots of patience on my part, she received her Canine Good Citizen, and Therapy Dog titles.
Malamutes adore people of all ages which make them wonderful Therapy Dogs. The above photos show all 3 of my malamutes working as Therapy Dogs. Kia had many request for Therapy Work outside of the nursing home and in other states including New York, Virginia, Maryland, and Florida.
Leash training is a must. Malamutes are extremely powerful and were bred to pull and if untrained or excited, they can drag a person around the neighborhood, or easily knock down a child or even an adult. The photos below show Kia and Klondike excited about exploring a nature park and a calmer side of them walking nicely on a leash in public.
Socialize, Socialize, Socialize
I can't stress this enough. It is a MUST to socialize your malamute with humans as well as other dogs, not just as puppies, but for the entire life of your dog. Malamutes don't always get along with every dog. They can be a bit competitive when it comes to dogs of the same sex. With their instinct to lead, malamutes can become domineering over people as well. In fact, I know several malamute owners who have had issues with their dogs trying to compete with them. If a person lets the dog get away with things by giving in to them, they could become a nuisance. So a malamute owner needs to be patient, firm but gentle and they will respect that. Not to say they won't try again later.
Did I mention stubborn. Malamutes know they are big and powerful. If they don't feel like getting up to go outside, or move over so you can sweep the floor, they will pin themselves down and won't budge. My girl Kiana outweighed me, and in order to get her outside, I actually slid her and the throw rug she was laying on, across the room to the door. She quickly learned after that that when I say to move, I mean it. LOL.
I had read once that malamutes will lay in the threshold of a room. From experience, not only do they lay in the threshold, but also block hall and stairways. It's like an obstacle course trying to get from one room to another. See photos below.
Malamutes are great traveling partners. Back in the day, they traveled with the Inuit people pulling heavy freight across the snow. If properly trained and socialized, a malamute will ride well in a van or SUV and will make vacationing with your pet a pleasure for all. My husband and I have traveled to 28 states with our dogs, and have stayed in numerous hotel rooms and rental houses without having to leave them in a crate.
Malamute don't usually bark, but some will howl or talk as if they were having a conversation. Most Malamutes are extremely food motivated. They usually need less food than other breeds of their size, so it is wise to monitor their food intake, treats included.
Malamutes have a very high prey drive so it is a must to carefully monitor them around small animals. If an animal runs, a malamute's instincts are to chase and grab which can be fatal to a smaller animal. Even if your malamute was raised with your cat, doesn't mean it will accept every cat brought into your home.
Malamutes love to dig. Don't expect to have a nice garden or yard when owning a malamute. It is wise to put up a fence around your garden. However, their digging can come in handy at times. Kiana helped me dig up a fence post once from our pool deck, and Kia helped my husband Don make the entrance to the igloo larger by digging at it.
Malamutes also find it great fun to run and roll in rain or mud. Be sure to thoroughly dry your malamute after a bath or heavy rain. Long soft coats mat up quickly. Water can get into the undercoat and if left to air dry sometimes only the guard coat will dry leaving moisture on the undercoat. When this happens the undercoat may get mildew and cause skin irritation.
Below is a severely matted and neglected malamute named Hailey. The mats were very tight making it nearly impossible to remove. The coat needed to be shaved causing damage to the grooming equipment while trying to get through it. Hailey's skin was filthy and irritated. After shaving the coat this close, the dog has to be watched to make sure she does not get sunburn in warmer weather, or freeze in the cold.
As always, if you are interested in an Alaskan Malamute, do your homework. Meet several malamutes at rescue events or dog shows. Talk to a reputable breeder who has been involved with many activities and who knows the health risks involved with the breed.
Many thanks to Sheryl Franklin for the use of her red malamute photos, and Sidney Helen Sachs- Wayeh Malamutes for sharing her story and photos of Hailey, the matted malamute.
As for me, the Alaskan Malamute is my forever breed. :)