The Alaskan Malamute is a strong, heavy-duty breed classified with working group dogs. They are intelligent and quick to learn, watchful and alert, and bred to haul sleds and other gear through the snow. Alaskan Malamutes were named after an Inuit tribe based in the northern part of Alaska called the Mahlemuts. No one knows exactly when these dogs originated, but DNA studies show Malamutes are one of the most ancient breeds. In the 1920s, the popularity of sled dog racing encouraged dog enthusiasts to take notice of the Malamute. Formal breeding began in 1926, and the AKC first registered the breed in 1935.
Characteristics of the Alaskan Malamute
The Alaskan Malamute is a powerful dog. They stand 23 to 25 inches at the shoulder, are on average 42 inches long, and weigh 75 to 85 pounds. Their coloring varies including a mix of white with light gray, sable, black, seal, red, or solid white.
Mals have thick, weatherproof, double coats having dense short hairs underneath a top coat of longer hairs. While not a high-maintenance dog, their coats need to be brushed and combed regularly with a pin brush and metal comb to remove dead hair. Also, they may get mats in their fur, which can hide fungus, and hot spots that can become infected. Twice a year, during shedding season, an undercoat rake should be added to the routine to strip the dead hair and the shedding undercoat while leaving the top coat alone. Malamutes require the occasional bath to remove dirt and oil and to keep the coat in a healthy condition.
Alaskan Malamute’s life expectancy is 10-14 years with a maximum of 15 years. They are playful, loyal, affectionate, quiet (they don’t bark, but rather make more of a howling sound), and as the largest of the Artic breeds, their strength and endurance cannot be ignored. Some habits that take effort to break as a puppy mostly include chewing, so crate training is recommended when they cannot be supervised. They also need to be taught to walk on a leash, release toys (or inappropriate items from their mouth), and food to avoid food possessiveness/aggression. Mals can be masters of escape and a nuisance to the neighbors; a six foot fence is the best defense.
They are pack animals with natural instincts to lead or be led. This requires training at an early age to establish that the leader of the pack is the owner, not the dog. Training should also include structured socialization to avoid dominance over people they don’t respect and aggression toward other dogs and cats. Malamutes love children, but because of their size should be supervised around small children. They are not well suited to be guard dogs, however their size will most likely discourage intruders.
Alaskan Malamute’s can be prone to separation anxiety when they don’t receive the proper mental and physical stimulation they need. They require at least an hour of physical stimulation every day. When they become disorderly and bored they express themselves with chronic howling, digging craters in the yard, and damaging chewing including drywall and furniture stuffing.
Caring for an Alaskan Malamute
Next, we’ll go into how you should care for an Alaskan Malamute!
Alaskan Malamutes do well when consuming high-quality dog food, whether commercially manufactured with meat listed as the first ingredient or home-prepared (with veterinarian’s supervision and approval). Fresh fruits and vegetables can also be included in the Mal’s diets. All diets need to be appropriate for the dog’s age (puppy, adult, or senior). To avoid an overweight Mal, calorie consumption and weight level needs to be monitored. Although helpful in aiding training, giving too many treats will cause obesity. Clean, fresh water should be available at all times. Of course, a veterinarian is the best resource when there are questions regarding diet.
Malamutes are active and need exercise and physical activity in order to live a happy, healthy life. Remember, they were used for pulling heavy sleds in the Arctic, which conditioned them to be kept busy. An hour a day is the minimum amount of time Mals should spend exercising. A large yard with a high fence is recommended, but watch because this breed enjoys digging and exploring new scenery.
Mals also enjoy hiking, running, and swimming. Malamutes often take part in agility and obedience trials, weight-pulling competitions, backpacking, recreational or competitive sledding, and skijoring (pulling a person who is on skis).
Alaskan Malamutes are highly intelligent with excellent training qualities. Training is needed for them to learn how to behave and what behavior is unacceptable. Housetraining Alaskan Malamutes can be difficult so it will take added persistence and patience to help them master the habit of going outside to relieve themselves.
Training needs to be positive and rewarding, without negative or harsh treatment, to get the results. While fairness and patience can create a devoted, trustworthy companion, there are certain behaviors that may be impossible to train out of a Mal, such as digging, so any yard fencing must continue into the ground.
Alaskan Malamute’s eyes, ears, and teeth need to be treated regularly. Eyes should be cleaned daily with a wet paper towel to prevent bacteria buildup. Ears need to be cleaned weekly to keep ears without dirt, bacteria, and mites. Cotton swabs are dangerous to use and only a veterinarian should perform that kind of cleaning. Teeth should be cleaned a couple of times a week. Keeping teeth and gums healthy is inevitable for the dog’s health and eating enjoyment.
Nails need to be trimmed at least every six weeks. Nails that aren’t trimmed can splinter and infect the quick or grow and curl into the flesh. This can be painful for your dog to walk on. Nails should never touch the ground. Trimming is past due if nails are clicking on the kitchen floor. The bottoms of their paws need to be checked weekly for foreign objects that may be wedged, for pads with cuts, scrapes, and infection. Mals have hair that grow between their pads, traditionally insulating their feet. This hair can mat and trap bacteria and become painful to walk on. Trim the hair even with the pads around the bottom of the paws to keep them clean.