So You Want an Alaskan Malamute?
You've seen them on TV, in the movies, or you've been to a dog show or two.
Maybe you just met a pair in the park or a cute happy puppy and said to yourself...
"I want a Malamute!"
Now that you know what you like, you need to ask yourself the question:
"WHY?" ...and please, do be honest!
Why do I want an Alaskan Malamute?
Do you just like a pretty dog? Do you want a big dog to impress the neighbors, scare the crooks,
or just looks like a wolf? The kids talk you into one? Is that puppy in the window simply the cutest
ball of teddy bear fluff? Is it somebody's birthday or a gift-giving holiday?
If you just said yes to any of those.... then do yourself a big favor right now: run to the nearest toy
store and buy yourself a stuffed toy. The Alaskan Malamute is not the right dog breed for you!
However, if you actually took the time to ask yourself "WHY" you are interested in Malamutes and
"WHAT" attracted you to this breed, you are off to a good start! It can be difficult to say what first
attracts a person to a Malamute, but if you are unwilling to ask yourself these questions - you are
probably not interested to learn much about this breed of dog. Malamutes may live into their
“teens” so you will have a lot to learn with this breed to have a happy long-term relationship!
What do I know about Alaskan Malamutes?
There is a lot of history surrounding the Alaskan Malamute. To understand their history is a good
start at understanding the breed itself and how to live with a Mal. There are many good reading
sources on the breed's history, but here is a quick synopsis to get you started:
Malamutes were used by native Alaskans to pull heavy loads in the harsh arctic conditions and to
hunt food. The arctic demands a "survival of the fittest" attitude, so Malamutes retain most of the
“pack order” instinct. They needed intelligence and problem solving abilities to make independent
decisions about trail hazards, including disobeying orders from their human companions. Arctic
food is often scarce. It was highly important to eat whenever the opportunity arose and to get the
most energy possible from any food eaten. Malamutes also supplemented their diet with prey
caught in the wild. Simply put, centuries of their original arctic environment molded the Alaskan
Malamute both physically and mentally.
Ok, so what does all that have to do with Alaskan Malamutes and you in these modern times?
PLENTY! Malamutes have not changed their behavior to suit you, suburbia, or anything else.
They have only modified it somewhat...
The Alaskan Malamute is a very friendly dog with humans. Mals are not one-person or even
one-family dogs. There are very few people they will not like, which makes them unsuitable to
being good watch or guard dogs. Mals usually get along well with children, especially when
So You Want an Alaskan Malamute?
raised with them. (Note: caution is always advised due to their size). Although friendly and
often sensitive to their owner’s moods, Malamutes are highly independent and strong willed.
Adult Malamutes may have a quiet and reserved manner, or may be the perpetual child always
willing to play. Mals do love to be the center of attention and will often demand it. They are
alert to their surroundings and curious about the world around them. Mals can be described as
cat-like in the way they groom themselves, body posture when relaxing, or in their attitude.
Although friendly to humans, Malamutes must establish a pack order within their family -
human or canine. Remember - NO DOG should have a placement in the pack that is higher
than the lowest human member! Some Mals are content with their place in the family pack,
other more dominant Mals may challenge their humans for a higher pack placement.
With humans, this pack challenge may take the form of the Mal consistently refusing
commands, becoming physically rough, being possessive, or even growling. A full sized
Malamute cannot be forced to obey or respect you, so never start out by using highly physical
training methods with a pup. Early training and a good understanding of basic dog behavior
goes a long way in keeping a Malamute "in line". Mals respond best to "positive reinforcement"
training methods such as "clicker" and "motivational" training.
Alaskan Malamutes are a dog-dominant breed. What this means is although a Mal may never
challenge a human over pack order, they may certainly challenge another dog. Same sex
challenges (M/M, F/F) can lead to serious fights if both dogs are equally dominant, or one is a
younger animal seeking to establish itself.
The Alaskan Malamute is an intelligent breed. Remember, any smart dog will become bored
and destructive long before a not-so-smart dog will! Never underestimate what amount of
furniture, carpet, books, or even walls(!) that a Malamute can damage in a small amount of
time. Malamutes will often choose to "live for the moment" and to worry (or not!) about any
Malamutes learn commands very quickly. However, if they don't see the point of following the
command, they can just as quickly disobey them. Remember this is part of their breed heritage
and learn to be creative when teaching or practicing commands. Mals may very well refuse to
follow a command that is well known to them, resulting in a reputation for stubbornness or
Mals can be clownish at times and many posses a sense of humor (dog humor of course!)
sometimes resulting in great embarrassment to the owner. They can be quite creative at
getting your attention or just adding a little "twist" to things just to see your reaction. Malamutes
can be manipulative when they want something.
Malamutes are great problem solvers and can be quite inventive when motivated. If there is
something they want... they will find a way to go over, under, around, or through any obstacle.
Never be surprised if items disappear from shelves, counters, or even the top of your
refrigerator without any trace of a Malamute passing through!
So You Want an Alaskan Malamute?
Active & Working Dogs:
The Alaskan Malamute is the equivalent of a long distance runner, and as such needs plenty
of exercise. Many are still great "couch potatoes", which is certainly a holdover from
conserving energy in the arctic. However, when they are active they are very, VERY active.
A large, fenced yard is preferred for keeping a Malamute in the city. Even so, they should be
walked or given some other form of exercise every day. Although they can readily adapt to
apartment living, the owner must be very dedicated to providing the proper amount of exercise.
Mals that kept primarily outside the house or on larger property should be provided a sturdy
run with a covered kennel or large doghouse.
Since they were bred to run, Mals also have a tendency to roam the neighborhood or
countryside. Never let your Malamute "off-leash" as few are consistently trustworthy to
commands (unless they wish to be of course!) and are not particularly mindful to road traffic. In
the countryside, they may learn to chase wildlife and livestock, or may be mistaken for wolves.
Loose Malamutes under any of these circumstances may end up killed or seriously injured.
Alaskan Malamutes still pull people, sleds and heavy loads. Today, these activities are usually
pleasure sledding and skijoring, as well as the sports of racing & weight pulling. In warmer
climates, many accompany their owners on hikes & backpacking, at carting, bike rides, and
skating/rollerblading. For the safety of you and your dog, great care must be taken to have
your Mal properly secured and under control when biking or skating. A very determined Mal is
hard enough to stop without having wheels beneath your feet!
You will also find Malamutes trained in search & rescue, agility, obedience, and therapy work.
They are quite adaptable to most activities presented to them, love to work, and are very social
with most people.
Hunting & The Prey Drive:
Alaskan Malamutes possess a strong "prey drive" which is part of the basic hunting instinct. If
it moves or squeals, a Mal will chase it - sometimes with dangerous consequences.
Malamutes may kill rabbits, squirrels, birds, as well as neighborhood cats or small dogs. Mals
rarely do well with cats, unless raised with them and learned to control their natural instincts.
Some Mals can never be trusted around other smaller animals, even when raised together.
Mals need to learn caution and control around children. Besides their love of humans, some
are also attracted to children because of the quick movements and high-pitched voices (similar
to those of small hurt animals - a natural prey). Mals tend to play rough and, due to their size
and power, could injure a child without ever meaning to do them harm. Never leave a small
child alone with a dog of ANY breed, but especially larger dogs.
Denning & Digging:
Many animals will create a den for themselves to have their young and as a safe escape from
the outside weather. Another reason to dig is to catch ground insects or burrowing animals
such as moles or gophers.
If you have pride in your garden and want a Malamute... one of those ideas has to go!
Malamutes like to dig. They dig to find the cooler dirt under the surface, to catch insects deep
in the grass, they dig to escape, and sometimes they seem to dig for the shear pleasure of it.
So You Want an Alaskan Malamute?
Malamute owners often compare Malamute "landscaping" to the lunar surface or a mine field.
These dogs can move large amounts of earth in a very small amount of time. Some Mals may
learn to dig only in "their" area of the yard, but rarely will you teach a Malamute never to dig at
all if that is their pleasure.
Most Malamutes crate train readily because of their denning instinct, especially when taught as
a young pup. Many often prefer sleeping in their crate to other locations. However, a possible
exception may be that favorite spot in the middle of your bed.
Food For Thought:
To survive arctic conditions, a little food must fuel the body for a long distance and/or time. The
Malamute metabolism is highly efficient in converting food to fuel. Typically, Mals need much
less food to eat than other breeds of similar weight or size. Unless heavily active, it is very
easy to overfeed a Malamute to the point of being fat. Depending on the age and activity level,
most Mals do best on a "large dog" food with oil added or an "active dog" formula of food.
Alaskan Malamutes are highly food motivated. This is a holdover from the scarcity of food in
the arctic. This also means that most Malamutes cannot be trusted around food, as they will
steal it when the opportunity arises. The majority of Mals cannot be "free-fed" as they will not
stop eating until no more food fits into their stomach. This excessive overeating can lead to a
life-threatening condition called "bloat". Mals are very good at begging food and some have
developed quite advanced techniques of "mooching" food from their owners.
One benefit of this fixation on food is that Mals do well with motivational training using food as
the initial motivator. But... there is a fine line between using food as motivation and your
Malamute teaching you to bribe him into obedience!
Coat & Hair:
The Alaskan Malamute's double coat of fur evolved to insulate it from the surrounding
environment. The outer guard coat is a coarse medium length, slightly oily to the touch, and is
the first layer of defense to repel dirt, snow, or ice. The shorter undercoat is thick dense wool
which blocks out the wind or cold. "Woollies" are Malamutes that have a long (often soft) coat.
The texture and excessive length of a woolly's coat does not provide good insulation from
extreme weather, but it does not hinder them from being good pets.
Malamutes are adaptable to warm climates, but their coat will not be as thick as dogs raised in
the cold. In warmer areas, you should not exercise your Malamute during the heat of the day
and you need to provide extra water at all times. Mals in very hot temperatures, or not used to
the heat, should stay indoors during the day to avoid problems such as heat stroke. It is not
recommended to shave a Mal's coat since it also provides some insulation from the heat as
well as cold. Very long coats (such as a “woolly”) may be cut/trimmed to a more moderate
length for easier care.
Twice a year the Malamute sheds its undercoat. A common and more descriptive term is
"blowing" coat. The amount of hair lost in a few weeks is staggering and easily fills several
garbage bags. In a full "coat blow”, the undercoat may actually come out in large clumps of
hair. In warm climates, Mals may shed all year long with a heavier shedding period twice a
year. If you like a very clean house or do not like dog hair, you should consider another breed.
So You Want an Alaskan Malamute?
Malamutes do not have the strong "doggie" odor often noticed in other breeds. A few may
develop a sour smell if the coat is not fully dry after becoming wet. This is due to water trapped
within the thick undercoat, which may become a breeding ground for bacteria and the like.
Mals take a long time to dry after a bath or swim, even with a high-powered dog dryer. But
Malamutes are clean dogs and will groom themselves much as a cat would. Dirt and water that
doesn’t make it into the undercoat usually comes out with your brushing or their own grooming.
If Dogs Could Talk:
One of the most endearing (and sometimes exasperating) characteristics of the Alaskan
Malamute is the fact that they talk. Their "Mala-talk" is usually sounds such as "oowooo",
"wroowuf", etc. Be warned, if they talk... they will also "talk back" to you, just as an arguing
child would do. Owners may find themselves in a full conversation with their Mals with both
parties completely understanding what the other has said.
Malamutes will also howl (or sing, depending on your point of view?). In a group of dogs, this is
a form of communication and pack unity. Individually, it may be a call for someone else to
communicate with them or to answer a passing siren. Mals may howl when they are happy,
just as easily as other breeds howl when they are lonely.
Most Malamutes are not prone to barking. If raised around other dogs that do bark, they may
pick up this habit. Even so, their bark is more a combination of a bark/yip and rarely to the
amount of excessive barking.
What other Malamute information should I know?
Now that you know a little more about the Alaskan Malamute, you are better able to decide if a
Malamute is the right breed for your home. There is still much more to learn about the Alaskan
Malamute and it is in your best interest to learn all you can before bringing a Malamute home.
Remember this is a large and physically powerful breed, with a strong will and an independent
nature. This is not a breed that you can truly own in the normal sense. But you can form a good
lasting relationship with this breed.. provided you are willing to adapt, compromise, be creative,
learn as much as possible, and work at a mutual bond of companionship.
But before you make that final decision to bring an Alaskan Malamute into your family, here are a
few more topics that you should be interested in researching and reading...
Alaskan Malamute health issues.
General dog, wolf, and pack behavior.
Motivational and clicker training techniques.
Should I choose a breeder or breed rescue?
How to evaluate a breeder or breed rescue.
How to pick a puppy or dog to fit your home.
Puppymills, pet shops, and backyard breeders.
Whatever you eventually decide, whether you get an Alaskan Malamute or not, or choose not to
get a dog at all... my best felt wishes to you in making your final decision!
© 2002 M.Serage of Texas Alaskan Malamute Rescue. Permission granted for public non-profit reproduction and distribution.