An Introduction To The Alaskan Malamute

Our girl Sophie doing what Alaskan Malamutes were bred to do. Pull!

Our girl Sophie doing what Alaskan Malamutes were bred to do. Pull!


The heavy-freighting dog of the Inuit people who inhabited the shores of the Kotzebue Sound, the Alaskan Malamute excels as an adaptable, intelligent, canine companion. A heavy-boned dog with a bulky muzzle, a broad head, wide-set ears, and a thickly-furred tail carried plume-like over the back, the Malamute is one of the most beautiful dogs on earth and, pound for pound, almost certainly the strongest.

One of the many interesting features of the breed is the natural range in size, color, and markings. The average weight for males is 85 pounds, for females 75 pounds. Many Alaskan Malamutes, including show dogs, are larger or smaller than average, and bigger is not necessarily better. Most Alaskan Malamutes are gray with white trim, or black and white, but coats of silver, sable, and red sometimes occur. Patterns of facial markings range from the all-white "open face" to the "full mask" - the combination of a black cap on the head, goggles around the eyes, and a bar down the muzzle. ALL Alaskan Malamutes have brown eyes.

The breed is blessed with a sunny disposition. Happiest when treated as an intelligent partner, the Alaskan Malamute is highly cooperative but never slavish or fawning. The Alaskan Malamute works and lives with you, not for you. Sometimes aggressive toward other dogs, especially those of the same sex, the typical Alaskan Malamute is outrageously and almost universally friendly to human beings. As the dogs of a peaceful, nomadic people, Alaskan Malamutes do not guard property and virtually always extend a tail-wagging, face-licking welcome to strangers. These dogs develop deep, complex attachments to their owners, but are not one-person dogs. Adult rescue Alaskan Malamutes readily bond with their adoptive owners.

The versatile Alaskan Malamute is happy to pull a sled, but is equally glad to accompany the backpacker or the casual walker. In cold weather, the Alaskan Malamute makes an ideal running partner. Large and powerful yet remarkably agile, Alaskan Malamutes sometimes enjoy retrieving tennis balls and Frisbee. Some Alaskan Malamutes love to swim; others have a marked aversion to water. Most enjoy car rides; the breed is not prone to motion sickness. Virtually all Alaskan Malamutes find their greatest joy in human companionship and are perfectly content to join their owners in watching television. Alaskan Malamutes take an alert interest in their surroundings and are excellent company.

As a competitive Obedience dog, the Alaskan Malamute is more legendary for crowd-pleasing antics than for good scores. Each year, however, Alaskan Malamutes earn Canadian Kennel Club Companion Dog, Companion Dog Excellent, Utility Dog, and Tracking titles, and the breed is tremendous fun to work with, if not always a joy to show in the Obedience ring. In contrast, the Alaskan Malamute is easy to train as a well-mannered pet.

An Arctic dog, the Alaskan Malamute may live outdoors in a sturdy kennel with a high, strong fence, but Malamutes also make splendid, almost odorless house dogs. Under no circumstances should an Alaskan Malamute be allowed to run loose or be kept on a chain, tie-out, or trolley. The indoor dog requires daily exercise on leash or in a completely enclosed area such as a tennis court or a fenced yard; the outdoor dog has an equally strong need for daily companionship and affection.

The ancestors of today's Alaskan Malamute were sometimes forced to hunt, forage, and compete for food. Consequently, Alaskan Malamutes have a predatory streak and, if allowed to run loose in rural areas, will reliably slaughter livestock and wild animals. In urban and suburban areas, a loose Alaskan Malamute is a menace to cats. Swift, fearless, and powerful, Alaskan Malamutes have been known to catch songbirds on the wing and, if challenged, to deal harshly with other dogs. Some adult rescue Alaskan Malamutes get along well with cats and with other dogs, but some must go to homes with no other pets. Furthermore, although the breed boasts a few angels, some Alaskan Malamutes will raid trash bins and steal food inside the house. Anyone unprepared to deal firmly and calmly with this wild streak should absolutely not own an Alaskan Malamute.

The prospective adopter who has never before owned any dog should consider a sedate older Alaskan Malamute instead of a spunky young dog, as should anyone without the physical strength to handle a vigorous youngster. Fortunately, the Alaskan Malamute has a life-span of about 12 to 14 years. Thus a 5-year old Alaskan Malamute has, on the average, more years ahead of him than does a five-day-old Irish Wolfhound.

Alaskan Malamutes can bark, but seldom do. The characteristic vocalization is a long series of woo-woo-woos, but Alaskan Malamutes also produce yips, growls, rumbles, and an immense variety of wwrrrs and other sounds not readily translated into English. Some Alaskan Malamutes never howl; others sound a spine-tingling reply to every passing fire engine, ambulance, and police cruiser. The neglected Malamute inappropriately chained in a back yard will loudly and indefatigably protest his situation, but happy Alaskan Malamutes are exceptionally quiet dogs.

The breed's double coat consists of a short, dense undercoat and an outer coat of coarse guard hair. Alaskan Malamutes shed profusely about twice a year. Except at those times, they require very little grooming. Some Alaskan Malamute owners bathe the dog once a year; some, once a month. Some run a brush over the dog now and then; others groom the dog daily. A few Alaskan Malamutes have long coats that are unacceptable in the show ring - but spectacular elsewhere. "Woollies," as these dogs are called require frequent grooming to prevent mats. Prospective adopters should bear in mind that even a carefully groomed relatively short-coated Alaskan Malamute that is not actively shedding will nonetheless deposit some fur on carpets and in automobiles. This is not the breed for the fastidiously house-proud or car-proud.

The Alaskan Malamute : What You Need To Know

The Alaskan Malamute is the oldest and largest sledge dog native to North America. Unlike his racing "cousins", the Alaskan Malamute is specifically built for heavy freighting. His strength and endurance is second to none. It has often been said that the Alaskan Malamute would work to the death for his master, thus explaining his self-confident, strong-willed personality.

Adult Alaskan Malamutes range in size from 22" to 27" at the shoulder, weighing 70 to 100 lbs. or more. Their double coats are thick and coarse, enabling them to withstand severely cold temperatures. The oily, water-repellent texture needs little maintenance except during shedding, when the under-coat must be removed to promote healthy skin. Alaskan Malamutes can tolerate most climates, though extra care is necessary to keep them comfortable in hot weather. They come in a variety of colors, the most common being gray and white and black and white. Distinctive and varying facial markings make each a unique specimen.

Alaskan Malamutes are affectionate, friendly dogs, unsuitable for guard work, although their size alone will discourage intruders. They are happiest as outdoor dogs when given sufficient companionship, but many thrive as house pets. They demand attention, and failing to receive enough, will become nuisances, howling and digging holes that would put any back hoe to shame. Alaskan Malamutes are patient with children but, like all large dogs, should be supervised during play. For athletic people, Alaskan Malamutes are ideal. They are skilled in hunting and fishing, love backpacking, hiking and sledding, and excel in weight pulling. They do well in obedience even though their greatest joy in life is to entertain the audience with a series of comedy antics. 

The Alaskan Malamute is an animal with the natural instinct to "lead or be led"; therefore, training must begin as early as 3 to 5 months of age. This breed cannot be allowed to grow up lacking controlled socialization with humans and animals, as they can become domineering over people they don't respect and quite quarrelsome with other dogs of their same sex. A sensible combination of love and discipline will net the Alaskan Malamute owner a devoted and trustworthy companion.

Is the Alaskan Malamute Right For You? 

No breed of dog is for everyone, and not everyone should own dogs. Animal shelters and pounds are over crowded with dogs that were bought by uninformed individuals for all the wrong reasons. 

The Alaskan Malamute is a large and powerful dog with a thick double coat designed to protect it from even the harshest weather conditions. Colors vary from black and white to various shades of gray, seal, sable and red, all with white legs, under-bodies and parts of face markings. The only allowable solid color is white. Eyes are brown, never blue.

The Alaskan Malamute is a physically tough breed with enormous strength that can easily knock over a child during play or drag its owner around the neighborhood unless it is properly trained and has learned its own strength. All dogs should be under complete control of their owners at all times, and large dogs especially have to be taught to be gentle during play and that the person on the other end of the leash is in control, not the dog. The size and strength of the full grown Alaskan Malamute must be seriously considered since you will have to devote much time and energy to proper training and socialization for this dog to be the "gentle giant" it is known to be.

The thick double coat is shed out once or twice per year, and this is referred to as "blowing" the coat because of the vast amounts of wool that accumulates in the dog's living area. If you hate to vacuum or have allergies, the Alaskan Malamute may not be for you.

In spite of the Malamute's appearance, it is not a guard dog. This breed has been bred from the beginning to trust people and to work tirelessly for anyone, not just it's owner. The Eskimos, who were the earliest breeders of this dog, shared all of their property which included the dogs, so the instinct to guard property has not been bred into the dog. To try and train an Alaskan Malamute to guard your property and be suspicious of strangers would confuse the dog and could present a potential danger. If you are looking for a guard dog, please look for a breed that was bred for this function.

As much as Alaskan Malamutes like people, they tend to dislike other dogs, especially dogs of the same sex. Because this dog is a natural hunter and survivor, small animals including cats, may be looked upon as prey. Alaskan Malamutes are known to live harmoniously with cats, but many will not tolerate the presence of a feline.

Alaskan Malamutes are bred today with all their original instincts intact, and this has to be appreciated. Since the Eskimos needed dogs that could sense or recognize dangerous conditions and make their own decisions. This sometimes means that they must disobey their handler's commands. Alaskan Malamutes have a strong independent nature. These dogs have been bred to be thinkers and decision makers. This trait has been carried over even today and can present a challenge in obedience training. This is a breed that learns quickly, but becomes bored easily. Training is best approached positively and with a sense of humor to keep the dog interested. Alaskan Malamutes are not considered the easiest dogs to obedience train, but may excel with proper training. There are lots of Alaskan Malamutes with obedience titles.

The ownership of any dog involves regular veterinary care, and this is important to the health of any pet. A dog will require yearly heart worm tests, stool samples, and vaccinations. This can cost a considerable amount of money. Discuss costs you may incur with a veterinarian in your area before you consider purchasing a dog to be sure that this pet is affordable.

Alaskan Malamutes make excellent pets if you are interested in any outdoor or winter activities like sledding, skijoring, hiking, backpacking, and weight pulling. If you love a big dog that is independent and you don't mind the hair, the Alaskan Malamute may be right for you.