Is the Alaskan Malamute the Right Breed for You?


The Alaskan Malamute is a working breed developed in the Arctic regions of North America and Alaska, specifically by the Malemute tribe (Mahlamuits or Mahlemuts) to help them in their day to day lives as sled dogs and hunters. Today he can be found competing in long-distance races and weight pulls, skijouring, or pulling the kids around in a sled for fun. Malamutes also compete in obedience, rally, agility and conformation shows. Some owners have taught them to carry a backpack on hikes and camping trips. Where snow is scarce, Malamutes can be seen hitched up to a rubber-tired cart. They also serve as therapy dogs and search and rescue dogs, particularly avalanche rescue. Although this breed is tough enough to withstand life at both the North and South Poles, he has readily adapted to life as a companion dog in almost any climate, as long as he had adequate exercise.

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It is important for the potential new owner to understand what life with an adult Malamute will be like. According to the breed Standard, “The Alaskan Malamute is an affectionate, friendly dog, not a ‘one man dog’. He is a loyal, devoted companion, playful on invitation, but generally impressive by his dignity after maturity.” While this does describe most Malamutes, there are some quirks and personalities that it leaves out.

Malamutes are a more laid back breed, making themselves at home wherever they may find themselves. They are adaptable and Partner Mal headrarely nervous or anxious. While they are not known for barking for no reason, they can be quite talkative, letting their owners know what they are thinking with a wide range of vocalizations. He will let you know if he doesn’t like what you are asking of him, even while he’s doing it!

Mals usually enjoy meeting new people, sometimes a bit too enthusiastically. Due to their size, they can be intimidating, so caution must be used when in public. Even family or guests to your home may find this dog’s size and eagerness a little overwhelming, so the owner must be able to keep him under control when guests arrive at the home or when out for a walk. While the Malamute’s lack of suspicion and people-friendly attitude makes him a joy to take camping or hiking, it makes him a very unreliable watch dog.

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If you are used to a super clean home, then you may want to think seriously before bringing in a Malamute. Some people may not appreciate the copious amount of hair that can be shed by one dog. It is also important to keep the dog well brushed, as the old coat prevents the new coat from coming in. To look his best and be comfortable, it is recommended that the Malamute be brushed at least two or three times a week. This can take time and dedication.

Due to their thrifty metabolism, if not fed a balanced diet and given ample exercise, the Alaskan Malamute will easily gain weight. They should be given access to a large, fenced in yard or dog run. Daily walks are recommended. They make great jogging and hiking companions and can be trained to pull a light cart or sled. This makes exercising your Malamute an enjoyable experience and provides another way to work with and bond with your dog.

Some Malamutes can be exceptional escape artists, so a very secure fenced yard is highly recommended.  They may escape to go hunting,  as they are adept hunters, or they may want to check out the local scene. They should be trained from early on how to live peacefully with poultry and other smaller animals.mal agility

The Alaskan Malamute genuinely enjoys being with people, but is also independent enough not to demand or require constant attention. He will frequently entertain himself, and a laugh of encouragement from the owner is all he needs to clown around or show off. The well cared for Malamute truly enjoys life and brings an enthusiasm to all he does, which is one of him most endearing personalities.

In short, the Malamute is not a house dog. Mals, especially males, need an owner who can be the pack leader for a dominant dog. He needs plenty of shade and a cool place when living in a hot climate. He needs to have an active lifestyle, whether it is working, hiking, performance events, or some other activity.

Breed Stats:

Height:  23 to 25 inches at the shoulder

Weight: 70 – 85 lbs

Trainability: Malamutes need consistency and leadership. If the owner fails to direct or control the Mals’ behavior, he will act on his own primitive instinct, which often translates to being the leader.  Dominance is best controlled by starting obedience training as a young puppy. Mals are highly intelligent and easily bored; they are not bred to do the same activity over and over.

Hereditary problems: hip and elbow dysplasia, dwarfism, some eye and skin problems, hypothyroidism, polyneuropathy (progressive weakness in the hind legs).

Average lifespan: 10 – 12 years.

Learn more from Barbara A. Brooks and Sherry E. Wallis’ book The Alaskan Malamute: Yesterday and Today.

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