Alaskan Malamute – Photo by Bonnaboo
The Alaskan Malamute is a large northern dog breed originally developed for use as a sleddog.
Alaskan Malamute Appearance
Their breed standard calls for a weight of 75 to 85 pounds (34-38.5 kg) and a height of 23 to 25 inches (58-63.5 cm) but much heavier individuals (120 to 140 pounds) are commonly seen. The coat is a dense double northern dog coat, somewhat harsher than that of the Siberian Husky. The usual colors are various shades of grey and white, sable and white, black and white, red and white, or pure white. The physical build of the Malamute is compact with heavy boning. In this context ‘compact’ means that their height to length ratio is fairly even, unlike dogs like Great Danes which are longer and lankier in their ratios.
Alaskan Malamute Characteristics
Although still in use as sled dogs for recreational mushing, most Malamutes today are kept as family pets or show dogs. They are unable to compete successfully even in long-distance dogsled racing against smaller and faster breeds and their working usefulness is limited to freighting.
The Malamute is one of the most “unaltered” of breeds, retaining its original form and function. Responsible breeders will want to preserve this heritage of the Malamute’s working abilities. They are a widely regarded as handsome, affectionate toward humans, intelligent, resourceful, and hardworking.
While they may bark like other dog breeds, Malamutes normally tend to “talk” by vocalizing a “woo woo” sound. They may howl like wolves or coyotes when feeling excited, sad, or lonely.
Alaskan Malamute Temperament and Behavior
Understanding Malamute behavior requires understanding life in an aboriginal Arctic village.
Malamutes were originally bred to think and act independently for the sake of protecting the sled team. Hazardous and unpredictable Arctic trail conditions rewarded the ability of a Malamute to rely on its own senses and, when necessary, override the sled driver’s judgment and commands. As such, the breed is notorious for displaying a highly independent streak that manifests itself as stubbornness. Malamutes are sometimes downright insubordinate toward their human handlers and may ignore commands, particularly when young.
At the same time, Arctic life required that Malamutes be bred to behave as consummate members of the sled team, family, and village community. Therefore they are usually very affectionate to members of their own pack – human and dog members alike. A Malamute may talk in glee in greeting a returning family or pack member after a period of separation, and howl in protest when it feels ignored, neglected, or excluded from group activities. Also, Malamutes are usually friendly to other humans outside their own pack, often demanding their attention and affection as well. The Malamute’s gregariousness and tendency to openly, unreservedly give affection make them highly attractive to many dog owners; these same qualities make a Malamute a poor guard dog.
The harsh conditions for which Malamutes were bred rewarded a strong prey drive, as food was occasionally scarce. Consequently, Malamutes may instinctively attack animals such as house cats, squirrels, rabbits, chickens, quail, and even deer (however, many households enjoy harmonious, mixed “packs” of cats and Malamutes). Historic competition for food is also a reason why Malamutes may regard dogs outside their own pack or team with disdain or hostility.
Malamutes dug for food when required, and digging is now a common way in which Malamutes deal with boredom. It is not uncommon to see a Malamute digging madly in pursuit of a mouse, mole, or gopher. Malamutes may also dig to escape a fenced yard, and have been known to dig escape tunnels underneath houses. The Malamute tendency to dig can be frustrating to owners who also maintain yards or gardens; one owner has wryly described Malamutes as being “enthusiastic but unskilled gardeners.”
Owing to the Malamute’s independent nature, physical strength, and its high levels of energy and intelligence, most experts on the breed advise that Malamutes not be adopted by people who:
are inexperienced in training dogs
lack the time, energy, and space to exercise them, or
lack the patience and stamina to repeatedly engage in contests of willpower with a large, powerful animal without becoming angry.
Alaskan Malamute Health
Health issues in the Malamute are hip dysplasia, inherited polyneuropathy, chrondo dysplasia, and the usual northern-breed eye problems (particularly cataract and progressive retinal atrophy).
While Malamutes have been successfully raised in places such as Arizona, their dense coats generally make them unsuited for hot climates. When the weather gets hot, theyâ€”even more than other dogsâ€”need plenty of water and shade. Also, being a winterised breed they will grow a winter coat and subsequently, come spring, shed it again. Mixed with sheep wool their thick, heavy hairs can be spun into a garment of unusual warmth.
Alaskan Malamute History
The Malamute is a descendant of dogs of the Mahlemuit tribe of upper western Alaska.
For a brief period during the Gold Rush, the Malamute and other sled dogs became extremely valuable to recently landed prospectors and settlers, and were frequently crossbred with imported breeds. This was often a misguided attempt to improve the type, or to make up for how few true Malamutes were up for sale. This genetic dilution seems to have had no long standing effect on the modern Malamute, and recent DNA analysis shows that Malamutes are one of the oldest breeds of dog, genetically distinct from other dog breeds.
The Malamute dog has had a distinguished history; aiding Admiral Richard Byrd to the South Pole, and the miners who came to Alaska during the Gold Rush of 1896. This dog was never destined to be a racing sled dog; instead, it was used for heavy freighting, pulling hundreds (maybe thousands) of pounds of supplies to villages and camps. That is in a group of at least 4 dogs for the heavy loads.