The Alaskan Malamute
Someone asked us recently, what we like about our dogs, Alaskan Malamutes. The answer that came to mind was watching how they think. That may sound unusual to some, but when we say, owning an Alaskan Malamute is not like owning any other dog, we are telling the truth. The Alaskan Malamute is a naturally evolved breed with a history dating back over 3000 years. That alone stands them apart from many other dogs.
Sadly, this difference to other breeds does not always work in their favour. Malamutes quite possibly, come very high on the list of the most ‘dumped’ dog breed. Not understanding how to live with these creatures, and mistaking intelligence for stubbornness are some of the downfalls.
So let’s start by understanding where they came from. The Malamute is Alaskan as its name indicates, used as a freighting and hunting dog, by the native Canadian Inuit people. Their immense strength and ability to survive on small amounts of food was utilised by the Eskimo people. The Malamute’s abilities were then discovered by the Russians when they travelled north exploring the frozen land. They came across the dogs living and working with the Inuit and realised they would have to be part of their survival in the frozen land and freezing temperatures. They used the dogs for travelling and carrying their loads across the ice, relying on them for their own survival. So how does this ancient breed of dog fit into today’s society?
The Alaskan Malamute is still a domestic dog. Many people refer to it as being related to a wolf. The dogs features and some habits are definitely more wolf-like than other dogs, but they are not any part wolf.
One of the most commonly asked questions, is how does this breed survive in the heat. We tell people that given the choice, like some of us, they would much prefer a cooler temperature rather than the hot weather, but their double-coat does enable them to keep cool as well as warm, not unlike the function of wool. It is also why we do not advise shaving a Malamute’s coat. All this can do, is make the heat situation worse. The coat does not return to its normal double appearance, the under-layer turns woolly and the coarse top-coat can not find a way through the wool. The only exception to the rule, would be trimming a soft-coated dog. A soft-coated Malamute is one whose coat is long and fluffy, and extremely susceptible to matting. It is a fault in the breed not unlike some other breeds, for example a German Shepherd who can produce long soft coated puppies.
So how do you live with a Malamute or two in your household? There are many keys to a successful relationship with a Malamute but a firm, fair, and consistent type of positive-based training is the most successful. From day one, when you bring home a large bundle of fluff, ground rules should be laid on how you expect your dog to behave. If you decide the dog is allowed in the house, but not on the lounge, then that should be your rule today, tomorrow and the next day. Clear boundaries will help your dog understand its place in your household. A dog that is allowed to do as it wishes with no basic training is one that becomes uncontrollable and often one that ends up in the pound.
The other main key to a successful relationship with a Malamute is to make their life interesting. Remember you own a working dog. This dog will not be happy left alone in a backyard for days on end. It will become noisy and destructive, and your neighbours will not like you or your dog. There are many activities you can do with your dog from basic obedience classes, to agility, sled-racing, and weight-pull. Even getting your dog out of the backyard at least twice a day for a walk can make a huge difference. They do respond best with activities that make them think.
Another question that we are commonly asked about our dogs is what we feed them. There are a lot of choices out there these days and it can be confusing. We personally feed our dogs a natural raw diet and for good reason. Although many Malamutes are fed a dry diet, we have found a higher susceptibility to skin conditions like ‘hot-spots’ in a diet that contains grains and cereals. In many cases these skin conditions have been greatly reduced when the dog is swapped to a natural raw food diet. Many vets who advocate super-premium dry diets probably would laugh, but we do attribute this to their history and the type of foods they would have originally been fed. It also means that a Malamute needs fats in its diet. Meats like roo are often not suitable as they are extremely lean. These dogs would have been fed only seal and whale blubber. It is more the portion that one feeds their Malamute that is even more important. Remember that they were an economical breed for the Eskimo – this meant they ate and needed very little. A big dog does not mean a big meal. They do best with two small meals a day.
The one issue that many Malamute owners do not discover until they own these dogs is their prey drive. What is prey drive? It is a keen interest in other creatures. Remember they were hunters. We are often contacted by an owner after their Malamute has eaten one of their chickens, or worse, the neighbours chicken. It is this prey drive that often makes them extremely unsuitable to rural living. We often hear, I think a Malamute would be better on a farm or property. Wrong. Unless they are given a smaller fenced area on the property, their desire to roam can cause many problems in a farming environment.
A Malamute can in many cases be unsuitable with cats and birds. Again, it is part of their instinct, and honestly, some breeds haven’t got along with cats for as long as history began. They are not alone in this one. Some Malamutes can live in a house with a cat if they are brought in as a puppy, but it is not a guarantee, nor that they would accept the neighbour’s cat that is not a part of their pack. These issues make socialisation and good training, even more important, and although there are many exceptions to the rule, instinct is often very difficult to alter.
Good fencing, or a closed-in kennel run area, for times you are away from home is extremely important. A Malamute left it its own devices (and bored) is capable of going under or over a six foot fence without too much hesitation.
As you now can understand, there are many issues to consider more than just that cute bundle of fluff sitting in a pet-shop window. You really do need to consult owners or breeders to learn the facts about this breed. With the correct understanding, they are a remarkable breed to own, though we joke about who actually owns who! No day will ever be dull and there will always be something funny happening with this breed that is often referred to as a ‘clown’.
Some more common facts about the breed are:
- They will never have blue eyes. The only colour for a Malamute’s eyes is brown.
- They are the larger than a Siberian Husky. A Malamutes ideal weight is 35-40kg for a female, and 40-45kg for a male.
- Colours of a Malamute can be wolf-grey, black and white, or red. The only recognised solid colour, which is very uncommon, is white.
- No, they won’t howl at the moon, but a passing ambulance siren can be a whole different matter.
- They do not need a huge backyard. As long as they are exercised and stimulated, a Malamute will not need a large amount of room. They are totally not suitable to apartment living but do best in a situation where they have free access to the house and yard.
- They lose an enormous amount of hair at least twice a year, though it most often feels like it is all year round. If you don’t like fur in your house, car, clothes and dinner, don’t own a Malamute.
- Malamutes like company. Like most dogs, they are happier when they are around their owners. A Malamute is much happier lying by your feet in the lounge room than peering through a window at you from your backyard.
- Malamutes are known to dig. Let them be a dog, and give them a set area they are allowed to do this. They are generally not suitable to someone who is extremely proud of their yard. They will often dig up a plant that you have just put into the ground, just to see what it was you put in that hole!
- Water will cool down a Malamute, but don’t leave them wet on hot and humid days. Their under-coat will retain the water and it will heat up against their skin. Dry them out well after swimming. It will also help reduce any skin conditions.
- Alaskan Malamutes are a purebred dog that does have hereditary diseases related to the breed. Diseases such as hip dysplasia, day-blindness, and thyroid problems are something that can be checked in parents by a reputable registered breeder. You can check if your breeder is registered by contacting the Canine Control Council via their website www.cccq.org.au.
Author: Nicole Hammond
Breed owner for over eight years, shows and works Alaskan Malamutes, and is President of the Alaskan Malamute Social Club Qld, Inc.