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The Alaskan Malamute

The Alaskan Malamute is an ancient arctic breed. Its origins are believed to go back to the dogs that came across the Bering Strait from Siberia to Alaska during the last ice age with the ancestors of today's Inuit people. The Inuit tribe from the area around Kotzebue Sound of Alaska, called the Mahlamuits or Mahlemuts are credited with the development as the breed we know today as the Alaskan Malamute.

 The tribe's dogs were reported to be of remarkable beauty and endurance. The Malamute dog is much larger than the Siberian Husky and slightly larger than the Greenland dogs. The Malamute's coat has fewer variations in markings and colours than the Siberian or Greenland dogs. Their appearance often leads people to believe they were crossed with wolves, which did happen on occasion. However these wolf-dogs were usually neutered and not used for breeding, as they were very unpredictable.

 The type of terrain and weather conditions in different regions also led to the variations in the types of Arctic dogs in North America. The Canadian Eskimo dog looks somewhat similar to a Malamute.

Breeding for many generations, building on the characteristics that make a good sled dog, is how the Malamute breed developed. A harsh coat, cooperation, obedience, immense strength, and endurance were key traits the breed was built on. Because of the dogs relationship with the Inuit he is extremely trusting of humans.

The Malamute was used as a freight dog, pulling heavy loads over long distances. He was also used to hunt and defend the Inuit from polar bears. After the introduction of the snow machine, sled dogs lost a lot of their status as a working dog. However the popularity of racing in the arctic helped to keep an interest in maintaining the arctic breeds. However, the focus now was for very fast dogs, not necessarily strong dogs.

Malamutes Of Present Day
Fortunately there were individuals like Eve Seely, who is credited with having a major impact of the preservation and foundation of the breed as we know it today, a large, extremely strong, affectionate, friendly, comedic, yet often laid back breed. Although sometimes labeled stubborn, Malamutes are a highly intelligent breed who have an impressive dignity and approach people with overwhelming enthusiasm.

Size and Build
Today's standard male Malamute is 25" and 85 pounds. Females are 23" and weigh 75 pounds. While this is the standard height for both the AKC and the CKC, you will often see Malamutes that range larger than this. Male malamutes can range from 80 pounds to 180 pounds and females can range from 60 pounds to 140 pounds. If you are concerned about size, be sure to view the parents of the pup you intend to purchase, as well as see as many dogs as possible in the pup’s pedigree.

The body should be compact, but not short coupled. The top-line of this dog is gently sloping to the hips. The chest depth is approximately one-half the height of the dog at the shoulders. The Malamute has a strong neck, which is moderately arched.

The malamute expression is soft and indicates their affectionate disposition. His head is broad and deep. His eyes are always brown and are almond shaped. His ears are wedge shaped and wider set than those of the Siberian. He has a bulky muzzle, with a black nose, except for reds, which have liver coloured nose and lips.

The Malamute Coat
The malamute comes in colours ranging from light gray to black. Shades of sable and red are also recognized in the breed standard. In all colours, white is always predominant on the underbody, parts of legs, feet and part of the face and tip of the tail. White is the only solid colour allowed.

The malamute has a double coat. The top coat is a thick course coat called the guard coat; it should not be soft or long. Malamutes also have a soft and dense wooly undercoat. The undercoat coat should be oily and should repel water. The coat varies in length on the body, short to medium on the sides of the dog and the length increases around the shoulder, neck, down the back and over the rump. Their tail should look like a waving plume. In the summer a malamute sheds profusely.

A correct malamute coat will actually repel a lot of dirt. And they are usually very clean animals. When they start their annual shed, then they require constant (daily) brushing. This breed is likely a middle of the road dog for allergy sufferers, as malamutes tend to be very clean dogs and when not during a shedding cycle, shed very little. When not shedding, may only require an occasional brushing.

Malamute Disposition
Malamutes are social and affectionate animals. However, they are also VERY strong and can be very stubborn. They are independent, somewhat like a cat! They are awesome with kids IF raised with children but should always be monitored around children due to their size and strength.  Malamutes have bursts of high energy but tend to be a more laid back breed. They DO need to be “entertained” however, as they become bored easily. Thus lots of exercise is another way to wear them out mentally. Malamutes are best suited to families that enjoy winter and outdoor activities and like their dog to be an indoor/outdoor dog. Malamutes make lousy guard dogs and need a strong fenced yard due to their tendency to wander.

A Malamute needs an average to large fenced yard. A rural property is ideal for a mal only IF it is fenced. Malamutes have strong prey drive, are highly social, are highly motivated by food and the lure of other peoples’ activities, thus are unlikely to stick close to home even with supervision, so a fence is a necessity. A fence of 6 feet in heat is the best choice. If building a kennel, a long narrow kennel is best. (10 x 20 or 30 feet) A malamute can live outside year round, but tends to WANT to be a house dog, because of their social nature. Ideally Malamutes should be indoor/outdoor dogs. Although they can easily handle -40 degree weather they really need to spend a lot of time with the family due to their social nature. If left alone too long they tend to become bored and like any bored dog, tend to get into trouble.

Malamutes DO NOT usually require an insulated dog house for most weather conditions, unless you live in an extreme climate. The following is a typical dog house for a malamute:

  • DOUBLE WALLED, no insulation. The double wall is on 2 x 2 framing. (so there is an air pocket between the walls) The ceiling is also constructed the same way.
  • The floor built on top of a 2” x 2” or 2” x 4” frame.
  • The door (opening) is not covered and is 12"w x 16"h and is raised 6 inches off the floor.
  • You can put shavings on the floor, which most mals will kick out if it is not cold.
  • The house cannot be too large or it will NOT keep the dogs body heat... the dog should just have enough room to turn around and lay down. So approx.  3 - 4' long and only about 24 inches wide. (this is the OUTSIDE measurement)
  • Malamutes prefer a flat roof so they can sleep on the house 75% of the time. However, the house should not be set near any fences or the kennel wall as they will have a tendency to use it to jump out.

Please note that Malamutes that spend considerable time INDOORS, may require more shelter, as they may not develop a proper winter coat.


If your mal is confined to a yard or dog run for 8 hours a day than it should have at least 2 to 3 walks per day. If the dog shares a yard with another dog, likely one or two walks would suffice. They love winter sports like dog sledding and skijoring.

This breed should have lots of human interaction, an example would be: a half hour of “games” daily and 10 to 15 minutes of training daily in addition to the exercise mentioned earlier. Malamutes bore easy so training sessions must be short and interesting.

You must make sure your malamute sees you as boss, because of their immense strength. So, early training, when still a puppy, is a must. Puppy kindergarten is highly recommended as well as basic obedience from a trainer that uses positive and motivating types of training (versus force training methods, as with mals there will come a time when he will be stronger than you! And you don’t ever want him to know that!)

Health Issues
Some of the health issues that can occur in Malamutes are hip dysplasia and cataracts. Other, but not as common problems with malamutes can be thyroid issues and coat funk.

Other Traits
In regards to safety and home security this breed is spirited enough to alarm intruders.

The malamute does not usually bark, but may howl or sing (or even scream) to alert you someone is coming to your home. They can appear intimidating due to their size and their HIGHLY exuberant response to anyone new. However, they are NOT usually very loyal to their owners and thus make lousy guard dogs.

Malamutes can be amazing with cats, birds, and other dogs if raised with them. However, they also can also be really BAD. Early socialization and training is important if you want your malamute to get along with other animals. They have VERY strong prey drive and can be territorial on their own turf with other dogs. (Another reason why they require a fenced yard.)

 If you are seriously considering adding an Alaskan Malamute to your family, it is a good idea to spend some time with an adult Malamute.  Malamute puppies are one of the cutest puppies out there, often resembling a “plush toy”, but don’t let that fool you into thinking you should own one. Although a beautiful breed, they are not the breed for everyone!  Think seriously how their traits fit with your life style and make sure you are a good match for each other first! Once you are aware of ALL the traits of a malamute (good, bad and ugly) they can be managed, but if you are unprepared for some of their stronger traits… you could become quite frustrated…

Other Info

When selecting a breeder ask to speak to other people who have purchased pups from them. Ask breeders what kind of support they will provide after you go home with your new puppy.

The Alaskan Malamute is part of the “working” group of the Canadian Kennel club.                  

Today's Malamutes are used for many activities including; family pet, show dog, obedience, agility, flyball, back packing and of course weight pulling, sledding and skijoring.

One important thing to know is that owning a Malamute is a 12 – 15 year commitment!

Recommended reading:
The Alaskan Malamute, Yesterday and Today Barbara A. Brooks and Sherry E. Wallis

The New Complete Alaskan Malamute by Maxwell Riddle and Beth J. Harris

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