About Malamutes

Information on Alaskan Malamutes

History

Alaskan Malamutes originated with a group of native Innuits known as the Mahlemiut. The dogs of that time were very large freighting dogs capable of pulling heavy weight in extreme conditions. The Mahlemiut people mainly inhabited the upper part of the Anvik river in Alaska, but were spread over a wide region. The Malamute was used to haul food back to the villages. It was used as a heavy freighting dog, able to pull a tremendous amount of weight over long distances at a steady pace. The gold rush of 1896 created a high demand for these dogs.

Today, there are essentially two different “kinds” of Alaskan Malamutes. One line is referred to as the M’Loot and the other is the Kotzebue. One difference between these two lines is the size of the dog. M’Loot Malamutes are larger than the Kotzebue’s. In addition, true Kotzebues have only wolf-gray coats, whereas M’Loots come in a variety of colors, including wolf-gray, black and white, sable and white, seal, blue, and white.   The Kotzebue line is essentially due to Arthur Walden, and Milton and Eva Seeley. In fact, it was Milton and Eva that got the Kotzebue line recognized and registered by the AKC in 1935. Paul Voelker developed the M’Loot line. Paul did not register his dogs, but he sold them to people who eventually did. Amongst breeders, there is some argument as to which is the “correct” Malamute. In spite of this, Alaskan Malamutes are credited as one of the few breeds that is very close to its original form and function.

Characteristics and Temperament

Coat and Grooming

The Alaskan Malamute is a double coated breed. This coat consists of a woolly undercoat and longer guard hairs. Twice a year, Malamutes “blow” their undercoats, that is, they shed their undercoats completely. It is a very intense shedding period that can last up to three weeks from start to finish. The good news is that this only happens twice a year. The remainder of the time, Malamutes are relatively shed free (unlike smooth coated breeds). The bad news is that the shedding period can be rather messy. The hair comes out in large and small clumps. Lots of vacuuming and brushing are in order. It should be noted that some owners that live in very warm climes, ones that lack “seasonal changes,” report some shedding year round in the breed.

The Alaskan Malamute is a very clean and relatively odor free dog. It tends to clean itself like a cat. Even when a Malamute becomes covered in mud, it will clean itself. Therefore, bathing needs are minimal. Some owners only bathe their dogs once a year or less.

Other than during coat-blowing season, the Malamute needs very little grooming. No trimming or shaving of hair is required or recommended. Occasional brushing to remove dead hair and keep the coat fresh and shiny is required. Their nails should be checked and clipped periodically.

Temperament

Alaskan Malamutes are a very people friendly breed and demand a lot of attention. They are often described as “big teddy bears” because of their love of attention. They are a very pack-oriented breed and therefore do best when included in the family rather than shut outside away from the rest of the “pack.” Since they are pack oriented, Malamutes are generally not “one-man” dogs. They are an extremely intelligent breed that can be very stubborn and easily bored. They are not typically recommended to a first-time dog owner as mistakes are easy to make and sometimes hard to correct unless you really know what you are doing. They can be a challenge to train, due to their stubbornness. It is said that to teach a Malamute to do something once or twice is very easy, because they are quite intelligent and quickly learn new tasks. To get them to repeatedly do something over and over again is much more challenging, due to their stubbornness and the fact that they become easily bored. This trait is quite common in all of the northern breeds. The sheer size of the Malamute can become an obstacle to novice dog owners. Many Malamutes end up in the pound and even destroyed because an owner fell in love with the cute puppy but could not control the large, stubborn, powerful adult.

Owing to their strong pack nature, Malamutes can be more aggressive towards other dogs than other breeds. Because of this, great care should be taken on the part of the owner to socialize their Malamute puppy as much as possible with other dogs.

Due to the character of the Malamute, they should never be actively trained to be protective, vicious, or aggressive. Their very nature makes them lousy watch dogs. It is against their instincts to make them into watch or guard type dogs. It has been tried in the past with disastrous results. They are a visual deterrent only, as the uninitiated may be hesitant to approach property or family in the company of such a large, impressive looking animal. However, Malamutes are as likely to greet a potential thief as warmly as a trusted family member. This is part of what makes a Malamute a Malamute.

Barking, Talking, and Howling

Alaskan Malamutes are rather quiet dogs. They generally do not bark at all. They do tend to “talk,” however. The best way to describe the talking is to recall Chewbacca, the Wookie in the movie “Star Wars.” It is sort of a soft “woo woo woo” sound. Malamutes can howl the roof right off of your house however. Owners of multiple Malamutes have noticed that when their dogs howl, they will all stop simultaneously. Again, this behavior is due to the fact that they are a very pack-oriented breed.

Care and Training

Feeding

Note: Those living in Australia should read the note that follows these comments carefully.

When you collect your puppy, your breeder should tell you what the puppy’s diet has been to date, as well as recommendation as to the best food and feeding frequency in the future, both for while the dog is still a puppy as well as when the dog is an adult. You should try and follow the puppy’s diet at the time you collect him from the breeder as best you can, until the puppy is settled in to its new environment. Then you can gradually change the diet to suit your preferences. Remember that sudden changes in diet can severely disrupt the puppy’s digestive system and cause gastric distress.

Some people prefer to free-feed their dogs, while others prefer scheduled feeding times. Certainly while the dog is still a puppy, he should be fed three times a day or free-fed. Malamutes are not fully mature until 18 months of age. The diet should be tailored to the dogs level of activity and eating habits. Some Malamute owners have found it impossible to free feed their dogs, due to the fact that some Malamutes will eat all food presented them immediately. This can lead to a variety of health problems, including obesity and bloat.

As for the type and “brand” of dog food, basically any reputable dog food manufacturer provides a dog food that is sufficient to keep a dog healthy. However, the premium brands of dog food have the advantage that one can feed the dog less and still get very good nourishment. In addition, stool size and amount is generally less with the premium dog foods. Keep in mind that feeding dogs is partly art, and partly science. The dog food manufactures have done the science part. The rest is up to you. Some people feed their dogs a mix of canned and dry food twice a day. Others feed only dry and allow free feeding, and so on. Be sure and pick a frequency of feeding, brand, and type of food to suit your dogs needs. For working Malamutes, something equivalent to a Science Diet Performance is in order. For Malamutes that go for walks and hikes, a Maintenance formula is usually best. Consult your breeder and veterinarian for advice.

One other thing worth mentioning here is how long to feed puppy food. Some research indicates that feeding puppy food for too long can increase the incidence of hip dysplasia in dogs that are susceptible to it. Some breeders start feeding adult food very soon. Even though the Malamute is not fully mature until 18 months, most people gradually switch to adult dog food at the 8-10 month time frame. Again, this is something to discuss with your breeder and veterinarian.

Special note for those living in Australia

In Australia the use of commercial “wet” dog foods as the sole primary source of food have been found to be linked with hot spots and gastric distress (including very loose bowel movements) in many dogs of this breed. Occasional use is recommended. Likewise, kangaroo meat is not recommended. Many breeders make their own dog food and supplement it with a variety of vitamins and minerals to ensure a balanced diet. If you live in Australia, it is recommended that you consult with your breeder and veterinarian regarding this issue and monitor the dogs condition closely with whatever diet is chosen.

Housing

Alaskan Malamutes are happiest when they can share in family activities. The best arrangement is one in which the dog can come in and out of the house of its own free-will, through a dog door. If a dog door is not possible, then training the dog to go to an outside door to be let out is also very easy to do. Outside, the dog should have a large, fenced yard. The fence should be strong and at least 6 feet tall. It is also a good idea to bury wire in the ground to discourage digging out. Malamutes are notorious diggers. It is usually best to set up a sand box somewhere in a shaded part of the yard and encourage digging there, if possible. Malamutes should not be allowed to roam around the neighborhood. If one chooses to kennel a Malamute, the kennel should be chain link, with a concrete run, and should be 8 ft wide and 15 to 20 ft long. It should be at least 6 ft high with chain link across the top of the kennel. It should be in a shaded location and have an insulated dog house with a door for shelter from the elements.

Because the Malamute is an arctic dog, it can remain outside in very cold weather. However, it should be provided with shelter from the elements in the form of a good sturdy house. The house should have a flat roof, as Malamutes love to lay on top of their houses and observe the world. A good insulated house with nice straw bedding is perfect for Malamutes that spend most of their time outside. Heating the dog house is usually not necessary.

Training

Training Alaskan Malamutes can be a challenge. With this breed, it is important to start young. Establish rules of the house early, and make sure that the puppy knows that you are in charge. For example, if you do not want the dog on the bed as an adult, do not allow it as a puppy. The rule of thumb is that if you train a dog to do something, expect him to do it. Therefore, if the puppy learns that certain things are allowed, it will be difficult to train them not to do them as adults. Things that are cute as puppies may not be all that cute when the dog weighs 80 lbs or more.

Since the dog is pack-oriented, it important to establish yourself as the head of the pack, or alpha, very early. Once you do this, the dog will respect you and training will be much easier. It is best to enroll in a puppy training class (or puppy kindergarten training as they are commonly known) soon after your dog is home and has all of its vaccinations. This training is good for the dog and for you as the owner, as it will help you understand your new puppy and establish you as alpha very early in the puppy’s life, which is extremely important with this breed. Once you have completed the puppy class, and have been working with the dog for a few months, a basic obedience class is in order.

Obedience training this breed can be very interesting and extremely challenging. Many owners will complain that their dogs act perfectly in class, but will not obey at home. This breed is intelligent enough to differentiate situations very well, and will apply different rules of behavior for different situations. You must stay on top of the dog and maintain control, which is easier to do while the dog is of manageable size than with a stubborn adult that has been allowed to get away with undesirable behaviors for a long time.

It is very important to remember that Alaskan Malamutes are a working breed. They need something to do. Putting them in the backyard and tossing them a bone and expecting them to be happy us a very bad idea. They need a lot of exercise and interaction to be happy. The exercise can come in the form of mushing, which is of course best, or can easily be in the form of frequent walks, hikes, and playing. The dog makes a wonderful hiking companion, and with a dog pack, can carry food and water.

Alaskan Malamute Colors :

Sable & White – Black or gray guard hairs with a reddish undercoat and trimmings. Some

may seem to have “dirty faces” as their white markings may not be truly white but instead have a

red cast. Some sables are very dark, others are much lighter.

Red & White – Various shades of red. The lips and eye rims will be brown or liver in color.

Their eyes are often lighter brown.

Gray & White – Variety of shades, from light to quite dark . Guard hairs are gray with a light

gray, cream or white undercoat. There may be all black hairs, sometimes only on the back, other

times throughout the body. From a distance a dog with this coloring will still appear mostly gray.

Sometimes this is called “wolf gray and white”.

Silver & White -Light gray guard coat with a white undercoat. May look white at birth.

White – Only solid color allowed by the Malamute standard. Guard hair and undercoat are

white. The mask can be evident as a cream color while the face is white.

Seal & White – Black guard hairs, with cream or white undercoats. Appears to be “black &

white” from a distance, but upon closer examination are not because they have the light undercoat.

Black & White – Black guard hair with a black or dark gray undercoat. There is a definite

contrast between the light and dark areas of the body. Many puppies appear to be black and

white at birth but lighten up and become Seal & White. Black and white dogs tend to have dark

eyes.

Blue – Off black or bluish – charcoal color, eye color may be affected, No black factor is evident.

Trimmings – Shades of gold, cream, buff, brown or reddish hues often found on legs, ears, tail

and face between white areas of the under body and the dark color above.

Eye Color – “Eyes are brown… Dark eyes preferred. Blue eyes are a disqualifying fault.” from the

“Alaskan Malamute Standard” approved 31 May 1994.

Alaskan Malamute Face Markings :

Cap – The cap is the color covering the top of the head and hears, usually coming to a point in the

center of the forehead.

Goggles – Dark areas around the eyes, extending sideways to the cap.

Eyeshadow – Dark areas below, between, or next to the eyes. May or may not be dark and tends

to fade with age. A puppy with heavy eyeshadow may only have faded grayish markings at a later

time. It does not extend into the cap.

Bar – A dark area extending from the point on the cap down the nose. Can be dark or faded and

hardly visible.

Star – A white forehead marking within the area of the cap on the forehead.

Blaze – A white mark extending from the center of the cap back up the forehead. Can be wide or

narrow or irregular (which is not preferred) so that one side of the cap extends lower than the other.

Full Mask – The combination of cap, goggles and a bar.

Closed Face – Dark coloring over much of the face so that there is no distinct markings of a cap,

bar or goggles.

Open Face – The face is all white except for the cap with very little or no eyeshadow.

Authors

(listed alphabetically)

Margaret H. Bonham (Sky Warrior Racing Kennels), December 8, 1992

Stacey E. Curtis, December, 1 1992 [sec@softserver.canberra.edu.au]

Stephen R. Lee (OooWoo Racing Kennel), December, 1 1992 [srlee@rt66.com]

Updates in 1994 of addresses, CTM. Australia contact added 1995. List of breeders removed. 10/95: Online Resources added, CTM.

Copyright 1994, 1995 by Margaret Bonham, Stacey Curtis, and Stephen Lee.