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Alaskan Malamute - Breed Profile

The rugged Alaskan Malamute is a working dog, best suited to people who love the great outdoors. He plays vigorously and is most content when pulling or packing a load (sledding, weight pulling, backpacking, bikejoring), especially in cold weather.

ORIGINS

The Alaskan Malamute’s origins lie in the early Spitz-type dogs that evolved throughout the Arctic regions of the world. The Spitz-type with its thick coat, muscular build, short ears and curly tail, is likely to have developed from the pariah dog (an undomesticated, scavenging dog), which travelled north through the colder regions and mated with the larger, more robust wolves of the Arctic. 


The Malamute, whilst still in some ways resembling wolves, has distinct anatomical differences so should not be regarded as closely related. The skull of a wolf is larger and tapers forward to a thinner snout. The jaws of the Malamute are smaller, the massive jaws of the wolf allowing for a larger foundation on which the strong chewing muscles attach. Malamutes are shorter and stockier, allowing for a lower centre of gravity, essential for an animal used to haul heavy loads. One other major difference is the presence of a scenting gland on the upper surface of the wolf’s tail, a gland totally absent in all domestic dogs.

HISTORY

The Alaskan Malamute was first bred by the Mahlemiut people. They lived in Alaska on the huge Kotzbue Sound region, in the upper western part of Alaska, within the Arctic Circle. This was originally a part of the Russian Empire but was sold to the United States of America in 1867. The Mahlemiut people were highly respected for their bravery and fishing skills. 

They were tall with soft faces and they treated their dogs somewhat better than other people did. Malamutes babysat the Mahlemut children while parents were out on hunts which is one reason they make very good family pets.

Their dogs were bigger and stronger than other Nordic dogs and were very similar to the Artic Wolf. It is cited in historical sources that from 1870 to 1880 reindeer, for unclear reasons, changed their migration route. Thus they took away the Mahlemiut people's primary source of food. During these times, families could not afford more than two or three dogs, so women and children helped to pull sleighs. The people began to die out and the same fate almost befell their dogs.

Alaskan Malamute Railway Team
When gold was discovered in Klondike in 1896, gold fever broke out and the Alaskan Malamute became the most valued dog for pulling. 

At that time they started to mate them with other dogs, but fortunately the Malamutes had such strong genes that their characteristics remained intact even in the third generation crosses. 

This crossing is the reason for the differences which we find in today's Malamutes.

The Alaskan Malamute, named after this tribe, is physically built to endure the harsh cold climates and still today remains cherished for its strength and stamina when pulling heavy loads over long distances. 

Larger in stature than its cousins - the Siberian Husky and American Husky, the Alaskan Malamute is regarded as a heavy freighting sled dog. It is able to pull a tremendous amount of weight over long distances at a steady pace, rather than traversing the terrain with speed. Malamutes are also used for professional sled racing around the world.

The breed was first registered by the American Kennel Council (AKC) in 1935. Due to depleted numbers as a result of service during the Second World War and subsequent research expeditions to Antarctica, AKC registration was reopened in the mid 1940s to bolster breed numbers.

In 1978 the first Alaskan Malamutes arrived in Australia via New Zealand and were officially registered soon after. The first litter of Australian pups where born in 1981. The breed is still growing in popularity, especially as the sport of dog sled racing grows.

APPEARANCE

The Alaskan Malamute is the largest of the Arctic breeds, weighing up to 56kg and standing up to 71cm tall. Females are significantly smaller than males. 



The most common colour is grey and white or black and white. A white or grey muzzle, face, throat and chest is common. The Malamute’s eyes are a distinct light brown, surrounded by a dark eye-rim and pale fur, giving the dog an intelligent appearance.

Malamutes are classified as a long haired breed with a coarse guard coat of sufficient length to protect a woolly undercoat. This dense undercoat acts as insulation against heat and cold whilst the guard coat protects from dampness and dirt. 

For the full breed standard, please visit the ANKC website

TEMPERAMENT

Alaskan Malamutes are pack animals with very strong dominant instincts. They are an extremely intelligent breed and can be very stubborn and easily bored. 


These traits, when combined with their size and strength, can lead to destructive behaviour such as chewing and digging, particularly as puppies. Bored Alaskan Malamutes are famous for chewing through drywall, ripping the stuffing out of sofas, and turning your yard into a moonscape of giant craters!

Although their appearance is often intimidating to strangers, Malamutes lack watchdog instincts and should not be relied upon to guard the family home. Malamutes however may not tolerate strange animals. 

They should be socialised early with other family pets and kept under close control when outside the family home. 

Malamutes are family orientated and aggression towards humans must not be tolerated. 

Generally a quiet dog, the Alaskan Malamute does not bark. However if bored or socialising with other dogs, the Malamute may howl quite loudly and incessantly.

TRAINING

Training Alaskan Malamutes can be a challenge which is why obedience training is essential. Their independent nature, intelligence and strong dominant instinct are factors which should encourage the owner of a new puppy to start education as soon as possible (as early as two to three months of age). Whether you have one or many Alaskan Malamutes, it is essential to establish yourself as the pack leader very early through positive body language and assertiveness is essential. 

Malamutes are not fully mature until 18 months of age and as such, unless they are correctly educated (including formal training at puppy school) they may become a large, unmanageable and stubborn adult. There are many reported instances of abandonment, due likely to their dominant nature. This breed is not recommended for first time dog owners.

GROOMING AND MAINTENANCE

As a long coated breed the Alaskan Malamute requires regular twice weekly grooming sessions.
For these you will need a soft slicker or pin brush to remove any knotting amongst the guard and top hairs. Followed by either a rake (preferably with rotating pins so it doesn’t pull and hurt as much) or a wide toothed comb, preferably with Teflon anti-static coating so it slides through easier to remove undercoat or to tease apart tangles or mats.

As you groom your dog, spend a few minutes running your fingers gently through the coat. Feel for any lumps and look for grass seeds, bindii, sores or inflammed areas. Regular grooming is important for all dogs but especially older ones. If there are paralysis ticks in your area, it is imperative that you check for these parasites daily.



Females will moult twice a year (1 seasonal and 1 hormonal moult) and males once a year. During moulting season, the dog should be groomed once daily. Desexed dogs will need less grooming due to reduced hormonal influences. 

Malamutes will adjust to most climates and should not be clipped. 

Alaskan Malamutes tend to eat less than other large type breeds. This is due to their slow metabolism, a genetic adaptation to working in harsh conditions with minimal food supplies.

EXERCISE

Alaskan Malamutes are a working dog and require daily lengthy exercise. Strenuous activities such as those listed below are suited to the breed.

  • Sled racing: A team of dogs is driven by a musher (driver) whilst pulling a sled over groomed snow trails. The contestants race against the clock to record the fastest time. Dry sled racing utilises three-wheeled gigs during the warmer months, except summer.
  • Weight pulling: A strength competition. A Malamute is harnessed to an empty trolley which is then pulled by the dog over 4-5 metres. Weights are gradually added until the dog is unable to move the trolley. These competitions are strictly controlled and no dog is forced to compete beyond its capabilities.
  • Backpacking: Malamutes provide companionship and additional carrying capacity for bush and trail walkers. A backpack is harnessed to the dog and used to store additional supplies and equipment.

HEALTH AND LIFESPAN

There are three major health factors relating to the Alaskan Malamute.

  • Hip dysplasia: A heritable disease which affects the joints of the hips. This is due to the size of the breed and poor breeding practices. Before purchasing a puppy make sure the parents have been screened and passed.
  • Day blindness: Also heritable, this disease is characterised by inability to see in bright light although ability to see in decreased illumination is retained. Again, ensure that the parents have been tested by an ophthalmologist before purchasing a puppy.
  • Nutritional disorders: Alaskan Malamutes are a rapidly growing breed. A balanced diet must be provided to the young pup. Poor nutrition will lead to bone disorders that will remain for the duration of the dog’s life.

A healthy Alaskan Malamute will live an average life of 11-14 years. 

RECOMMENDED FOR


Only those people well experienced with larger dog breeds should own an Alaskan Malamute.


Excessive pampering of a gorgeous puppy will only lead to future behaviourial problems and many owners have parted with their Malamutes because they have tried to assert themselves over the dog far too late in its upbringing. 

Studies of records at animal shelters and pounds show that Alaskan Malamutes have a very high dumpage rate. The number of Malamutes received at these facilities (measured over a determined period of time) is proportionally much higher than many other breeds of dog.


  • Temperament: dominant, stubborn, trainable
  • Maintenance: High
  • Lifespan: 11-14 years
  • Recommended for: experienced large dog owners

For more information on the breed, please contact

Alaskan Malamute Club of Victoria Inc

If you’d like to rehome an Alaskan Malamute, please contact

Alaskan Malamute Rehoming Aid Australia Inc

Arctic Breed Rescue
Malamutes for Adoption
Shamroq (Siberian Husky & Alaskan Malamute Rescue of QLD Inc.)
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