Before bringing a Malamute into your family please do some research and carefully evaluate the breed’s characteristics to decide if they are the right dog for you. Malamutes are beautiful dogs, however under that stunning exterior lies the heart and soul of an working sled dog. This breed developed in the harsh reality of an arctic environment and some of the survival characteristics which allowed Malamutes to thrive under those circumstances can prove challenging to live with in modern day society. As with any breed of dog there is a range of personalities in Malamutes, however a number of characteristics are an intrinsic part of the breed and are present to one extent or another in almost all individuals.
“The Malamute is affectionate and faithful and likes to be made a pet of, but he is very jealous and an incorrigible fighter. He has little of the fawning submissiveness of pet dogs “outside,” but is independent and self-willed and apt to make a troublesome pet. However, pets that give little trouble seldom give much pleasure.”
This characterization remains one of the best and truest statements ever made about Alaskan Malamutes. Written in 1914 by Hudson Stuck, this quote describes the Malamutes he ran in harness during the early 1900’s throughout Alaska. It is important that anyone considering adding a Malamute to their life embrace this statement and truly develop an understanding of its meaning.
In the original environment where they developed, Malamutes did not rely on their owners for direction or guidance. In order to survive they needed to be able to learn very quickly and draw from their own experience to make independent decisions. They also needed the capability to forcefully refuse to do as their owner asked when the situation required, and there are many stories of dogs saving themselves and their owners from tragic accidents because they adamantly refused to venture out onto thin ice or into areas of hidden crevasses.
Malamutes firmly believe that they and they alone are the center of the universe and everything else revolves around their wants and needs. A Malamute is always going to want to be wherever the “action” is, which usually means right by their owners side and in the middle of all family activities. They have big boisterous personalities, wicked senses of humor, keen intelligence, and opinions that are very much their own. They do not live to serve their owners, and sharing your life with a Malamute is a partnership where there is an open exchange of ideas. Malamutes can be very pushy, and given an inch they will take a mile and then some.
This makes owning and training a Malamute a very different experience than working with a breed who actually cares what you think and that will make some effort to do as you wish just because you ask them to. For most Malamutes it’s all about “what’s in it for me”. Though their intelligence and problem solving abilities make them easy to teach, Malamutes are easily bored, will often become inventive if asked to do something repeatedly, and are renown for their acts of “creative disobedience”. Malamutes can never be trusted off leash in an unfenced area because, though they may know they are supposed to come when they are called, they are just as likely to make the decision not to do so.
The Malamute’s sheer physical strength and size as well as their independent attitude makes them extremely difficult to manage unless some time and energy is put into teaching them good manners and basic obedience. It is the responsibility of their owner to provide them with the training and guidance necessary to become canine good citizens. Through training their energy can be directed, and while this breed never becomes slavishly obedient, the partnership that develops while training your Malamute becomes an incredibly strong bond. Basic obedience training leads to a Malamute who is a pleasure to live with.
Malamutes and people
Developing in a nomadic culture where only the most personal of property was truly considered private, there was little need for Malamutes to be protective or develop territorial instincts. It is likely that a dog who showed any aggression towards humans would have been considered a liability and of more use as a fur coat than as a sled dog.
Malamutes love people - all people. To most Malamutes there is no such thing as a stranger, but instead just a new best friend they haven’t met yet. These are friendly, outgoing, extroverted dogs who enjoy physical affection and who will happily crawl into a guests lap to both give and receive attention. Though their size and general appearance may give a stranger pause for thought, Malamutes can not be counted on to guard property or protect your person. They are, in fact, far more likely to invite a stranger in and show them where the cookie jar is located.
Most Malamutes adore children and the feeling is often mutual. It is important to remember, however, that Malamutes are dogs - not humans in fur suits with the ability to reason that allowances need to be made for the size and behavior of children. By their sheer size and strength a Malamute can injure a child without any intent to do so, and if accidentally hurt any dog will act to protect itself. As with any interaction between a child and large dog, common sense on the part of the adults involved is vital. Being a responsible Malamute owner means actively supervising ALL interactions between the dog and any child.
Malamutes and other dogs
Historically Malamutes lived in small isolated family groups with very well defined social hierarchies. Because food is often scarce in an arctic environment, survival of the fittest was the rule of the day. Those dogs who survived and reproduced were those high enough in status to obtain the limited available resources. Dogs from outside the family pack would have been an enormous threat to those already very limited resources.
Malamutes tend to be very intolerant of pushy or rude behavior from other dogs. While they aren’t usually actively looking to start fights, Malamutes will finish them without any hesitancy. They will not back down when challenged or threatened, and most of the time they won’t exhibit the ritualistic signals many other dogs use to avoid physical confrontation. This is not a breed that is a good candidate for visiting dog parks or for the owner who expects their dog to participate in unsupervised or casual interaction with strange dogs.
Malamutes can be very challenging to live with in a multi-dog home. Doing so successfully requires a thorough understanding of pack dynamics as well as a great deal of active participation on the part of the owner. This is often more successful when there is ample physical area to provide each dog with the level of personal space they require whenever it is needed. While an opposite sex pair often adore each other, it is not uncommon for
Malamutes to be less than appreciative of other members of their same sex. Once a fight occurs many Malamutes will hold grudges against the other dog, sometimes for a lifetime. Anyone adding a Malamute to a household with another dog of that same sex needs to be willing to work hard at developing a good relationship between the two. They also need to
be prepared for the possibility that it will not work out, and have a plan in place should it be necessary to physically separate the dogs for life.
Malamutes and other animals
Food in the arctic was always a scarce resource. At times dogs were left to their own devices, and survival hinged on the ability to catch and kill their own dinner.
Malamutes are a high prey drive breed and the instinct to catch and kill anything that acts like prey is still very strong. Cats, rabbits, other small pets, livestock, and even sometimes small dogs all behave and are perceived as prey animals to most Malamutes. It is normal and expected that Malamutes will be attracted to these kinds of animals, and will chase and kill them given the opportunity. While sometimes Malamutes can be conditioned to live peacefully in a home with a cat, particularly if raised with one, that does not mean they won’t kill the neighbors cat when it runs across the yard. They should never be trusted with other small pets, and getting loose in a rural area is often a death sentence for a Malamute because they are drawn to and will kill livestock.
Malamutes and food
Because of the scarcity of food in the arctic, a dog who will eat anything given any opportunity to do so has a survival advantage.
Malamutes require a remarkably small quantity of food for a dog their size. Though their food requirements are small, they are bottomless pits as far as what and how much they will eat. Anything that has any possible food value (and some things that don’t) will be happily eaten by most Malamutes. Things like leather gloves, shoes, socks, and underwear are all fair game.
Because some of these non-edibles can cause illness and even death, it is important to prevent consumption of them. It is easy to teach a Malamute that you consider it unacceptable for them to raid the trash, steal your dinner off the kitchen counter, or sneak other odds and ends they find laying around. It is impossible, however, to prevent a Malamute from making the decision to eat these items when your back is turned, though
they know full well that you do not approve of their actions. The best way to correct this kind of problem is to roll up a newspaper and hit yourself over the head with it while repeating “I will not leave things where my Malamute can get them”.
Malamutes are the largest of the sled dog breeds, designed for hauling heavy weight long distances under very harsh conditions day after day. Their size and bulk are designed to optimize strength as well as endurance, making the Malamute an enormously powerful and athletic dog.
The Malamute is a serious working breed which requires a certain amount of physical and mental stimulation. These needs are easily met in an active home with an owner willing to provide the dog with some sort of job to do. Malamutes thrive on activities like hiking, backpacking, sledding, carting, skijouring, scootering, bikejouring, weight pulling, obedience, rally, agility, going to dog shows, visiting senior homes and hospitals as therapy dogs, learning and performing tricks, taking long walks, going along for a bike
ride, or pretty much anything else that combines either physical or mental effort and spending time with their owner.
Working dogs are happy dogs, and tired dogs are good dogs. Malamutes who are not provided with a job to do will find one of their own. Most likely it is not going to be a job their owner approves of. Malamutes are master re-decorators and can rip through couches, drywall, carpet, and other flooring with amazing speed. They can turn a landscaped yard into a re-creation of the moon, and can dig malamute size craters with ease. Malamutes are extremely social creatures. They need to be an active part of the family “pack”, and often become extremely destructive or vocal if isolated and ignored with little human companionship. This is not a breed that can be put out in the back yard and expected to entertain themselves on an ongoing basis.
Do Malamutes shed?
Malamutes are designed to survive in brutally cold temperatures. In order to protect them from the cold their coats consist of a soft, fuzzy layer of undercoat designed to insulate which is protected by a course waterproof guard coat. Though not long, the coat is very dense.
For a good part of the year Malamutes have low maintenance and easy to maintain coats. Weekly brushing and the occasional bath keep them looking presentable, and they rarely if ever smell “doggy”.
Twice a year, however, Malamutes provide their own snowstorm by “blowing” their coat. The entire coat cycles out while new coat grows in and the resulting volume of hair is truly amazing. You can bathe and brush and brush and brush the dog, vacuum the house, and 10 minutes later there will be a trail of hair. Anyone visiting in black pants will go home looking like they have been attacked by a Christmas tree flocking machine, and there is usually so much fuzzy undercoat floating around that Malamute owners often joke that dog hair is a condiment or a food group.
So in answer to the question….Yes Malamutes DO shed. Not all the time but whey they do they attack the problem like they do everything else. In a BIG way. And there’s no way around it – Malamute owners just bide their time and wait for the resulting storm to pass, pushing their vacuum cleaners to maximum capacity while collecting what usually seems like enough hair to make a dozen or so new dogs in the process.
Malamutes are a quirky breed. They will never behave like Lassie or Rin Tin Tin (or even Yukon King). They are not “easy” to own, they don’t make good couch or lawn decorations, they do not virtually train themselves, and they do not thrive on minimal attention. Many people are drawn to the beauty of the breed, but then find themselves completely unprepared for the level of training and involvement needed to turn that cute Malamute
puppy into a member of the family who is a pleasure to be around. For this reason many Malamutes end up in rescue looking for new homes, or worse they end their days at an animal shelter. This is not the breed for a timid individual, nor is it a good choice for those who feel a dog must be physically dominated or who expect absolute devotion and obedience. If any of what is written above made you cringe, or if you at any point thought “I’ll just teach my dog not to do that”, please consider that a Malamute is probably not the breed for you.
Remember, these are characteristics inherent in the breed and part of what makes them what they are.
On the other hand, if you are drawn to the idea of adding a family member rather than a “pet” to your life, and if a dog with a “big” personality, great deal of intelligence, and love for physical activity would fit well into your home and lifestyle, the Alaskan Malamute might be a good breed for you. This breed by their very nature are challenging to live with, and many successful Malamute owners find that embracing that challenge is a major part of the enjoyment they get out of sharing life with another species.
An ideal Malamute owner leads an active lifestyle and is willing to make their dog a part of their everyday activities. They enjoy the challenge of training a dog who thinks for itself and works “with” rather than “for” them. They also have the physical and mental constitution to insist on proper behavior in a firm manner without being confrontational, and can laugh at themselves when their dog makes them look like a fool.