Alaskan Malamutes: When it comes to domesticated dog breeds, everyone has their preference. Whether that preference is based on looks, agility, temperament, health, or a combination of all these things or more – people love their dogs, and dogs, love their people.
We began our journey with Alaskan Malamutes not really knowing what we were getting ourselves into, in terms of how much of a positive impact they would have on our lives. The love that we have developed for this breed will surely continue into the afterlife, because we simply ADORE Alaskan Malamutes. One thing that sort of frustrates us is the lack of knowledge some folks have about this breed, and then they go around planting seeds of ignorance which then misleads people and even causes a lot of problems for the breed itself. We were victims of some of these false perceptions, and it’s taken us awhile to separate fact from fiction. It’s a continuing learning experience, no matter how long you spend with this breed, no matter how large your pack is, it’s a never-ending lifetime journey.
Despite what some “big shot” websites might claim, Alaskan Malamutes are NOT wolves or “wolf-dogs”, period. As flattering as it is, to be compared to the raw wild beauty of the wolf, Malamutes are no more wolf than any other dog. However, the Alaskan Malamute is a purebred dog, and one of the oldest domesticated breeds in the world, with historical evidence of their existence pointing upwards to twenty-thousand years. They were bred in a way which retained many of their wolfy traits, because these traits were desirable to the ancient Inuit people, or Mahlemut Tribe of Alaska. They were selectively bred to pull heavy loads through ice and snow, and to be an independent worker, with self-sustainable qualities. They were not bred in order to change them a whole lot more than this, like some dogs today who can fit in the back-pocket of someone’s designer jeans… This alone accounts for their wolf-like traits, and can be confusing to those who don’t know better. Compared with an actual wolf, a Malamute’s differences are quite clear. The head, tail, markings, paw size and shape, and overall physique is totally different. Although Alaskan Malamutes still possess many of their ancient wolf ancestor traits, there is no evidence, DNA or otherwise, to say or suggest they are “wolf dogs”…
Another common misconception is that the husky and malamute are essentially the same dog – not true whatsoever. Often, we’re not even asked, it’s just assumed, “Oh what a beautiful husky you have”, we grit our teeth, and then politely correct the misconception, because if people aren’t told, then they just keep passing those misconceptions on to other folks. Most people actually appreciate it when you correct them, some just think you are being a snob…but it’s our duty to promote awareness and truth as Malamute breeders and owners – so never feel it’s not important to correct these mistakes, just try to always do it with kindness and patience.
The Alaskan Malamute is a thick and heavy boned large dog that was bred for freighting and hauling large heavy loads. Huskies are much smaller, thinner boned, and were bred specifically for speed and endurance, to cover more ground in a quicker time frame. Both breeds are used together in sled teams, as they are both pullers, but each breed offers the team balance and stability, as does the individual dogs themselves. Huskies will often have blue eyes or possibly possess the rare gene that causes heterochromia, giving the dog different colored eyes, often one blue and one brown. Malamutes will never have blue eyes, their eyes are usually a brown to golden brown color, and some reds even appear to have amber eyes – never blue.
Another misconception is that Malamutes are fabulous dogs for anyone, sorry, hate to squat in the “proverbial bowl of cherries” but that is another total ignorance based statement. Malamutes are VERY loving dogs, their affection is absolutely undeniable, however, their size, energy, strength, high intelligence, and pack mentality could pose serious complications for some people. These are not dogs that can be ignored or put on the back burner until you have time to give them attention. Malamutes require daily activity, mental stimulation, and to feel as if they are part of a team. You cannot just squash centuries of genetic impulse because you chose to put a Malamute in a small city apartment and give them nothing to satisfy their needs. Don’t get me wrong, a Malamute is great indoors, and can live in small homes just fine, but you cannot expect them to stay happy or mentally balanced if all they see day in, and day out, are four walls.
Malamutes are extremely intelligent, do NOT let their stubbornness fool you. If not properly trained, a Malamute will teach you, instead of the other way around. They can also come off aloof when they are not interested in what you have to say or not happy with a situation. They are also known to put guilt trips on their owners, because of not getting their own way, and yes, they can, and will, throw full blown temper tantrums. They are one of the most intelligent breeds I have ever worked with, they are certainly a cut above the rest when it comes to mental and emotional complexity.
Let’s back up a moment, remember when we said they are not for everyone? Well, that’s true, not only are they not good for a “lazy” lifestyle, they are also not the best choice for the elderly (unless highly trained as a service dog) and they can also be dangerous around pregnant women if not properly trained. Because they are mean viscous wolf dogs!??? LOL …uh no, because they are large powerful dogs who love to play, interact, and love on humans – that’s why! If you have a 120 lb Malamute come up to you, and do one of their infamous brush ups, you better be ready or they could knock you off balance. Although they are excellent with children, younger Malamutes might not be as aware or cautious around young ones, so always just be aware and proactive to avoid injury. I’ve seen Malamutes change around babies and young children in order to be sure they do not cause harm, literally changing their pace and “tip-toeing” around them. Malamutes are not lacking in intelligence by any means, but they are dogs you have to be consistent with, and also learn to be around, and it really helps if you are active and willing to participate in their idea of a “good life”. When they are young, they are bold, constantly testing boundaries, and very excitable. Pups can easily be 80-100 lbs by 1 year of age – but they are still PUPS and are learning their strengths and always seeing where their place is in the “pack”, which includes their humans counterparts.
As a Malamute graduates from pup-hood to adulthood, there are a lot of changes that take place, and this is heavily apparent in their interactions with other dogs. Malamutes can “tend” to be food aggressive and very competitive with other dogs. So it is always a good idea to feed in separate areas to avoid complications. Even when two Malamutes grow up essentially together, they can still become outraged by another dog who doesn’t have manners…in other words, other dogs who dare look, smell, or attempt to go near the other’s food. Same sexes can become aggressive with each other if left intact, especially during estrus cycles and either before or after birthing litters. This should not be an issue most people should be dealing with, as not everyone is a breeder or needs to be concerned with breeding Malamutes, but if you are considering breeding, you need to be sure you know what you are doing, and have a mentor with some experience under their belt help guide you. Malamutes are a complicated breed, and you need to understand them fully in order to safely support and maintain a breeding pack.
Pups grow QUICK and, like I said earlier, some can easily reach the 80-100 lbs+ mark before their 1st year. It’s an amazing breed to be sure, and deserves much love and respect, and it’s why breeders take ethical breeding practices so seriously…well, at least most of them do. You will still find the puppy mills, which I think are much worse than even backyard breeders, but both of which can cause significant problems. It drives me literally insane when I hear someone say they want to breed a Malamute with another dog that isn’t purebred or with a high percentage wolf-dog, I instantly become outraged because the Alaskan Malamute is an ancient breed dating back thousands of years, and deserves to maintain it’s purity. The breed was almost lost during the Gold Rush when ignorant people would breed the Malamute with the “local” dogs, but found out real quick that the Malamute is strongest when it’s gene pool isn’t diluted. Many dogs died of exposure and starvation because they lacked the Malamutes environmental adaptability and innate self-sustaining qualities that the breed is known for. Many famous expeditions were enabled by the Alaskan Malamute, and even contributed during times of war by hauling ammunition and supplies across the Alaskan frontier.
The Sled Dog “Industry” has also taken a lot of poor publicity from very uneducated individuals who have absolutely no clue as to what true cruelty is for these animals. Yes, there is a lot of abuse out there, there is absolutely no question to this, and it’s absolutely inexcusable – but it’s very important to be able to identify true cases of abuse and not be so quick to judge. People who are not familiar with this breed could look at a Malamute outside during Winter conditions and feel as if they are being abused from being kept outdoors, however, this breed lives for these conditions, and can thrive at temperatures dropping to -70F below Zero. They live for snow, ice, and what we might feel as being treacherous cold, these dogs think of as pure heaven. Summers can be difficult on any animal, and as weather patterns change across the world, we can only imagine what is to come. However, Malamutes have been gifted with a double coat which not only keeps them warm, but also can block out heat. They are very resilient animals, and are survivors… I mean we are talking 20k + years of adaptation to all sorts of environmental changes. As long as these animals have access to adequate shelter, fresh water and food, given opportunities for exercise and enrichment of life – that is all they require. Some people think that these dogs are the “delicate” designer dogs that we have today, the ones who need constant Air Conditioning, Heating, and other special accommodations to keep them alive. Malamutes are NOT these types of dogs, and don’t want to be treated as if they are. That is not to say that common sense shouldn’t be afforded to these animals. I would never even suggest that it’s okay to keep a Malamute in a hot car with the windows rolled up, or some other asinine stupidity, but they can and do fare better than most other dogs that are far less tolerate to certain environmental challenges.
They are natural-born workers, and LOVE to pull. People who see images of dogs pulling through ice and snow are often mislead into believing there is something cruel about this. Watch this video, and see for yourself if you think these dogs are the miserable animals some extremist animal activists want to try and mislead people into thinking…
It is truly a genuine dream of ours to one day experience the breathtaking adventure these Arctic Expeditions offer
Again, don’t get us wrong, there are those out there who unfortunately exploit animals and cause massive suffering – and to those creeps, we hope and pray you get everything you deserve and MORE for your crimes against nature and these sentient ancient creatures. We truly believe those who cause suffering to any living being will have huge prices to pay, either in this life, the next, or the hereafter. However, this is not the “norm” in the Sled Dog world, these dogs are priceless and are treated with much love and respect by most all mushers and individuals such as the respectable, ethical, and admirable, Joe Henderson of Alaskan Arctic Expeditions. Most of us do not have 30+ Malamutes to contend with, but let me assure you, just having 1 or 2 can be challenging to some, and so when we cast judgement onto those who have taken on this extreme responsibility, it’s important to have the knowledge and wisdom to go along with that in order to make an educated opinion.
Yet another misconception we have often heard repeated, even by well-established breeders, is that Malamutes are not good guard dogs. We disagree with this, to a point. Malamutes are highly connected to humans, and even more connected with their packs. Although you will rarely, if ever, hear of a Malamute attacking someone, I would not want to provoke a Malamute or attack a Malamute’s owner in front of them, as I’ve personally witnessed a very protective breed, and a breed willing to use force if necessary, to protect it’s territory and pack (which includes their humans). One of our females, a beautiful sweet and gentle red, always let’s us know when strangers or animals come near or by the home, she “barks”, and yes, she even will growl at them and pace nervously back and forth until she sees either myself or my husband become “aware” of the “intruder”. She has intimidated delivery drivers and other visitors simply because she let’s them know, “Hey, I don’t know you yet, so you better be on your best behavior or else I’m tellin mom and dad.” Do we think she would ever attack someone? No, not really, but, if provoked or triggered into thinking her pack was in danger, yes, we do think she would show her teeth and go after a threat – and why would anyone have a problem with that? Besides of course, the threat that deserved to be “dealt” with!
On another occasion, we were out all day with our friend and her husband who had their two Mals with them, they knew us, and we had established a relationship together with them that day on the trails. We decided to get out at one point, and they left their two Mals in their vehicle. We walked as a group out into an area known for it’s waterfalls. After taking several pictures, we decided to head back to the vehicles first, our friends stayed back at the falls. As we approached their vehicle, both Mals became agitated and warned us with very serious eyes and a low-key growl when we got too close to their truck. They didn’t see their pack leader return with us, and wanted us to know they didn’t like it.
On the other hand, one of our younger females, gets very excited when strangers come around, and she will “bark” and make noise out of mere excitement. We are still training her not to jump up or become too aggressive with her love-seeking. Again, this at least alerts us that there is something or someone nearby so we can be sure to check it out.
We put the word “bark” in quotation marks earlier, because honestly, Malamutes don’t really bark, they make another type of sound that is similar to a bark, but sounds more like a language. The sounds they make are very communicative, as is their body language. At times, they even seem to be communicating telepathically with each other by using their eyes and physical movements to express themselves.
The point to all of this is, Malamutes, although they share a lot of the same traits among each other, they are still uniquely individual, and are not the exact same all across the board. Some are more protective than others, some more aloof and unconcerned, some more loving and attention seeking, it’s really on a case-by-case basis, they are not a “one size fits all” breed.
Another thing for people to consider is that Malamutes go through what’s called a “coat blow” twice a year. This is where they shed excessively, and I mean HEAVY shedding and can last upwards of 2-3 weeks if you don’t help them out by brushing or blowing the fur out and off. Some folks might find this to be a literal explosion of fur, and get very frustrated by it. If your Malamute even brushes up against you, a carpet, furniture etc… you can expect a blanket of fur to cover everything in his/her path. This is just par for the course my friends, if you love Malamutes, you must love the WHOLE package, and shedding is just one of those things you either take or leave…but you better make that decision long before bringing a Malamute into your home, because people who “throw away animals” simply because they are not what they thought they would be, or are too lazy, selfish, or incapable of handling their needs, is truly the most irresponsible and negligent thing anyone could do. Re-homing a Malamute can be very difficult, and often leads the dog down a path of uncertainty and usually a kill shelter.
When people contact us regarding our puppies, we make it VERY clear that our contract includes the strict commitment of providing a proper FOREVER HOME – that is always the first priority. It is up to the person to ensure that THEY can provide the right environment and care that these magnificent animals require and deserve – for LIFE. If someone genuinely runs into a situation where they can no longer keep their Malamutes, those animals should NEVER be sold, and in most cases, will go against a breeder’s contract in the first place. The breeder should be notified, that is if the Malamute was obtained from a breeder, and the dog should be given a chance to be re-homed by someone experienced in the process, or even returned to the breeder. If the Malamute was obtained from a shelter, Pet Store, or adoption facility, still always seek local Malamute breeders or specific Malamute rescue facilities – yes, they are out there.
What we love most about having Alaskan Malamutes
The most wonderful thing about doing what we do, is the relationships we make along the way, not only with our dogs, but the people who share the same love and passion for this “Life”. Our journey with Alaskan Malamutes have led us to some of the most interesting and kindred spirits in the world, and is constantly allowing us to expand our circle of friendship, and our Malamute Family. These amazing creatures are the perfect cure to boredom, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and so many other human conditions. I look at them as gifts, because of the blessings they can bring into a home, and the comfort they can give when something goes wrong. I recently lost my only sister to breast cancer a few months ago. Needless to say it was the single most devastating event of my entire life. I became withdrawn, depressed, and felt that no one could possibly understand what I was going through. One day I was sitting in our living room, literally sobbing on the couch. Our sweet girl Teyah came over and ever so gently placed both of her paws around my neck, and pulled me into her. She actually hugged me and held me for close to 10 minutes before even trying to pull away. I looked into her eyes, and she looked into mine. She sensed my pain, and I felt her empathy. She helped heal me that day, and I just released myself into that moment. I trusted her, I knew what she was trying to do for me, and she knew I needed her – and she was there.
Never take for granted the intelligence, loyalty, and love of these amazing beings, they are sentient, they are powerful, and highly spiritually connected SOULS. They are not just “trophies” or “objects” to parade around and exploit for personal agenda. They each possess the raw spirit of the ancient world, and deserve not only unconditional love, but the opportunity to offer the same in return.
In Loving Memory of Akyla
Akyla was tragically lost by a non-genetic twisting of the lower intestines (not bloat). She was one of our partner’s beautiful girls, Snow Pack Malamutes, and mother to our girl Nakara. She is missed each day, and I’ll never forget the love this precious baby gave to everyone that crossed her path. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed for anyone, so live each day with love in your heart, forgiveness, understanding, and as much adventure as possible – leave a trail of happiness wherever your journey takes you.