Pet Road Tests > Dogs
Breed: Alaskan Malamute
Temperament: dominant, stubborn, trainable
Lifespan: 11-14 years
Recommended for: experienced large dog owners
Dumpage rate: high
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. Wolves also have longer legs and larger paws in relation to their body size. 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.
The Mahlemiut Inuit Eskimo live on the Arctic coast of Alaska. Traditionally a nomadic tribe, the Mahlemiut required a powerful sled dog to haul their possessions between campsites, trading posts and on hunting expeditions. 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. This type of dog was used as a draught animal long before Europeans visited the Americas.
Larger in stature than its cousins the Siberian 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. There are many hundreds of Alaskan Malamutes registered in Australia today, with approximately 300 in New South Wales alone. The breed is growing in popularity, especially as the sport of sled racing grows.
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. 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. The Malamute's eyes are a distinct light brown, surrounded by a dark eye-rim and pale fur, giving the dog an intelligent appearance.
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, particulary as puppies.
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 Alaskan Malamutes can be a challenge. Obedience training is essential. Their independent nature, intelligence and strong dominant instinct are factors which should encourage the owner of a new pup to start education as soon as possible. Whether you have one or many Alaskan Malamutes, it is essential to establish yourself as the pack leader very early. This does not require harsh discipline however 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.
As a long coated breed the Alaskan Malamute requires grooming once a week. 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 will eat less than other large type breeds. This is due to the slow metabolism of the dog, a genetic adaptation to working in harsh conditions with minimal food supplies.
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.
A healthy Alaskan Malamute will live an average life of 11-14 years. 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 pup.
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.
$1000 should buy a fully vaccinated, desexed pet dog. Show or breeding Malamutes will cost between $1500 to $1700. It is highly recommended to take puppies to the vet for a full check up as soon as possible.
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.
The Australian National Kennel Council (ANKC)
Phone: 1300 728 022 (NSW only) or (02) 9834 3022
Fax: (02) 9834 3872
Phone: (03) 9788 2500
Fax: (03) 9788 2599
Phone: (02) 6241 4404 - Fax: (02) 6241 1129.
Phone: (08) 9455 1188
Fax: (08) 9455 1190
Phone: (08) 8349 4797
Canine Control Council of Queensland
Phone: (07) 3252 2661
Fax: (07) 3252 3864
Tasmanian Canine Association
Phone: (03) 6272 9443
Fax: (03) 6273 0844
Phone: (08) 8984 3570
Fax: (08) 8984 3409
The Australian National Kennel Council (ANKC)
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