Powerful, loyal, and funny
Built tough to last, the Alaskan Malamute always gets the job done. From their deep chest to their large size, thick bone, and double coat, the Alaskan Malamute is made to work.
Often mistaken for a "big Husky," the Alaskan Malamute is a different Spitz-type breed from another part of the world and are used for a similar but different task. While Siberian Huskies move lighter loads fast, Alaskan Malamute move heavier loads slower. Think of Siberian Huskies as speed racers and Alaskan Malamutes as freighters. 1
The Alaskan Malamute’s name comes from the Mahlemiut, Inuit people who resided in northwestern Alaska. 2
The relationship between the two was vital for making life in such a harsh environment possible. The Mahlemiut people utilized their incredible ability to work together in packs to haul heavy loads at low speeds over long distances. 3
They were also used for artic hunting. The Alaskan Malamutes could locate seals using their sense of smell over ice and would help bear hunters by locating polar bears sleeping in their winter dens. 4
During the brief summer months, they used their muscles to carry packs for their people. 5
To learn more about this fascinating breed, I asked my friend Jennifer Remazki. Jennifer and her husband, Edmund, acquired their first Alaskan Malamute in 1996 and bred their first litter in 1998. They breed under the prefix Spiritrun Permanently Registered Alaskan Malamutes and are CKC Master Breeders.
Growing up in Toronto, two neighbours in Jennifer's community had Alaskan Malamutes, and as a child, Jennifer knew she would have one in her life one day. Ironically, these two gentlemen that owned the Malamutes that imprinted on Jennifer as a child now own Spiritrun Malamutes today! Jennifer and Edmund did not start off looking for a show dog but did start to attend dog shows and working events like sledding, backpacking, and weight-pulls with their Malamute, and once they tried conformation, there was no turning back!
Jennifer told me that the personality of the Alaskan Malamute was shaped by the environment and purpose of the breed. This breed is thought to be one of the oldest and largest sled dog breeds. The Iñupiat/Inuit people were nomadic and moved about the vast northeastern coastal regions of the arctic, rarely meeting other family groups. The Malamute dogs and their people had a symbiotic relationship upon which their survival in the harshest environment depended on each other. Jennifer explained that today that history translates into a dog that lives with you and not for you. Alaskan Malamutes are highly intelligent, independent thinkers who may or may not be obedient. They learn tasks quickly, get bored easily, and will make up their own rules if their human isn’t quick to catch on. Jennifer told me that Alaskan Malamute owners have to have a good sense of humour as Malamutes are often considered the class clown. Watching an Alaskan Malamute in performance events or classes can, at one moment, have you entirely impressed by their majesty and dignity, and in the next moment, laughing so hard to the point of tears and frustration. Jennifer tells new owners that they have to stay one beat ahead of this breed at all times, as they are that smart. The Alaskan Malamute should have a very friendly disposition; they should be "playful in invitation," as the Official Breed Standard states. Invite them to engage, and you might be met with a high five or a giant leap and face cleaning. Pack-oriented in nature, they form strong attachments with their family but are not one-person dogs. They will easily bond with the person who has the treats in their pocket.
I love Jennifer’s Instagram page @spiritrunmals. She’s always out on adventures with her dogs. I asked Jennifer to describe living with an Alaskan Malamute and what one needs to know before committing to the breed. She said that "They require active humans who love the outdoors in all types of weather, who possess a great sense of patience and humour, but also maintain a firm and fair disposition. An Alaskan Malamute, highly attuned to pack hierarchy, requires clear leadership, structure, and consistency. Without this in place, the Alaskan Malamute will see the void and need to fill it. This is where an Alaskan Malamute may exhibit signs of resource-guarding, prey drive, dominance, or reactivity. All of this can be managed through early socialization and continuous training for both the humans and the Malamute. They need a lot of exercise and mental stimulation, or else they get bored, which leads to destructive behaviour and howling, which your neighbours may not appreciate. An Alaskan Malamute who is getting all he needs in terms of stimulation will be a more relaxed and affectionate companion when indoors with the family. An Alaskan Malamute requires a securely fenced-in yard with no escape loopholes. They are master diggers, so if you love a landscaped garden, their idea is more of a moonscape, so give them their own area to do with it what they will. They can climb over a fence but are more apt to dig under or go through, so ensure they are secure before leaving them unattended for long stretches of time. They love the cold and winter snow, and when the temperatures drop below freezing, good luck coaxing a Malamute to come inside!”
Jennifer also explained how they are with children. "This breed is affectionate towards children when properly socialized with them, ideally from a young age. Common sense dictates that this is a large, powerful breed that possesses big paws, great strength, and a big, exuberant personality, which can mean trouble for small children or frail adults. A big paw extending for a handshake can cause unintentional damage to the skin or knock a child to the ground. As with any breed, the Alaskan Malamute should never be left unattended in the presence of young children. Accidents can and do happen, and the blame falls on the dog. It is up to the responsible adult to ensure these situations are safely managed."
The Alaskan Malamute is a pack animal and is highly attuned to pack hierarchy, and because of this, they can be same-sex dog aggressive. They also have a high prey drive. Alaskan Malamutes can do well with small dogs or household cats if raised and properly socialized with them from puppyhood, but neighbourhood cats, squirrels, porcupines, and other small critters are fair game, and that includes small dogs running wildly through parks. Jennifer said, “In my opinion, off-leash dog parks are not a good idea for an Alaskan Malamute based on these inherent breed characteristics. The breed does boast some angels, but they are the exception and not the rule. A male and a female Alaskan Malamute, living together, is often a successful formula for a multi-dog household.”
The Alaskan Malamute has a high exercise requirement. They enjoy daily walks and hikes, at the very least. Owners of Alaskan Malamutes can find energy outlets for their active breed by enrolling them in Agility classes, taking them backpacking, purchasing a kick-sled, dog sled, or cart, and running them in harnesses. Many local breed clubs run weight-pull events that they love and other performance-related activities.
The Alaskan Malamute is a double-coated breed whose harsh, dense coat serves a very important function — to protect the dogs from the harshest of weather conditions. The outer topcoat, or guard hair, acts like a GoreTex shell, while the downy undercoat provides insulation. As temperatures warm up, the downy undercoat will release. Dog folk call that "blowing coat" or shedding. During this phase, you need to keep up on daily brushing and combing, or use a powerful forced-air dryer (Jennifer recommends doing this outdoors) to blast away the loose coat. Regular trips to the dog groomer will keep an Alaskan Malamute's coat in great condition and keep dust bunnies to a minimum in the home. The breed does not have a strong odour, and if brushed regularly and bathed every couple of months, dander can be kept down as well. They do shed heavily
when they blow coat, so Jennifer advises people to steer clear if this is a red flag for a potential owner. This purposeful double-coat should never be shaved unless it is a medical necessity. The integrity of the coat will be compromised for a very long time. Shaving a double-coated breed like a Malamute for warmer weather does not keep them cool. In fact, it leaves them more susceptible to heat exposure. See this blog on shaving a double coat: https://www.ckc.ca/en/The-Dish/June-2018/To-shave-or-not-to-shave,-that-is-the-question
I asked Jennifer who she thinks makes an ideal Malamute owner. “The Alaskan Malamute is a challenging breed for any owner, but especially the first-time dog owner. Having said that, it was my first breed! I was a sponge, willing to be mentored and learn all I could. If one assumes this breed will be like a Golden Retriever or other popular breed, they will have an awakening. The ideal Malamute owner enjoys the outdoors and an active lifestyle, and they want to include their dog. They have a great sense of humour and do not require that their home and yard be pristine and magazine-ready at all times. They possess the patience, a firm and fair disposition, keep up with training, structure, and consistency, not only for their Alaskan Malamute but for their own skillset as well.”
Finally, I asked Jennifer if there was anything Jennifer would like everyone to know about the Alaskan Malamute. She said “They are an amazing companion. Breed clubs have instituted working title programs to encourage breeders and owners to participate and earn titles with their Malamutes in sports like backpacking, weight-pulling, and sledding. This fosters a strong sense of community amongst people in the breed. A Charter Member of the Alaskan Malamute Club of America, respected breeder and dog musher, Natalie Norris, was quoted as saying:
The Malamute is too fine and distinguished a breed to be changed into anything but what centuries of adaptability to its environment has produced. Our efforts should be to breed not only beautiful Malamutes, but as good specimens physically as were originally found in Alaska. It isn’t a question of breeding a better Malamute, but as good an Alaskan Malamute.”
The Alaskan Malamute might be the breed for you if:
The Alaskan Malamute might not be the breed for you if:
- You are active and love the outdoors
- You enjoy the winter and snow
- You have a strong personality, great sense of humour and love a challenge
- You are committed to training and working with your dog on an ongoing basis
- You enjoy a good Malamute serenade
Thanks to the help of CKC Member and Breeder Jennifer Remazki, I’m able to share this information on Alaskan Malamutes with you. Jennifer has bred Alaskan Malamutes since 1998 with her husband Edmund. https://spiritrunmalamutes.ca/
1 Rover, https://www.rover.com/blog/husky-vs-malamute-whats-the-difference/
- You love a well-manicured garden and lawn
- You abhor dog hair on your furniture and clothes
- You have very young children in the family
- You have to leave your dog home alone for long periods of time
- You do not have time to commit to training, socializing, grooming or exercising this robust breed
2 Beth J. Harris and Maxwell Riddle, The New and Complete Alaskan Malamute (Howell Book House, 1976)
3 Ibid., Harris & Riddle
4 The Siberian Times, https://siberiantimes.com/science/casestudy/news/sledding-dogs-are-far-older-than-previously-thought-enabling-ancient-man-to-hunt-hibernating-polar-bears/
5 Ibid., The Siberian Times