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This review is based on my general knowledge of the breed and my particular experiences with my current dog. I wrote most of it when my boy was 8 months old. He is currently 3 years old.
The Alaskan Malamute is a member of the Spitz group of dogs. They were originally bred as working dogs by the native Mahlemut tribes of North West Alaska. They were used in hunting seals and bears and to pull heavy sleds.
Malamutes are large, heavily boned, powerful dogs. The breed standard for height for dogs (males) is 64-71cms (25-28ins) and bitches (females) 58-66cms (23-26 ins). Weight between 38-56kgs (85-125lbs) is typical. However, many malamutes are considerably larger. In America, "Giant" Malamutes are not uncommon. Malamutes should have a broad head with almond shaped eyes. Ears should be triangular in shape and slightly rounded at the tips. They have a thick, coarse guard coat and a dense undercoat. Generally the coat is of medium length, but there is a variety of "Wooly" malamutes with long coats. Colours range from grey to black to red. The underbody should always be white. Eyes should be dark in colour, never blue. Malamutes are not physically mature until around 18 months of age. At 10 weeks old, my male malamute weighed just under 10kg. At 8 months, he was 30kgs. By 11 months he had reached 34kgs. At about 16 months old his shoulders visibly broadened and shortly after he reached his full grown weight of just over 40kg. He was the smallest male of the litter; the largest of his brothers weighs 52kg. My boy was light grey and white as a pup. As he grew older, his back and facial markings darkened to very dark grey/black.
Malamutes love people, all people. They tend to greet strangers as long lost friends. As such, they make horrible guard dogs, unless their seer size and appearance is a deterrent. For example, when my parents came over from America for the first time after I got my malamute they arrived while my husband and I were both at work. Despite never having met them before our malamute was not upset at all by them coming into our house. When I got home from work they were sitting on the couch with him curled up at their feet. Malamutes are NOT guard dogs.
Pack order is extremely important to malamutes. For a happy domestic life, it is important that the dog views every member of the family as above it in the pack order. While most malamutes get along well with people of all types, they do not always get on well with other dogs of the same sex. Malamutes have a strong prey drive and should not be trusted alone with cats and other small furry animals. It is possible to have a strong willed cat and a malamute live together, but it is recommended the cat be in residence when the puppy comes home. It is not recommended to try to introduce a new cat into a grown malamute's home. Malamutes are very intelligent and often stubborn dogs. If you are looking for a breed that will hang on your every command, this is not the breed for you. Training sessions should be kept short and fast paced. A malamute will quickly bore of repeating the same trick again and again.
One of the hardest lessons for my malamute to learn was that everyone didn't want to say "hello" to him. As a puppy he was an incredibly adorable fluff ball with huge feet. Most people wanted to greet him, but soon he was a large, slightly wolf like creature who intimidated many people despite excellent behaviour. My malamute went through several periods where he pushed my limits and tried to become the dominant member of the family: for a few days at around 4 months, about a week around 6 months, about 2 weeks at about 7 1/2 months. The final attempt was a week and a half of "adolescence" at the 13 month mark. Firm, consistent rules and training are essential. My dog has many male doggie "friends" with whom he plays with in the fields on a regular basis. I have had no trouble with same sex aggression, but it is not uncommon in the breed. My boy is very smart and learns commands quickly, but he can have "selective hearing" when it comes to obedience, particularly in regards to "come." He is happy to obey, so long as there isn't something more interesting capturing his attention. I have to be very selective when and where I let him off lead. Many malamutes will never be safe off lead due to their strong prey drive (and stubbornness).
Malamutes need massive amounts of exercise. Do not get one unless you are willing to go on several long walks in all weather conditions every day without exception. A large garden is not sufficient. When they are young you need to be careful not to over exercise them, but when full grown they can go miles and miles and miles. I tend to go on 2, hour long walks every day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. A typical day means at least 5-8 miles for me (and considerably more for him if he gets to go off lead. Now that he is older, we go on longer walks on the weekends. For his first birthday we bought our malamute a doggie rucksack which we use on weekend "adventure" walks and walking holidays (typically 2 weeks in Switzerland during the summer). This helps tire him out even more. In between walks, my boy is quite mellow. He often sleeps several hours during the afternoon.
Malamutes are generally quite healthy, hardy dogs. As with all large breeds, hip dysplasia is not uncommon (although less likely in malamutes than many similar sized breeds). Both parents should be hip scored by a professional (with x-rays) before breeding takes place. The average hip score for malamutes is 11. Breeding stock should be well below this number. It is important not to over exercise malamute puppies or allow them to jump or run down stairs as this increases the chances of developing hip dysplasia in later years. Both parents should have eye test before breeding to reduce the chance of the pups developing problems with cataracts. As with all deep chested breeds, bloat is a risk. Malamutes should not be exercised for an hour before or after eating to reduce the risk of bloat. Malamutes typically live around 10-12 years.
Alaskan Malamutes vs Siberian Huskies
Malamutes and huskies share many of the same characteristics, but they are two distinctly different breeds. The most obvious difference is size. Malamutes are considerably larger and heavier than huskies. Mals where bred to pull heavy loads while huskies were bred for speed. Mals have heavier bones; sibes have a longer body and thinner legs. Malamutes should have dark eyes; sibes can have brown or blue (or both) coloured eyes. Malamute ears are set further apart and stick out to the sides slightly. Husky ears are closer together and stick straight up. Mals have broader, rounder heads; sibes have more "fox-like" heads. If you look as a malamute's head from the side there is mostly straight line down to the muzzle; huskies have a pronounced "step" down to the muzzle. Mals have a slightly longer coat that stands up a bit more. Mals' feet are large and compact. They can be round or pointed. Huskies have slightly more cat-like feet. Malamutes tend to hold their tails up; husky tails hang down. Malamutes are more mellow and laid back than huskies (in general). Malamutes are not likely to climb over fences (like huskies) but they are both likely to dig under. Malamutes need long, long walks. Huskies need to RUN. Malamutes are more people friendly, less dog friendly; huskies are slightly more aloof with people and have fewer problems with dog aggression. Malamutes are calculating; huskies are clever. At about 6 months, my puppy looked remarkably like a full grown husky. He is now quite a lot bigger than even a large husky, but I still spend a fair amount of time explaining the differences to people. Although Malamutes are becoming more common in the UK, most people still think they are huskies.
Malamutes shed a lot. A top quality vacuum cleaner and lint rollers are an absolute must in any malamute household. You will get hair everywhere: in your food, on your clothes, in your mouth, everywhere. Malamutes are said to be seasonal shedders, meaning they "blow" their coats twice a year, once in spring to blow the winter coat and once in autumn to blow the summer coat. Each lasts a period of several weeks to several months. The spring shed is worse. During these periods daily brushing is essential and massive amounts of hair come off your dog. At other times of the year, brushing 1-2 times a week is recommended.
In general, Malamutes are remarkable clean dogs. They do not need regular baths. 1-2 per year is often sufficient. For the most part, letting mud dry followed by a though brushing cleans malamutes as well as a bath would clean other breeds. When my malamute was young, he disliked mud and went out of his way to avoid deep mud on our walks. He would stick his toes in water, but he did not like to swim or get more than his paws wet. This behaviour is not uncommon for the breed. However, one day he was playing with some of his Labrador friends and "discovered" water. Now I have a hard time keeping him out of it; although he still dislikes water deep enough that he can't touch the bottom. My malamute will frequently clean himself like a cat would. I haven't given my boy a bath in months, but people often remark how clean he looks and how nice he smells. Visitors often comment how the house doesn't smell like "dog."
Nails should be clipped regularly and teeth brushed daily (or as often as you remember). The only acceptable cutting of fur is trimming the fur between the paw pads. Particular care should be made in winter to trim the paw fur because snow and ice can cake in the fur and cause problems for the dog. Untrimmed paw fir also creates a breeding ground for bacteria. In addition, trimming the paw fir helps prevent the dog from excessive sliding on hard indoor floors.
Malamutes are remarkably efficient in their food use. They need only a fraction of the amount of food of other breeds their size. Care should be taken not to over feed malamutes. I tend to go through about 15kg of high quality food per month. They tend to be "chow" dogs and free feeding is not recommended. Malamutes have notoriously sensitive stomachs. Grain allergies are extremely common. Many are also lactose intolerant. Mine was allergic to his first food (most likely to maize). He developed a severe skin rash. I switched him onto a lamb and rice formula. His rash cleared up, but he was significantly underweight and had runny poo. I had to mix the food with plain boiled rice just to keep his weight stable. I finally switched him onto a fish and potato food that was formulated for sensitive tummies. He has done well on this diet and is now a healthy weight. Many malamutes do well on a fish based food. I suppose this makes sense since their natural diet was primarily seal. Another option many malamute owners have found works well is feeding a raw diet. I should mention, most malamutes do fine with veggies and meat scraps. Their sensitive stomach seems limited mostly to grains.
There are a variety of activities to do with your malamute. Obviously sledding is a popular option. A single malamute can pull a person on a sled. Doubles are also popular. Other activities include weight pulling, cani-x (running with your dog in harness), bike joring (cycling with your dog), and backpacking. Malamutes are not particularly good at agility or competitive obedience.
Malamutes are not considered to be great barkers. That said, my malamute does occasionally bark once or twice, most often during play. More often they howl or talk to you. Woo, wooing is common. He occasionally makes a very high pitched whine when he wants something (to be let out, his dinner, to go on a walk, etc). Our puppy's first night at home was an experience. He screamed like a banshee all night. It sounded like a woman was being murdered. I couldn't believe such a loud sound could come out of that puppy. He was quite vocal at our first puppy class as well. Thankfully that did not last long. He does still occasionally like to make a racket when I'm on the telephone. The more important the call the louder he will be. When he was young he served as a morning alarm clock, making a fuss until we came downstairs and let him out. However, as he got older he took after me more and more and now can be incredibly lazy on weekend mornings preferring to lounge on the couch having his belly rubbed.
I am sorry this was so long. When you get your first malamute you enter a new world. All the other dogs you've owned don't prepare you for this breed. They are a daily joy and a daily challenge. Multiple times over the past year I've questioned my sanity at getting a Malamute. They can be so big, strong, and stubborn. They don't have time to be badly behaved puppies. They must learn very young to walk on the lead without pulling and to never, ever jump up on people. People aren't going to give you "he's only a puppy" forgiveness if he weighs half as much as you (or more) and is bigger than a full grown lab at 5 or 6 months. That said, I will have difficulty ever picking another breed. They are amazing dogs and incredibly intelligent. The learn quickly (when they want to).