The Alaskan Malamute

YESTERDAY

The Alaskan Malamute evolved from the ancient dogs that accompanied prehistoric man in his migrations from Asia, across the Arctic to Greenland and back. The migrations, covering thousands of years also produced a natural evolution of species that varied from the long coated varieties found in Greenland to the lesser coated, longed legged varieties found in the forest and lake areas of northern Canada.

 

Early Russian and English explorers often reported a superior and better kept type of work dog kept by the “Mahlemut” (Malemiut, Mahlmuit, Malemuit) tribes around the Norton Sound area of Alaska. They were less “wild”, more tractable and capable of an enormous amount of work.

 

It must be kept in mind that these were work animals. They were used in hunting seals, were set loose in packs to course the polar bear, and to haul heavy sledges or pack in supplies. Although treated with fondness and exceptional care, there was no room for “pets” on the cruel ice packs and tundra.

 

With the Gold Rush, the demand for pack and sled dogs brought into Alaska all types of breeds that could survive the weather. Soon, especially near the populated areas, the dogs were quite a mixture of breeds and quality. One had to travel many days inland, out of the gold country to find any semblance of the original Alaskan sled dogs. Due to their relative isolation, the dogs of the “Mahlemuts” remained fairly “pure”, but they too suffered from the inroads of civilization.

 

“Chinook Kennels” established by Arthur T. Walden and later by Milton and Eva Seeley, in New Hampshire, was one of the main sources for sled dogs used in the Byrd Antarctic expeditions in the early thirties. The Seeley's began a program to reproduce those dogs that were typical of the dogs found in the Norton Sound area. “Kotzebue” applies to the strain of Alaskan Malamutes at Chinook Kennels established by the Seeley's.

 

A slightly different strain was developed by Paul Voelker, Sr., and Paul Voelker, Jr., with dogs they brought from Alaska in the early 1900's and later in the 1920's. These were generally known as the “M'Loot” strain, named after the kennel established by the Voelker's. Some of these dogs saw service in both World War I and World War II, and with Admiral Byrd's second expedition. Ralph and Marcheta Schmitt, of Silver Sled Kennels, purchased some of the Voelker dogs and further established the “M'Loot” strain.

 

These two terms, “Kotzuebue” and “M'Loot” are often used to describe the genetic background of the present day Malamute, whether the current dogs resemble their ancestors or not.

 

The Alaskan Malamute Club of America, Inc.

Through the efforts of a handful of admirers of the breed, the first standard of The Breed was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1935. Interest spread through New England, and the Chicago area, south to Virginia and soon quite a following was established. These early breeders and exhibitors often got together to compare notes and exchange information pertaining to the breed as well as keep track of the dogs around the country. This soon led to the establishment of the Alaskan Malamute Club of America, Inc.

 

The AMCA is known as the “parent” club of the breed and is the guardian of the breed standard and the breed itself. Through the efforts of the breed club, programs for the furtherance and improvement of the breed have been established. In 1978, the AMCA roster included over 900 members from all 50 states, Canada, Mexico, Europe and Asia. The Alaskan Malamute has become truly an international breed whose foundations began in North America.

 

TODAY

The Malamute has had a distinguished career in accompanying Arctic and Antartic explorers. His howl has been heard by the “midnight sun” at both poles. Today the Malamute's main occupation is pal and companion to thousands who have one as a family pet. A growing number have found themselves as part of a “recreational” sled dog team consisting of one, three or as many as seven or more dogs. An event that is becoming increasingly popular is weight pulling a project of local clubs and specialty shows. Many are shown in American Kennel Club Conformation Shows, or compete in AKC Obedience Trials. Of over one hundred breeds and varieties recognized by the American Kennel Club, the Alaskan Malamute ranks about thirtieth in number registered.

 

You and the Alaskan Malamute

Thinking of Buying an Alaskan Malamute?

If you are the type of person that cannot tolerate a bit of dog hair around the house, cannot cope with the disappearance of prized plants and flowers from the garden, or feels that a dog must be a “free spirit”, then consider another breed. The Alaskan Malamute is NOT for you! Should you be seeking a devoted companion, awaiting your beck and call, one that will defend your life and property, play gently with all guests and friends, then seek elsewhere. The Alaskan Malamute is still a powerful, independent dog, willing to work if necessary; will, with proper training and firm but gentle persuasion become a good, if not model citizen and member of your family. Some Malamutes have earned the highest degrees in Obedience Trials, but these were unusual dogs with unusual trainers and owners. The average Malamute will do as little as it has to and is generally resistant to “home training”. Considering the size and power of these dogs, you must be willing to take the time, money and effort to properly train and raise your pet or serious and disastrous results could happen. A Malamute that owns a person is not a joy to live with. Their great love of people and disdain for small animals makes them neither a good guard dog nor a reliable companion for the small family pet. There are many more sad stories of disas ter than the occasional nice stories of pets “adopted” by Malamutes.

 

On Choosing a Puppy

(also see Checklist for choosing a puppy)

Selecting a puppy takes as much care as selecting any long-term purchase. The average Malamute lives to between ten and fifteen years of age. Unless you are knowledgeable of dogs and northern dogs in particular, you must rely on the breeder of the puppy. His experiences should help match up a pup that will fit into your life-style and will grow up to meet your expectations. The puppies that you look at should be energetic and friendly; they should have bright inquisitive eyes, shiny coats, though they may be a little soiled from playing with their litter mates. The puppies should have all the “shots” relative to their age. They should be willing to play on invitation and not hang back nor resist being handled. Your heart may go out to that little shy one in the corner, but as it grows up it could break it too.

 

On Choosing a Breeder

(see also How do I know I've found an experienced and knowledgeable breeder? and Where to find your Alaskan Malamute)

The AMCA Secretary has a list of members (also see AMCA Breeders' Listing) that occasionally have puppies in your area. Often, all-breed clubs or veterinarians can direct you to someone “in” the breed. Although none of these sources can be considered “endorsements”, they are a place to start. The breeders that you contact should be willing to discuss and have knowledge of the parents of the pups. They should be able to tell you about the various bloodlines behind the dog. The reputable, knowledgeable breeders of pure-bred dogs have litters available only occasionally and then only when they are improving their own lines or have reservations for puppies in advance. The breeder should be able to produce evidence that his or her breeding stock is free of such inherited problems such as canine hip dysplasia, Chondrodysplasia, bad temperament, eye problems, etc. The breeder should be willing to answer your questions (see What do I ask a breeder?) to your satisfaction and offer guidance as to the care and training of the dogs in general. The difference between so-called “show” quality and “companion” quality is not of major concern unless you genuinely are planning to enter the expensive and frustrating world of dog showing and/or breeding. Here the breeder's guidance must be relied upon. Usually the conversation will turn towards the discussion of an older dog, since it is difficult to know exactly how a dog will mature until about two or three years of age. The advantage of pure-bred dogs and careful breeding is in predictability, but only time will produce quality with certainty. The reliable breeder will continue to show concern and interest even after the sale of a puppy He will make himself available to answer your questions and give useful advice if possible. The “puppy producer's” interest is over after the sale. Don't be offended by some of the questions that the breeder might ask of you. He has an interest in the puppy that you are seeking out and wants to assure himself that he is choosing a good home just as you are trying to assure yourself that you are obtaining a quality puppy.

 

Physical Appearance

The Alaskan Malamute is a fine example of evolution of a breed developed for a particular purpose; and, as such, must be capable of performing the job for which the breed was originally used. Arctic explorers were in need of an animal that would be capable of pulling heavy sledges loaded with supplies for weeks on end without negative effects of the daily strain. They needed an animal for a specific job, and the Alaskan Malamute capably fulfilled the requirements. These characteristics have been preserved by conscientious breeding programs so that, theoretically, today's Malamutes are able to do the same job as that of their forefathers. The Alaskan Malamute's coat is an example of the breed's specific development. It is a double coat, having a dense, woolly undercoat as well as a thick, coarse guard coat. The undercoat provides adequate protection from even the harshest weather conditions. Since it is thick and woolly (as defined in the Standard of the Breed), it is able to trap air warmed by the dog's body in much the same way as “insulated underwear” keeps us warm on the chilliest of days. It is this dense undercoat that supports the guard coat in such a way as to give it a full standoffish appearance, which is a breed characteristic. The guard coat actually protects the undercoat as a nylon park and ski pants protects us over our woolen “long johns” in the winter. Snow and wind are deflected off of the guard coat which has a coarse texture, as described in the Standard. The hair is noticeably longer around the neck of the Malamute in order to offer maximum protection for the dog's face. In understanding the basic principles of the proper Malamute coat, it is easy to see why the long, soft guard hair, coupled with a lack of dense undercoat does not protect the dog as the aforementioned proper coat can. The color of the coat is not nearly as important as the texture and density. Malamutes have quite a color range, as is evident by the “Descriptive Color and Marking Code” that is approved by the AMCA. Though it is most common to see dogs of the grey and white type or the black and white type, this does not mean that the reds or whites are “rare” or “undesirable”. White is the only solid color allowed in the breed. All other colors must have white undersides, and must be accented by white markings on the face, chest. and legs. The Standard of the Breed calls for a “desired freighting size” of 25 inches at the shoulder and a weight of 85 pounds for males; for females, 23 inches and 75 pounds. It is, however, not uncommon to see Malamutes either larger or smaller than these desired freighting sizes. In considering size, one must at all times remember why the Malamute was originally bred. The dog had to exert constant physical effort, and yet require a relatively small amount of food. A dog much larger than that defined in the Standard would require more food just to stay alive than would be allowed for the amount of weight to be pulled! A dog much smaller than that called for in the Standard would not be capable of putting forth enough physical effort to enable it to pull the loaded sledge for a long distance over many days. Thus, the basis for the sizes in the Standard is simply efficiency. The general appearance of the Alaskan Malamute should be that of a powerfully built dog with a broad, deep chest, large bone and a broad head. None of these characteristics should be carried to such an extreme that the qualities are out of proportion with the rest of the dog. Adequate bone is needed, but not to the extent that the bone is so large that it makes the dog seem awkward and inefficient. The same is true of the head. Though it should be large and somewhat blocky in appearance, it should not be so heavy as to give a coarse or clumsy look. The head should have a wide skull with a thick muzzle having well muscled jaws. The ears, however, should be small in proportion to the rest of the head. Long extremities would be prone to frostbite. The almond shaped eyes must be brown, never blue. All these features help to blend the head in with the rest of the body, exhibiting a powerfully build dog without being ponderous. The Alaskan Malamute should give the impression of an efficiently functioning animal, balanced and compact with the strength and physical capabilities needed for endurance. It is truly extraordinary that one is able to combine such physical aptitude with such a remarkably beautiful appearance, but this has been accomplished in the Alaskan Malamute an extraordinary and remarkable breed.

 

Temperament

Malamutes are not from the same mold as the typical dog in both some positive and some negative respects. Malamutes are lively and alert to their surroundings They are intelligent but often independent by nature. Because of this, it is recommended that the new owner enlist his dog in formal obedience classes to develop discipline and proper social behavior. Training may be the difference between a problem dog and an enjoyable companion. While resembling wolves, they are not closely related. Malamutes are generally friendly and desirous of human affection and attention. Malamutes usually are too friendly to be good watch dogs, although their appearance often is intimidating to strangers. Malamutes definitely are not one-man or one-family oriented. They generally should get along as well as any breed with children; but, of course, the children should not be allowed to abuse the dog. Alaskan Malamutes are good listeners and can carry on a conversation by “talking” (not barking) in “woo-woos”. Malamutes will generally howl upon hearing sirens, as it they were answering a long, lost cousin in the distance. Usually malamutes are one of the quieter breeds, making noise only if there is a good reason. Because of their size and strength, Malamutes can be fairly destructive by chewing and digging, particularly as puppies. Therefore, the removal of temptation and a vigilant watch are effective precautions. While Malamutes from puppyhood can be successfully raised with the existing family dog or cat, they usually are not tolerant of strange animals with which they come into contact. The responsible owner should have his dog under control in a fenced yard or on a leash; thus, not creating a problem. The Malamute has his own unique personality with virtues and vices which make him such an interesting comparion for many people.

 

Training

From the beginning when Malamutes were used as sled dogs, an independent nature was often important. The Malamute sometimes could follow the trail or determine ice conditions better than its owner. The wise musher often would put much faith in the experienced dogs to make decisions. Even today, the Malamute has this independent temperament; some call it stubbornness or even a lack of intelligence. Actually, the Malamute is fairly intelligent but needs to be motivated. It needs to see a benefit for itself to behave as its owner would like. Often praise from the master is not sufficient motivation. Fortunately, the Malamute is not above taking food bribes which can produce amazing results. Training must be consistent with the wrong behavior always receiving correction and proper behavior always receiving praise and suitable reward. Timing is extremely important. Correct only when the pup is caught in the act; never correct for a past misdeed. Patience is a must with a puppy as it learns how to be a good member of the household with the owner's guidance. Never get angry but apply the proper discipline firmly and fairly. Housebreaking is one of the first items to be taught. There are two approaches. First is to paper train the pup, and as it becomes older and can control itself (about four months), transfer the papers outside. While paper training can be taught as young as six weeks of age, it is sometimes difficult to get the pup to forget about the original location of the papers. Second is to teach housebreaking directly outdoors by taking the pup out often; especially after it eats, drinks, plays, wakes up after a nap, etc. A portable metal dog crate, which can become the pup's den, would be an aid in housebreaking as dogs usually do not like to soil their personal area where they rest and sleep. Thus, if the pup is placed in its crate when left unattended, it will try to wait. Leash training can be frustrating initially, but regular practice will usually prevail. A short cord, but long enough for the pup to trip over, can quicken this learning. Obviously it is easier to train a small pup than a full grown adult, so it is recommended that formal obedience training begin at an early age. It has been proven that training a pup will produce maximum results if it has not had a chance to develop bad habits. Many dog training clubs offer kindergarten classes for pups two to four months old. Formal obedience training classes are recommended for the basic exercises such as “heeling”, “come on command”, “stays”, etc. This training also helps the dog to learn self-discipline. The owner will understand his/her dog better, learning the dog's abilities and limitations. Often obedience training develops a closer bond between the owner and dog.

 

Environment, Feed and Care

Although the Alaskan Malamute was originally developed in the Arctic, it adapts well to many climates. Likewise, they adapt well to indoor as well as outdoor living arrangements. When kept outdoors your Malamute will require shade from the sun and shelter from the elements. There must always be fresh water available. This is an active breed which requires daily exercise; i.e., a large fenced area. If this is not available, your Malamute should be taken for daily walks. Lack of exercise, play and attention leads to a bored Malamute who may choose alternative means of entertainment; including chewing some favored articles. Your dog should be taught at two to four months of age how to walk on a loose lead, to come when called and to stay. These simple commands will make him a more welcome member of the family and may one day even save his life. Malamutes are generally “people dogs”; and, as such, they enjoy the company and affection of a family. They are good with children, but children must be taught how to handle and behave around dogs, especially puppies. A Malamute grows quickly in the first year, and one might easily forget that the dog's joints and bones are still soft and susceptible to permanent damage if treated too roughly. Also, behavior patterns (begging, taking food, biting even in play) are established in the first year, and these can be difficult to correct later. Children and puppies should be supervised together and should be taught to respect one another. The Malamute's dense, oily coat stays relatively clean under normal conditions. After a romp in the mud, it is not uncommon to see a Malamute cleaning his coat in a cat-like fashion. Even so, your Malamute will require regular combing and brushing for the benefit of cleaning the coat, stimulating the secretion of natural skin oils, removing dead hair, and examining for parasites (ticks and fleas) or skin irritations. A Malamute will “blow coat” (shed out his old hair in preparation for new growth) twice a year. A steel-toothed comb or wire-bristled brush will help to remove the dead hair. Bathing is seldom required, and the regular grooming (at least once a week) will keep the dog's coat clean and beautiful, as well as allowing master and dog a quiet time together. Grooming procedures (including cleaning the ears and clipping the nails) should be started with the veryyoung puppy. Gentle grooming for short periods of time will accustom your dog to the routine, and he will look forward to and enjoy the grooming sessions.Feeding a Malamute is easy, since the dog food companies have truly become the experts on canine nutritional needs. A brand name dry food will contain all the nutritional needs of the dog, possibly with the exception of fats. Polyunsaturated fats (one tablespoon) will supplement this requirement. If changing brands of dog food, do not suddenly substitute with the new food. Instead, gradually add increasing amounts of the new food with the old until the change is complete. Table scraps are not a suitable diet and should not be used to constitute a whole meal, though they may be added in small amounts, approximately 10%, to the dog's dinner. The amount of food each dog requires is determined by size, age, and level of activity. Young puppies are usually fed three times a day, while an adult needs only one meal a day. Despite their size, an adult Malamute has modest dietary needs. Some owners choose to feed their Malamute two small meals to lessen the chance of bloat, a tragedy which can affect all large, deep chested breeds. Provide plenty of fresh water at all times, especially in warm weather, and remember to clean all feed and water bowls daily.

 

Canine Hip Dysplasia and Chondrodysplasia

These are two inherited conditions that affect the bone structure in the Malamute. Hip Dysplasia affects all large breeds and although it is well known and documented, there is still much controversy about its mode of inheritance and the effect that the environment has on this crippling disease. The extent of the malformation of the hip joint can vary from the clinically obvious lameness and pain, to the subtle radiographic evidence which can only be detected by trained radiologists. The central clearing house for reading the x-rays is the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, Inc. Dogs x-rayed at two years of age or older will be issued a serialized OFA certificate if there is no evidence of hip dysplasia. Although most breeders will at least guarantee replacement should your dog be dysplastic, it is important for you to be aware of this genetic problem prior to purchasing a puppy. It is a difficult decision to return a dog for replacement after having become a part of the family for a year or so. Take the time to discuss this with your veterinarian, and obtain booklets on the subject. The AMCA has an excellent one. Do this before you make your final selection. Chondrodysplasia or CHD is commonly referred to as “dwarfism”. It is inherited in a simple recessive manner; and therefore, carriers and potential carriers can be identified. The AMCA has set up a huge file of statistically potential and non-potential CHD carriers. The malformation is usually quite evident at a young age, and affects the proper growth of the long bones of the front legs. Under the AMCA program, dogs that have a certain percentage probability of being a carrier, due to their ancestry, are recommended for “test mating”. This is a breeding with another individual who is known to carry the genes the produce the deformity. Under carefully monitored conditions, these testing matings are monitored and if all conditions are favorable, the dog in question is then “Certified Test-Bred Clear”. These conditions are not easy for the average prospective owner to meet; so, therefore it is much better to obtain your new Malamute from “CLEARED” parents. More detailed information can be obtained by clicking on the link above.

 

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