Category Archives: Alaskan Malamute

How To Train Alaskan Malamute Dogs

How To Train Alaskan Malamute Dogs
Source: audrey kirchner

Alaskan Malamutes: About The Breed

Before we take a look at how best to train an Alaskan malamute, the topic of the specifics about this remarkable breed must be addressed. In order to train a malamute, one must understand this ancient breed’s background and inherent behaviors.

Malamutes are one of the oldest working breeds and one of the most intelligent group of canines you will ever encounter. That said, when training a malamute, you must never expect them to be like your old black lab, Molly who was content to please you at every turn and who seemingly artlessly learned commands she never forgot.

The Alaskan malamute is known for several traits and it is the wise owner who knows these traits from the beginning. It will make training for you both much simpler. The mal is best known (sometimes only known) for its pack behavior. Whether people like it or not, these dogs are used to a pack hierarchy mentality and in order to communicate with them and get them to obey you, there must be a human alpha.

That extends to every part of the human family that comes into contact with the dog. This alpha position is earned by the smart owner who knows how to keep the malamute in line and garners that essential position of respect through actions and interactions with the dog.

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Malamute Training Challenges

Socialization and training for the malamute can be a bit of a challenge especially if you are not dealing with a pup. However, even starting out as a puppy in dog training classes, as the mal matures, depending on circumstances, he or she can exhibit behaviors of dominance. This does not mean that the dog is abnormal in any way. It simply means that the hereditary behavior characteristics of the dog make it more difficult to get along in a society of dogs that are not of the same temperament or “way of thinking.”

If you decide to train your malamute with the idea that once trained, he or she will be 100% dependable to go to dog parks and/or run off-leash and play like other dogs, think again. In most cases, this just doesn’t happen. It doesn’t mean again that the dog is aggressive or defective. It simply means that this breed needs more structure than most. The key is to train the dog for the situations that do work and get he or she to behave at all times but without the illusion that the malamute will behave like other dog breeds.

Boredom is perhaps the greatest challenge in training an Alaskan malamute. This extends beyond the norm of boredom from not enough exercise, socialization, etc. A malamute is one of the most stubborn breeds you can ever deal with but again, with their high degree of intelligence, if you don’t keep the training interesting, you’ll be just as frustrated as they are. They will adopt the “dumb” face and act like they do not know what in the world you want from them so always keep it interesting. And if you aren’t in the mood to train your mal, don’t do it. Wait until a time when you are going to be fully engaged in the training with the dog because believe me, they will know a half-hearted attempt a mile away.

Remember that all members of the dog’s family must be equal participants in its training. That doesn’t mean that children should be training the dog, however. Remember that these dogs are wickedly big for the most part and small children should never be expected to “handle” these dogs or enforce behaviors. However, including children in the teaching is an excellent way to maintain the dog’s “low spot” on the totem pole and convey the fact that the dog is not the alpha in the household. Participation with and respect for children in (and out of) a malamute’s home are essential pieces of the puzzle that must be addressed to make living with this dog breed workable for all.

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Commands to Teach a Malamute

When training any breed of dog, the goal is to selectively pick out the most important things you want them to know or the commands you feel are top priority for your mal to respond to. In determining those, you will need to have a laundry list of activities that you plan on doing with your dog. Then base the teaching of commands around those activity potentials so when the time comes, you and the dog will be ready and you will have a greater chance for success.

When we got two of our malamutes as puppies, we decided for instance that we would walk them a lot because they need exercise and lots of it. We decided we would walk them in busy places and we would occasionally sit outside and eat meals at cafes or drink lattes with them in tow. They therefore have to possess very good manners.

We also planned on bikejoring or scootering, snow shoeing and backpacking/hiking with them, so there of necessity needed to be some mushing commands taught. We added those to our list.

Our dogs are also part of our family and we happen to have a lot of friends and family who visit, some with dogs. We also travel everywhere with at least two of our mals so in addition to all the above commands, they needed to be taught manners in the car and traveling behaviors.

Our malamute need-to-know list included:

Teaching the Sit Command

Start with the dog in front of you while you are standing or sitting.
Have a piece of kibble in your hand and slowly move the kibble from the dog’s nose backward over his or her head.
Their natural inclination will be to follow the kibble and they will “naturally” sit as they watch it go over their head and their body has to sit.
Just as the butt hits the floor and they are in the sit position, give the command sit.
Repeat many times and then leave it alone.
Randomly issue the command (with and without kibble) and keep practicing.

After you’ve taught your malamute this command, it’s easy to move on to the next logical command which is the down command. Simply extend the command by using the kibble, lowering it slowly from the dog’s nose, between the dog’s front legs to the floor. As soon as the dog is spread on the floor, say the command down.

Now move on to leave it from there or wait (putting it on the floor in front of them and not allowing them to take it until you say so) or the roll command or a variety of other commands.

Basic Obedience and Behavior Commands

Sit – good anywhere and easy to teach – see inset
Down – also good anywhere and harder to teach a mal
Wait – applies everywhere from going out a door to attacking their food
Stay – much like the wait only for longer periods of time
(Dog name) come – priceless – they must come to you immediately
Drop it – this can save a life – drop that poisonous bottle you picked up
Off – off the bed, off people, off the furniture
Leave it – do not even think about touching that or going after it
Out – out of the car, out the door
Spin – for fun and amusement – teaches them balance and makes them think
Hold or stand – works for exams or grooming – stand up
Roll – great for exams and brushing or grooming
Shake – just for fun – both paws – or together for more fun
Quiet! (good luck) – just because but some are more talkative than others
Go get it – playing fetch – some will do it
Bring it – bringing it back – some will do it
On by – go past someone or dogs – great for close quarters
Up – for jumping in the car into the crate or on a low table (or their chair)

Simple Musing Commands for Mals

Whoa – stop!
Gee – turn right
Haw – turn left
Giddy up or let’s go – pour on the steam – run
Over – move over to the side of the trail or road

That might seem like a long list but working down the list some, though similar, are unique to certain situations and others are usable anywhere and any time. Most are geared towards safety of the dog and safety of others. And some are just plain fun.

Malamutes like other breeds do have a humorous side and enjoy some activities just for fun. The important thing to remember is never to have an activity that overstimulates the dog or feeds into aggressive behavior. For instance, tug-of-war could get out of hand with the wrong malamute.

All training should be done with the idea in mind that the owner is alpha and the session begins and ends with him or her being in charge…period.

Training a Malamute Puppy

Obviously, life is much simpler when you start training a malamute as a puppy. It isn’t easy but it is easier than trying to teach an old dog new tricks…literally. However, it can be done. My oldest mal is a rescued malamute who was abused and over the course of a year, I was able to train her very well. It did take an inordinant amount of patience, however, as she fought me every step of the way.

The most important point to remember with training any dog but especially malamutes is to always end on a high note. The high note means you win, not them. Sometimes in the course of a training session, in fact almost always, if you require a mal to do a command more than once, you will meet with resistance. Or they will become very creative in the way that they execute that command. For instance, sit becomes a down, etc.

The key is to keep it ever-changing. Take them to the park to train them one day, take them out in the garage the next day. Never do the same routine of commands exactly the same way. Mix it up and interject some play time in between. You will accomplish the same objective, but you will do it without going one on one with what I like to call the malamute frozen brain. When they decide they are done with something, it is a trial to get them to keep moving in the direction you want them to go. I have found though that as long as I end up “getting my way” that is all that matters and it never hurts to throw some distraction into the mix.

Where to start with training?

I consider the first few items on the basic command list vital to their safety and mine. I have to know that they will sit if someone small or frail walks in the door or someone approaches suddenly around a corner with a very small dog. It is self preservation for them and since I’m attached to the leash or they are in my circle, for me.

If I feel that they need to down in order to maintain self control, this command is also vital to their safety and my peace of mind.

Most important of all is the recall command. I carry treats on my person at all times and randomly call one or all the dogs to me wherever I am. I try and do it from far away as well as close by. They do not always get a treat but just as randomly as I invite them to come to me as soon as I call, I also randomly give them treats for obeying on a dime.

Another great teaching tool is meal time. Malamutes should be taught from the beginning that when a command is issued, they need to look the person issuing it in the eye. This is a form of dominance and lets them know that you mean business. Before our dogs are allowed to come in for their dinner, they are required to sit at the door calmly and quietly while the door is opened wide. They must look whoever is feeding them in the eye and hold that gaze for several seconds. They are released only after the feeding person is comfortable with releasing them. They then go to their bowl and are not allowed to just eat. They sit at their bowl and then are given a command or two – to down or sit or both. They are told to wait. Then they are released with “okay” so that they may gobble up their food.

Little encounters like the above reinforce what you want from your malamute and says clearly to them “this is what I expect from you if you want to eat.” They understand this kind of relationship and it is a pretty effortless way to reinforce commands that they know.

We use all kinds of commands throughout our interaction with them at all times of the day and in all situations. The important thing to remember is that if you issue a command, it must be followed; not 60% of the time, not 80% of the time but 100% of the time. If your mal gets away with disobeying or ignoring you once, he or she will do it repeatedly because he or she does not feel you have earned their respect.

If you tell your dog to down and he or she refuses, you must physically help him or her to assume the position and stay there until released. This does not mean that you have to manhandle or wrestle a 40 pound puppy or a 100 pound adult male. You simply make it work by using a treat or using whatever means you feel appropriate (except physically hurting the dog by kicking, hitting, beating, etc.) to get the dog into the position that you commanded and then releasing the dog when you are ready, not when the dog is ready.

Failure to make a dog of any breed follow through on a command is trainer suicide. You are wasting your time (and the dog’s) if you do not intend to have them follow the command…and the first time. In the beginning, you may have to issue the command more than once, but try not to do that if at all possible. Once should be the rule and then wait for it to be obeyed; if not obeyed in reasonable time, assisted obeyance should follow immediately.

Training the Adult Malamute Dog

At roughly 8 months to 2 years, your malamute no matter how well trained will go through a period I like to refer to as “my brain is in the mail.” They somehow decide that their masters know nothing and they become much like teenagers, wanting to do things their own way and in their own sweet time. This is the time when it is essential for the mal owner to be consistent and reinforce commands each and every time. When they do receive their brain in the mail at 2 years old, it all begins to click in and they do resign themselves to the fact that much as they would like to be in an alpha position, they didn’t make the cut.

When training a malamute, you have to apply what you know about the breed and then balance that with what you are trying to accomplish. You can have the most well trained malamute on the planet and you still will probably not want the dog roaming in an open pasture hoping that he or she will respond to you when you give the recall command. More than likely, your beautiful malamute will take off after rodents or the neighbor’s cat or as mine have, simply disappear into the hills. This is a story all too familiar with many malamute owners who regret ever trusting their dog off leash thinking that they were trained well enough to obey.

At some point, instinct can override training and it can result in tragedy. I’ve been warned by local police that because of the breed of my dogs, if they are loose and they do go after livestock or people’s pets, people here will shoot first and talk about it later. They would be within their rights to do so. The solution? I simply don’t allow my dogs to be at such high risk. It isn’t cruel and it isn’t setting my expectations too low. It’s just the reality of the situation. I try never to give them the opportunity to fail.

The same theory applies when it comes to dog parks. While as puppies we did frequent dog parks and did attend training classes, we simply don’t take chances there unless it is a class being taught by someone who deals with northern breeds and there are dog owners who can control their dogs.

Dog parks are one of the biggest setups for disaster when it comes to malamutes simply because by the time there is a problem, it can be too late. Usually it isn’t even the malamute’s “fault” but they have responded negatively to an aggressive dog who thinks it appropriate to take on a breed who is made for pack behavior. Aggression of any kind is received very poorly by a malamute. They don’t care if it’s a small dog or a huge dog. Our Griffin was bitten in the face by two tiny dogs at the dog park enough that it drew blood. He never forgot that. I have worked and worked with him but any sign of aggression from the smallest growl to out and out snarling sets him off. I thus avoid situations where I know he will be stressed to the point of overreacting. I can still train him without putting him face to face with aggressive dogs. We can pass them on the street and everyone is safe. Would I turn him loose and hope he does okay? No way!

One of the most frustrating things of having a well trained malamute is having people unknowingly undo all your hard work. Because a malamute is such a bright creature, he or she will go with the flow and take every liberty afforded him or her. For this reason, it’s important to convey your training techniques to family and friends. Remember that behavior is a learned thing and the bad behaviors one person allows them to get away with will carry over into other situations.

A good example of this is the approaching person squealing at the top of her lungs “Oh my Gawd…that is the most BEAUTIFUL dog – come HERE baby!” all the while she is enticing my 95 pound dog to jump up on her. There isn’t too much you can do about the person who doesn’t realize what she is doing (or undoing in this case) so I quickly assert myself and make the dog sit and stay. When I get the “Oh – it’s really okay – I just GOTTA hug this beautiful boy” I just politely say that he’s in training and he needs to listen to me and behave. Other people cannot assume the training (or untraining) of your dog, especially a malamute.

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Training Tools for Malamutes

I’ve given you a basic overview of how to train a malamute. It is by no means an easy task but it is a very rewarding task. Malamutes are one of the most intelligent dog breeds I’ve personally ever worked with. I take a great deal of pride in everything I’ve been able to teach my mals but it is never over. Training goes on for their entire lifetime.

If you find that your dog is not responding as you think it should, enlist the help of a trainer. Read books, watch videos and get ideas on how to engage your dog. Usually it is simply a matter of finding what works. Griffin my 3-year-old is extremely food motivated. I can get him to do anything (including posing for photographs) with a kibble. My 1-year-old Gabby on the other hand is not interested at all in the kibble method. With her, I’ve had to up the ante a bit with more delectable treats just to get her to respond at first – until the behaviors become second nature.

Even all that said, because of their large size, I was not accomplishing what I wanted in terms of walking behaviors. There was too much pulling and distracted behavior going on for my tastes. So I enlisted the help of a local trainer.

We started first with a choke collar, then went to a pinch collar to reinforce commands, and finally when all else failed, we went to the e-collar. This is an electronic collar that delivers a pinch/small electronic pulse to the dog’s neck. The owner has a remote control that you administer the reprimand or the reward with. I had thought these collars barbaric but on trying one with my dogs, I wonder why it took me so long to come around to it.

The goal of the training, even the e-collar, is to simply get the malamutes to obey you. If all else fails and you find you do need some additional help, I feel that it is appropriate to employ whatever means it takes to keep the dogs under control. Malamutes out of control end up in shelters or euthanized. That is the pure and simple truth. Or they end up never seeing the light of day and being confined to their own backyards for their entire lives because people simply can’t deal with them.

That’s a lot of information but I do believe every word of it. I’ve had more than 10 years of training with my own mals from puppyhood to old age and I wouldn’t trade a bit of it. They are a fascinating dog breed and so full of life and joy that it’s hard to imagine my life without them. They are a gift that I cherish. However, much like children, these dogs definitely need a firm hand and a guiding hand to shape them into respectful, tolerable pets. As dog owners, that is the deal. We have to be the ones to teach them in the way that they must go. I guarantee if you keep that in mind, your walk with your mal through life will be one you will never forget and best of all, never regret.

How To Groom An Alaskan Malamute

How To Groom An Alaskan Malamute
See all 2 photos
Source: audrey kirchner

Grooming an Alaskan Malamute

Alaskan malamutes can be a challenging breed in many ways. This also includes grooming them.

Alaskan malamutes are one of the double coated breeds, which means that their coat is comprised of two different textures.

They have an outer or “guard” coat as well as having an undercoat which is downy soft and covers their entire body at skin level.

Add to that the fact that some malamutes are of the “wooly” variety, which means that they can have guard coat hairs up to 8-12″ in length, you can imagine that maintenance of their coat might prove worrisome to someone not familiar with the breed.

However, even though the malamute presents some quirks that are not common to other breeds, both in terms of temperament, training and even grooming, once you understand the mechanics and how to go about them, it becomes second nature.

Like most things that we do in life, also having the right equipment is essential to doing the best possible job.

Practice also makes perfect in grooming a mal with a generous dosing of patience on the groomer’s part. Don’t be surprised either if your malamute lets you know vocally how he or she is enjoying (or not enjoying) the experience.

Now let’s take a look at the best ways to groom an Alaskan malamute.

See all 2 photos
Three different kinds of malamute
Source: audrey kirchner

The Alaskan Malamute Coat

Alaskan malamutes come in many different sizes, shapes and colors. Surprisingly, all fur is not alike either. I happen to have three beautiful malamutes and not one is like the other in terms of coat or body build. While they do share similar traits in some respects, their coloring and more importantly, the type of fur they have, is unique.

Malamutes can come in black and white, browns, reds, and even a combination of these colors. Their coats range from the more “traditional” malamute fur which is still a double coat, but considerably shorter while some, like my Griffin, (shown above) come in the so-called wooly variety. The woolies are definitely the most difficult to groom.

Before showing you how to begin, it’s important to understand the basics about Alaskan malamute coats and how they evolved. Malamutes are an ancient breed of dog but a working breed. Their purpose was freight hauling, often in subzero temperatures. They were built to survive temperatures as low as 70 degrees below zero. Thus the development of the double coat. The double coat is made to keep heat in but it is also miraculously made to keep heat out.

So is it necessary to groom a malamute? In all truth, I have heard of people who do not groom their Alaskan malamutes per se. They just let them blow their coats (which they will do usually twice per year in spring and fall) and bathe or brush them as needed.

Interestingly, female malamutes will shed more often and longer, whereas males and older dogs shed less and blow their coat less often. As a personal testament, however, my wooly blows his coat faithfully and tremendously every spring to the point that (as you can see by the video below) we filled an entire Rubbermaid closet see-through container (probably 66 quarts at least) from one 3-hour session of brushing. And that was after he was professionally bathed and groomed.

Facts about malamute fur:

It is soft as a teddy bear – think of angora
Malamute fur is odorless
Dirt does not cling to malamute fur but dries and falls off
Their fur is so clean it can be used as wool and spun to make yarn
Too much bathing dries the malamute’s skin and is not recommended
Malamutes should NEVER be shaved
Change in light triggers shedding – usually spring and fall
Some mals love water and some do not – I have both varieties


Please watch the delightful video on bathing an Alaskan malamute. I only wish I had a setup like that to bathe mine. It would make life much simpler. The important thing to remember before bathing a malamute is to brush them thoroughly. It will help the overall process go a lot faster and result in fewer tangles.

Since I do not have groomer wash tubs and the only place we could comfortably wash our mals was in the bathtub, it started to make more sense to us to have them professionally bathed once or twice per year. It is a tremendous amount of work getting 95 and 80 pound dogs in and out of bathtubs and the most challenging part of all is keeping them in the tub, making sure that they have been thoroughly rinsed, and then cleaning up the giant mess that you have made afterwards!

That said, there are U-wash places that work very well. Just follow the techniques given below and make sure in all cases that the malamute is completely dried after bathing. Leaving wet fur on a malamute can severely irritate their skin and create hotspots, which they are not generally prone to. It can also create mold situations in their fur if neglected for too long.


Large bathtub preferrably one with lift and tie-offs to secure them
Nozzle or hose to reach all parts of the dog’s body with water
Shampoo (you can purchase specifically for double coated breeds)
Mixing container for shampoo
Cotton for cleaning ears and eyes or to insert during blow drying
Very large dry towels
Dog grooming blower or cattle dryer

The easiest way to wash a malamute is to have a large container that you can mix shampoo with water and shake vigorously to make certain it is well mixed. Apply shampoo mixture to the dog’s fur, starting at the back and working forward. Take time to gently scrub the soapy mixture into the dog’s fur completely. (You will be surprised how thin your dog looks when wet!)

Make sure you rinse with warm water thoroughly as the shampoo (especially in wooly breeds) is difficult to completely rinse out.

Apply conditioner if desired and massage thoroughly into the coat. This is a good time to apply a detangling solution as well but follow the manufacturer’s directions. Make sure if it needs to be rinsed after application that it is completely rinsed off. (I use hypoallergenic products on my dogs to prevent skin problems)

Now comes the fun part. Stand back and prepare to be soaked by all that shaking fur. Wrap the dog thoroughly in towels and dry as much as humanly possible.

Use of a dryer or blower is highly recommended as it is impossible to completely dry a malamute’s fur by simply towel drying. A commercial hair dryer will work but keep it on cool setting. Note that it will take a very long time by this method (and may burn up your hair dryer).


Well, the bath is complete and your malamute is beautifully cleaned and dried. So you’re done, right? Not so fast! The grooming has just begun. Especially for a wooly malamute, you should allow yourself hours if not days to finish the grooming job.

My groomer laughingly says to me every time Griffin is groomed that she can’t stand it. She brushes and brushes for hours, and there is still hair that needs to come off. Truer words were never spoken.


Metal comb
Pin brush
Hair cutting scissors
Slicker brush
Various rakes
Claw for detangling
Shedding blade (optional)
Nail clippers
Cotton and mineral oil for cleaning ears
Container for fur
Detangling leave-on solution if necessary (optional)
Furminator and/or attachment to vacuum (my dogs are not thrilled with these)

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You will notice that clippers are not listed here. I prefer to leave clippers out of the mix for my dogs unless it is absolutely necessary. Griffin developed a tremendous rash from a clipper experience and they were only used for “shaping” some of his fur. The Alaskan malamute has such a particular coat that being shaved or trimmed incorrectly can permanently affect how their coat grows back in. A “bad haircut” can end up destroying a malamute’s inherently beautiful coat and it will never be the same.

I find that the rakes work the best for taking off the most fur in the shortest period of time. However, have a caution using rakes when brushing over joints or sensitive areas on the dog’s body. As in all things canine, make sure that you have set aside ample time to accomplish your grooming task and that you are not rushed. I would say that it takes me at least an hour to groom my “regular fur” malamutes (and that is after a professional bath and blow out). If I was doing the entire bathing process and grooming myself, it would require at least twice as long.

For my wooly malamute, Griffin, I spent over three hours simply brushing and trimming up and that was after a professional groom and blow out…and he is still not done.

One way of grooming an Alaskan malamute is to concentrate on one area at each session. Malamutes are not notorious for being cooperative for long periods of time simply because they become bored with things easily. I do offer bones or things to chew on while I’m grooming Griffin, and I try and keep our sessions pretty short (maybe an hour at a time). Sometimes though it’s a several hour ordeal and we both just grin and bear it.

Some days I will do “manely” his mane (the area around his head and neck). Another day I will do his underside and belly which is a tremendous challenge because you have to watch for the tangles. Another day I’ll do legs and pantaloons and another day will be strictly reserved for his magnificent tail. The tail takes an extraordinary amount of time because it is much like the texture of horsehair.

I generally switch back and forth between bristle or pin brushes and rakes, using the claw sparingly and only for tangles, brushing away from the skin at all times. Gently brush the dog and if you encounter “pulling” or resistance, ease up as it means that the coat is not loosening up as quickly as it should. If you frighten the dog by yanking it out, the next grooming session will be a pain for both of you.

Finish off the grooming with a slicker brush run quickly and gently over the top surfaces. This tool can be used simultaneously with the shedding blade or interchangeably but be aware that these tools are just for getting the surface hair off, not truly addressing the undercoat hair.

Use hair cutting scissors to trim hair on feet and legs, even from between the pads of their feet. This keeps dirt and particles from getting in between. It also gives you a chance to trim their nails. Remember that nails should be trimmed every 2 weeks or so. Having nails that are too long actually makes dogs walk differently and they can strain muscles simply by having toenails that are too long.

When trimming nails, make sure you check for the “quick” in light colored nails and cut before that vessel (a red line in the nail itself). Cutting through this can result in bleeding and it does prove useful to have styptic powder or pencils in the event of an inadvertent cut. Dogs with black or dark nails are a bit harder to trim so err on the side of not taking much off at a time.

You can dry wash your malamute in between groomings if necessary but brushing is by far the most recommended way to groom your malamute in between actual grooming sessions. It keeps their fur alive and vibrant, and it helps get rid of excess dead hair. Malamutes actually shed into their fur rather than lose it so it does need to be pulled off in some fashion or another to help maintain their beautiful coat, which is but one of their wonderful attributes.

If your malamute is partial to developing “kling-ons” (specks of fecal material stuck to their pantaloon or rear end area fur), rakes work well to get these off but sometimes I find just a ltitle trip down to the hose in the backyard takes care of the problem.

How often to brush malamute? They should be brushed at least one or two times per week and during their shedding, especially if a wooly, daily. Of course, you also must not have an aversion to running the vacuum daily or investing in huge quantities of lint rollers and floor swiffers. Having tile or wood floors is highly recommended when you have malamutes.

Remember that the fur you pull off today may be donated to yarn shops throughout the country and used as dog wool. I found someone who was thrilled to receive soft, clean, beautiful fur from my three and she always has an order in for more.

If you have a puppy, begin grooming techniques at an early age to get the pup ready for the event later in life when it becomes more arduous (or they become more stubborn). It is far easier to train a puppy to enjoy grooming sessions than waiting until you have a 100 pound dog you are trying to “encourage” to relax and enjoy being made pretty.

Lastly, use quiet times like watching TV to simply brush your malamute. Once associated with the pleasure of someone’s company, it can make future grooming sessions go faster and easier.

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A lot can be said for what your dog eats long before he or she hits the grooming arena. Feeding a high quality, protein rich dog food is essential for malamutes. It builds muscle and strengthens their organs but it also helps them to have beautiful coats. One of the favorite characteristics of the Alaskan malamute is their regal bearing and their breathtaking coat. I would be rich if I had a dime for every person who says to me on a regular basis “Oh my god, what a beautiful dog.” As they say, beauty is only skin deep and the work must be done on the inside as well as the outside to keep them that way.

Nutritional supplements are also sometimes prescribed or recommended. Check with your vet or breeder to see which ones they recommend for your specific dog.

Some recommended add-ins:

Brewer’s yeast
Wheat germ
Cod liver oil
Coconut oil

For our dogs, we use kelp and coconut oil. We used fish oil but found that they had a harder time digesting that than coconut oil.

We feed our dogs a fish and sweet potato high quality, no fillers added dog food and feed twice per day rather than once per day.

We limit them in terms of people food (hardly ever) and treats and snacks (never unless they are high quality with no fillers). We use kibble as training treats.

Feed your dog well, follow the above grooming tips for the Alaskan malamute and appreciate your dog for the truly unique and gorgeous dog that he or she is. They may require more work than other dogs when it comes to many areas but I’ve always found mine to be worth all the time and effort.

Lastly, make sure that grooming is a special time for you and your dog and you will further cement the bond between dog and human and strengthen your relationship. I enjoy my “quality” time with my malamutes when I’m doing nothing more than brushing them simply because they mean so much to me. Grooming is part of ensuring that they are well cared for and as healthy as possible.

Is An Alaskan Malamute Dog Right For You?

Is An Alaskan Malamute Dog Right For You?

Alaskan Malamute: Is This The Right Dog For You?

What word pops on the Internet when you type in Alaskan Malamute or malamute? 

Rescue – that means that there are a whole lot of folks out there who do not know what they are getting into and turn these dogs over to someone else.

As a lover of malamutes – PLEASE take your time and think it through. Dogs, like people are not disposable and that is what happens more times than I would like to think on. Malamutes are one of the most misunderstood breeds out there. If folks just knew what to do with them – priceless to coin MasterCard’s catch phrase.

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Pictures by Audrey Kirchner Griffin and Denaya before scooter run

First And Foremost How Energetic Are You?

As a “veteran” owner of several malamutes spanning 10+ years, I can honestly say that this is the first question I have for folks who are considering getting a malamute. They are king of the working dogs and as such, have an inbred drive to DO something and need that as much as they need sustenance. They need to feel productive, and as an owner of a dog of this breed, you have to be aware of this going in or quickly come to realize it. Otherwise, your experience with dogs of this breed might prove frustrating to say the least!

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Our little Griffin (6 months)
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Malamutes require total interaction with family
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Denaya keeping watch

We’re A Lot Of Work But We Are Worth It If You Can Take It!

See all 5 photos
Training starts early in harness

These dogs are one of the friendliest breeds I have come across in my many decades of dog
worship and although they are not loyal to one particular person per
se, they are great family dogs. They are wonderfully social and
engaging dogs. There are many, many misconceptions about the artic
breeds and malamutes do sometimes get a terrible reputation for doing
poorly in families or in certain situations; I have found this to be
completely the opposite. Ours are happiest when anyone is paying
attention to them.

Another misconception is that the Alaskan malamute
is part of the wolf family. Alaskan malamutes were first introduced
into the AKC in 1935 and are one of the “natural breeds” meaning that
they were not created as a breed such as a labrador or a doberman for
instance. They are highly intelligent and social dogs but need above all
understanding of their underlying nature and many positive traits. I
have found in my dealings with the malamutes, they constantly surprise
me in their abilities and they mesmerize me with their knack at being
part of a unit. Their “work ethic” is unbelievable.

require a tremendous amount of work and let’s not forget patience! A
malamute by nature will try to be a dominant persona and if allowed that
privilege, the owner will of necessity no longer be the alpha, which is
the opposite of what needs to happen. A malamute needs
a strong alpha to depend on and that alpha must be human. They will
test the limits otherwise constantly and once control is lost, it is a
difficult thing to get back.

The next question for someone
contemplating adding a malamute to their household would be how much can
you think outside the box? How willing are you to realize that a
malamute needs constant stimulation and feedback from its owner and/or
its “pack” which is the family unit whatever that is comprised of? A
malamute is not a dog who will be content to sit outside unattended for
days at a time, although they truly are very independent and
self-reliant in many ways. However, social interaction is something that
they crave and without it, they look for ways to replace that which may
be repugnant to an owner.

At the very minimum, a malamute
must have a large yard and a fenced yard at that. The fence should be
quite high just in case they might be tempted to leap it in a single
bound. They need space to run and exercise themselves as they are by
nature extremely active dogs. They are of the working class of dogs and
thus need to have a “work product” on some level each and every day to
feel complete. Having a companion dog of the same nature has helped ours
tremendously because whereas our yard is not huge by any means, there
are many decks and sets of stairs that they can run about on and chase
each other over time and time again. They are obviously not kept
confined. They can also spend hours wrestling with each other as well,
which is a great way for them to get in their need for exercising.

most malamutes will still need extraneous help in fulfilling their work
needs plus they need the human socialization. Walking is a great form
and the most basic of all available to any of us. Daily walking or
running can be extremely beneficial to the malamute for burning off
excess energy. Taking them to dog parks can also be beneficial though
with this I would stress here the caveat that the malamute should have
demonstrated the ability to get along with other dogs before turning
them loose in a dog park! They are a pack breed and sometimes they can
be a bit of a challenge when socializing with other dogs if they have
not been previously tested in their ability to play rather than assuming
the role of alpha in a situation.

There are other forms of
working a malamute and will address those in another hub that are both
great for the malamute and good for the owner. Again, it all depends on
how much you want to do with your dog and if you have chosen a malamute,
it almost becomes a necessity to have some form of exercising
interaction that works for you both.

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Living with Alaskan Malamutes

Living with malamutes can be the most rewarding experience in the world and conversely, it can be one of the most frustrating ones you will ever encounter if you do not understand the breed. Knowing the breed is the fundamental basis for a positive and enriching experience for both dog and owner. Knowing the breed’s limitations and also its strengths is key to a mutually harmonious coexistence. I am of the mind that it is one of the greatest experiences I have ever been privileged to have but only because I think that I understand my malamutes and what they need to be healthy and happy.

Malamutes are notoriously stubborn. This is a fact I see on a daily basis and whereas labradors I trained were always eager to please and usually obedient to a fault, malamutes have a definite mindset of their own. It is not that they wish to be disobedient; it is simply that they will always look for the chink in the armor and try to push their way through something. However, having a human alpha will prevent this from happening. Being consistent and forthright in dealings with a malamute is paramount to a good relationship. Sometimes, they just seem to be bored with the routine of doing something time and time again.

With my labs, I could teach commands and have them performing like circus dogs in minutes, but the malamute has a different approach. They learn basic commands readily enough but after a few repetitions of these commands, they are quite frankly done with it. If they have demonstrated a sit more than 2 or 3 times in a training session, they become “creative” in their own way by doing every command BUT the sit. Even Griffin at 4 months old, when asked to do a sit command perhaps the third time in one encapsulated session will run through the entire barrage of commands he has been taught and give me surprisingly every last one BUT somehow omit the one I actually requested, thus proving to me that he does know the command! How clever that he only chose that one to miss!

They seem to be of a mind that they are always thinking and asking their owners questions. In this case, it is something along the line of perhaps “Didn’t I just show you I knew that trick? Then why are we going over it again?” Of course as the alpha, you have to make sure that the malamute does do a given command but I have found that getting around it in a different way is just as effective, i.e. letting that command drop for the moment and then getting the correct response to any other command, ending the session and/or taking a quick break and returning to it solves the problem. It also lets me still be the alpha. It is always best to end a training session with a command performed than giving up and walking away with a command not answered. No one has to be a failure and it is all about the end result.

I have learned with malamutes that the best training sessions involve 5-10 minute command-intensive sessions and very frequently throughout a day. One must also apply the principles of basic dog training and teach them to not be solely food-motivated. I spend a lot of other time working on broader aspects of development such as food issues, crate training, etc. While a malamute is very intelligent and can and will perform all “routine” commands, their main focus seems to be in interacting and social situations. Teaching the dog to be comfortable in their crate or learning to eat in the crate when presented with a meal is as important as teaching a dog to sit and stay in their case. Also teaching them to NOT react when food is dropped for instance can be an invaluable part of the dog’s training as it can be applied later to many, many things such as leaving a bird alone that is hurt or racing after a cat it just saw! Or teaching them not to bolt in a prison break when the door is opened – invaluable! (We use specific commands of “leave it” or “wait” for these situations but we work them in many different and various scenarios so that they are prepared for them when they are needed.)

I believe wholeheartedly that malamutes are meant to be part of a family unit. By that, I mean that they thrive on the interaction of all parts of that family unit and seem to do best when involved in the day-to-day workings of the family. They are basically outdoor dogs but they are also very comfortable being part of a household and being allowed the freedom to exist with the family in different situations, especially indoors. Ours come and go but only as we allow them to do so. Some people use doggie doors and that is another alternative. Ours are invited in at varying times throughout the day and evening and interact with us as much as possible, in every room and every situation, whether we have guests are just alone by ourselves. They are taught appropriate behaviors while in the house and discouraged from the inappropriate, much like children. However, without exposure to the family unit and the interactions of a household, it would be less likely that they would be well-behaved in those situations; hence, we prefer to make sure that they are well-versed in indoor as well as outdoor behavior.

Our dogs are allowed as well at our invitation to join us on the bed for cuddling and play. We do not encourage our dogs to be on furniture unless they are specifically invited. We also expect that when the playtime is over, they need to be respectful and abide by our rules. Likewise, they are allowed toys since Griffin is a puppy and needs the outlet for chewing constantly; rather than having that occur on furniture or treasures, we provide him with a variety of age-appropriate outlets for his teething. However, we have another malamute who is a rescued and abused dog and since she has food issues, we are ever vigilant about having opportunities for her to feel a need for aggression over food; hence we avoid any chew toys or items that might be misunderstood in her situation as food sources such as pig ears, etc. We also never give our dogs constant access to food as that eliminates many problems right there in who needs to be dominant. Feeding times are set by us – the alphas – and when feeding is done, the food disappears.

Some malamutes like sleeping outdoors and some prefer sleeping in crates. Some of course would prefer to be part of your bed and will quickly insinuate themselves into your nightly bedtime routine if allowed to do that! It is all about what each individual family wants to do. We have always brought our dogs in at night as we have found that it makes for sounder sleep – for them and for us knowing that they are safe and away from anything that could happen when we are not with them. They sleep in crates simply because they seem to have always done better with that situation and likewise, it is a carryover that works for other situations such as traveling or having to kennel the dogs, needing someone else to watch them at our home, etc. Since malamutes are a “pack” mentality, it also seems to serve them well in that it gives them some sense of protection and aloneness for their quiet times. However, whereas one dog will sleep in an open doored crate, another may prefer to have a “closed door policy” for their own well being. Griffin as a puppy is currently on the “I’m thinking about it” program and goes in and comes out at will but he is still confined in a certain area for sleep as a training method and has access to his crate, which he is learning is a “good place”.

We also travel with our dogs quite frequently and take them routinely just around town. We take them to different places and let them experience many different facets of life such as walking in the parks, where they will be forced to deal with other dogs or other animals such as squirrels. We also take them to outside cafes, coffee shops or restaurants and work with them that way to expose them to noise, traffic, many people coming and going, what they are expected to do in that situation and not do, and of course the attention that they invariably get! It is a win-win situation as socializing them often and extensively can only lead to
them being more well-adjusted and content with their place in your life rather than being always left to fend for themselves in terms of entertainment or making them uncomfortable in new situations. Malamutes do thrive on attention and interaction and if a malamute is without stimulation, you definitely will see many less desirable traits emerge simply because a bored malamute can be a destructive malamute!

Malamute Myths

They are wonderful guard dogs. Unfortunately they are too social and are the worst breed ever for a guard dog! The only thing they can do is possibly intimidate someone because the person simply does not know the breed! They would probably show a burglar where all the best stuff is located and then skip out the door with him to boot!
They require a lot of grooming and cleaning. Actually they don’t! If you do not like the ever present hair that comes loose in the process of shedding, a quick brush once a day or every few days is sufficient. They are a little hard to bathe alone just because of the amount of fur and the size of the dog itself but we actually have done that for years ourselves. We now prefer to have them go to a groomer once or twice per year where their undercoats are blown/pulled and that proves enough to keep their coats beautiful while keeping shedding and “blowing of the coat” to a minimum. They should actually not be bathed too often.
With all that fur, they must be very dirty. Whereas labs are oily, malamute fur is actually like a cat’s fur and dirt does not stick to it! It is a wonderful aspect actually and they never smell like a dog. Whatever dirt attaches itself to the malamute fur, it basically dries and disappears. They are quite clean animals and are akin to a cat in their clean and sleek look and the softness of their fur.
Food must cost a fortune to feed them. As with any large breed dog, they do eat their appropriate share but as with any large breed dog, the right food for that breed should be used and in the appropriate amounts to avoid an underweight or overweight situation. The vet or a breeder is the best source in determining what target weight the dog should be at and that should be maintained. Since they are a large breed dog, bloat is always a possibility so another training capsule would be teaching the dog to eat at a reasonable pace and not to wolf down the entire meal (I actually take up the food and make them slow down if they are not pacing themselves). Also feeding the dog at a raised height is recommended for all large-chested dogs. We do not feed our dogs any supplements but fish oil capsules and even that is not necessary. We do buy them breed-appropriate food, however, for large breed highly active dogs as the percentage of fat and fiber is right for them and we do exercise them pretty heavily. Just be sure to not exercise them immediately after eating for at least an hour or so or feed them for the same length of time before exercising.
Malamutes cannot survive in hot climates. Their fur actually serves as an insulator for both heat and cold. While they may pant in hotter weather, they are not by any means bothered by it. They simply need access to shade (as any dog would) and they need access freely to lots and lots of water in times of extreme temperature. They should also not be exercised heavily during extreme temperatures; much better to wait for cooler evenings or mornings to exercise them. We give ours access to a small wading pool; whereas Griffin loves it and is constantly in it in hot weather, our older malamute is not a huge fan! However, if there is snow, they will readily go out and lay in it for hours.
Malamutes are part wolf and/or husky. The malamute breed is a specific breed of dog, one of the “natural” breeds as noted above and they are not part of the wolf or husky family. They are an arctic breed like the husky but they are not the same dog nor do they have the same exact temperament or make-up. While a husky is more adept at pulling lighter weights, a malamute was actually used for hauling freight; the malamute disposition is actually geared towards “digging in” and pulling heavier loads whereas a husky is built for speed. Malamutes were used by the Eskimo tribe the Malhemuts to drag massive loads of goods across frozen tundra. They were also highly valued members of the family unit and viewed as part of the tribe due to their contributions, hence their devotion to participating and work ethic.
Malamutes are horrible with children. To the contrary, malamutes love children! Their size, however, and their “look” sometimes will frighten children so caution is advised simply because a squealing or a shrieking child can sometimes spook any breed dog! Most days, our 2 malamutes are greeted by 4 or 5 neighborhood children who sling their arms about their neck and roll on the ground with them. Of course as in all situations involving dogs and children, the two should never be left unattended, and certainly food should never be added into the situation as the potential for disaster is great. In terms of dogs and children, I have seen the smallest dog attack a baby simply because the baby pressed on the dog’s leg, the dog did not know how to react, and no one intervened in time to stop the bite.
Malamutes are not good with cats. This may be true if the dog is older and has not been raised or conditioned to not react to cats or realize that they make sudden movements. Malamutes can be very happy coexisting with cats but they should be introduced with caution and at an early age if at all possible. The same could be said regarding smaller dogs as malamutes and arctic breeds do have a tendency towards the “prey” response. Training, however, can definitely desensitize the malamute to reacting but being aware of it is always recommended. Walking on our neighborhood street, we have rabbits that sometimes bolt out of nowhere and the malamutes are instantly ready to go after them. I have never seen them catch or harm anything, but the agility of certain small animals and the temptation to give chase must be kept in mind when you are dealing with a malamute.
They are terrible diggers and are famous for getting out. They can be diggers yes, but the only reason that a malamute will dig is to escape. Once they learn how to escape, there are then only a few options to keep that from happening. The best plan where this issue is concerned is to prevent it from happening in the first place! We have solid bricks underneath our fence all the way around so that they cannot dig out under the fence. They cannot go over the fence because it is too tall. However, ours were very clever and figured out a way to loosen a board and escape that way. Mind you, one board was enough for a 100-pound dog to squeeze through! We did end up going to the electric fence simply to keep them fenced in as the threat to them being out is huge where we live so we felt that this was our individual appropriate answer. If a dog never does have a prison break, then the electric fence would not be necessary. The digging though can be handled in several different ways including wire placed in the ground or other methods as well but the brick has always proven effective for our dogs. It is a preventive measure in the long run and one we would rather take over losing the dogs.

All that said, the malamute is a family-oriented, social sweetheart of a dog. They do require a lot of stability and much in the way of devotion meaning that they are not a dog that likes to be ignored or left alone for long periods of time simply because they are too social. They value their owners, however, and relish the time spent interacting. They are one of the most intelligent breeds of dogs and if given the opportunity to be part of a family, they will be a lifelong companion that will bring years of joy and laughter to a home. They do require discipline and consistency but most of all attention and something to keep them exercised and “involved”.

Summing Up Having an Alaskan Malamute

Having an Alaskan malamute has been one of the greatest experiences of my life – and I can say that in all honesty after having some other incredible dogs of other breeds.

BUT – owning not 1 but 2 Alaskan malamutes has been a commitment and one that I do not take lightly. I am totally dedicated to the proper care and raising of my malamutes, which means that I put an incredible amount of time and energy into their care. I have never had to do that with another dog breed and wish to emphasize the fact that if you are looking for a dog who exists pretty well on his or her own, please rethink getting a malamute!

You will do fine if you decide early on that the dog is part of your life and if you kind of work your life around having this breed – in terms of providing adequate exercise, plenty of socialization, and extensive training. If it seems like work instead of fun, then again, the Alaskan malamute is probably not the right dog for you.

If, however, you look at it like a wonderful privilege in terms of knowing a great breed and training a dog to do all kinds of athletic endeavors such as scootering, skijoring, bikejoring, carting, sledding – or even jogging or walking – just lots of it – then you’re the right person to own a malamute.

They will love you endlessly and give you many rewards along the way – and if you are lucky enough to see that special spark that lives only in a malamute, I know you will get what I mean. Nothing makes me happier than knowing another malamute found a great home!

Alaskan Malamute Puppy

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Managing Malamutes

Getting Dogs To Behave In The Car
Up until recently, I did not think we had a problem with any of our dogs riding in cars! We actually didn’t to any noticeable extent until the last 5 or 6 months. However, in retrospect on thinking about…
Jogging With Dogs
It is possible to jog with malamutes and other arctic breeds, and just like walking your dog, you can accommodate most any area that you can walk your dog to jogging with your dog. However, malamutes in…
Carting – A Sport With Dogs My new passion Malamute will be to try my hand so to speak at carting! I figure at least this way, I have a much better chance of staying upright and off the…
Roller Blading With Dogs – Am I Out Of My Mind?
The fearsome twosome – Kodi and Denaya – Photos by Audrey Kirchner Griffin and Denaya – In training This is a subject I can speak on with great authority since I did in fact train one of our malamutes to…
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Poem: A Rhyme For Griffin The Malamute
I often marvel at you folks who are so good at poetry and when I read what others write, I never have been able to see myself ever possibly writing a poem. That said, I woke up this morning early before…
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I have always loved the Here’s Your Sign stand-up routine that Bill Engvall does. I have equally enjoyed the other parts of Blue Collar Comedy jumping on the bandwagon and adding their ideas for Here’s Your…
A Day In the Life of a Malamute Owner
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Audrey’s New Leash On Life

Training An Alaskan Malamute Step By Step Guide

Training An Alaskan Malamute Step By Step Guide


An Alaskan Malamute can present many challenges in the course of ownership. That is if you don’t understand them and how to train them.

If you start early with an Alaskan Malamute, you’ll have a great shot at having transformed one of the dogs listed on the “dangerous breeds list” into a great canine citizen.

The Alaskan Malamute is one of the smartest dog breeds you’ll ever find anywhere and one of the most loyal. That said, you’ll probably never find a more headstrong breed or a more clever breed in getting around training.

Malamutes seem to have a mind of their own, however, in my experience, if you learn to channel that great brain and capture their inherent love of being social with their owners and each other, you’ve struck gold.

Come along with me on a journey in the last week while I train our newest malamute, my little 12-week-old pup Gabby.

Keep in mind these techniques shown are obviously done using my little puppy but they are tried and true for malamutes of any age. They also will work for any dog breed, large or small.

The videos are short and illustrate all the techniques I have described below as well. As you can see, I have a very talented pupil!

See all 13 photos
Training is all about trust
Source: Audrey Kirchner


I’m a firm believer in gearing your dog training experience towards the breed of dog that you have.

It’s important to select your “most important commands” around what you plan on doing with your dog. Some are always going to be more important than others and they should be modulated for situations real and imagined. They also need to be geared to your lifestyle and your interactions with your dog.

If you have a dog like I do that is labeled a “dangerous dog”, you should make training a priority. That said, you need to then concentrate on the most important commands that you absolutely must have your dog perform right away and progress from there.

Below is my list of essential commands that my Alaskan Malamutes must have “under their collar” so to speak! I have also included the level of difficulty (for them to perform) from my own experience.

Essential Commands for Malamutes

“Basic Sit”
Dog is controlled and “at ease”
“Sit on Lead”
Dog stops every time when you stop
Medium difficulty
Dog is totally submissive and safe
Difficult to situation
Dog is safe and submissive
Very difficult at times
Dog will come to you no matter what
Extremely difficult
Dog will walk tight to your left side
Medium difficulty
“Fetch” or “Get it”
Dog will retrieve something for you
Medium difficulty
“Leave it”
Dog will ignore whatever “it” is always
Very difficult at times
Dog will shake hands with you
Dog will quit howling or vocalizing
Medium difficulty
Dog will stand still until you release
Very difficult at times
Dog will howl or talk on command
Dog will roll or move in position
Medium difficulty
Dog will stand in position immediately
Medium difficulty
Mushing commands
Dog will go left, right, etc. on command
Medium difficulty


The “sit” command is usually the one I start out with when I’m training any dog. It seems to be the easiest and one of the quickest to learn.

Training any dog to sit is very easy to do.

TIP 1: I always use part of their daily amount of kibble to treat rather than using fatty treats as it can easily add unwanted weight over a short period of time and upset their system.

Start with a piece of kibble.
When your dog is standing in front of you, slowly move the
piece of kibble in your hand back up and over the dog’s head towards his or her scruff of the neck.
The dog will naturally sit by following the kibble.
At the moment that the dog’s bum hits the ground, say the
word “sit”.
Reward lavishly with praise and treat.
Repeat many times throughout the day.

Eventually intersperse non-treated “sit” commands with treated “sit” commands. Work on getting the dog to sit quicker and quicker each time.

You can also incorporate a clicker training method for this command easily. Just make sure to always wait for the bum to hit the floor before rewarding with praise or with treats.

Practice this anywhere so the dog gets used to sitting in multiple situations.

Once the dog has mastered this command well, start introducing different “sit” situations such as someone approaching.

A seated dog is a better dog because while seated, they are under control. They cannot lunge at people, jump up on people, or pull you around.

A good rule of thumb is to also ask strangers to always allow you to have your dog sit before they approach your dog. It is a common sense plan for big dogs so that they are under control.

TIP 2: I always carry little baggies of kibble with me in my pocket so that if needed, I can “entice” my dog into a sit if a situation is particularly stimulating. Success is the name of reinforcing good behavior.

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Strolling by
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Starting to sit
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Almost there
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Treat time?


Teaching any dog to sit is very important but even more important is the sit when walking on lead.

This gives you an advantage and also protects your dog. If your dog has been trained to always sit when you stop, you are protecting him or her from dangers such as cars on the street once you leave the safety of the curb.

You are also learning to employ a great little trick to get your malamute into a controlled position. This handy little command comes in to play time and time again when you are out walking.

It is much easier to control a very large, powerful dog in a sitting position than it is in a standing position so when little 90-year-old Mrs. Pratt comes bustling towards you, 80 pound Gabby won’t jump up and knock her down.

Sitting on leash is also very handy when dogs are approaching or even in the case of loose dogs. It’s an effective way to get your dog under control. It seems irrational if another dog is out of control.  However, if your dog is under control and you have his or her attention, you stand a much better chance of getting out of the situation unscathed.

An easy way to teach your malamute to sit on lead:

Leash up your dog and make sure you have kibbles in your pocket.
Begin walking at a normal pace but stop after a few steps. Issue the command “sit”.
Wait for the dog to sit and then reward.
Continue on a few more paces and repeat this process.
Practice this over and over, with and without treating and soon your dog will begin to get the idea that you want a “sit” whenever you stop.
This is also a prelude to the “heel” command because your dog begins to anticipate that you are going to be wanting him or her close by (and there is the potential for a treat).
Moving on to the heel can be easily done by holding a treat in your left hand as you hold the leash and then finishing off with a stopped “sit”.

TIP: Keeping the treat in your left hand encourages the dog to stay on your left at all times rather than crossing in front of you to sit and get the treat. In this scenario you want the dog to your left.  You should also work with the dog to accomplish a sit in front of you on leash, too.

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Start with a “sit”
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Kibble in hand start to lower the kibble to the floor between the paws
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Keep lowering until the dog begins to assume the “down” position
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Almost there
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Say “down” just as the paws all hit the floor
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Perfect, Gabster!


One of the most difficult commands for a malamute to perform is the “down” command. It is, however, one of the first commands that you should teach.

The reason for the difficulty when it comes to the “down” command is that this is a command that makes the dog extremely vulnerable and some dogs rebel against it.

Obviously, starting out with this command as a puppy is a great idea so this is the second command I teach my pups.

The “down” command is a command that I believe is vital to a malamute’s well being. It can mean the difference between a happy ending and a bad ending in any given situation. If the dog trusts you, the alpha, enough to obey this command, you will always be in control of your dog.

The “down” command is useful for situations where your dog might be having trouble with self control such as kids running at him or her or dangling food around their face. It’s also a great command for any time you need your dog to be quiet and simply “drop”.

This command bears repeating over and over and in all kinds of stressful, noisy situations to be sure your dog has mastered it. Also making them do a “down” command on walks, at feeding times, just any time in general is a really good idea. It keeps them primed and tuned in to you.

We routinely make our dogs do a “sit” and a “down” before they are allowed to eat. Sometimes several of them depending on how exuberant they are to eat! It’s a way of saying human to dog “slow down here, pal and focus.”

How to teach your malamute the “down” command:

Have a piece of kibble in your hand.
Start with your dog in a “sit” position.
Holding the kibble out of reach of your dog’s mouth, slowly bring the kibble from the dog’s nose in a downward motion right between his or her paws.
Go slowly because you want the dog to grasp the concept that he or she is in fact going down.
When you reach the floor, the dog will probably be in the “down” position or nearly there. Try and catch the exact moment when all 4 paws are spread out on the floor and say “down”.
When all 4 are on the floor and the “down” is accomplished, praise lavishly and excitedly. This is a hard position for many dogs but especially malamutes at first and in certain situations.
Repeat this command often with and without treats.
Train the dog to do this command at random in all kinds of situations and you will realize what a valuable tool this command is.

TIP: Make sure you master this command fully before moving on to the “down and “stay”. A “down” that doesn’t hold will not help with teaching the correct “stay”.

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I admittedly am very prejudiced when it comes to the Alaskan Malamute and how smart they are. If you watch these videos though, I think you might agree that my little Gabster is pretty smart. In actuality though, they are all this smart.

Being on the dangerous dogs list is a difficult thing to accept at times because I know my dogs and I know their capacity for intelligence and for socialization. However, that said, facts are facts and in order to ensure that my malamutes represent their breed in the best light, I spend a lot of time training my dogs.

As you can probably tell from the videos, it isn’t work at all. I enjoy my dogs because I see their individual personalities and their love for learning each and every day.

Make training fun with any dog you are working with and your rewards will be twofold. You’ll experience a great feeling of accomplishment but so will your dog! I don’t think there is a breed of dog that doesn’t enjoy being successful or that doesn’t want to please his or her owner.

These are just 2 of the basic commands to teach a malamute but I think these 2 are the most important starting out. They lend you the potential to add in many more concepts and are the springboard for more complicated commands later on.

If you have more training tips for these 2 basic commands, the “sit” and the “down”, please add your comments below.  Stay tuned for more training tips from Audrey and Gabby.

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More Training Malamute Articles by Audrey Kirchner

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BRINGING HOME YOUR MALAMUTE PUPPY We recently acquired another malamute puppy and have had her now for exactly one week. There are many factors to consider when you get a puppy of any breed, but a malamute…
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As if the rollerblading experience had not been enough (see my link to that episode), I still looked forward with glee and I mean real glee to training the malamutes to pull me on the Diggler scooter that I…
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This is a subject I can speak on with great authority since I did in fact train one of our malamutes to exercise with me on rollerblades. I can also say that it was the most harrowing experience I have had to…
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What word pops on the Internet when you type in Alaskan Malamute or malamute? Rescue – that means that there are a whole lot of folks out there who do not know what they are getting into and turn these…
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On any given day in the life of owning an Alaskan Malamute, you have to be prepared for bad days. One of those bad days was today. It is to this end that I write so fervently about the malamute breed – because…

Malamute Dogs: How To Be Alpha

Malamute Dogs: How To Be Alpha


Training any dog on the dangerous dogs list is going to be a challenge.  In fact, training any dog the right way is fraught with stumbling blocks.

The single most important point you can remember about training an Alaskan Malamute or any dog for that matter is this….being the alpha matters and it matters big time!

In order for dogs to grow into good citizens that can coexist in a human world with the least amount of trouble and chaos, they have to know that their human counterparts are the biggest, the baddest leader of the pack!

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Alpha boot camp
Source: Audrey Kirchner


Many people are under the misconception that in order to be the leader of the pack, one has to be mean or one has to be loud and overbearing.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Some of the best alphas out there are quiet, meek souls who handle themselves perfectly in every situation with their dogs but who do it uncompromisingly.  They also do it consistently. 

Being the alpha means being the leader of your pack.  It means teaching your dog or dogs that no matter what, you are in charge and they can depend on you! They also need to be assured that their pack leader is as consistent as the day is long and that good behavior will be rewarded and bad behavior dealt with in a fair manner. 

So does that mean that the alpha part of a dog relationship needs to stomp, scream, yell, throw things or resort to other bullying tactics to get a dog to submit to them?  No way! 

It does mean though that the alpha counterpart of this dog relationship has to “bone up” on techniques and exercises that let the dog or dogs in a household know who’s the boss and who intends to stay the boss!

Let’s look at some of the techniques for being the leader of the pack.  Let’s talk about alpha boot camp.


Whether you’re a very confident person or you’re a shy and retiring sort, in order to have any breed of dog behave in an appropriate manner, you have to do the work. You have to put the time in when it comes to playing the alpha game. It doesn’t matter if the dog is a 5 pound miniature chihuahua or a 150 pound Alaskan Malamute.

The best time to become the alpha with any dog is when he or she is a puppy obviously. You have a much easier time of training any dog if you can start as young as possible to train them up in the ways that you want them to go. However, there is no time like the present so don’t let that put you off.

If you are starting out with a puppy, as you can see in the You Tube video of my Gabby, she was not a happy camper when our vet tech Shannon demonstrated the alpha exercise of making her turn over on her back and be held until she calmed. It isn’t a cruelty by any means though the screeching and screaming Gabby was doing would have led you to believe it! However, she learns something very valuable from that every time we go through our alpha training exercise with her. She learns that she is not the leader of the pack and that we humans are. This is the only reason for this exercise and it works.

Why do we need to be the leader of the pack? If humans do not become the leader of the pack in terms of raising their dogs, then trouble starts to crop up. Bad dog behaviors such as destroying property, biting, lunging, escaping, barking and digging (to name a few) start rearing their ugly heads.

Dogs that are left to their own devices can become bullies. Dogs that are not properly trained to show respect for their human counterparts turn into problem dogs or dogs with “limitations”. Dogs that do not know their place in the scheme of the human and canine world react in all kinds of ways that can land them in shelters or worse yet, euthanized. Simply taking the time to make sure you’re an alpha dog owner can save you years of frustration, money, and peace of mind where your dog is concerned.

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Great sit Gabradoodle!


There are many techniques and suggestions for teaching a dog its place in the structure of your pack.

Remember that your home and family is your dog’s pack and they need to be secure in their place within that group.

Ways that you teach your dog that you are the alpha:

Playing games – you should never end the game with the dog “winning.” The last tug should be won by you, the leader of the pack.
Stealing things like socks should not be tolerated. If a dog repeatedly does this and runs away, keep the dog on a leash until the behavior is fixed.
Feeding times and amounts of food should be controlled by the alpha (you).
Dogs should be fed after you or the family eat if at all possible.
Giving treats from the table is contradictory to being the leader of the pack as an alpha would not share their food.
Dogs should not “own” sleeping areas. Allowing your dog to share spots for spaces of time is one thing but allowing them to overtake beds or furniture diminishes your alpha status.
Walking around a dog can be perceived as a sign of weakness whereas stepping over them or making them move is an alpha trait.
If someone is not capable of assuming the alpha position with a dog, the dog should not be left in their care. For instance, children cannot be expected to be an alpha and a dog intuitively knows this.

Basic Alpha Training Techniques


Here are situations that we work on with our dogs. They illustrate how as a dog owner, you have to assert yourself and become the leader of the pack.

These are simple exercises that anyone can do. Rather than being “cute tricks”, they actually teach our malamutes what they need to know to be successful in our world.

Feeding times: We do not let our dogs eat “at will”. We have a malamute who is a rescued dog who has always had food issues. While I imagine that with much more training, we could eliminate those, it has always seemed better in my opinion to feed them when we want to feed them. It is more disciplined and it makes more orderly sense.

Each dog is fed separately. Each malamute must wait at the door until released to come in to eat. We have our dogs do a “sit” and a “down” before we release them to eat the food. We have also trained them to allow us to interrupt their feeding and pick up the bowl, wait a few moments and then give it back to them. In this way, the alpha illustration is that they are receiving things through us and that they must wait for us to give those things to them. They just don’t take and they must obey their pack leaders in order to eat.

Ins and Outs, Ups and Downs: Nothing can be more exasperating than a big dog or two or three who bolt out doors in front of you when going on a walk or who try and run down the stairs ahead of you. It’s dangerous for one thing….if they happen to trip you on the stairs, you could be injured. If they bolt out the front door ahead of you, something could happen like being hit by a car. So over and over the lessons are taught.

They are taught to sit when the door is approached and they have to remain sitting until we, the alphas, go out the door. When they are invited, they may come out or conversely, after we have gone inside, they may come in. (See the You Tube video below)  The same rule applies for the stairs or getting in and out of the car. This is an excellent teaching tool for any dog because it proves once again that you are in charge and you are in fact the leader of their pack.

Submission to the Alpha: The ideal time to teach submission to the alpha is when a dog is a puppy. A puppy will learn to submit to the alpha in many ways. In our case, Gabby has 2 other dogs to contend with on a daily basis so she has had a lot of training in alpha boot camp.  She is learning to submit on many levels.  

She has an older dog to contend with who is never silly and who rarely “plays”. Denaya has nipped at her 3 times in order to teach her what she expects in terms of respect. Griffin is pretty much a gregarious fellow at almost 2 but he also teaches her in his own way what he will tolerate and what he won’t.

The same goes for us, the adult alphas who are in charge of our little Gabby. In order to train her the right way, we must always keep in mind that she is a darling little puppy but she is also our responsibility to train to be the best canine citizen possible. This does mean using techniques such as the one demonstrated on the video. 

We may take her out of her “comfort” zone but we allow her to see that she can be vulnerable with us while at the same time knowing we will not hurt her. Some people would say that this was totally unnecessary but in terms of a large dog and a potentially aggressive dog, it is very necessary. It also has a wonderful side benefit such as being able to tend to your dog if necessary or have other people examine him or her. 

Eye contact is also very important in training dogs to respect the human alpha authority. We train our dogs to always check in visually before releasing them on a command such as “sit” or “okay” to eat their food.

If a dog displays jittery behavior around new people or lunging or barking, the appropriate alpha problem solver is to make the dog go into a “sit” or a “down” until they feel more confident to address the new situation. This also displays to the dog that you are in charge and you have every confidence things can be handled calmly.

It is imperative that anyone coming into contact with your dog or dogs understands the alpha concept. Consistency is the name of the leader of the pack “game” whereas variations in style can confuse a dog and create more problems.

In reality, dogs have similar traits to children. If our son or daughter is jabbering a hundred miles an hour and talking over someone else to get our attention, we would handle that situation by waiting until he or she wound down and was quiet, then answering. Handling a dog should be no different. If you come home and your dog (big or small) is clamoring for your attention and jumping all over you, barking shrilly or just making a huge pest of itself, the best thing you can do is to ignore it until it is behaving normally. Picking it up or encouraging the “bad” behavior is going to perpetuate it. Dogs become spoiled just like children if they get what they want every single time and most importantly immediately.  You can create a monster by giving in to a demanding dog just as you can a demanding child.


There are many training techniques that work for dogs but the Alaskan Malamute can present many challenges in terms of obedience training. However, with a malamute as with any other dog breed, you do not have to be aggressive or abusive to get alpha dog training to work for you.

Always ending on a positive note (a task completed successfully) is my policy in training any dog but especially so for a malamute. I prefer working in short spurts at a time many times a  day rather than doing longer training sessions. 

The funny thing about malamutes is that they will look at you like you’re a bit daft if you keep asking them to repeat the same thing over and over once they’ve mastered it.  Better to come back another time and get them to repeat it than keep drilling away on one point that they seem to have lost interest in.  

Loving and caring for your dogs should include the most valuable gift of all which is discipline. Without knowing their place in the pack, dogs have a tendency to act out or become prone to all kinds of different behavior problems. I am of the firm belief that there are no bad dogs but instead just bad dog owners.

Training dogs to do things is a great way to interact with them. It stimulates them mentally and makes them feel part of a society. Within that society, they need to have a leader though and that leader must be human for the delicate balance of man and dog to work.

If you have ideas and suggestions that have worked for you in being leader of the pack, please leave them in the comments section below.

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How To Stop Your Malamute From Counter Surfing

How To Stop Your Malamute From Counter Surfing

Why Do Dogs Counter Surf?

The theory is that dogs counter cruise or counter surf because they want to be like their human counterparts.

They see us preparing food, standing upright and they really just want to emulate our behaviors.

This author almost agrees with that theory because I’ve planted flowers before while my three malamutes were beside me and had them dig them right back up ten minutes later. I did get the impression that they were trying to “help” me in their own way though with disastrous results for my plants. When I planted the plants with them out of sight, they never bothered them.

That said, I do think certain dog breeds and certain dogs in particular are more food motivated and the temptation to grab something that was obviously left out for them is harder to overcome.

The fiend in the picture below is my 1-1/2 year old malamute. However, her 3-year-old uncle is fondly named The Hamburglar and for good reason. That dog has snagged more food than I care to think about and made enemies of most of my family members who visit on occasion.

So how do you stop your dog from carrying out this natural though objectional behavior?

Training–and more training if you happen to be working with a malamute–or three.

Counter surfing dogs are a nuisance and it can be a hard habit to break.
Source: Audrey Kirchner
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Best Ways to Stop Counter Stealing

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure they say. It’s true in this case as well. Some basic rules that usually serve to eliminate the problem:

Keep your counters as relatively clear of tempting foods as possible if your dog has free roaming privileges
Train your dog to go to a spot at the perimeter of the kitchen and only stay there
Work with your dog(s) to stay out of the kitchen when you’re working there–my phrase is “get OUT of the kitchen”
If you can’t trust your dog to not jump up on counters as soon as you leave the room and there’s something tempting on the counter, put it in the cabinet or the fridge–out of sight, out of mind
Reward your dog for being in the kitchen with all paws on the floor! This seems a little silly but rewarding good behavior is better than rewarding bad behavior–see below
Make sure your dog is properly fed and that he or she is not hungry and trying to “beef” up his or her diet!
Remember that dogs are dogs–a nice juicy hamburger laying on the coffee table may just be too tempting to resist.
Teach the command “Leave it!” and practice it often–it can save a dog’s life. This may not work with counter stealing (as it’s usually too late) but the dog should know when to drop something that is potentially life threatening immediately
If all else fails, use one of the training methods below–set the dog up and correct the behavior appropriately

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Don’ts for Training Dogs To Stay Off Counters

These things are counter productive and will likely reinforce the behavior rather than help curb it.

Do not kick, hit or otherwise abuse your dog for jumping up on the counter–even if he snagged a pound of bacon or a tray of meatballs. It’s tempting (been there, done that) but this is abusive behavior and will not gain you any respect from your dog. Nor will it fix this behavior!
If your dog snags something from the counter and you catch them in the act, do not give chase. If you do, this reinforces the behavior by letting your dog know that he or she has something valuable to you. If it’s something that is dangerous for the dog to eat, get it back but without pursuing the dog in a frenzy, screaming and making a huge scene out of it. (This is where “Leave it” becomes vital in a dog’s training)
If you’re training your dog to stay off the counters or leave things alone, try to stay as detached from the dog as possible–meaning attention is attention and if you are watching the dog constantly, the training will not be as effective as if the reprimand comes from out of nowhere or is issued in a controlled, detached manner such as leash correction. Take the human out of it more or less and you will have greater success as you have reduced “prize envy.”
People who routinely feed their dogs from the table have more problems with counter surfing dogs. This is in part due to the fact that the dog believes that he or she is in a sharing relationship with their owner. Treats should be given as rewards but bits of food especially from the table should never be given to the dog. It encourages begging behavior which in turns leads to more aggressive behavior towards food in general. (If you want to give your dog a scrap of something, drop it into the food bowl when he or she isn’t looking—again it came from the heavens and won’t be viewed as a right or a possession.)

Training Malamutes to Stay Off Counters

This author is very good at training malamutes–most of the time. However, this is one bad habit that has been very hard to break in my dogs. Two of my three dogs are horrible thieves even though they are well versed in the command “Leave it!” and I can drop anything in front of them and they will leave it alone.

The problem is most of the time they steal something without someone catching them.

Griffin the 3-year-old malamute ate 11 sauerkraut and pumpkin muffins. Had I added in the 1 cup of chocolate chips the recipe called for, we would have been on our way to the emergency dog hospital probably. As it was, this was an extremely “toxic” experience in terms of what it did to his digestive system–and the olfactory sense of the poor souls (us) who were sleeping in the same room with him.

In an effort to curb this bad behavior once and for all, I decided to get tough. I decided to set a booby trap for one or both of the culprits and try and nip this unacceptable habit in the bud. I can say that it worked 100%—so far. The proof will be whether it works in all situations and on all occasions in the future, but at least we have a basis on which to build.

My method for stopping counter surfing:

Get small empty water bottle or pop bottle and fill it one-third of the way with pennies.
Tie a string around the neck of the bottle.
Prepare a treat–I used a piece of bread since mine love loaves of bread–I cut off a portion and smeared some canned dog food on it just to enhance the treat.
I then tied the other end of my string around the treat and set it on the counter.
Watch the short video for the result!

This method worked very well for Gabby after only one try. I have had a dog cookie tied to the bottle of pennies and have moved it all over the kitchen and dining room for a week. She hasn’t gone near it. I also have not seen her jump up on the counter since or even act like she was thinking about it.

The funniest added benefit is that Griffin somehow figured out that the bread on a string was just “too obvious.” Though he was sorely tempted, as evidenced by the fact that he did laps around the counter island all day long, he never went for the bread. He even gave it a huge amount of space as he passed by it, turning to see if it was following him apparently–and eventually just stayed out of the kitchen. He seemed to sense that there was something ominous in the bottle of pennies.

Even funnier was that he was lying in the dining room when Gabby grabbed the bread and when the bottle of pennies crashed to the floor, he went running to the bedroom.

Will this work in the long term to break their counter cruising habit? Time will tell but at least for now, it seems to have worked.

Booby Trap Method for Counter Surfers

Other Ways to Break the Counter Cruising Habit

If you watch the clicker video below, the trainer gives great detail and this method seems to be extremely effective. With malamutes, I had success with clicker training which then evaporated.

My dogs became quickly conditioned to the treating portion and if there was no treat, there was no response. I tend to think this is because they are highly intelligent dogs who figure things out quickly. Once they do, it almost becomes a game to get them to do what they need to do–unless you keep changing it up.

Another method to train your malamute to stop jumping on counters is to attach him or her to a long lead and give them free reign within striking distance of something on the counter or even a low table.

As the dog approaches the tempting object, a sharp reprimand with the leash is given alone or with a sharp warning sound to discourage them from this behavior. Repeated over time, this can be an effective way of breaking the habit.

However, the most important fact is that you want the dog to remember this behavior when someone is not present. That’s the tricky part.

In my case, I resorted to the booby trap idea because I had tried other methods and they were not always successful. In our case, the introduction of other people at times also seemed to encourage our dogs to try to steal food!

Another point to be made is that some dogs are more food motivated than others–Griffin seems to be perpetually interested in food no matter how much he eats. For many reasons, deconditioning is my goal with my younger ones since they seem to share a passion for taking what isn’t theirs!

Remember though that no one method is the only way to go–do what works best for you and your dog.

Also keep in mind that with a malamute, the training is lifelong. It’s never over and you have to always be thinking on your toes if you want to stay ahead of these gentle giants.