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

GIVING AN ALASKAN MALAMUTE A BATH

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.

EQUIPMENT FOR BATHING YOUR MALAMUTE

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)
Conditioner
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
Patience

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).

HOW TO GROOM YOUR MALAMUTE

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.

BEST TOOLS FOR GROOMING MALAMUTES

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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DIET AND GROOMING FOR YOUR MALAMUTE

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
Kelp
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!

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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.

They
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.

However,
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
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Jogging With Dogs
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Carting – A Sport With Dogs
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