Published on August 26th, 2016 | by Debbie Martin0
Dog Breed Series: Alaskan Malamute
The husky is a highly-prized variety of dog that’s suited to life in a freezing environment – but which, increasingly, is valued by western dog-owners thanks to its distinctive and appealing look. But the husky is just one of many arctic breeds, including the Greenland, the Canadian Eskimo, and the subject of the profile you’re currently reading, the Alaskan Malamute. Let’s take a closer look at this distinctly fluffy breed, and see how it might fit into your household.
Profile: What is an Alaskan Malamute?
We can tell a lot about a dog by the function that it’s been bred to provide. Terriers, who’ve been bred to seek out and destroy vermin, are inquisitive and energetic. The same proves true of the Malamute – it’s been bred to pull sleighs across a frozen tundra, and so it possesses two qualities in abundance: physical strength, and thick fur.
The Malamute is big and powerful. They can weigh as much as fifty kilos, and stand nearly two feet tall at the shoulder. They’re not built for short-distance speed, but for endurance over long journeys. Compare their frame to that of, say, a husky, and the difference couldn’t be plainer.
The Malamute is larger even than most other sled dogs – and it lacks the prestige and urban glamour that those breeds have come to acquire. It’s got a double-layer coat consisting of both outer guard hairs, which repel snow, and a woolly undercoat which acts as an insulator.
History: Where did the Alaskan Malamute come from?
As you might imagine, this breed was developed in Alaska. It draws its name from the Mahlemut people, who were a tribe of Inuit who lived upped western-Alaska for thousands of years. As well as helping to pull sleds, the breed was used extensively in hunting – and were capable of assisting their masters in taking down larger quarry, like bears. They would also act as ‘pointers’ in seal-hunting, alerting hunters to the presence of blowholes.
Without one another’s aid, it’s highly unlikely that either human or dog would have been able to prosper in the harsh and punishing conditions of the area. If we consider a technology to be the ‘science of craft’, then the breeding techniques that resulted in the Malamute afforded the Inuit of the area a technological advantage over both other tribes and the local wildlife, which would help them to enjoy relative prosperity for thousands of years.
Of course, technologies also allowed foreigners to eventually come to Alaska in the 19th century, in search of natural resources. During the Klondike Gold Rush, just before the turn of the 20th century, there came an enormous demand for large and powerful sled dogs. The breed was therefore diluted with imported bloodlines, in an attempt to keep up with the demand. The Inuit, however, maintained their preference for the traditional bloodline that had served them so well for so long, and helped to maintain the breed, which endures across the world to this day.
Personality: What is the Alaskan Malamute like to own?
Perhaps unsurprisingly for a dog so constituted, the Malamute has a ferocious appetite and a ferocious level of energy. As we’ve seen, it’s an endurance animal which expects to be given frequent and lengthy exercise. Prospective owners will therefore need to give their dog regular, long walks if they’re to avoid the dog becoming obese. Two hours a day should be devoted to exercise. If you’ve got a weight problem of your own, and you’re looking for a willing training partner to get you into the routine of regular exercise, then this is a breed that’ll help you to do it.
Like all working dogs, Malamutes are highly intelligent, and respond very well to consistent discipline. If you’re able to project and air of authority, and are able to say ‘no’, then you’ll make a good match for a Malamute. Of course, you’ll also need to be physically strong if you’re to avoid your dog pulling your off your feet when it catches sight of another dog! Malamutes are not particularly playful – and they sometimes have difficultly controlling their strength.
Of course, these negative qualities are present in some dogs, but not in others. And a lot of this difference comes about as a result of poor training. It’s important that Malamutes are socialised early, through exposure to other dogs and people. This is so for two reasons: The dog’s behaviour will generally be far more malleable at this point (they won’t have become ‘stuck in their ways’; and also they won’t yet have developed their full strength, and so the consequences of misbehaviour won’t be quite so difficult to constrain.
If you’re the proud new owner of a Malamute puppy, then it’s a good idea to enrol it in a behavioural class in order to give it the best chance of developing into a well-behaved adult (and to give yourself the best chance of learning what’s required to get the best from the dog, too).
Any Special Health Issues?
While they’re generally a healthy and robust breed, the Malamute is prone to several different health problems. Many of these can be guarded against by using a reputable breeder. Such breeders will be able to certify the good health of both parents, and allow you access to the mother so that you can see for yourself.
Malamutes are prone to suffering from eye problems, including cataracts later in life, which will sometimes result in blindness. Puppies might also suffer hermeralopia (day blindness) which will affect dogs from infancy, causing them to lose vision in sunlight.
Like many larger breeds of dog, Malamutes are also more prone to joint problems like hip dysplasia and osteoarthritis. In order to guard against this, the right diet is essential, particularly as the dog ages. Special dog foods which promote good health are worthwhile, but the real key to fighting against this is to fight against obesity – all of that extra weight will surely take its toll on the dog’s joints!