Frequently Asked Questions About the
Alaskan Malamute Breed
In doing rescue for Michigan for several years, we've heard many questions over and over educating potential owners about the breed. Also, these FAQs concern many of the reasons owners ultimately give up a Malamute - they just didn't know. Here is a sample of some of the most common ones. Perhaps they are your questions too.
How can they be aggressive to other dogs and still work on a sled team?
I thought the dogs would have to get along to work together. In reading old books about the Inuit it is evident they needed to maintain strong control over the dogs to keep them from fighting. It is very common with an all Malamute team for fights to break out spontaneously. This is often what mushers refer to when they say a dog is "soft" or "hard". Hard dogs enjoy a good fight, whereas soft dogs are more tolerant of each other. Malamutes were much "harder" 20 years ago and through selective breeding and socialization, the aggression toward other dogs is less, but still evident. More so in some lines than others. Often the "hard" dogs are the most intelligent, but more difficult to live with.
Are they good with children and infants?
When raised with children, properly socialized and introduced to children and infants, they can be very tolerant, loving and protective of their own. This does not mean they will adore every child in the neighborhood, or an abusive, fearful or obnoxious child. Of course, a large dog of any breed should always be supervised around young children and children should always be taught respect for animals. Many bites to children are "dominance bites" where the parents did not teach the dog it's place in the family or the children were allowed to mistreat the dog. The dog will correct the child if the parent's won't. Also, there will be an adjustment period if you bring a new baby into the home - but handled well, the Malamute and baby will grow up to be best friends.
My spouse has a **Yorkie, Pomeranian, Poodle, etc.** but I want a REAL dog. Will they get along?
Probably not. Although I know of situations where it's worked, it is dangerous for the small dog. Any aggression on it's part may be met by like aggression from the Malamute. Guess who will win? There may not be any problems when the Malamute is young - but once it grows up and becomes an adult all it takes is one confrontation - which could be fatal to the small dog.
What about cats?
If raised with cats most Malamutes will get along with them fine. The mal may chase the cat, but will usually not hurt it. If not raised with cats, it may chase and kill them. The owner must teach both animals respect for one another and not let either harass or tease. Other small animals such as birds, rabbits, ferrets, or gerbils are usually fine if safely caged away from the Malamute. If not raised with these animals, the Malamute may stalk them - patiently waiting for them to "escape". They will NEVER be trustworthy alone with these animals, and would probably hunt them were they to escape, however.
I want a dog that will fetch a ball and obey me. I've had German Shepherds and Dobermans so I know about owning large, dominant dogs.
Good, that is similar experience. However, do not expect your Malamute to be as obedient as other breeds. Those that are have many hours of training invested by the owner. This is not a dog well suited to being "sent out" for training either. You must do the work yourself to have a dog that respects you enough to obey. Even the best trained Malamute is not 100% reliable, and must always be walked on leash, for example. As for fetching, some like to play ball, many don't. Each is an individual and often will play games with you by bringing the ball back - just outside of your reach. How about a game of "chase me"?
I knew someone that had a Malamute when I was a child and it didn't need a fence. Why is it necessary?
Perhaps the dog you remember was old, dysplastic, obese? A puppy may be fine as a youngster, cautious to wander too far from the pack. However, a teen (8 mo.-3 years) just like a human teen will be looking for adventure and testing out his new hunting skills. A Malamute can wander miles chasing a bunny or squirrel and be unable to find his way home. He will kill and eat a neighbor's chickens, or harass livestock and other dogs. Many state laws allow a dog chasing wildlife to be shot on site! Also, it's not always the Malamute wandering away, but what wanders into your yard (such as a small neighbor dog or cat the Mal dislikes)? A good Malamute neighbor will have a good fence to keep his marauding Malamute from getting into trouble.
Every litter will have a variety of personalities, some more difficult to deal with than others. It's best if the breeder chooses for you, based upon his experience with his dogs and what he knows about you and your lifestyle. The "dog experience" level of the owner is also a factor. A very active dog should not go to a home where someone will not exercise it regularly, but a more laid back personality may do just fine. "Pick of the litter" will usually be kept by the breeder or go to a trusted home where it will be shown. We have placed "show quality" dogs in Malamute homes, if that was the best home for that pup. However, there are rarely more than a couple of truly excellent show quality pups in any litter, maybe none (no matter the claims of the breeder).
Should I get 2 puppies to keep each other company?
No. The best way is to get your first dog, train it WELL, then when it's mature (2 or 3 years old) get another. It's hard enough to train one Malamute, but two is extremely difficult. Two puppies will comMalamutee for attention, may fight for dominance, and will ultimately may bond to each other rather than to you if they get along. They will be partners in crime - even if one is mellow - the more destructive puppy will likely encourage the mellow one to be included in all home destruction. Get one - train it well - and if you decide this is the breed for you, get another a couple of years later. As for breeders offering two-fer deals, that's just plain unethical in my book! Most new mal owners can barely handle one! And NEVER get two sisters or two brothers...that's just asking for dominance issues and fights, particularly if they both have pretty headstrong personalities and are from the same litter! It can occasionally work, but it takes a lot of work too - probably not what you had in mind in "keeping each other company".
Why should I stay in touch with you after I take my puppy home? I've raised a puppy before.
It's important to our breeding program to know how each and every pup turns out. Also, invariably, you will have questions raising the pup. The breeder may be able to help with them. You'll hear it over and over - Malamute pups are different! Difficult to understand until you own one, most owners of Malamutes will confirm this. They are an independent and unique breed and it's nice to know your pup is not "weird" but just like other Malamutes everywhere! A support network is a real plus with this breed. Also, we care and if you get a pup from us, we obviously like you and would like to be friends and want you to stay in touch.
A dog should NEVER guard it's food/growl when corrected/refuse to obey me. If it does it's a "bad" dog or is it?
No, it's not a bad dog. The owner needs training. Most Malamute pups will attempt all of these behaviors at one time, but it's up to the owner to immediately teach the pup they are not allowed behaviors. Behavior allowed to get out of control in puppyhood is very difficult (if not impossible) to undo later. Never let your mal puppy, no matter how "cute" now, do something you wouldn't want him/her to do as an adult. That might include getting on furniture, biting at arms or pant legs, growling, food guarding, - even rough growly play.
Why shouldn't my Malamute stay outside all the time? They were made for arctic weather weren't they?
Many do live outside all the time, but we feel for them. A Malamute has a very strong pack loyalty and needs to be included in family activities. When you take that pup home, you are now it's pack. It looks to you for guidance, acceptance, love, identity. A Malamute without it's pack (i.e. outside) is a lonely animal, even with a companion. They need to be near the "alpha's", presumably you. They have a strong sense of family, love people, and desperately want to be a part of your life. Unless you live outdoors all the time (not many of us do), he can never really be a part of your family if he is only a visitor inside. That is why we REQUIRE our dogs to be house Malamutes. Most Malamutes like to be outdoors and will spend a considerable about of time there, however, that doesn't mean he wants to be there all the time. Most will ask to come in often just to say "hi, what'cha doin?"
My spouse and I both work an eight-hour day and wonder if it is wise to get a Malamute puppy.
That will depend on you. Will you have the energy after a long day at work to be firm and consistent in training the puppy? (Not indulging his every whim because you feel guilty leaving him alone.) Are you willing to take him virtually everywhere you go - especially for the first 6 months? Will you take obedience classes and make the effort to socialize him properly? Also, it is difficult to be "alpha" when you aren't home much of the day. He may test your patience and resolve more. And consider lifestyle - after work do you belong to clubs or other activities that can't include a dog? Do you just want to lie in front of the TV? Many dogs left alone for long periods can be destructive to belongings, learn bad habits because no one is there to correct immediately. Potty training will go slower. He'll have a higher energy level after sleeping much of the day. If you think you can just leave him in a kennel outside while you work, think again. He may howl, dig and escape out of boredom and loneliness. Socializing him to other people, places and especially other dogs is very very necessary when most of his time is spent alone. Where will he spend all those hours? How will he eliminate when he needs to? (Small puppies can only hold it a couple of hours). You'll need to buy truckloads of interesting and safe toys, and possibly a "Malamute" for companionship (cats can be good company). If you have a plan to deal with this, and are willing to make the strong commitment a latchkey dog demands, yes, with the right puppy it can work. It will take much more effort than you ever imagined, and you should STILL find a way to be home full-time with him for at least the first 2-3 weeks. Developmentally, those weeks are VERY important in shaping the personality you'll have to live with for the next 10-15 years. In some cases, an adult dog is a better choice.
Do they make a good watch dogs?
Only if you're happy with a dog that will just do that - watch! Most Malamutes are terrible watch dogs. They are content to watch the burgler walk in and walk out. On the other hand, a few are very good watch dogs in the sense they alert you to someone at your door. They may bark "Hey, someone's here" but rarely with an aggressive tone and rarely more than once or twice. Once you and the Malamute have greeted the person the Malamute is usually content to go lie down somewhere (after getting a quick belly rub of course!). A few Malamutes (usually those that are raised improperly and encouraged to be aggressive), CAN be very territorial and protective. Sometimes unneutered males can be more protective than usual if they have a true "pack" they oversee. It goes with the alpha job. However, this is less common and not typical of the breed in a one or two dog household.