This article appeared in the Malamute Quarterly Spring 1997. It never occurred to us not to have all of our dogs in the house together, then one day we were told "You can't do that!" and this article was born..
Recent pic of 6 girls hanging out together (Mu, Jazzy, Mocha, Kara, Netiri, LeeLoo)....it's just how we roll....
You Can't Do That!
(the actual article has been converted to text for faster loading)
by Cindy 0'Malley, Trenary, MI
We have several Alaskan Malamutes, which when you show and occasionally breed is not unusual. What we have discovered IS somewhat unusual is that our dogs are all raised in the house and live inside together, as housedogs and one big pack. The more unusual side is most are intact and remain together as a pack, even when females are in season.
We've been told by others with many more years than us, "you can't do that!" they'll fight. Well, they do occasionally but mostly they don't. We had read everything we could find on "pack order" and nothing completely covers what it's like to live with a pack of Malamutes. They are all at times so loving, so generous, so jealous, so Malamutety, playful, serious, and so COMPLEX! The same as any people. Keeping it all together comes down to one thing, being a strong "alpha." Their Malamutety differences can never be allowed to bloom, and each is required to respect another's space.
A lot like being a parent, I suppose. We have a very amicable pack, now that our oldest males have worked out their alpha male thing. They eat together in our small kitchen without so much as a grumble. They mooch side by side. They go for car rides in groups (uncrated). With puppies, or females in season, there is tension in the pack, but it's not unmanageable. When the girls are in season, they wear homemade Malamute-proof "chastity pants" and the boys are in the house with them the entire time they're in season. At the height of the season, they may be on opposite sides of the house for a couple of days, but no one is put out in a kennel, even temporarily. We don't have any kennels. And no, they don't eat through doors, at least OURS don't!
What few people realize is that some males won't act nearly as desperate, obsessed and frustrated if they can be near the object of their desire. You'd be surprised at the affection shown between the alpha male and female while they "wait." He courts her, shares his food, protects and watches over her, gives her ear kisses and snuggles a lot. If it's not the alpha female in season, but another bitch, he isn't nearly as affectionate, but does watch over her closely, never allowing the beta males to get any ideas. When more than one girl is in season (we've had all three go simultaneously), he courts his favorite, but also looks after and protects the others. The girls wear pants the entire time they are in season except when outside. The pants have long legs and a reinforced rear panel which prevents any breeding and stains on the carpet. Because we've used this system from the beginning, the girls don't mind wearing them and the males don't try and chew or pull them off as we were warned was going to happen. Actually, it's funny because the boys consider the pants "sexy" and will steal and carry them around the house while the girls are outside. We joke and say they have a pants fetish! At bedtime or unsupervised, the males sleep in their crates while the girls have free roam of the house.
We've never had one stray dog stop by - and our neighborhood is full of them because our girl's urine spots are always marked by a male. When you have a pack situation, posturing goes on and an occasional tight breaks out, but it's rarely anything more than some vicious sounding growls and serious pinning by the alpha male. No one else is allowed to start a fight. They can growl, they can posture, they can snarley - but the one rule all must obey is "NO FIGHTS." Often the alpha male will arrogantly "stand over" a lesser male for twenty minutes to make a point. If he doesn't submit properly, the alpha male may start a fight, but he never hurts anyone. With the girls, he's a soft touch. They can get away with anything except fighting with each other.
When we have a litter of pups the dam decides how much human company she wants in the kitchen, which dogs she allows in, and we enforce the rules for her with baby gates and doors. We've found new Moms are the most reluctant to have other dogs walking in and out. Only when she's ready and confident in her role will she let the rest of the pack become involved. Our alpha male, Homer, is self-appointed official babysitter, sitting IN the whelping box, watching puppies while mom goes potty or gets a drink of water. So much for those "dangerous" alpha stud dogs. He just beams when we show him the newborns, and the whole pack adores puppies! Even Shadow, our "return" dog with an aggression problem caused by stupid owners trying to make him a guard dog, is trustworthy with puppies. If he gets too rough, Homer lets him know.
It makes no difference who is having the pups, the girls are willing to help each other clean butts and discipline an uppity puppy. It was touching to see our alpha female Penny insist on climbing into the whelping box to take care of, clean and "potty" the newborns and the nipples of Star after she had an emergency c-section. Star was asleep from pain medication and couldn't care for them herself for 24 hours, so Penny immediately took over and helped out. The only glitch was when Star woke up, she told Penny OUT! and hurt her feelings terribly.
The whole pack acts as disciplinarians and playmates when morn is weaning. Our puppies learn terrific house manners -from the other dogs! Yes, maybe we are weird. The males had their share of nasty fights at first to establish pack order, mostly because Shadow hadn't always lived with us and returned as a teen with an attitude. Now he rarely picks a fight, even though Shadow is an "alpha seeking" personality. Homer, our "beta personality" alpha, never gives him a chance to "seek," Homer is so fair, gentle, and patient, perhaps that's the reason we have few problems. We trust his judgement. In fact, Homer has fixed many of the aggression problems Shadow came back with. Like a good dad, he's teaching his son the value of behaving, following rules and being a team player. It's almost funny when Homer growls "don't get into that garbage," "don't even THINK about stealing that food" as he reminds Shadow of the rules.
Homer the doting grandpa makes sure no one gets too heavy-handed with HIS pups! As for the girls, Mom, daughter and granddaughter have always gotten along great. Penny instilled in her puppies from day one - "I am alpha" and Star has rarely questioned it, even though she is an alpha personality herself. Star is currently teaching Nova HER place is below morn and grandma. The pups' puberty hasn't been a problem since the entire pack has immediately outlined their place, even though the dynamics can be very complicated and "pack order" can change with the circumstances.
Star is a very strict disciplinarian, but surprisingly her pups look to the alphas as their role models. Hoover prefers to hang out with the "guys" and is learning to mark the perimeter of the yard and protect territory with Homer. Nova looks up to grandma Penny and admires her as the ultimate role model who spoils her rotten allowing her to pull her tail and nip with little correction. Though she is a pushy little thing, she always defers to a more alpha bitch. Even Uncle Shadow is teaching - as in "go away kid, ya bother me" a la W, G. Fields! Is he surprised when little Nova "yells" at him "get away from my chew toy!" So, how has it been so workable for us? We understand, let them work out and respect their pack order. We don't embarrass a high ranked dog, nor give a low ranked dog more than his share of attention. We introduce new pack members slowly, preferably as puppies. We trust the judgement of the alpha dog and let him do his job without interference, sometimes even helping him reinforce his position if necessary, such as allowing him to sit closer to us when "mooching" or extra car rides. He runs the pack and maintains order.
They have a very complex social order and it is infinitely fascinating to watch and learn. We don't interfere in the posturing, toy stealing, grumbling and ranking. The major rule is "NO FIGHTS," especially when a child is nearby, over food, or something truly Malamutety. Infractions of the rules are enforced with time-outs, pinning, lots of growls and posturing on our part (Homer's taught us a lot about how to be a good fair alpha!). Afterwards they must always face each other to work out the problem. We never separate the fighters, since we found that just intensifies the fights. No dog is ever allowed to hurt a puppy, although they can growl warnings, give muzzle corrections, even snap if necessary.
Visitors are often unnerved by the amount of apparent "growling" going on between different dogs, but if you learn to listen and understand the meanings, it's often just "talking." Of course, all the humans in this uack are the absolute alphas, even the kids, and the dogs know it. One rule we follow is the oldest dog is always FIRST, and the next oldest NEXT, etc. when handing out treats or for special attention. Even if the oldest dog isn't "alpha" the other dogs respect this treatment and appreciate the consistency of things always being the same. New dogs always go to the bottom of the pile. Except for special circumstances, no one except the male and female alphas gets special treatment and attention, and that includes the dog currently being shown.
In the show ring she may be hot stuff, but at home she's just one of the gang, and feels secure knowing that. Mals are creatures of habit and the status quo is EVERYTHING. It is possible to have a mixture of intact males, females, all 100 percent house dogs. Even with a litter of pups thrown in. It may get hectic at but with firm rules, consistency, and a strong desire to make it work - it will. We've been told nobody but us is crazy enough to have "all those Malamutes" in the house. But, what a shame to throw away all those snuggles, neat personalities, and what they teach us, for mere convenience. Heck, the hardest part is finding a good vacuum cleaner and wiping the nose prints off windows daily. Besides, I'd miss not having my "furry kids" around 24 hours a day! And they ARE like kids! They play and bicker and communicate in ways I wouldn't have imagined a few years ago. They are each other's best friends, and our best friends.
I have no doubt should a threat present itself to any individual, the rest of the pack would respond and defend the threatened member. Today the girls are hunting the backyard for rabbits and moles, working as a team, while the boys sit on the hill and watch. If a kill is made, everyone is excited and proud, especially the owner of the kill (who has a special status with the others for a good part of the day!). Something like a pride of lions, I suspect. Makes sense, doesn't it? They are the "King of Dogs." Actually, we feel sorry for all those kennel dogs out there that can't really establish their pack order, and "hang out" with the supreme alphas ALL the time. After all, isn't that a Malamute's ultimate joy? Who are we to deny them that?