"Giant" Malamute Facts and Fallacies
Are Giant Malamutes and MacKenzie River Huskies really Malamutes or a specific breed all their own? You wouldn't believe the flack I've taken over this page because many Giant Mal Breeders are out to SELL a product...
I have heard of larger Malamutes being marketed as Giants or Mackenzie River Huskies to sell them, but they are typically just oversized Malamutes. Some people have even called Riggs' a "giant" - and his mom is all of 60 lbs! (he's not) I have also heard that there are specific strains of "Malamute" that are part wolf, various mixes or have rare colors and coats just to make them sound more appealing to the public wanting something "different". Would you advertise "incorrect, too large dogs, many with incorrect coats in odd colors, bred only for size with no regard for temperament or health, possibly mutts!" and expect to sell them? "Giant" is a promotional angle used by some people to justify what they like and are selling. Many are AKC registered, but the AKC only registers dogs - it doesn't dictate the breeder must follow any ethics, standards or guidelines except that the dog is a "purebred" (only other AKC registered Malamutes are in the pedigree). There is a market for "giant" Malamutes just as there is a market for anything and I really think people who breed only for size are doing a great disservice to all Malamutes. I'm not saying people don't want and like them. I'm not even saying they shouldn't be bred. Only that structure, health, and temperament is too important to choose only ONE characteristic (size) to breed for. Just as any kind of "giant" in nature is likely to have more health problems and shorter life span than the norm related to abnormal size, so will a giant Malamute. You may get lucky and have good temperaments and health, but huge is still not what a Malamute is supposed to be. People who breed for size are changing the dog (perhaps they ARE making a new breed in a way) from what it was. I'm not saying this is right or wrong but just the way it is. People who breed white Malamutes (which is an allowed color) have the same problem - to get white they give up other things - so it's hard to find an exceptional "white". Is it worth it? Who knows? If you get a healthy and sound one you probably think so, if not...
Are the dogs in the movie Iron Will Giant Malamutes? I was told the original Malamutes where bigger than most are now, but people wanting to "Show" bred the size down.
I saw Iron Will and if I recall, all of the dogs in it belong to a well known and respected breeder and aren't giants. I was informed by someone recently, that there was a at least one giant in the movie, but I haven't been able to verify this. Several were "woolies" (longer hair). The breeder of most of the dogs in the movie breeds dogs to the AKC standard size and is well-respected among other Malamute breeders. The original Malamutes were actually even much smaller than you see today - probably slightly bigger than a typical pet Siberian. Giant and "too big" is a recent thing. Years ago in the 30's when Malamutes were first recognized as a breed there were 2 strains - Maloot and Kotzebue from those respective areas of Alaska. Maloots were larger with better front assemblies but too long of leg, Kotzebues were smaller and more compact with smaller ears and "classic" heads - NEITHER tended to be over 95 lbs. for a male. A Kotzebue male tended to be about 70-85 lbs (females 50-65), and a Maloot male about 85-95 lbs. Since then the two lines have been crossed and somewhere along the line the perception that bigger is better took hold and now you see even show Malamutes which are supposed to be in that range, but are much bigger.
Others took that to the extreme and created the giants. A giant wouldn't have survived in the arctic - Malamutes had to be very strong for their size and consume little resources (food). A simple fact is that a big dog would eat too much and tire too easily when pulling. They were only as big as they absolutely HAD to be to do the job required. Oftimes you'll see how some of the giant Malamutes are fantastic weight pullers - however, the Malamute is really supposed to be an endurance dog - pulling heavy loads for long distances. Weight pulling (though a great sport) is pulling very heavy loads for very short distances (about 15-30 feet). If you look at old photographs of the Byrd expedition dogs and earlier, you'll notice they aren't huge. The Inuit lived on a starvation diet themselves, so had little extra to give their dogs.
In the summer. The dogs were often abandoned on an island and hunted for survival - those that were too big and slow at catching prey DIED. Also they were a freighting dog - when the Inuit wanted to move, they would pack up their belongings on big sleds and help the dogs pull them to the next stop. They weren't meant to be massive "weight pullers", and haul giant weights for short distances. It wasn't a competition or even necessary. They were just helpers pulling the family belongings over miles and miles of terrain. If a family got too hungary over the winter they ate the dogs and pulled the sled themselves. Therefore, it also made no sense to have one big dog vs. several small dogs as I've seen stated. If you had to eat a dog to survive - at least you still HAD a couple of dogs to breed for the future - if you only owned one and had to eat it, you would be out of luck. Giants and the oversize dogs you see in the show ring today are a modern development.
Does size have anything to do with temperament?
Have you ever met a nasty small dog? A nasty big dog? Then you know, size has nothing to do with temperament - careful breeding and raising does. A good temperamented dog can be ruined by a stupid owner just as easily as a great owner can get a dog and do nothing wrong and end up with a bad disposition. Size has nothing to do with temperament. Actually, if you have to deal with a Malamute with an onery temperament - wouldn't you rather it be the one that doesn't outweigh you?
Are show dogs just "fluff" with no brains?
Any dog can be fluff with no brains - but reputable breeders work hard to retain characteristics the Malamute originally had to survive in the arctic, even if they show. Many breeders sled their dogs regularly and test those characteristics - I wouldn't call that fluff. But even those of us that rarely sled, and have couch potatoes, do work hard to retain the temperament, coat, and characteristics necessary for survival. A correct coat is waterproof and dense, but not necessarily the cotton-candy fluff coat you sometimes see on a show dog. Nor is it long and wooly making the dog appear bigger than it is - though many people like that look and it sells! A reputable show breeder tries to retain correct size (that's NOT giant folks!), and that "heart" that makes a dog WANT to pull a sled thousands of miles. Heart is also what makes a show dog love showing and play to the crowd! A show dog doesn't need intelligence to prance around the ring, sure, but to be a good sled dog it does. One qualification is that the true sled dog temperament is very hard to live with. Our best sled dogs would be Superman, and previously Star and Shadow, all test your patience at every turn which may be one reason there does seem to be a "dumbing down" of Malamutes in general. An intelligent dog is not easy to live with because often they out-think their owners. That is one reason it takes a very special person to own a Malamute.
If you compare a Malamute to a draft horse, then they should be huge shouldn't they?
The AKC standard says size should not outweigh the ability to do the job. Not wanting to put actual limits on size and eliminate a potentially good dog, the breed club decided to allow all sizes, with preference for those closest to the "ideal" size stated in the AKC standard. The ideal size is NOT Giant sized. However, just as there are many varieties of draft horses - some larger than others - it is the same with Malamutes. Just because one draft horse is bigger does not make it better. Malamutes are a draft dog and should be strong, and substantially built, and tireless regardless of size. Comparing them to draft horses (vs. race horses) is helpful to a novice trying to visualize the general differences between Malamutes and Siberian Huskies - it does not mean they must be huge above all else. Also, if you ask people that sled regularly, the'll tell you big dogs don't last - it's the more standard sized ones that are their most enduring sled dogs - the big ones tire sooner.
Some breeders brag their dogs are never "inbred"? Is this good or bad?
One line of reasoning is that dogs that are never "inbred" are "one of a kind". Think about it - EVERY dog is one of a kind! All you do when you outcross at every turn is lose consistency of type (that look that says THIS is a Malamute). You end up with a mish-mash of genes, with a hodge-podge of traits. That can be a good thing - or not. Would you like to have some idea of how large your dog will be full-grown? It's temperament? It's color and look? Then perhaps hodge-podge is not for you. Mutts are a hodge-podge of traits and though they can be great dogs, beautiful and healthy - sometimes they are not what was expected. Outcrossing is no guarantee of anything. A careful linebred breeding program can eliminate bad genetic traits - there is no elimination when you outcross - you are getting everything - the good and the bad. So, I guess it depends on what you are looking for - a consistent, predictible experience knowing what it's likely to look like and what it's health and temperament is likely to be - or a surprise. Some people like surprises, some don't. Which are you?
I have searched the internet and am REALLY confused - everyone says Malamutes are something different. How do I know who to believe?
An easy way to tell is: Are they trying to sell you a dog (and tell you nothing about their bad qualities)? Then of course they are going to sugarcoat the breed and all it's wonderful characteristics to make the sale. They will breed for what sells (if it helps, darker and larger dogs tend to be more popular with inexperienced pet owners than lighter and correct sized dogs for some reason). If a breeder has litters constantly available, they need to sell them to make room for more puppies (and ring up more sales). They don't care if what they say is marginally true or even a lie - they've got your money. Those are the breeders I would definately stay away from and question what they are telling me. Also, put the most stock into reputable organizations such as the AMCA (Alaskan Malamute Club of America) and Rescues. They aren't trying to sell you a puppy, only educate you. They see the fall out from irresponsible and impulse puppy sales. Personal sites (including this one) are one persons' viewpoint so try and determine if sales or education is their goal. They can be very helpful, give you good solid information, but with knowledge probably limited to the lines or types of dogs they own or know personally. Then there are the "brag sites" - typically all they want to do is impress you, not educate you. In all, you must make your own decision at to the "type" of Malamute you want. Choose your breeder and style wisely - he will be with you for many years!