Kotzebue vs. M'loot (and the third strain dogs)
"In shape, the Paleolithic dogs most resemble the Siberian husky, but in size, however, they were somewhat larger, probably comparable to large shepherd dogs," stated Germonpré, a paleontologist at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences. This description of recently found 30000 years old dog remains fits the Alaskan Malamute very closely. Though not scientifically confirmed, could the Alaskan Malamute be the closest living relative to the "First Dog"?
What is an Alaskan Malamute?
The word 'Malamute" comes from the inuit words 'Mahlemute' or 'Mahlemuit' - native Inuit peoples from Alaska. The original purpose of the Malamute was to pull heavy sleds over long distances. I usually explain it this way: Siberian Huskies are the race horses, Malamutes are the Clydesdales. Not fast, but incredibly strong for their size and build. The people that created the breed - the Kuuvangmiut or Kobuk people, had a good standard of life, working hard and developing their dogs to a high level of strength, intelligence and reliability. As "eskimos" went, they were the rich ones. People of the Malamute region fed their dogs as often as they themselves ate. They were quite humane compared to other peoples which may account for the better temperament of the Alaskan Malamute. Many other working dogs were badly mistreated, underfed and over-used. Kindness in treatment is why the Malamute has a better disposition towards people than some other arctic breeds and was allowed indoors with the family, to watch and play with children.
Where did he come from?
Four thousand years ago, and possibly earlier, the Inuit crossed the Bering Straits when the tribes migrated East from the cold barren lands of Siberia. Arctic anthropology indicates the presence of Inuit civilization at Cape Krusenstern as early as 1850 B.C. The Mahlemuit people created the Alaskan Malamute Breed for their own purposes over 10,000 years ago. This dog was used for sled pulling, back-pack carrying and hunting purposes. The Alaskan Malamute is put into the Spitz Breed family because of their small erected pointing ears, curled tail carried over the back, longer hair around the neck and thick isolating hair among the toes. Most people are familiar with "sled dogs" because of the Iditarod dog race in Alaska, however though Malamutes were the main dogs used in the serum run that the Iditarod was born from, they have not been used much in the actual race in recent years. Because it is a "race", the tendency is to use faster mixed dogs - some with Malamute in them, but generally they are mixes. Only one purebred team has run the race that I'm aware of...that was Nancy Russell's dogs in the 90's. Her driver Jamie Nelson told Dan at a training camp that it was the most gratifying thing to go from town to town and have the elders come out of their homes to see the dogs and tell their grandchildren "THESE are the kind of dogs we used to have", not what is running the race now. Though her team didn't finish, and were incredibly slow compared to the hyper alaskan huskies that did win, they did prove they could do what they were bred for without coats, booties, and other paraphernalia that many of the hound mixes need to compete in the race nowadays.
The Inuit's lived in the northwest part of Seward Peninsula were humane and kind to their dogs and cared about their good condition. It was mentioned in many writings of the time that the dogs were allowed in the home and looked after the children. They were part of the Inuit family besides being the only means of transport. Humans and dogs depended on each other - they couldn't have survived alone. In breeding the Inuit people were quite particular about which dogs were allowed to breed and survive. It was a harsh environment and there was no room to be "soft". It's been thought that dogs with wooly coats would have died though some must have survived since wooly coats are still appearing quite often today in most lines. Tough choices were part of everyday life. Dogs that didn't pull their own weight were likely eaten and used for fur, but dogs that were friendly to people, particularly to children and pulled well were bred and had a certain amount of appreciation and family status.
That wolf thing again....
While there is wolf in Malamutes, appearing once or twice some 12-15 generations back, it is not very much and does not define the breed. It is basically an accidental occurance and was not purposely pursued. It was probably the result of some of the "Gold Rush" breeding. While all dogs are descended from the wolf, the Alaskan Malamute is probably closer only because they share many survival traits with the wolf. They were not "genetically altered" by man to fit some unique purpose (ie: herding, lapdogs) but were allowed to keep the traits that served his ancestor the wolf well. Since the Inuit needed a dog that would survive in the same environment the wolf lived in, there was no need to change it - and because he already had all the traits for survival the wolf had - what would be the point of purposely breeding to wolves? The main genetic adaptations that separate a Malamute from a wolf are quite small ....a Malamute has a broader, deeper chest (for the lung capacity to better pull a sled) and a stockier build, darker eyes and shorter, broader muzzle and the upturned tail of domestication. To most people a Malamute and a wolf look very much the same, though there are differences. One of the more interesting ones I was made aware of is that wolves have larger canine teeth and NEVER have pink inside their mouths - it is always black. There are also some minor differences in the skull - that's all. That's because the Malamute is a natural breed retaining most of it's "wolfy" characteristics. They remained true to the environment they came out of and most could probably still adapt and survive in that environment today (though I personally think we are losing much of the drive and intensity that makes a good sled dog so that we can tolerate having them live in our homes as pets - a true sled dog is very difficult to live with in modern society). Temperamentally, the wolf and the Malamute also have many common characteristics - they both love to hunt, form strong relationships, have a social system that is almost identical. The main difference is that wolves are naturally afraid of people whereas Malamutes LOVE people.
No one really knows why dogs have decided to live with humans. One theory is dogs are lazy and found it easier in harsh environments to take man's leftovers rather than hunt themselves. I find this faintly amusing since our Malamutes still love the hunt and would have no problem feeding themselves (though we might!). My theory is that they found comfort and friendship in man - as an equal. This seems to fit with the Malamute's desire to be with people they respect, rather than just be an obeying robot as some breeds are. We will probably never know why man and dog became best friends, but it's been to our advantage that we did. Wolves or other wild candid's will never totally trust people, even if they live with them from puppy hood.
The Alaskan Malamute is a very very old breed. We can probably date its origin back several thousands of years to one of the very first domesticated dogs. This theory is confirmed by the archeologically finds from the period before 12-20 thousand years. Archaeological researchers also have confirmed that the Alaskan Malamute BREED has been used as a sled dog for the last 3-5 hundred years, although as pack carriers or sledge pullers, they were used even earlier than that.
Alaskan Malamutes have been created and bred with other dogs but have become a true type unto themselves. During the gold rush other breeds and wolves were mixed with the Malamute, but when re crossed they always revert back to the same original type - Alaskan Malamute. This may explain the wide diversity in style between Malamutes. From the short, compact Kotzebue's to the leggy and tall Maloots, the variety of colors, coats, and personality - there is probably more diversity of style in the Alaskan Malamute than any other AKC dog breed.
Migrations played an important role in the history of the Malamute since his Inuit owners lived a nomadic lifestyle. They regularly moved to new hunting grounds and places that had enough food resources. The dogs also helped their owners hunt polar bear and seal for food. Seaside areas offered possibilities of hunting and also fishing and that explained the higher occurrence of these sled dogs north and south of the place of their original place of origin - Kotzebue Sound. The dogs were quite valuable to their owners and no doubt were traded as a valuable resource to nearby settlements. The Malamute people bred only the best and most promising youngsters never doing a lot of breeding because of the lack of food. Stories I've heard, but can't verity, are that when woolies were produced they either died from the harsh environment or were killed, or were used to enhance coat in breeding. It was difficult for white men to purchase Malamutes because of the high value placed upon them. This is why there is a small foundation to which we trace Malamutes of today.
The Gold Rush wipe out
The period of the Gold Rush (1896 - 1899) is one of the most critical periods in the history of the breed. Teams became very expensive; it was normal to pay $1,500 for a small team and $500 for a good dog which was a fortune in those days. Inuit people had finally settled in one place so they didn't need large numbers of sled dogs any longer. So when the gold rush started, many of their dogs were sold off to arriving prospectors. Teams of Alaskan Malamutes were sought after and valued for their hard working ability and use of few resources (food). The breed was almost destroyed at this time because it was crossed with smaller and faster dogs for sled dog races and with bigger more aggressive dogs for dogfights and weight pulling contests. Because of this cross breeding, the number of pure Malamutes became critically low. However, when the dogs were re bred, they quickly began to return to the Spitz type which is a characteristic of a true and pure breed. This cross breeding is probably why today we find large almost St. Bernard style "Giants". Even the first generation of cross-breeds tended to look more like the Spitz dog than the other half of their breeding. Then, in the early 19th century a small group of admirers became interested in this breed and brought out of Alaska a select group to use as breeding stock to revive the original look and temperament. In 1935 the Alaskan Malamute was admitted to the AKC (American Kennel Club) and the AMCA (Alaskan Malamute Club of America) was formed.
Three lines of dogs were the start of reviving the breed brought out of Alaska. The first, called "Kotzebue", derived directly from Short Seeley's dogs. Short Seeley was instrumental in creating an interest in this new and interesting breed. In 1923 she was a young teacher in Massachusetts. Eva Seeley, nicknamed "Short" because of her height, fell in love with those dogs and become instrumental in reviving the breed. With her husband Milton, she became the most famous American breeder of Alaskan Malamutes. Because of her hard work, the AKC recognized the Alaskan Malamute in 1935 and registered Gripp of Yukon. I would have liked to have met this wonderful dog. I suspect I see his personality in many of our guys daily, just don't know it! He was only 12 generations back in Penny's pedigree and we can trace our bloodlines directly to him and to most of the first Malamutes. Eva Seeley's Malamutes met hon our and glory during Byrd's first expedition to Antarctica, they served proudly for the army in World War II. Unfortunately, their loyalty was not met in kind. After the war many of these same dogs were used on an expedition to Antarctica. They served admirably and then, due to some idiot bureaucrats decision, were chained to an ice floe and destroyed by an explosive charge. The navy men were quite irate about this order. No dogs survived and it almost wiped the breed out.
Another important figure in Malamute history is Arthur Walden, who had dogs resembling the Malamute type. Alexander met Eve Seeley and showed her one of his dogs. This dog became Rowdy of Nome. They continued to make trips to Alaska to acquire dogs of the Malamute type that resembled Rowdy - A bitch Bessie and male Yukon Jad. 4 puppies were born in 1929. Tugg, Gripp, Finn and Kersage of Yukon. Seeley's Chinook kennels bred from these dogs, establishing the Kotzebue line. Our original Malamute, Penny, was related to every one of these dogs though she was not a pure kotzebue. Kotzebue dogs are always gray and white, stocky and sometimes short legged; they are less irritable and get along with other Malamutes quite well - this was Penny exactly. She would never fight with any dog and was great with children. They tend to have great heads, bad rears and nice coats. Kotzebue gets its name from the Kotzebue Sound, which was named after Otto von Kotzebue, who explored the sound while searching for the Northwest Passage in the service of Russia in 1818.
Then along came the M'Loots....This line was established by Paul Voelker and it's still found in many kennels. M'Loots and Kotzebue's were quite different: Pure Kotzebues had a beautiful head, but were short in height and were a single color, wolf gray. M'Loots were taller but had narrower chests, big ears and longer noses. Their rears were better and had a wide variety of colors, including red. Finally, M'Loots' tended to be a little aggressive, while Kotzebues' temperament was sweeter. Then along came Robert Zoller, the owner of Husky-Pak Kennels, who decided to try crossing the two lines - he liked traits of both and thought there might be some merit to combining them. Most Malamutes today are descended from a combination of both lines. There are very few pure Kotzebues or pure M'loots left today. The original M'Loots were not registered with the AKC. More recently, one of the more famous kennels of M'loot dogs was Glacier. Lois Olmen established a line of pure M'Loot dogs and bred for exemplary temperament. I believe Lois did more than anyone to improve the temperaments of M'loot dogs all by herself. Nancy Russel, Storm Kloud, established her very famous kennel on Glacier's Storm Kloud - one of Olmem's first dogs. Our Gracie is from Lois' Glacier lines.
Destruction and Rebirth
After World War II the breed was pretty much destroyed. With so few dogs to work with (having been blown up by the government in Antarctica) there was a need to open the stud books to increase genetic diversity. Few dogs came from this line, but it still has a big impact on the quality of the breed. The breed had been created by mating the M'Loot dogs with the Kotzebue lines . This was the breeding basis of "Husky-Pak Kennel" owned by the Zoller's, which played the biggest role in this line's breeding program. Their best dog, Ch. Cliquot of Husky-Pak became the official symbol of the Alaskan Malamute Club of America. This line is very rare today as well. The registry was opened again by the AKC, although under strict conditions. During this period, the dogs of the M'Loot and Hinman lines were also registered along with the Kotzebue. Regrettably it was a very short period that was suddenly stopped by the AKC, and protested by the AMCA. The Hinman strain only encompassed a few Greenland Eskimo type Dogs. Every "purebred" Malamute of today is originated from Kotzebue, M'loot or "open period" Hinman strain dogs. Occasionally you will see a throwback to coats of this 3rd strain - Homer had this kind of coat - extremely dense, oily with a characteristic waviness to the guard hair.
Today, the Alaskan Malamute is one of the most popular Nordic breeds. It is a combination of all three strains and it is difficult if not impossible to find "pure" anything. All are a mixture of all three. There are a few breeders that doggedly are trying to keep the Kotzebue strain pure as well as one breeding pure M'Loots. Everything else has been tossed like salad into the mix and has created the Malamute we see today. The breed has spread from North America to almost all countries of the world. There are Alaskan Malamutes in Europe, Australia and Africa. Fortunately, though the hard work of a few people, the Alaskan Malamute was saved from disappearing altogether and through the careful breeding has been improved into the dog it is today - a great family pet with most of the survival characteristics it would still need to survive in the Alaska wilderness.