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Karin Newstrom, Animal Photography
The Alaskan Malamute is a dog fur factory, he's a world-class leash-puller, and he'll eat his weight in food every four hours if you let him. The world is his backyard; that’s because few fences can contain him. But there may be no more joyful, exuberant, friendly dog in the animal kingdom, and none more likely to remind you just why you love dogs in the first place.
The Alaskan Malamute is perhaps the oldest and definitely the largest of the Arctic sled dogs. The breed is named after the Mahlemut, an Inuit tribe from Alaska’s Kotzebue Sound area.
The Alaskan Malamute is a big, powerful dog who was bred to pull sleds in harsh terrain and brutal climates. Consider that fact carefully if you're at all unsure about your ability to walk a dog like that on a leash. And a leash is not optional equipment when it comes to a Malamute; not only does he roam, often for miles and days, but he’s usually ready to mix it up with other dogs and will hunt and kill wildlife and cats.
Malamutes also extremely difficult to keep behind a fence, as they are expert diggers and climbers. If you want them back, Malamutes need to be microchipped and have an ID tag on their collars at all times. And while working Malamutes often live happily in kennel situations – because they get lots of exercise and plenty of interesting work to do -- relegating a Malamute to the backyard isn't a great idea, unless you like holes the size of a swimming pool, and your neighbors like howling. Not to mention that he'll probably not be there when you get home, since he considers fences to be interesting challenges rather than genuine obstacles.
If none of that deters you, then you might be ready to consider some of the pluses to the Alaskan Malamute. He's handsome, with a primeval look that can make you feel the snowy winds of the tundra even when you're standing on a suburban lawn. And he absolutely adores children, although as with all large, powerful dogs, careful supervision is required.
Malamutes can be affected by a few genetic diseases, and there are temperament problems in the breed, so be careful to get your dog from either an experienced breeder who does genetic screening and temperament tests on her dogs, or a reputable rescue group that evaluates them for temperament and suitability for your family and lifestyle.
As his name indicates, the Malamute is native to Alaska. Early Eskimos, who called themselves Inuit, meaning “the people,” were nomads who relied on dogs and sleds to transport themselves and their goods through their snowy barren land. Besides pulling sleds or carrying burdens themselves, the dogs helped hunters seek out polar bears and other food animals. These dogs, the ancestors of Alaskan Malamutes, belonged to the Spitz family of dogs, which includes Akitas, Chow Chows, Norwegian Elkhounds, Finnish Spitz, Samoyeds, Siberian Husky, American Eskimo and many more. Based on studies of the canine genome, the Alaskan Malamute is one of the most ancient breeds in existence. The relationship between the dogs and the people was a close one, with the dogs being well fed and cared for and babies suckling on dogs along with puppies, both instances that can be pointed to as a basis for the Malamute’s love of people.
Malamutes became important in 1896 during the Alaska Gold Rush, when miners paid sky-high prices for sleds and dog teams. A good dog alone cost $500 and a sled and a small team could run as much as $1,500. While the Malamute was popular, this was a dangerous time for the breed because many people crossed the Malamutes with other breeds to either increase their speed or their size. Fortunately, the Spitz genes were dominant and the Malamutes quickly reverted to type.
The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1935, and the Alaskan Malamute Club of America was formed the same year. A few years later, however, military service devastated the breed when a cruel and foolish bureaucratic decision led to many Malamutes being deliberately blown up on an ice floe after serving on an expedition to Antarctica. The AKC reopened registration to the breed for a brief time. The breed has since thrived and ranks 58th among the dogs registered by the AKC.
Alaskan Malamutes are friendly and love people. This makes them a wonderful choice for the active family who has an electronic burglar alarm and doesn’t need a Malamute for his watchdog abilities. That’s because he doesn’t have any.
He is moderately vocal and will howl along with sirens or talk to you with expressive “woo-woos.” For a spitz breed, though, he’s pretty quiet and doesn’t typically become a nuisance barker.
This dog is smart and curious, and he wants nothing more than to share his discoveries with his human family members. Discoveries like exactly how the sofa was put together, for example, or what the interior of your car would look like without all that carpeting and upholstery.
The good news is that destructiveness in the Malamute is preventable and treatable. The cure is exercise, and lots of it, no matter what the weather is, or if you have the flu. Lots and lots of strenuous exercise. Hiking, pulling sleds in winter and carts in summer (although don't let him become overheated), competitive weight pulling and formal obedience are all good outlets for his brain and his brawn.
The Malamute is smart, learns quickly and loves you, but he’s also strong-willed and independent.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed. These experiences as a young dog will help him grow into a sensible, calm adult dog.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality. Whatever you want from an Alaskan Malamute, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.
The Malamute is a fairly healthy dog, but he is at risk for some genetic diseases, including hip dysplasia, a genetic deformity of the hip socket that may require costly surgery to correct and often leads to arthritis later on in life. This is a particularly devastating condition for an active running dog like the Malamute. Make sure a breeder provides you with written documentation from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or the University of Pennsylvania (PennHip) certifying that a puppy’s parents are free of hip dysplasia.
Malamutes can also be affected by chondrodysplasia, a developmental abnormality of the cartilage that can lead to dwarfism. Breeders should be able to show Alaskan Malamute Club of America certification that at least one of a puppy’s parents was free of this condition.
They can also suffer from inherited polyneuropathy, for which there is no screening test. This is a nervous system disorder that causes chronic lack of coordination and weakness in the dogs. Any breeder who tells you these and other breed-related problems aren't a matter of concern in the breed or his lines is either dishonest or not knowledgeable – neither of them traits you want in the breeder of your new puppy.
The Alaskan Malamute Club of America participates in the Canine Health Information Center, a health database. Before individual Malamutes can be issued a CHIC number, breeders must submit hip evaluations from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and eye test results from the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). OFA certification of thyroid health is optional.
Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. A dog need not receive good or even passing scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease, but all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Malamute at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
The Alaskan Malamute has a thick, coarse double coat. It’s not especially high maintenance — brush it a couple of times a week to remove dead hair and distribute skin oils — but it sheds year-round and more heavily on a seasonal basis.
A Malamute owner's best friend, after his dog, is his vacuum cleaner. Twice a year Malamutes "blow coat." Picture mountains of hair drifting all over the house and attaching itself to every surface. The rest of the year their shedding is much less – so much so that you might be able to get away with vacuuming only twice a day instead of every four hours.
If you can put up with that, the Malamute is a pretty easy-care dog. Bathe him every few months or whenever he’s dirty. He doesn’t need any special trimming to maintain his distinctive look.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed, usually once a month. Brush the teeth frequently for good overall health and fresh breath. Check the ears weekly for dirt, redness or a bad odor that can indicate an infection. If the ears look dirty, wipe them out with a cotton ball dampened with a gentle ear cleaner recommended by your veterinarian. Introduce your Malamute to grooming at an early age so he will accept it gracefully.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a good breeder is the key to finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks. Be wary of breeders who only tell you the good things about the breed or who promote the dogs as being “good with kids” without any context as to what that means or how it comes about.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes take to avoid those problems. A breeder should want to be a resource for you throughout your dog’s life.
Look for more information about the Alaskan Malamute and start your search for a good breeder at the website of the Alaskan Malamute Club of America. Choose a breeder who has agreed to abide by the AMCA’s code of ethics, which prohibits the sale of puppies to or through pet stores and calls for the breeder to obtain recommended health clearances on dogs before breeding them.
Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. Breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of an Alaskan Malamute puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) and, ideally, working titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Alaskan Malamute might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for an Alaskan Malamute in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Alaskan Malamutes available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for an Alaskan Malamute. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Networking can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. Most people who love Alaskan Malamutes love all Alaskan Malamutes. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Alaskan Malamute Club of America’s rescue network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Alaskan Malamute rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring an Alaskan Malamute home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a dog. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Alaskan Malamute, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, take your Alaskan Malamute to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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