The Alaskan Malamute, also called simply the Malamute and nicknamed the “Mal,” is one of the oldest Arctic sled-dog breeds. Its name comes from the Mahlemuts, an Inuit tribe that settled in northwestern Alaska long before it was part of the United States. This breed is sometimes confused with the Siberian Husky because of its similar type and color. However, the Alaskan Malamute is much larger and has a more powerful build, a more outgoing disposition, a denser and harsher double coat and a bushier, plume-like tail, among other breed differences.
The Alaskan Malamute was recognized by the American Kennel Club as a member of the Working Group in 1935. Malamutes are best known for their intelligence, alertness, affection, curiosity, playfulness, strength and endurance. They are extremely popular with people who enjoy outdoor winter activities such as sledding, skijoring, backpacking and weight pulling. They also can excel in the conformation and performance show rings. They are wonderful companions and tend to bond with all family members and friends rather than being a “one-person dog.” They are not particularly good watch or guard dogs. They are prone to vocalizing with what is more of a howl than a true bark.
Malamutes reach an average weight of between 75 to 100 pounds and an average height of 23 to 28 inches at the shoulder, with males being larger than females. Blue eyes are a disqualifying fault in the AKC conformation ring. Malamutes have a thick, coarse outer guard coat protecting a dense, oily, woolly inner coat and come in many colors. Malamutes thrive in cold, snowy climates and will suffer in areas that are primarily hot and humid.
Alaskan Malamute Breed Quick Facts
Alaskan Malamute - Appearance & Grooming
Alaskan Malamutes are one of the oldest breed of Arctic dogs, and their broad, muscular build and confident stance gives them an air of power and wisdom. Malamutes have broad heads and erect, pointed ears. They have long muzzles and distinctive markings on their face that are unique to the breed. Their eyes are dark colored and the rims of their eyes, nose and lips are black, as well. A Malamute's eyes should be wide-set and there should be a furrow at their brow.
This breed can come in a variety of colors ranging from solid white to two-toned white with black, bray, red, or sable markings. Their long tails curl upward towards the dog's back, and some are corkscrewed. Some dogs can actually cover their nose with their long tail, which came in handy in the Arctic to keep their noses protected from the cold.
Size and Weight
This is a large breed, but can vary greatly in height and weight. Alaskan Malamutes range in size from 23 to 25 inches at the shoulder, but their weight can span from under 75 to well over 100 pounds. The acceptable AKC range, however, is between 75 and 100.
Coat and Color
Like many breeds for the cold northern regions of the world, the Alaskan Malamute has a double coat. Their undercoat is approximately two inches long and is thick and oily to repel water and keep the dog warm in harsh temperatures, while the topcoat is short and coarse. Malamutes shed lightly throughout the year and heavily twice per year.
The Malamute's belly, feet, legs, and most of his face should be white (or predominately white). The rest of his body can range in color from black, through the spectrum to gray. They may also be red, sable, or any shade in between. Some dogs may also sport a white blaze at their forehead or on the neck. Rarely are Malamutes one solid color – except for white, the only accepted solid color by AKC standards.
Malamutes shed daily, so regular brushing two to three times per week is necessary to keep things under control. Twice a year the Malamute will shed heavily, and they lose their fur in clumps. Using a heavier brush during season changes can keep the mess to a minimum. Other than brushing, regular nail clippings, teeth and ear cleanings, Malamutes are very low maintenance. Like felines, they keep their fur naturally clean, so they only require baths a few times per year. No trimming or stripping of the coat is required.
Alaskan Malamute - History and Health
The precise origin of this noble breed and the nomadic Mahlemut people for whom it was named has never been fully documented. Malamutes were found by Russian explorers when they visited the Kotzebue Sound region of the Pacific Alaskan coast. The dogs were prized by their native owners, who took excellent care of them and housed them in their own simple dwellings.
First and foremost they were “heavy haulers” - bred to pull tremendous weight and transport supplies and people during the winter months. Without them, the tribespeople would have had no means of travel in the bitter winter climate of what is now northwestern Alaska. As a result, Malamutes have an inbred willingness and desire to pull. They secondarily were used as pack animals during the warmer months and reportedly carried up to half of their own weight transporting goods for their owners.
From about 1890 to 1920, the Klondike Gold Rush brought many outsiders to California and then north to Alaska, where the sport of sled-racing became extremely popular. While the Mahlemuts had bred their dogs purely for centuries, these newcomers began crossbreeding the Alaskan Malamute with southern breeds built for speed rather than stamina. The overall quality of the Alaskan Malamute went into a steep decline, although in some remote outposts the undiluted breed persevered. In the early 1920’s, two dog enthusiasts reportedly spent more than one year living in an Eskimo village and gathering a group of these untouched Mals, which they used as their foundation stock to revitalize the breed. By 1935, the Alaskan Malamute was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club.
The average life span of the Alaskan Malamute is 10 to 12 years. Breed health concerns may include autoimmune hemolytic anemia, bloat, cancer, chondrodysplasia (dwarfism), diabetes, epilepsy, eye problems (refractory corneal ulceration, corneal dystrophy, glaucoma, cataracts, day blindness and generalized progressive retinal atrophy), hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, and skin problems such as generalized demodicosis and follicular dysplasia. Malamutes also can have a genetic defect causing malabsorption of zinc, which leads to skin lesions despite adequate levels of zinc in their diet.
Alaskan Malamute - Temperament & Personality
Hardy working dogs, Alaskan Malamutes are really just great big puppies. Though they take their jobs pulling sleds or searching out lost humans very seriously, they love to run, romp and play and have a never-ending energy reserve. Their playful, easy-going nature and friendliness toward strangers makes them a great family companion.
This breed requires a lot of activity in order to stay happy. Malamutes who do not get enough exercise will let their owner know by barking, howling, or becoming destructive. As sled dogs, their endurance is what makes them appealing. They can haul heavy loads for miles, requiring few stops for rest and food. As family dogs, their endurance means Alaskan Malamutes can become a challenge. At least one hour of vigorous exercise per day is recommended for this breed.
They should not be kept in a warm climate as they can dehydrate very easily. As the name suggests, this breed hails from the far north, and they love cold weather and playing in the snow. Malamutes should live in a house with a fenced in yard, as their yen for adventure can lead them to scale fences.
Families with children should welcome an Alaskan Malamute. They are patient enough to handle children climbing all over them, and energetic enough to keep up with children engaged in rumpus outdoor play. However, small children can be in danger of getting knocked over by a Malamute, so adult supervision is required.
hough they instinctively love to work, Alaskan Malamutes are difficult to train in the home. Independent and willful dogs, a patient, consistent hand is needed when working with this breed. They like to be in charge, so the moment they see an opening to manipulate a situation, Malamutes will take it.
Their high endurance level made them the ideal choice for sled races and northern expeditions. Admiral Byrd famously used Alaskan Malamutes in his North Pole expeditions because of their high energy and endurance levels. They are also used in search and rescue missions across the north, including avalanche missions.
Howling is guaranteed when an Alaskan Malamute is left alone, so families who live in close proximity to other people should think twice about adopting one. Separation anxiety is also common, as the Malamute loves to be with his people. Proper exercise and activity will prevent this problem from growing.
Food aggression is also common in the Alaskan Malamute, and difficult to train out of them. Children should be taught never to disturb this dog while he is eating.