Certain breeds prompt certain words to come to mind, and the Alaskan Malamute is definitely one of them. Winter, snow, wilderness ― it’s hard to separate these things from the imposing, wolf-like appearance of this particular dog. But while the breed’s strong suit is hard work in colder climates, there’s so much more to the Alaskan Malamute than that.
From Paleolithic Alaska to the Gold Rush
To say that the history of the Alaskan Malamute goes way back would be an understatement. They are among the oldest of the sled dog breeds, and are believed to be descendants of the domesticated wolfdogs brought across the Bering Strait by Paleolithic hunters, some 4000 years ago. The name of the breed comes from the Mahlemiut, a nomadic Inuit tribe that resided in Alaska, in the Kotzebue Sound. While the Alaskan Malamute were originally bred as sled dogs, they were also used for carrying packs, locating seals under ice, and distracting bears on hunts. One thing that sets the Malamute apart from other sledding breeds, like the Siberian Husky, is that they’re not built for speed. Instead, their specialty is transporting heavy weights across long distances, slowly and steadily.
In more modern times, the Alaskan Malamute has faced some challenges. During the Gold Rush in 1896, there was an influx of dogs to Alaska, of different breeds and sizes. This led to a lot of intermingling with native dogs. Thanks to how relatively isolated the Mahlemiut tribe was, however, the Alaskan Malamute wasn’t as affected. Nonetheless, many purebred lines of native dogs were lost during this time. In 1900 and the 1920s, the Alaskan Malamute was bred using Alaskan stock. Some of these dogs ended up serving in both World Wars. In the 1930s, a different strain of Alaskan Malamute (the Kotzebue strain) were bred for the Byrd Antarctic expeditions.
The Alaskan Malamute was recognized as a breed in 1935 by the AKC, but WWII led to many being killed. Today, every registered Alaskan Malamute can be traced back to the original Kotzebue dogs, or dogs registered during the open period of the 1940s. They also have the honor of being the official state dog of Alaska.
Size and appearance of the Alaskan Malamute
The Alaskan Malamute is impressive, to say the least. They stand 23-25 inches tall, and have a life expectancy of 10-14 years. It’s easy to see that they’re bred for hard work and harsh climates, what with their strong bone structure, noble bearing, and thick double-coat. They have a deep chest, and a strong, muscled body. Their paws are well-adapted for plodding through snow, and their curled tail clearly shows they belong to spitz-family. You can find an Alaskan Malamute in different colors, including light gray, black, sable, and shades of sable to red. The one most commonly seen, however, is the dark gray and white combo. In terms of solid color, the only one you’ll see is white.
It goes without saying that a thick double-coat like this will shed. A lot. The outer coat isn’t soft or long, but rather coarse, while the oily and woolly undercoat repels wetness and cold. It’s no wonder that the Alaskan Malamute looks supremely fluffy; the undercoat is 1-2 inches deep. In terms of grooming, be prepared to brush your Alaskan Malamute a few times a week. It not only gets rid of excess hair, but it helps spread the natural oils throughout the coat, keeping it healthy and smooth.
Temperament and personality
Sled dogs are talkative, that much anyone who’s ever had one can agree on. They like to whine, and make weirdly human-like noises in response to our own. It’s not uncommon for an Alaskan Malamute to howl when bored. And they’ll get bored if you don’t give them what they need. Like any dog bred to work, the Alaskan Malamute needs to stay active, and it’s definitely not a breed for novice owners. They don’t do well in apartments, and they don’t like being left alone, so make sure you have a dog-sitter if you’re away from home for hours at a time.
The Alaskan Malamute sees everyone as a friend. While their size and imposing build might scare off intruders, this breed does not make for a good watchdog. The Malamute wants to play and do interesting things, like dragging you along on inline skates or hike through the woods. They shouldn’t really be left to their own devices, despite being independent. In fact, the Alaskan Malamute can be quite stubborn, and will constantly test your limits if you don’t keep them in check. But despite first impressions, this dog is quite intelligent, and responds well to training ― try to challenge them, once in a while.
Things to consider
The Alaskan Malamute is not a beginner’s dog, while it’s still incredibly friendly and social. With an Alaskan Malamute, you’ll have an easygoing companion that wants to join you for everything, always, all the time. You also need the patience and dedication needed to keep up with your pup’s shenanigans and desire to work and keep busy ― they will keep you on your toes. All in all, the Alaskan Malamute is just as light-hearted and loving as it is challenging. And if you’re up for that challenge, you’ll reap the rewards of their perpetual puppylike joy for years to come.