The Alaskan Malamute features a powerful, sturdy body built for stamina and strength. It reigns as one of the oldest dog breeds whose original looks have not been significantly altered. This intelligent canine needs a job and consistent leadership to avoid becoming bored or challenging to handle.
This member of the Working Group of dogs is definitely a task seeker. He thrives on long walks, hikes (while carrying a backpack), skijoring (pulling a person on skis), carting, and sledding. He needs to run, play, and generally bounce around a lot. Inadequate exercise will cause the Alaskan Malamute to become bored and destructive. Make sure, however, that the exercise matches the dog's age, health condition, and activity level.
Malamutes love to dig. Rather than trying to stop this behavior, your best bet is to accommodate it by giving your Malamute his own place to dig in the yard, such as a sandbox or other area that you don't mind setting aside for him.
Blessed with a dense double coat, Alaskan Malamutes can tolerate living outdoors in extremely cold climates. However, they do need adequate shelter and a fenced enclosure, preferably with a roof over it. Because Malamutes have an extremely high pack drive, they are happiest when residing with their pack in the house. They do well living inside a home because they keep their coats clean and are easy to housetrain.
Not surprisingly, Malamutes are sensitive to heat. They're Arctic dogs, not designed by nature to live in hot, humid environments. If your Malamute lives in the Sunbelt, be sure to provide him with plenty of shade, fresh water, and air conditioning during the summer, and avoid exercise in the heat of the day.
Due to their size, strength, and smarts, it's highly recommended that Malamutes be enrolled in obedience training at a young age before they are large enough and strong enough to outmaneuver — or outwit — their people.
Not recommended for the first time dog owner as their intelligence combined with stubbornness can make them a challenge for someone not savvy in dog behavior. Malamutes will challenge for alpha or top position in the household. Everyone who lives with the dog must be able to properly deal with this and clearly establish all family members as higher ranking than the Malamute.
Alaskan Malamutes will win you over with their playful, outgoing dispositions. They greet everyone as a friend — even strangers and first-time houseguests — so they don't make good watchdogs, but they are extremely loyal to their family and friends. Malamutes are pack animals, and they enjoy spending time with their human pack, insisting on being included in all activities that their family undertakes. They're not big-time barkers, but they do howl and they're known for making a characteristic "woo woo" sound.
Temperament is affected by a number of factors, including heredity, training, and socialization. Puppies with nice temperaments are curious and playful, willing to approach people and be held by them. Choose the middle-of-the-road puppy, not the one who's beating up his littermates or the one who's hiding in the corner.
Always meet at least one of the parents — usually the mother is the one who's available — to ensure that they have nice temperaments that you're comfortable with. Meeting siblings or other relatives of the parents is also helpful for evaluating what a puppy will be like when he grows up.
Like every dog, Alaskan Malamutes need early socialization — exposure to many different people, sights, sounds, and experiences — when they're young. Socialization helps ensure that your Malamute puppy grows up to be a well-rounded dog.
Enrolling him in a puppy kindergarten class is a great start. Inviting visitors over regularly, and taking him to busy parks, stores that allow dogs, and on leisurely strolls to meet neighbors will also help him polish his social skills.
Malamutes are generally healthy, but like all breeds, they're prone to certain health conditions. Not all Malamutes will get any or all of these diseases, but it's important to be aware of them if you're considering this breed.
If you're buying a puppy, find a good breeder who will show you health clearances for both your puppy's parents. Health clearances prove that a dog has been tested for and cleared of a particular condition.
In Malamutes, you should expect to see health clearances from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) for hip dysplasia (with a score of fair or better), elbow dysplasia, hypothyroidism, and von Willebrand's disease; from Auburn University for thrombopathia; and from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) certifying that eyes are normal. You can confirm health clearances by checking the OFA web site (offa.org).
Cataracts: Usually present by 1 to 2 years of age, known as juvenile cataracts. This type of cataract rarely progresses to blindness. Affected animals should not be used for breeding.
Chondrodysplasia: This genetic disorder causes puppies to be born with deformities evident in the abnormal shape and length of their limbs. It's commonly referred to as "dwarfism." There is now a genetic screening test to determine if the dog carries the gene for this condition.
Hip Dysplasia: This is a heritable condition in which the thighbone doesn't fit snugly into the hip joint. Some dogs show pain and lameness on one or both rear legs, but you may not notice any signs of discomfort in a dog with hip dysplasia. As the dog ages, arthritis can develop. X-ray screening for hip dysplasia is done by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals or the University of Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program (PennHIP). Hip dysplasia is hereditary, but it can be worsened by environmental factors, such as rapid growth from a high-calorie diet or injuries incurred from jumping or falling on slick floors. All dogs used in breeding programs should be screened for this condition.
Hypothyroidism: This condition is often misdiagnosed because tests to evaluate the condition are not specific and can be inaccurate. Hypothyroidism is the result of abnormally low production of the thyroid hormones. Clinical signs vary depending on the severity of each case, but can include dry, coarse, and/or sparse coat, eye discharge, pale mucous membranes, and mental dullness. Hypothyroidism can be managed well with a thyroid replacement pill daily. Medication must continue throughout the dog's life.
Inherited Polyneuropathy: This is generally characterized by a lack of coordination and instability that leads to a labored gait described as a bunny-hopping gait. The condition varies from mild to severe. An affected dog may fall down, walk on the tops of his feet, or his gait may just look a little off. Onset is usually quite sudden with most cases noted at approximately one year of age.
Hemeralopia (Day Blindness): This usually begins to show when the puppy is eight weeks old and can be recognized easily by observant owners. Affected dogs bump into or stumble over things. They may be reluctant to come out into sunlight, preferring to stay in shaded areas. They seem to be feeling their way when negotiating steps into the house or disoriented when facing the sun. All these signs of clumsiness disappear at night. Hemeralopia can be managed to help the dog have an acceptable quality of life.