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.
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.
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.
Though 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.
The Alaskan Malamute, one of the oldest Arctic sled dogs, is a powerful and substantially built dog with a deep chest and strong, well-muscled body. The Malamute stands well over the pads, and this stance gives the appearance of much activity and a proud carriage, with head erect and eyes alert showing interest and curiosity. The head is broad. Ears are triangular and erect when alerted. The muzzle is bulky, only slight diminishing in width from root to nose. The muzzle is not pointed or long, yet not stubby. The coat is thick with a coarse guard coat of sufficient length to protect a woolly undercoat. Malamutes are of various colors. Face markings are a distinguishing feature. These consist of a cap over the head, the face either all white or marked with a bar and/or mask. The tail is well furred, carried over the back, and has the appearance of a waving plume.
The Malamute must be a heavy boned dog with sound legs, good feet, deep chest and powerful shoulders, and have all of the other physical attributes necessary for the efficient performance of his job. The gait must be steady, balanced, tireless and totally efficient. He is not intended as a racing sled dog designed to compete in speed trials. The Malamute is structured for strength and endurance, and any characteristic of the individual specimen, including temperament, which interferes with the accomplishment of this purpose, is to be considered the most serious of faults.
Size, Proportion, Substance
There is a natural range in size in the breed. The desirable freighting sizes are males, 25 inches at the shoulders, 85 pounds; females, 23 inches at the shoulders, 75 pounds. However, size consideration should not outweigh that of type, proportion, movement and other functional attributes. When dogs are judged equal in type, proportion, movement, the dog nearest the desirable freighting size is to be preferred. The depth of chest is approximately one half the height of the dog at the shoulders, the deepest point being just behind the forelegs. The length of the body from point of shoulder to the rear point of pelvis is longer than the height of the body from ground to top of the withers. The body carries no excess weight, and bone is in proportion to size.
The head is broad and deep, not coarse or clumsy, but in proportion to the size of the dog. The expression is soft and indicates an affectionate disposition. The eyes are obliquely placed in the skull. Eyes are brown, almond shaped and of medium size. Dark eyes are preferred. Blue Eyes are a Disqualifying Fault. The ears are of medium size, but small in proportion to the head. The ears are triangular in shape and slightly rounded at the tips. They are set wide apart on the outside back edges of the skull on line with the upper corner of the eye, giving ears the appearance, when erect, of standing off from the skull. Erect ears point slightly forward, but when the dog is at work, the ears are sometimes folded against the skull. High set ears are a fault.
The skull is broad and moderately rounded between the ears, gradually narrowing and flattening on top as it approaches the eyes, rounding off to cheeks that are moderately flat. There is a slight furrow between the eyes. The topline of the skull and the topline of the muzzle show a slight break downward from a straight line as they join. The muzzle is large and bulky in proportion to the size of the skull, diminishing slightly in width and depth from junction with the skull to the nose. In all coat colors, except reds, the nose, lips, and eye rims' pigmentation is black. Brown is permitted in red dogs. The lighter streaked "snow nose" is acceptable. The lips are close fitting. The upper and lower jaws are broad with large teeth. The incisors meet with a scissors grip. Overshot or undershot is a fault.
Neck, Topline, Body
The neck is strong and moderately arched. The chest is well developed. The body is compactly built but not short coupled. The back is straight and gently sloping to the hips. The loins are hard and well muscled. A long loin that may weaken the back is a fault. The tail is moderately set and follows the line of the spine at the base. The tail is carried over the back when not working. It is not a snap tail or curled tight against the back, nor is it short furred like a fox brush. The Malamute tail is well furred and has the appearance of a waving plume.
The shoulders are moderately sloping; forelegs heavily boned and muscled, straight to the pasterns when viewed from the front. Pasterns are short and strong and slightly sloping when viewed from the side. The feet are of the snowshoe type, tight and deep, with well-cushioned pads, giving a firm, compact appearance. The feet are large, toes tight fitting and well arched. There is a protective growth of hair between the toes. The pads are thick and tough; toenails short and strong.
The rear legs are broad and heavily muscled through the thighs; stifles moderately bent; hock joints are moderately bent and well let down. When viewed from the rear, the legs stand and move true in line with the movement of the front legs, not too close or too wide. Dewclaws on the rear legs are undesirable and should be removed shortly after puppies are whelped.
The Malamute has a thick, coarse guard coat, never long and soft. The undercoat is dense, from one to two inches in depth, oily and woolly. The coarse guard coat varies in length as does the undercoat. The coat is relatively short to medium along the sides of the body, with the length of the coat increasing around the shoulders and neck, down the back, over the rump, and in the breeching and plume. Malamutes usually have a shorter and less dense coat during the summer months. The Malamute is shown naturally. Trimming is not acceptable except to provide a clean cut appearance of feet.
The usual colors range from light gray through intermediate shadings to black, sable, and shadings of sable to red. Color combinations are acceptable in undercoats, points, and trimmings. The only solid color allowable is all white. White is always the predominant color on underbody, parts of legs, feet, and part of face markings. A white blaze on the forehead and/or collar or a spot on the nape is attractive and acceptable. The Malamute is mantled, and broken colors extending over the body or uneven splashing are undesirable.
The gait of the Malamute is steady, balanced, and powerful. He is agile for his size and build. When viewed from the side, the hindquarters exhibit strong rear drive that is transmitted through a well-muscled loin to the forequarters. The forequarters receive the drive from the rear with a smooth reaching stride. When viewed from the front or from the rear, the legs move true in line, not too close or too wide. At a fast trot, the feet will converge toward the centerline of the body. A stilted gait, or any gait that is not completely efficient and tireless, is to be penalized.
The Alaskan Malamute is an affectionate, friendly dog, not a "one man" dog. He is a loyal, devoted companion, playful in invitation, but generally impressive by his dignity after maturity.
IMPORTANT: In judging Malamutes, their function as a sledge dog for heavy freighting in the Arctic must be given consideration above all else. The degree to which a dog is penalized should depend upon the extent to which the dog deviates from the description of the ideal Malamute and the extent to which the particular fault would actually affect the working ability of the dog. The legs of the Malamute must indicate unusual strength and tremendous propelling power. Any indication of unsoundness in legs and feet, front or rear, standing or moving, is to be considered a serious fault. Faults under this provision would be splay-footedness, cowhocks, bad pasterns, straight shoulders, lack of angulation, stilted gait (or any gait that isn't balanced, strong and steady), ranginess, shallowness, ponderousness, lightness of bone, and poor overall proportion.
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Sources: American Kennel Club