Living With Malamutes
To understand the temperament of a Malamute you must go back to his origins. The nomadic way of life shaped his temperament, home was where camp happened to be at the time. The dogs were not used for protection and even now they make useless guard dogs. Everything was shared with them, both the Inuits and the dogs relied on each other for food and survival. A well-bred Malamute doesn’t show aggression to a human. They can act fairly indifferently to strangers, or they can be quite friendly and eager to meet people, but generally their interest drops off if the person involved doesn’t happen to have a pocket full of treats. They should also be good around children, but their sheer size can send a small human flying, so as with all dogs, caution is recommended.
When a Malamute meets another dog however, there can be a problem especially with dogs of the same sex. There is no science to it, some are far more tolerant than others and some pick and choose who they like, but again the size and strength of a Malamute means that the general advice is to keep them on the lead around other dogs. This behaviour also extends to other furry pets in and around the home. The prey drive of some Malamutes is much stronger than others, so caution should be taken around anything that may take flight and trigger the chase instinct. Malamutes can be very vocal. They rarely bark, this tends to be a learnt behaviour if brought up around other breeds. Instead they woo or howl. A pack howl is quite common in a multi-Malamute household and whilst it rarely lasts more than a minute, it is loud and can cause issues with intolerant neighbours. The woo is used to communicate with the owner on various levels and can be interpreted into various messages such as “feed me”, “I’m bored”, or “don’t ignore me”. Sometimes this woo can be very low and to a stranger it will feel like the dog is growling but there is a difference between the two vocalisations.
To raise a Malamute, the whole family must be involved in training. It is essential that they are socialised from an early age and taken into various environments. The most important word in training is consistency, if you do not want the Malamute on the furniture, don’t let them climb on, even once. The Malamute is intelligent and if he is not given clear and consistent rules, he will make up his own. Problems occur in the household when the dog isn’t given rules or when different family members allow different behaviours. It might be cute when a puppy misbehaves, even funny, but let that behaviour continue and there will be problems when a 100lb/45kg dog is refusing to cooperate. The Malamute doesn’t respond to harsh handling and can lead to challenges, so consistent positive reinforcement works best. If a family member shows any fear or apprehension, this will be picked up and he will either question it or take advantage of it. When owning more than one, it is fairly well accepted that the best option is to keep a male and a female. As with anything Malamute, there are exceptions to the rule and the more experienced of dog owners may be able to manage larger packs in the house, but this must be managed carefully and often a falling out between two Malamutes is for life. Out in the garden, keeping a Malamute secure is also very important. They are most secure behind a 6 foot fence or wall, although generally speaking Malamutes won’t jump unless there’s something really worth investing the energy for. They will invest energy in landscaping though, and unless they are stopped very early on, huge craters in the lawn are fairly common. They can, if required, live quite happily outdoors through all seasons. Some Malamutes refuse to come indoors even when it’s absolutely freezing outside, preferring it to centrally heated homes. Others will happily curl up in front of the fire – every dog is different. A Malamute owner must get use to living with fur. Even the most diligent of grooming programmes won’t be enough when the dog decides to blow its coat. It goes on for weeks and just when you think there’s no more undercoat in there to come out, the guard hairs start to come loose. With correct socialisation and training, the Malamute can make the perfect pet, but the original function and survival instinct of the breed should never be forgotten.
Food and feeding
Good quality kibble or raw? This is a personal preference – both have merits and disadvantages. In a multi-dog household food is probably the most usual reason for disagreements or fights to start, you must be careful not to drop even a crumb. A pet can manage well on a maintenance diet but a working Malamute requires a higher protein content. It is not unusual for a Malamute to go for a day without eating, out of choice, much to the consternation of the worried owner. Both these habits go back to his ancestors. There would be days when there was not any food available if hunting had not been successful and what little there was would be shared between dogs and humans, so in the fight for survival every scrap would be fought over. Many owners experience this but a dog has never, to our knowledge, starved itself. It really becomes a battle of wills but do not give in, do not give snacks and most of all do not change the food. Respect the dog that self-fasts. This advice is given presuming the dog is fit and healthy and no other cause for concern that it is not eating. With this lack of plentiful food, they evolved to go “along way on a little” and can be described as easy keepers i.e. not requiring the amount of food relative to their size, but the food must be of good quality and with a higher fat content that you would feed other breeds. Possibly why raw is a preferred and more natural diet for a Malamute.
Exercise is essential for a working breed and Malamutes will take as much as you can give them. In the right conditions they can run in a sled team for 40-60 miles a day, so finding appropriate sports is important. A Malamute who isn’t exercised appropriately will find his own fun and this has been known to turn into destructive behaviour, so it’s in the interests of the owner to offer them a good level of workout, both mental and physical. The Malamute’s high prey drive means that it is recommended to keep them on lead unless in a secure field. They won’t necessarily run away but they also won’t necessarily return to you until they want to. It has been well documented over the years that even the most obedient of Malamutes can make a sudden decision to chase a squirrel/rabbit/deer and they will rarely consider the merits of returning to their owner. The lack of tolerance of other dogs can also cause major issues, so on-lead exercise keeps the Malamute safe. Of course, as with any of these points, there will be the exception to the rule, but most owners don’t take the chance. Luckily, there are many ways to exercise Malamutes. They will go walking for as many miles as you want to give them over most terrain, a great way to see the countryside. Jogging can be enjoyable – there are belts and harnesses designed to help keep hands-free control. They will run with a bike, again there are products to connect either to the side or front of a bike to keep them attached and once fitness levels have been built up, many miles can be covered.
Mental stimulation is as important as physical exercise in this intelligent breed and whilst they sometimes have to be in the mood, general obedience training, tricks or strong toys can help to keep them happy. The odd few will play fetch but the majority will run off with it or will bring it back once then sit and look at the object if you throw it again with a side glance that most definitely says “you threw it, you get it”.
Puppies should be introduced to exercise sensibly, walking on natural trails rather than pavements and keeping any introduction to pulling to a minimum until 12 months of age.
Temperature plays a large part in exercise for a Malamute. Anything over 14 degrees and the type of exercise must be considered to avoid overheating, also taking into account humidity levels. During the summer, especially if sunny, a Malamute is walked very early in the morning and spends much of its day laying around wherever it can be comfortable. Once the cold weather arrives the fun begins.