Alaskan Malamute: Dog Breed Profile

Characteristics, History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Adult gray Alaskan malamute standing on grass

 LiuMeiLi / iStock /Getty Images

The Alaskan malamute may look like a wolf, but this large-breed Spitz is a loyal and hardworking dog prized for its strength and heart. Originally bred for such diverse tasks as hunting polar bears or pulling heavy sledges, the malamute is today a popular dog breed with families and active individuals.

It’s a common misnomer that Alaskan malamutes are the result of a wolf-dog hybrid breeding. While the breed we recognize today may have wolf ancestry, these dogs have been domestically bred and kept in the North American tundra for centuries. And despite their immense size and stature, they’re friendly and people-oriented—making them good family dogs, but poor guard dogs. 

Breed Overview

Group: Working

Height: 24 to 27 inches (males); 22 to 24 inches (females)

Weight: 75 to 100+ pounds 

Coat and Color: Thick double coat; solid white or some combination of white, gray, seal, red, black, or various other colors. 

Life Expectancy: 10 to 12 years

Characteristics of the Alaskan Malamute

Affection Level High
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly High
Pet-Friendly Medium
Exercise Needs High
Playfulness Medium
Energy Level High
Trainability Medium
Intelligence High
Tendency to Bark Low
Amount of Shedding High

History of the Alaskan Malamute

The history of the Alaskan malamute starts in the far north and is a classic example of the synergy that can exist between man and animal trying to survive in the harshest of conditions. The breed we know today was originally developed by the Mahlemiut Inuit tribe, in northwestern Alaska.

While it’s believed that the breed may have been developed with wolf lineage many generations back, the malamute is a domesticated breed of dog that has been bred by the Mahlemiut tribe for centuries. These dogs were used by the indigenous people of northwestern Alaska to pull heavy sledges in teams and on hunting expedition trips for seal and polar bear, or as decoys when bear hunting. The point is that the dogs have been bred to be versatile workers, though steadiness and strength are the breed’s strong points. This is in contrast to the smaller Siberian husky, which was bred for speed over the tremendous strength of the supersized malamute.

Interestingly, the strength of the Alaskan malamute was put to use during the Klondike Gold Rush. Prospectors recognized the strength and stamina of these hardworking canines as a real asset when navigating and mining the Klondike for gold.

Various strains of the malamute breed developed in arctic regions spanning from Alaska to Greenland. In the 1920’s, an interest in competitive sled dog racing led to the further breeding and development of the breed. However, only one strain of the malamute breed received early AKC recognition in 1935 (the Kotzebue strain). 

Despite the breed’s suitability for a wide range of tasks, the breed was in serious decline after World War II. In fact, some sources estimate that the breed had a population of only 30 in 1947. To ensure the viability of the breed, the AKC expanded breed recognition to include the Hinman and M’Loot strains. Today’s polar dogs are the result of domesticated breeding and while they’re majestic and wonderful creatures, they’re all dog and not part wolf as many people mistakenly believe. 

The Alaskan malamute is widely exhibited at international dog show events, including the Westminster Kennel Club and Crufts Dog Show in England. They compete in the working group and their dignified manner and large size are a commanding presence when they step into the ring.

Sue Ellis exhibits Alaskan malamute at Crufts Dog Show
2015 Crufts Dog Show Best in Show (Working Group) winner "Bart," an Alaskan malamute exhibited by Sue Ellis. BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images

Alaskan Malamute Care

A supersized dog requires a major investment of time and TLC, but the Alaskan malamute will reward you as a loyal, lovable member of your family. These dogs are pack animals, and they require a strong leader. Considering their size and strength, it’s important that you provide clear, firm leadership for an Alaskan malamute. Without proper obedience training, the dominant nature of these dogs can cause them to push around other dogs. Occasionally, they can be known to be forceful with children, but the vast majority of Alaskan malamute owners find their dogs to be patient and loyal with young children. The best course of action is to make obedience training a priority from puppyhood for a dog that respects and listens to you as he becomes bigger and stronger.

One thing that might surprise you about the Alaskan malamute is that they don’t make great guard dogs. This breed has a naturally friendly nature that leads them to greet most strangers as friends rather than foes. Of course, their intimidating size might be deterrent enough to would-be intruders.

As you might expect, the Alaskan malamute has significant exercise needs since this dog was bred to work. A large yard with room to expend energy assists in keeping these dogs active and well-balanced. However, don’t expect time spent in the yard to satisfy all their exercise needs.

As a breed developed to work alongside their human companions, they still benefit from structured exercise activities. The options for stimulating and tiring activity are abundant with these strong, hardworking dogs. They are a great choice for hiking and backpacking, make excellent running partners (in suitable climates), and have been known to enjoy swimming. And if you’re looking for more advanced options, you can train your malamute for agility or weight-pulling competitions, or to pull you on a bike or skis, known as bikejoring or skijoring.

One of the biggest challenges with this breed might be the extensive shedding. Outfitted with a thick, waterproof double coat, these dogs have a LOT of hair. Be prepared to give your dog a thorough brushing at least several times a week, though some people recommend daily brushing (and vacuuming) to keep fur flurries under control. Twice a year (in the spring and fall), malamutes shed their undercoat.

During this period of heavy shedding, you’ll definitely need to be prepared to brush your dog every day and use an undercoat rake to keep the fuzz storm from taking over your house. 

Litter of Alaskan malamute puppies in dog bed
Pryanett/iStock/Getty Images 
Red Alaskan malamute portrait
Red and white Alaskan malamute.  Sompote SaeLee/iStock/Getty Images
Alaskan malamute competing in weight pulling competition
Alaskan malamute participating in weight pulling competition. Bborriss/iStock/Getty Images 

Common Health Problems

The Alaskan malamute is relatively healthy but has a few genetic health conditions to be on the lookout for, as well as some conditions related to the immense size of this breed. Testing is available for some major health concerns and is recommended by the National Breed Club and includes evaluation for the hips and eyes, as well as a polyneuropathy DNA test. Reputable breeders should be able to provide clear test results for the parents of a litter.

Some of the most common health problems of the Alaskan malamute include:

Diet and Nutrition

For years of health and happiness, feed your Alaskan malamute a quality diet. These dogs can be prone to overeating or bloat from gulping down their food to quickly, so it’s recommended that you set specific mealtimes and feed rationed amounts. Despite being a big dog, don’t overfeed them to avoid excessive weight gain and obesity. 

Pros

  • Friendly and outgoing with people

  • Enjoys outdoor activities like hiking and biking

  • Intelligent and loyal nature

Cons

  • Considerable shedding

  • Can become dominant with other pets

  • Needs significant exercise and mental stimulation

Where to Adopt or Buy an Alaskan Malamute

There is a devoted community that is committed to raising and showing Alaskan malamutes, and many reputable breeders exist. The AKC and Alaskan Malamute Club of America are good resources to check out if you're searching for an Alaskan malamute puppy.

However, there are also national and regional Alaskan malamute rescue organizations. Puppies and adult dogs alike end up in need of a loving home and a rescue can be a great place to find your new furry friend.

For help finding an Alaskan malamute, check out the following:

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

An Alaskan malamute might be the right dog breed for you, just be sure to do your homework first and make sure that you can provide the right environment. Think seriously about whether you can provide enough exercise, training, and grooming to keep your malamute happy and healthy.

For more hardworking canines, check out these related breeds: