Alaskan Malamute: Dog Breed Characteristics & Care

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 working dog is a domestic Alaskan breed with pointed ears, a sturdy build, and the classic spitz tail that curves over its back. Prized for its strength and heart, this breed is popular among families and active individuals. Alaskan Malamutes were originally bred for diverse tasks needed in their native region like hunting polar bears and pulling heavy sleds.

It’s a common misnomer that Alaskan Malamutes are the result of wolf-dog hybrid breeding. While the breed we recognize today may have wolf ancestry, these dogs have been 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: 85 pounds (males); 75 pounds (females)  

Coat: Thick double coat

Coat Color: Solid white or combinations of white and gray, seal, red, black, or silver

Life Span: 10 to 12 years

Temperament: Friendly, loyal, playful, affectionate, bright, courageous

Hypoallergenic: No

Origin: Alaska

Characteristics of the Alaskan Malamute

A supersized dog requires a major investment of time and TLC, but the Alaskan Malamute will reward you as a lovable member of your family with a loyal temperament. These dogs are pack animals that require a strong leader. When well-trained and given the necessary commitment by their owners, Malamutes are incredibly affectionate and filled with playful personality traits (though like their smaller Siberian husky cousins, they can also be stubborn).

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.

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 it's a classic example of the synergy that can exist between man and animal trying to survive in the harshest 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 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 sleds in teams, on hunting expedition trips for seals and polar bears, or as decoys when bear hunting. Their versatile history is centered around working, which made steadiness and strength the breed's strong points. This is in contrast to the smaller Siberian husky, which was bred for speed when traveling long distances while pulling sleds.

The Alaskan Malamute was also put to work 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.

Variants of the Malamute breed developed in arctic regions spanning from Alaska to Greenland. In the 1920s, an interest in competitive sled dog racing led to the further breeding and development of these dogs. However, only one variant of the Malamute—the Kotzebue—received early AKC recognition in 1935. 

Despite its suitability for a wide range of tasks, the breed was in serious decline after World War II. In fact, some sources estimate that the Malamute had a population of only 30 in 1947. To ensure its viability, the AKC expanded the breed's 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, their bloodline is pure dog (not part-wolf). 

The Alaskan Malamute is widely exhibited at international dog show events, including the Westminster Kennel Club and the 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.

Portrait of an 18-month-old Alaskan Malamute sled dog named Colonel, Antarctica, between late 1939 and early 1941.

PhotoQuest / Contributor / Getty Images

A prospector and his Alaskan Malamute puppy in Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush, 1899

Archive Photos / Stringer / Getty Images

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

Considering their size and strength, it’s important that you provide clear, firm leadership for an Alaskan Malamute. This breed also requires considerable grooming and physical activity to live a happy and healthy life.


The Alaskan Malamute has significant exercise needs since it was bred to work. A large yard with room to expend energy can help keep these dogs active and well-balanced, however, it is not enough to satisfy their needs.

Malamutes benefit from structured exercise. The options for stimulating and tiring activities are abundant with these strong, hardworking dogs. In suitable climates, they're a great choice for hiking and backpacking, running, or even swimming with their owners. If you’re looking for more advanced options, your Malamute can also be trained for agility sports, weight-pulling competitions, or pulling you on a bike or skis (known as bikejoring or skijoring).


One of the biggest challenges with this breed might be its 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.

Malamutes shed their undercoat twice a year in both spring and fall. During this period of heavy shedding, you’ll need to brush your dog every day and use an undercoat rake to keep stray fur from taking over your home. 


Without proper obedience training, the dominant nature of these dogs can cause them to push around other pets. 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 kids. The best course of action is to make obedience training a priority from puppyhood to raise a dog that respects and listens to you as it grows larger and stronger.

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. Like most purebreds, it has a few genetic health conditions to be aware of, along with others related to the immense size of this breed. Testing is available for certain major concerns. Evaluations recommended by the National Breed Club include the hips, eyes, and a polyneuropathy DNA test. Reputable breeders should provide clear test results for the parents of each litter.

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

  • Cancer: Canine cancer can affect many breeds of dogs. When caught at less severe stages, cancer can often be treated with chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery to remove the affected areas.
  • Elbow and Hip Dysplasia: These conditions affect your dog's joints as they mature. Dysplasia can sometimes be treated with physical therapy, but more severe cases may require surgery.
  • Polyneuropathy: This neurological disorder causes improper functioning of the dog's nerves.
  • Hypothyroidism: Also known as underactive thyroid, hypothyroidism affects the body's natural hormone regulation and causes slowed metabolism.
  • Day Blindness: Affecting the cones in the eyes, this condition can cause your dog to have poor sight or blindness outdoors and in brightly-lit areas.
  • Von Willebrand Disease: This disease impairs the blood's ability to clot.
  • Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV or Bloat): Large-breed dogs are often prone to Bloat, in which the stomach fills with gas and twists. Preventative surgery, called prophylactic gastropexy, can be performed by your veterinarian.

Diet and Nutrition

For years of health and happiness, feed your Alaskan Malamute a quality diet. These dogs can be prone to overeating or developing Bloat from gulping down their food too quickly, so it’s recommended to feed several smaller meals per day rather than one to two larger portions.

Speak with your veterinarian to plan a consistent diet and portion schedule based on your Malamute's age, weight, and activity level. This is an important step to help your dog avoid excessive weight gain or canine obesity, which can lead to other health problems.

Where to Adopt or Buy an Alaskan Malamute

National and regional rescue organizations are available to help Alaskan Malamutes find their forever homes. Puppies and adult dogs alike end up in need of loving owners, and a rescue can be a great place to find your new best friend.

There is also a devoted community that is committed to raising and showing Alaskan Malamutes, and many reputable breeders exist in North America. Puppies typically cost between $1,000 and $2,500, but some can cost upwards of $6,000 depending on their pedigree. If you're interested in adopting this breed, check out these resources:

Alaskan Malamute Overview

  • Friendly and outgoing with people

  • Enjoys outdoor activities like hiking and biking

  • Intelligent and loyal nature

  • Excessive shedding

  • Can become dominant with other pets

  • Needs significant exercise and mental stimulation

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

Alaskan Malamutes are great dogs for the right owner. Before adopting this breed, think seriously about whether you can provide the right environment, exercise, training, and grooming to keep your Malamute happy and healthy. If you're interested in similar hardworking canines, check out:

There are plenty of different dog breeds that can join your family. With a little research, you can find the right one for you!

  • Is an Alaskan Malamute a Good Family Dog?

    Alaskan Malamutes can make excellent family dogs for the right person. These dogs require considerable exercise, grooming, and training to live well-adjusted lives, so it's important for potential owners to prepare for commitment. With the right care, this breed is incredibly loyal and affectionate towards adults and kids.

  • Are Alaskan Malamutes Part-Wolf?

    Contrary to popular belief, the Alaskan Malamute is not part-wolf. While its origins may have included breeding with wolves, it has been bred purely with dogs of its kind for hundreds of years.

  • Are Malamutes Related to Huskies?

    Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian huskies are referred to as cousins, but the Malamute is significantly larger and comes from the Alaskan region (while the husky is native to Siberia).

  • Is the Alaskan Malamute a Loyal Dog?

    Alaskan Malamutes are very loyal in nature. They're loving with their families, and they typically keep their friendly demeanor with strangers (making them great companions, but not suitable guard dogs).