Alaskan Malamute Breed Guide

Breed Group:
Working Dogs

Middle Age: 6 years

Senior Age: 9 years

Geriatric Age: 12 years

Life Span: 12 to 15 years

Health Issues Associated with this Breed:


Alaskan Malamute Breed Info/Background:

  • Malamutes were developed in Alaska to haul heavy loads, either pulling sledges over snow or carrying huge packs on their back. Their freighting forte is their strength rather than their speed.
  • They also helped locate seal blow holes and distracted polar bears so the hunters could kill them.
  • DNA studies show Malamutes are one of the most ancient breeds.
  • During the Alaskan Gold Rush there was a shortage of dogs for hauling, so almost any large dog was recruited. These dogs were interbred with the native Malamutes to the point pure Malamutes became rare. If not for the intervention of a New England breeder in the 1920s the breed might have been lost. This strain, which the AKC recognized, was the Kotzebue strain.
  • World War II pressed many Malamutes into service as search & rescue dogs and draft dogs. As was the custom, the dogs were destroyed when their service was up. Thus, after the war only about 30 registered Malamutes remained. The AKC registry was opened to unregistered dogs. Several Malamutes of various lineages, most notably M’Lot and Hinman, were incorporated, thus avoiding a huge genetic bottleneck.

Family: The Alaskan Malamute breed is in the AKC Working group. It is from the spitz family, a group of dogs that generally have in common erect ears, curled tail, square build and thick stand-off coat. Most spitz breeds have their roots in cold regions, and so are sometimes designated as Northern dog breeds.

The Alaskan Malamute personality and looks may be confused with the Siberian Husky, but is generally larger, less likely to have blue eyes, and usually carries his tail curled over his back rather than straight out. He is less likely to have a coat color other than gray and white in a wolf pattern. He may also be confused with the Akita, but is longer bodied, with smaller ears, and again, less likely to have a coat color other than gray and white in a wolf pattern


  • One of the largest spitz breeds, the Malamute was developed to haul sleds carrying hundreds if not thousands of pounds, usually in conjunction with three other Malamutes. They are muscular with strong bone. They are bred for strength rather than speed.
  • The coat is double, with a very dense wooly and even oily undercoat and longer water repellant outer coat. The coat stands off the body enough to trap air, improving its insulating properties.
  • The breed carries a recessive gene that can produce a long, or “fluffy” coat. A DNA test is available to see if it is a purebred dog or if it carries that gene.
  • The ears are small to prevent frostbite.

Alaskan Malamute Temperament:

  • Like most spitz breeds, Malamutes are independent and strong-willed. They tend to be resourceful and very good escape artists.
  • They tend to roam and may not come when called.
  • When on lead, they tend to pull—even more so when walked on a harness. That’s what they were bred to do.
  • They are not great with other dogs, especially unfamiliar ones or ones of the same sex.
  • They don’t bark a lot, but prefer to howl and make other vocalizations.
  • They like to dig.
  • A firm owner who can combine reward-based training with good control and leadership is best for their total well-being.


  • These dogs thrive in cold weather and snow. They can sleep outside in cold weather.
  • They do not do well in hot climates unless kept in air conditioning.
  • The coat should be brushed two or three times a week using a slicker brush and pin brush. It sheds profusely twice a year, and must then be brushed daily. Mats form in the undercoat, and may go undetected as they may not be visible through the outer coat. It is important to brush using a pin brush all the way to the skin, layer by layer.

Alaskan Malamute Training Tips:

  • As endurance haulers, these dogs need a long walk or jog daily.
  • The Malamute is never happier than when pulling a sled through snow.
  • The breed excels at weight pull competitions.
  • They excel at skijoring, in which they pull a person over snow on skis, or even bikejoring, in which they pull a person on a bicycle.
  • They are seldom seen in agility or obedience trials.
  • They are not a good dog park candidate as they can fight with and seriously harm smaller dogs.
  • They love to hike but may roam too much to make it safe or enjoyable.

Alaskan Malamute Lifespan & Health Problems:

Normal life span is about 10 to 12 years. Alaskan Malamute health problems are in line with problems seen in other breeds.

  • Hip dysplasia occurs in about 12% of Malamutes.
  • Although uncommon, Malamutes carry a hereditary form of dwarfism called chondrodysplasia with stomatocytosis. Affected dog shave short crooked legs.
  • Hypothyroidism due to autoimmune thyroiditis occurs at a higher rate compared to most other breeds.
  • A type of cataract that appears at a young age is seen in about 8% of the breed. Fortunately, it rarely leads to blindness.
  • Persistent pupillary membrane, in which a strand of embryonic tissue reaches from one side of the pupil to the other, is seen in 8% of Malamutes. It seldom affects vision.
  • A hereditary form of polyneuropathy—diseases that affect the peripheral nervous system and cause weakness, abnormal gait and hind limb muscle atrophy—is present in the breed but not widespread. A DNA test is available at
  • Zinc-responsive dermatosis is a condition in which the hair is lost and skin is red and crusted, especially on the head. It responds to zinc supplementation.
  • Alopecia-X is a condition in which the coat is lost along the body’s trunk for no apparent reason. Best known in Pomeranians, Malamutes can occasionally have it too.

Related Links:

National Breed Club

Health Research

Alaskan Malamute Rescue