Q & A: The Alaskan Malamute

We asked the following questions to various experts involved with the breeding & showing of Alaskan Malamutes. Below are their responses, which are taken from the October 2019 issue of ShowSight. Click to subscribe.  Above photo from the article “The Alaskan Malamute”, By Shilon Bedford, ShowSight Magazine, September 2018 Issue. 

 

  1. Where do you live? What do you do “outside” of dogs?
  2. Large and impressive, this beauty is easily recognized around the world. How do you feel he is perceived by the
    general public?
  3. The Malamute is currently ranked by AKC as #58 out of 192. Has his popularity fluctuated during your involvement? Why do you think this is so?
  4. How does this big guy fit into a household?
  5. What is his most endearing quality?
  6. At what age do you choose a show prospect?
  7. What is your favorite dog show memory?
  8. Is there anything else you’d like to share about the breed? Please elaborate.

 

Kate McCallum

I live in Northville, Michigan. I am a public high school teacher—I advise the school newspaper and teach English. I am also the Varsity Equestrian Head Coach for our school. My husband and I race competitively as our schedule allows—I have finished two Ironman Triathlons.

Large and impressive, this beauty is easily recognized around the world. How do you feel he is perceived by the general public? By fanciers in other breeds? Many people recognize them but call them Huskies. We like to clarify that they are the “body builders” and Huskies are more like the “marathon runners”. Both are equally athletic and powerful—just different.

Has the breed’s popularity fluctuated during my involvement? Popular movies like 8 Below always bring some extra awareness to the breed. However, I feel the breed’s public persona has remained pretty constant over time. They are so large and can be dominant so they aren’t for everyone. I think this, above all, factors into our breed’s popularity. We tend to need enthusiasts who are active and energetic themselves to own the breed. That being said—I have seen a big decline in Malamutes showing conformation, and an increase in those who are household pets. I think that many feel that it is a very difficult breed to learn to show and also a difficult sport to break into. We have more popularity in things like backpacking or trail endeavors, and our breed follows public trends in this area. Typically, the Malamute is sort of an under-dog in big group competition. Our breed has minimal health concerns and a large gene-pool compared to many breeds which make them desirable pets. They live an average of 12-14 years, so owning one is a long term commitment.

How does this breed fit into a household? Malamutes can make wonderful family companions inside the home. My own Malamutes have a combination of indoor and outdoor living. We have families that own several at a time. They prefer ample space, a fenced yard and a job. They need time outdoors. If these are neglected, then they can be terrors—mostly out of boredom and physical needs. They are highly intelligent and so strong, they can virtually figure out how to free themselves in any situation. Once they establish loyalty to you and respect for you—they are really sweet and fun. That being said, there is never a dull moment with a Malamute. If you don’t have a sense of humor—it isn’t a good match for you. Many are surprised to know that they are wonderful with kids (if properly raised). I have a 2-year-old who has grown up with our dogs and they are so good to her. I myself grew up with Malamutes at a very young age. Their breed history even suggests that one of their many jobs included time with Inuit kids. But they need training and a sound environment to thrive.

What is the breed’s most endearing quality? They each have a distinct personality. They can be extremely loyal and connected with their owners. Malamutes want to be with people and can have an amazing work ethic.

At what age do I choose a show prospect? In stages. At eight to twelve weeks, about six months, and again at about two years. Malamutes tend to have staged growth spurts. A 12-18 month puppy is at it’s most difficult physical and mental development and should not be judged at this time. Good breeders rely on consistent lineage to support their decision making. If I own the sire and grand sire for example, I have a good prediction of how the rear-movement will develop, etc. Conditioning is also vital to a Malamute’s growth and an unfit dog can be overlooked to an untrained eye. Likewise, a beautiful coat and face can be appealing but shouldn’t be chosen over structure, balance, and movement. The cutest pup is not always the best Malamute.

My favorite dog show memory? I have so many, but one of the most unforgettable is winning the breed at Westminster in 2008. Not just becauseI won, but because the night before my dog broke out of his crate, destroyed my suitcase, ate a whole tin of “puppy chow” snack mix and managed to get loose in the hotel. He got so sick from all the chocolate/peanut butter that we literally spent all night remedying the situation. Of course it was all worth it in the end! Afterwards (since we couldn’t leave him unattended, obviously) we took this big Malamute with us all over NYC and were treated like royalty. He didn’t fit in our purse like most NY dogs, but they welcomed him anyway.

I have had many judges ask me about the tail of the breed. While it IS a distinguishing feature, it shouldn’t be highlighted above other important characteristics such as movement. While working, it is perfectly acceptable for the dog to hold its tail straight out—parallel to the topline. It should not be a “snap tail” but it is acceptable/fine to touch the back. Really, the main concern of a tail is that it is well-furred and long enough to warm the nose (when curled up lying down). That’s it.

Also there are misconceptions about a Malamute’s head. Many breeders prefer a very short muzzle due to the type/look it produces but it is a preference and usually comes at the expense of some other things. It is very difficult to get a scissors bite with this type. A by-product of this as well is an exaggerated stop which is actually not good in a true working environment where snow and ice could easily build in that area. A Malamute should show substance and its head have adequate back skull, but the entire dog should be proportioned and moderate, not extreme in anyway. Even the head piece. Many think massive is better but moderate is the correct form.

Moderate and functional are the two most important words to remember when judging Malamutes. There are so many types and looks in the breed and none are any better than the other. It is easy to be distracted by type, but form and function are the most essential in the breed.

 

Gloria Toussaint

Currently we live in south California but in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains at 3,400 feet so the dogs see snow on occasion. We golf, walk the hills, play pickleball and swim and garden. We are both retired folks, my husband from Engineering and I from teaching.

How do I feel the breed is perceived by the general public? By fanciers in other breeds? To the public absolutely fascinating, beautiful and majestic taking you back to the wild. Other breed fanciers consider the Mal too stubborn, or a goof ball, possibly aggressive in nature, a talker and a lover.

Has the breed’s popularity fluctuated during my involvement? Yes, very much so. Fewer folks are breeding Mals, fewer young people are involved and Mal Fanciers are aging.

How does this big guy fit into a household? Gosh, anywhere from the couch to a bed to the yard to your lap to the shower. This breed loves people and will do anything you do!

What is the breed’s most endearing quality? Loyalty, love, goofiness and fun.

At what age do I choose a show prospect? We make decisions between six to eight weeks and hope we were right. Once you are selected to stay at our house you are with us for life!

My favorite dog show memory? Our first dog, Juneau, known as the Whoo Whoo dog for his enthusiasm in the ring and my first BIS with him under Mr. Thomas Mayfield.

 

Sharon Weston

I’ve had dogs all my life. My parents presented me with my first pure bred dog as a graduation present, a lovely white Miniature Poodle. After determining that was way to much grooming to keep in show coat and after moving to Oregon where we had space, we brought home our first Malamute. That was 44 years ago and have never been sorry. I am approved to judge the working group, Australian Shepherds and BIS. I only have one dog now who will be retired at the end of the year. I hope to do some judging to stay involved with the sport.

We live in Grants Pass, Oregon. Although basically retired, I own an RV dealership with my kids in Medford, Oregon. I’m also enjoying five terrific great grand kids.

How do I feel the breed is perceived by the general public? In my experience the Malamute is always admired for his beauty. Some react tentatively because of his size and usually ask me if “he’s friendly” but always want to pet the dog. Other dog fanciers are usually quick to notice a good example of the breed and are respectful of their unique personality sometimes.

Has the breed’s popularity fluctuated during your involvement? I believe the popularity has diminished since I started in the breed 44 years ago. Legislation, economics, age of fanciers and changes in family situations have all played a part. The Malamute is a large, strong breed and as we get older sometimes we’re just not up to dealing with a large dog. Legislation has put limits on the number of dogs people can have in some areas so having fewer dogs limits breeding. The cost of dog shows, vet bills, food, etc has all played a part plus the cost of property makes smaller living conditions necessary for many.

How does this big guy fit into a household? Malamutes generally love people including kids. Some aren’t thrilled with cats or even other dogs but in general they are great as long as the owner understands the breed and has received good mentoring from the breeder and asked a lot of questions prior to bringing one into the home. I only have one Mal now and he’s a house dog, loves people including kids and actually loves all other dogs. I must stress mentoring and understanding the breed because they are a great breed and make wonderful companions but, as all dogs, different breeds have different personalities and to understand them makes life so much easier.

What is the breed’s most endearing quality? Of course the shear beauty is what most people notice. They are a breed that takes your heart for so many reasons. They are clowns, huggable, clean and smart. They draw you in before you even realize you’re hooked! To say just one thing isn’t possible for me. For most of us once a Malamute owner always a Malamute owner if at all possible.

At what age do I choose a show prospect? I think that all depends on the pedigree and whether or not the parents have been bred before. I wouldn’t make a decision before eight to ten weeks at the earliest. Once in awhile a great dog will be obvious immediately for several reasons. I always use the term “show prospect” not “show quality” at that age because they change so much as a puppy.

My favorite dog show memory? There are many, but I have two that stand out beyond all others. The first is the last dog show my husband was ever able to go to and he was able to see his absolute favorite dog of all time, EZ, get his first BIS! The other is watching that same dog win the Regional specialty during National week and also win the Top 20 event that week.

I’ve had other breeds but the Alaskan Malamute is by far the most fun, frustrating, loving, stubborn, adorable, and addictive breed. He is smart, hearty, basically a healthy breed, self sufficient and loving. He deserves an owner who will respect him and earn the respect of the dog in return. 

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