The Alaskan Malamute

From the October 2019 issue of ShowSight. Click to subscribe.

 

In judging Malamutes, their function as a sledge dog for heavy freighting in the Arctic must be given consideration above all else. The degree to which the dog is penalized should depend upon the extent to which the dog deviates from the description of the ideal Malamute and the extent to which the particular fault would actually affect the working ability of the dog.

I have a friend who likes history because it explains “why”. In the history of the Alaskan Malamute, we can see why the standard calls for many of the traits that it does. (Form follows function is so true.) The Alaskan Malamute has its origin in an Inuit tribe called the Mehlemuts around the Norton Sound area of Alaska.
They were not only sled dogs, who were used to haul heavy loads long distances, they were used for hunting and packing in supplies and were capable of an enormous amount of work. They also were well equipped to thrive in those harshly cold environments.

To fulfill their function, not only is soundness essential, but survival characteristics are of the utmost importance, as well.
Proper coarse double coats are thick, harsh guard coats with dense woolly undercoats that enable the dogs to survive in the elements. Their coat texture enables them to sleep under the snow all night, stand up and shake it all off. A proper coat is water repellent and never long and soft. Please note that it is primarily the texture of the coat is important, which may mean that the best dog (or bitch) in the ring could be out of coat, especially in summer months. Trimming, except around the feet is not acceptable.

Small extremities are in keeping with artic survival and protection from frost bite. Note that the ear is medium sized, but small in proportion to the head. Almond shaped eyes, obliquely set offer protection from driving snow.

Proper feet are essential to the performance of the Malamutes’ job. They should be tight and deep. They are large with tight fitting toes that are well arched. They should not be small (cat like), flat or splay footed. Most mushers agree that their dogs must have good feet. Strong, short, but flexible pasterns that are slightly sloping are also important for long distance performance.

The entire structure of the Malamute contributes to his job performance. The body is compact, but not short coupled, and slightly longer than tall. A long loin that weakens the back is a fault, just as being too short coupled will hinder reach and drive. The chest is broad and deep and half the height of the dog. The chest should have room for the necessary lung capacity. The back is firm and gently sloping to the hips. Shoulders are moderately sloping, stifles are moderately bent, and hock joints are moderately bent and well let down. There should be a balance in these attributes that combines with proper muscle and conditioning to create a smooth, effortless, tireless and steady gait. “The legs of the Malamute must indicate unusual strength and tremendous propelling power. Any indication of unsoundness in legs and feet, front or rear, standing or moving, is to be considered a serious fault. Faults under this provision would be splay-footedness, cowhocks, bad pasterns, straight shoulders, lack of angulation, stilted gait (or any gait that isn’t balanced, strong, and steady), ranginess, shallowness, ponderousness, lightness of bone, and poor overall proportion.”

When learning a new breed, sometimes a mnemonic is helpful. I have used words from the standard to describe gait. Please note that BALANCE IS KEY.

BALANCED

S- smooth

T- tireless

E- effortless and efficient

P- powerful

S- steady

The standard does not call for single tracking, but the feet should converge toward the centerline at a fast trot. The legs move true in line, not too close and not too wide. From the side, you should be able to see powerful reach and drive (not a flying trot). If there is balance and proper structure, the gait will be smooth. Malamutes will tend to extend their head forward (lower it) when they move.

One of the most common misconceptions about Malamutes is that bigger is better or more powerful. This is not necessarily true. There is a natural range in desired freighting size (measured at the withers): 25" for males and 23" for females. “However, size consideration should not outweigh that of type, proportion, movement and other functional attributes. Only when two specimens are judged equal is the dog closest to the desired size to be preferred. In plain English, this means that a dog or bitch should not be awarded just because they are bigger (or heavier boned) or just because they are smaller. Size is not the main consideration. It is to be used as a “tie breaker”.

Along these same lines, many judges assume that heavier boned is automatically better or more powerful. It is important to keep in mind that the Alaskan Malamute standard was written in contrast to the Siberian Husky standard. When our standard says “heavy boned” it is in comparison to the Siberian Husky. It should be remembered that the standard also says that the Alaskan Malamute is not to be ponderous and that he is agile for his size and build. (It is interesting to note that Malamutes have only one disqualification–blue eyes. The Siberian Husky has only one disqualification–height.)

The head of the Malamute is broad with a blocky muzzle that is not long or pointed, but not stubby either. Note that in comparison to the Siberian, for a Malamute, high set ears are a fault. There is also only a slight stop, it should not be well defined or completely lacking. As well as the head, the tail is a distinguishing characteristic of the breed. It is moderately set, following the line of the spine. When not working, it is carried over the back in a graceful arch, like a waving plume. It should not lay flat on the back or curl tightly. When working or standing still the tail often trails. It is not a fox brush type.

When judging Malamutes, you will need to use your hands to feel for structure under the coat. However, you never need to push on the back. If the topline is weak, you will see it standing or on the move. Along the same lines, please do not measure tails. If it is too short, it will be obvious. Do not pick up the feet to examine the pads.

The most common mistake I see judges making is going into the mouth of a Malamute. Please note that the mouth exam is front only. There is no disqualification for missing teeth. From the front you will be able to see the bite (it should be scissors) and the size of the teeth (they should be large), which is all that our standard calls for.

Malamutes normally love people, but do not always like each other. Please allow room to keep the dogs separate.

The Alaskan Malamute should be like an Olympic quality athlete in
peak condition.

Please, never sacrifice soundness or survival characteristics for cosmetic ones.

There is not enough space in this article to cover an entire judge’s education presentation. The judge’s education seminar will be available at the national specialty in Topeka, Kansas on October 31, 2019. For details, please visit the AMCA website at https://alaskanmalamute.org. In this article, what I would like to discuss are the things that our standard says are most important, some common misconceptions, and a few ring procedure requests. 

 

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