Alaskan Malamute

PetMD Editorial
Written by:
PetMD Editorial
Published: May 26, 2009

Often confused with the Siberian Husky, the Alaskan Malamute is one of the oldest Arctic sled dogs. Heavy boned, with powerful shoulders and a deep chest, it’s built to work in rough, cold terrain, but is also an affectionate, friendly companion.

Physical Characteristics

This breed has a long body that is compact and heavy-boned, making it strong and durable. Resembling a Nordic type with its powerful build, the Alaskan Malamute was bred less as a racer and more to haul heavy loads. It has a tireless, balanced, and steady gait. The eyes are "wolf-like" but the dog’s expression is soft. The thick, double coat has a dense, oily, and woolly undercoat and a rough outer coat that provides insulation.

Personality and Temperament

Being a family-oriented dog, the Alaskan Malamute is well-mannered indoors. It requires daily exercise otherwise it becomes frustrated and destructive. Although the independent, strong-willed, and powerful Alaskan Malamute is sometimes aggressive to livestock, strange dogs and pets, it is sociable and friendly toward people. Its dominating personality, moreover, may be reflected in its tendency to howl and dig.


As the dog can run for great distances, it needs adequate exercise daily, in the form of a good run or walk on a leash. The breed is fond of cold weather and loves to pull a sledge or cart through snow. It can be comfortable in cold or temperate climates, but should be kept indoors during summer. The Alaskan Malamute's coat, meanwhile, needs to be brushed weekly and even more frequently during the shedding season.


The Alaskan Malamute, which has an average lifespan of 10 to 12 years, occasionally suffers from gastric torsion, seizures, hemeralopia, and polyneuropathy. The major health problems that can ail the breed are canine hip dysplasia (CHD) and cataract, while minor concerns include osteochondrodysplasia (OCD) and hypothyroidism. To identify some of these issues, a veterinarian may conduct eye, hip, and thyroid exams on this breed of dog, as well as tests for osteochondrodysplasia.

History and Background

Although the origin of the Alaskan Malamute is not clearly known, it is generally considered to be a descendant of the Mahlemut dog. An ancient Inuit tribe, the Mahlemut were the native people of Norton Sound, an inlet on the northwest coast of Alaska.

Mahlemut is derived from the word Mahle, which is the name of an Inuit tribe, and mut, which means village. Just like many dogs belonging to the spitz family, this breed developed in the Arctic region and was shaped by difficult climatic conditions.

Originally, the dogs functioned as partners when hunting for polar bears, seals, and other big game. Because the Alaskan Malamute was strong, large and fast, it could easily perform the task that would require many small dogs, such as carrying the large carcases back to the master's home. The Malamute became so intertwined with people's lives, that it soon was regarded as a member of the family, no longer treated as a mere pet.

In the 1700s, foreign explorers of Alaska -- many who came during the gold rush of the late 19th century -- were genuinely impressed with the large dogs and the owners' affection for them. They entertained themselves by staging races and weight-pulling contests among the dogs. The native Alaskan Malamutes were eventually crossbred with each other and with the dogs brought by settlers, in order to create good racers or to provide the large number of dogs required for gold searching activities. This posed a threat to the purity of Malamute breed.

A dog-racing enthusiast in New England, however, obtained viable specimens of the breed in the 1920s, and began to develop the native Malamute.

As the breed garnered fame, it was used in various means. In 1933, for example, some Malamutes were selected to aid Adm. Richard Byrd with his Antarctic expedition. The Malamute was again used in the Second World War, to act as a pack animal, freight hauler, and search-and-rescue dog.

The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1935 and since then it has become popular as a faithful pet and impressive show dog.

Help us make PetMD better

Was this article helpful?

Related Articles

Alaskan Husky
Alaskan Husky
Scaly Skin in Dogs
Scaly Skin in Dogs
Connect with a Vet

Subscribe to PetMD's Newsletter

Get practical pet health tips, articles, and insights from our veterinary community delivered weekly to your inbox.