Alaskan Malamutes

The Alaskan Malamute is a dog fur factory, he's a world-class leash-puller, and he'll eat his weight in food every four hours if you let him. The world is his backyard – literally; few fences can hold him. But there may be no more joyful, exuberant, friendly dog in the animal kingdom, and none more likely to remind you just why you love dogs in the first place.

Traits, Personality and Behavior

Let's begin with the fact that the Alaskan Malamute is a big, powerful dog -- ranging in weight from 65 to 90 pounds or more -- who was bred to pull sleds in harsh terrain and brutal climates. Consider that fact carefully if you're at all unsure about your ability to walk a dog like that on a leash. And a leash is not optional equipment when it comes to a Malamute; not only do they roam, often for miles and days, but they're usually ready to mix it up with other dogs and will hunt and kill wildlife and cats.

They're also extremely difficult to keep behind a fence, as they're expert diggers and climbers. Malamutes need to be microchipped and have an ID tag on their collars at all times. And while working Malamutes often live happily in kennel situations -- because they get lots of exercise and plenty of interesting work to do -- relegating a Malamute to the backyard isn't a great idea, unless you like holes the size of a swimming pool, and your neighbors like howling. Not to mention that he'll probably not be there when you get home, since he considers fences to be interesting challenges rather than genuine obstacles.

A Malamute owner's best friend, after his dog, is his vacuum cleaner. Twice a year they "blow coat," which involves literal mountains of hair drifting all over the house and attaching itself to every surface. The rest of the year their shedding is much less -- so much so that you might be able to get away with vacuuming only twice a day instead of every four hours.

If none of that has deterred you, then you might be ready to consider some of the pluses to the Alaskan Malamute. He's handsome, with a primeval dog look that can make you feel the snowy winds of the tundra even when you're standing on a suburban lawn. And he absolutely adores children, although as with all large, powerful dogs, careful supervision is required.

He's smart and curious, and he wants nothing more than to share his discoveries with his human family members. Discoveries like exactly how the sofa was put together, for example, or what the interior of your car would look like without all that carpeting and upholstery.

The good news is that destructiveness in the Malamute is preventable and treatable. The cure is exercise, and lots of it, no matter what the weather is, or if you have the flu. Lots and lots of strenuous exercise. Hiking, pulling sleds in winter and carts in summer (although don't let him become overheated), competitive weight pulling and formal obedience are also good outlets for his brain and his brawn.

Malamutes can be affected by a few genetic diseases, and there are temperament problems in the breed, so be careful to get your dog from either an experienced breeder who does genetic screening tests on her dogs, or a reputable rescue group that evaluates them for temperament and suitability for your family and lifestyle.

Health Issues Common to Alaskan Malamutes

The Malamute is a fairly health dog, but he is at risk for some genetic diseases, including hip dysplasia, a genetic deformity of the hip socket that requires costly surgery to correct and often leads to arthritis later on in life. This is a particularly devastating condition for an active running dog like the Malamute. Make sure your puppy's breeder provides you with written documentation certifying his parents are free of hip dysplasia from either the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or the University of Pennsylvania (PennHip).

Malamutes can also be affected by a form of dwarfism known as chondrodysplasia. All breeders must have Alaskan Malamute Club of America certification that at least one of their parents was free of this condition, or the puppies they produce could be affected.

They can also suffer from inherited polyneuropathy, for which there is no screening test. This is a nervous system disorder that causes chronic lack of coordination and weakness in the dogs. Any breeder who tells you these and other breed-related problems aren't a matter of concern in the breed or his lines is either dishonest or not knowledgeable -- neither of them traits you want in the breeder of your new puppy.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Hip Dysplasia Medium $1,500-$6,000
Diabetes Mellitus High $5,000-$10,000
Follicular Dysplasia High $200-$800
Uveodermatologic Syndrome High $1,000-$3,000

5 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Alaskan Malamute Puppy

Because these big powerful dogs start out life as fluffy, adorable puppies, you can find them in pet stores and being bred by irresponsible breeders and puppy mills. It's essential to find a breeder who is a member in good standing of the Alaskan Malamute Club of America, and who has agreed to abide by its code of ethics, which specifically prohibits selling puppies through retail outlets such as pet stores.

Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health and behavior problems in Malamutes aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an older dog, most of them can be ruled out. In addition, Malamutes can live 10 years or longer, so an adult dog will still be a part of your family for a long time to come.

Puppy or adult, take your Malamute to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.

Don't ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store or Internet site that offers many breeds and popular mixes, or that ships with no questions asked. If you buy a puppy from these sources, you'll be more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to house-train puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills.

Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with "puppy lemon laws," be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Alaskan Malamute Pet Insurance

Despite what the breeder might say and regardless of whether your Alaskan Malamute's parents are perfectly healthy, it is impossible to guarantee your pet will be free of breed-specific issues such as diabetes or any of the myriad conditions above. You can protect against the unknown by getting pet insurance. The best advice we can give you when looking for pet insurance for your Alaskan Malamute puppy is to insure him when he's young, ideally 8 weeks to 6 months of age.

Picking the best dog insurance plan for your Alaskan Malamute means finding one that covers hereditary conditions. Sadly, most pet insurance does not cover these conditions but a few, including Embrace, do. Because of this, pet insurance plans that cover hereditary conditions tend to cost a more than plans from other leading companies such as VPI that do not.

Pet insurance does not cover pre-existing conditions. If you wait until your pet is too old there is a high probability that claims for any health issues he has had will be considered pre-existing and thus denied. Remember, pet insurance is the one thing you can't buy when you need it the most, you need to plan ahead and get it when your Alaskan Malamute is young.