Showsight Presents The Alaskan Malamute

PReseRviNg the ALASKAN MALAMUTE

by NaNcy c. Russell

A quote from the standard —

“IMPORTANT: In judging Malamutes, their function as a sledge dog for heavy freighting in the Arctic must be given consideration above all else.”

I f there is any hope of preserving this breed’s ability to survive in the high Arctic and perform as a freight- ing sled dog, then both breeders and judges have to recognize and reward those traits. So what structure is necessary for a freighting sled dog? First Critical Attribute: The Malamute must have complete extension of the hock when the foot is on the ground. This is the forward force. The dog that pushes off with the hock bent is pushing up, not forward. This is extremely inefficient. Even worse is a dog that never extends the hock and lets it fly up behind. This looks like a bicycling action from the side. This should never be rewarded. Second Critical Attribute: The Malamute must have a solid, level back when moving. Yes, the standard says “gently sloping” and standing still the withers may be an inch higher than the top of the pelvis but when the dog moves and drops his head forward that back should be straight, strong and level. Do you want the dog to pull the load uphill? If you have ever seen dogs weight pull or a team start a heavy load, they drop the head and lower their body so that there is a straight forward pull at the height the tug line is attached to the load. Because of the longer coat over the shoulders, the topline may look slightly sloping but an actual slope from withers to croup is improper structure for a freighting dog. Third Critical Attribute: The Malamute must have bal- anced, moderate angulation. Moderate compared to what? The same New England mushers wrote the Siberian Husky standard in 1932 and the Alaskan Malamute standard in 1935, so moderate compared to the Siberian Husky is the likely answer. Our standard states the Malamute is not a racing sled dog. Draft horses and oxen have straight angles and heavy bone. The AMCA measuring committee in the early 1990s found 28 to 30 degree shoulder layback to be the maximum. Balance is critical for endurance. A dog with no endurance would never have survived. Once a dog could not continue to pull they became dog food. This was true not only for the Eskimos but also was the standard practice of Arctic explor- ers. As the expedition used up their supplies and the extra sleds and dogs were not needed, the excess dogs were used as dog food. Only the very best dogs returned. Fourth Critical Attribute: The Malamute must have large snowshoe feet. Perhaps this should be first, as every musher will tell you that a sled dog is only as good as his feet. It is imperative that Arctic animals be able to stay on top of the snow. Like a snowshoe, the large foot distributes the weight

of the dog so he does not sink to his belly in the snow. A small cat foot would be a life threatening detriment to a Malamute. Fifth Critical Attribute: The Malamute must have heavy bone and strong muscles. I love the last sentence of the 1935 Malamute standard—“The legs of the Malamute must indicate unusual strength and pulling power—any definite indication of unsoundness in feet or legs, standing or moving consti- tutes practically disqualification in the show ring.” The Alaskan Malamute is truly a survival-of-the-fittest breed. When one studies the life of the Eskimos in Alaska you come to realize that everything about this breed is a result of their subsistence hunter lifestyle. The Eskimos of North America and Greenland are the only people that lived in the high Arctic (above the treeline) all year. Scarcity of food demanded that they were nomads and the dogs pulling sleds in winter, boats in summer or packing their meager belong- ings were their only means of transportation. When I started in Malamutes in the mid-1960s there was very little information available about the breed. So I started reading books about Arctic exploration and Eskimo culture in hopes of learning more about the breed. These accounts always wrote about the dogs’ ability to survive at minus 60 degrees below zero with 40 mile per hour winds just curled up in the snow; how they could keep working on meager rations; their ability to find a buried trail and to avoid unsafe ice and their love of fighting. But I was looking for specific characteristics that contributed to the Malamute’s ability to survive in the Alaskan Arctic and perform his job. So I pro- ceeded to study the other land animals that live in the high Arctic all year: the arctic wolf, the arctic fox, the polar bear and the arctic hare. When you compare them to the same spe- cies found in the temperate climate and the warm areas, you will notice the following: As the species goes North the coat becomes denser, longer and hair increases on the extremities. The body and extremi- ties become rounder. The feet are larger and have more hair on them. The dewlap increases in size. The ears become smaller, thicker, and more furred. Also I noticed that all of the Arctic species have dark pigment, no stop, almond shaped eyes and tight lips. The book, The Arctic Year , written by Peter Freuchen and Finn Salomonsen explains in detail the reasons for the adapta- tions of Arctic animals, birds, insects and plants. Coat: This is the most critical characteristic for the Malamute’s survival in his native environment. The dense woolly, oily undercoat is filled with air which being a

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