alaskan malamute Q&A
RG: The top priority for me is can the dog do the job it was bred for? Malamutes were bred as a freight dog to carry heavy loads and not for speed; but endurance is very important. As the AMCA Judges Ed program breaks down the standard, there are survival traits, performance traits and cosmetic traits. Obviously the first two are critical. The Malamute has to be able to survive in an extreme environment so coat is a must and small ears and almond- shaped eyes are important. Being a freight dog, substance is important to be able to pull heavy loads. Efficient gait to work all day is also a must. Of all the Working breeds, the Malamute and Siberians are the breeds that have to work all day. Guard dogs may patrol for a while, but not con- stantly. Some Working breeds do different functions such as hunting or herding, but again, usually not continuously all day. Of course it’s nice to have the cosmetic features such as expression with a dark eye and symmetrical mark- ings, but they don’t help a dog perform better. There’s a common misperception that light eyes are undesirable because they allow more sunlight in, but that is not true as light goes through the pupil. So dark eyes enhance expression, but not a functional attribute. So to answer the question, I emphasize the total combined package of pro- portions, substance, movement and survival traits equally. Can the dog do the job it was bred for? GH: When judging Malamutes, movement is always very important to me. I love a good front with correct length of upper arm and shoulder angulation, and a balanced driving rear. I want to see a compact body with good spring of rib, a correct harsh outer coat, correct tail set and a lovely wedge head with small, thick, correctly- placed ears and a broad deep muzzle. I always hope to find good feet, large and compact, but unfortunately it can be a part of the dog that gets overlooked by some breeders. (Maybe this is six things that I look for.) I can’t pick out one thing that is a hallmark of the breed because I believe that all of the above features are very important in making up a good Alaskan Malamute. NR: 1) Does the dog have breed type? I ask myself, ‘If I found this dog as a stray could I say it was a purebred Alaskan Malamute?’ If the answer is yes, then it has breed type; if not, it does not get a ribbon. 2) Now choose the dog that could best function as an Arctic freighting dog and for me that requires a powerful rear; i.e. complete extension of the hock when in contact with the ground. 3) A solid level topline when moving to transmit the force forward. 4) A front balanced with the rear with heavy bone and large snowshoe feet. 5) A proper double coat to withstand the cold of the Arctic winters. SW: When I judge the Malamute, or any breed for that mat- ter, I first look for balance and proportions appropriate for the breed. The Malamute should be only slightly longer than tall with depth of chest and length of leg nearly equal. The next most important to me is the head and expression as it should be exclusive to each breed as articulated in the breed standard. Our Standard tells us structure including feet, as it relates to the movement necessary to do the job, is the most important so it’s hard for me to separate second and third because lots of dogs can pull a sledge, including mixed breeds, but if the dog doesn’t look like a Malamute, then it isn’t correct!
Next would be coat needed to survive in the extreme conditions of their native areas of North America. I must include temperament in my evaluation. Although the breed needs to be strong they must also be able to live in our modern environment. WW: As I have stated many times in the past, the Malamute must possess the positive attributes that would allow him to survive and work in the primitive environment for which he was intended. Of course, he must look like the breed. That being said, the hallmarks of the breed deal mostly with the characteristics necessary to survive in an Arctic environment: correct coat; big, tight, well-padded snowshoe-shaped foot; a waving, plumed tail; and an arched neck. These are all hallmarks of the breed. Our standard prioritizes breed attributes, and soundness of body and structure must always take precedence over cosmetics. 2. How has the breed changed since you became involved with it? Do you see any trends you think are moving the breed in the wrong direction? Any traits becoming exaggerated? SB: Alaskan Malamute breeders are committed to maintaining a dog as good and sound as the original dogs in the breed. We are open to different styles within our breed and although we have a desired height of 25" for males and 23" for females, the quality of the dog is more important than the size. Therefore we do not see big trends or exaggera- tions. In recent years we have seen good improvement in structure, especially rear angulation. Narrow fronts still seem to be a problem. I am concerned about the poor bites that have become more pervasive in the breed. Malamutes in their native land often ate frozen meat for their meals and required large, strong teeth with a scissor’s bite to tear into that frozen dinner. Breeders must also focus on a cor- rect tail as it is a hallmark of the breed. RG: Malamutes may be one of the few breeds to have not changed drastically over the years. The top dogs of years past would still be competitive today. How can breed- ers improve on the tough dogs that were on Arctic and Antarctica expeditions for months at a time? The photos of those dogs show very typey dogs, though they weren’t always pretty or well marked. Malamutes today are much more uniform than 40 years ago in terms of size and markings. Also temperament has improved with fewer “problem” dogs than back then. Generally, Malamutes are happy-go-lucky, glad to see everyone. But on rare occasion, you may come across one that may not have that temperament, so always approach the breed with care. They will give warning of a problem in their eyes and body posture. Often, the breed can be antsy and not always willing to stand perfectly still like a Doberman. Puppies especially can be restless and should be given some leniency. It’s all part of their personality. Malamutes can be dog aggressive and shouldn’t be penalized as long as the dog is under control. GH: The breed has improved since I first became involved. There is greater consistency now. In the early years you could see some very rangy dogs with large, thinner ears and some with weedy bodies, along with a smaller, less substantial dog, both looking very different from
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