Showsight Presents The Alaskan Malamute

by RON POHL TAOLAN ALASKAN MALAMUTES THE ALASKAN MALAMUTE

K nown as the largest of the sled dogs in the Arctic, the Alaskan Malamute has recently been named as the “State Dog of Alaska”. The breed was originally recognized as indigenous to the northwest coastal area of Alaska, that which was inhabited by the ‘Mahl- emuit’ Indian tribes. These tribes used Malamutes as sled and hunting dogs. Descriptions and purported samples of the ‘Mahlemoots’ served as models for various breeders in the Lower 49 whose work lead to the eventual recog- nition of the breed with the American Kennel Club in 1935. However, most Malamute fanciers today don’t know that it has not in fact been demonstrat- ed that any genes from those North- ern Alaskan dogs actually contributed to the Alaskan Malamute as we know them today. Those progenitors came from points as far apart as the Yukon and Baffin Island, and not until the AKC reopened the stud book for Malamutes in 1950 following the loss of many exist- ing dogs on the Admiral Byrd Antarctic expeditions, did any dogs actually come from Alaska to the lower states. These were a distinctly different type (larger, less compact) compared to the earlier Malamutes. While the dogs extracted from dogs used in the freighting teams during the Alaska and Yukon gold rush- es resembled fanciers’ visions of what this breed should be, again, none actu- ally came from Northwestern Alaska. As the ‘Malamutes’ of the day were generally seen as more desirable in tem- perament and durability than the usual run-of-the-mill dogs of the North, it was common for those trading in dogs to call their sled dogs that name, whether or not they actually were. In any event, the breed was accepted in America as a distinct type, as com- pared to the ‘Eskimo Dogs’ previously recognized by AKC, and in due course, also by the Canadian Kennel Club. The first Alaskan Malamute Champion of Record with the CKC was actually a white male owned by Lorna Jackson of Ontario.

FORM & FUNCTION The head is NOT the most important aspect of this breed ! We all know that the Alaskan Mala- mute is a sled dog for heavy freighting. The part that is often overlooked or minimized is the addendum—“in the Arctic”. Essentially, all breeds of dogs were developed by intention or by hap- penstance for specific purposes and functions; for hunting, draft, coursing, hunting varmints, companionship or for sport. But perhaps no other breed was as essential to its human counterparts for their very survival. Whether utilized by the semi-nomadic Inuit to move to new hunting grounds, or tracking seal and bear game, or for hauling the fruits of a successful hunt back to their vil- lages by sensing the return route in the featureless Arctic, these dogs made pos- sible survival in the most horrendous conditions imaginable. Even more impressive than their abil- ity to transport large loads, is their abil- ity to survive extreme cold with mini- mal food. A compact structure with an incredibly dense coat and an extremely efficient digestive system was essen- tial. As these dogs had no knowledge of kennels and chains, and were left to roam loose between excursions, it was inevitable that these sled dogs would develop the skill to augment their own meager diets by hunting on their own. Indeed, modern Malamutes are still quite predatory in nature if not social- ized away from that at an early age. HEALTH & TEMPERAMENT While today most Malamutes live in conditions that are much less harsh than those their ancestors had to endure not so long ago, it is important that breeders aim their efforts at ensur- ing that those dogs that will not embark on Arctic expeditions remain capable, nevertheless, of doing exactly that on the basis of their structure, tough- ness, temperament and health. The Malamute is not a ‘one man dog’ but is willing to be friends with anyone given the opportunity. They should not be

standoffish or aggressive with humans at any time, though, they can be quite territorial around other dogs. Given the realities of urban and suburban life, temperaments of many Malamutes today are much softer than even a few generations ago. Health issues exist, although for a large breed, these are perhaps fewer than many breeds. As with humans, cancer is likely the number one cause of shortened lives in Malamutes. Kid- ney failures, hip dysplasia, autoimmune issues, epilepsy and cataracts may occur as well. JUDGING THE ALASKAN MALAMUTE Bigger is NOT better. There is a natu- ral range in size within the breed. the desirable freighting sizes are males, 25" at the shoulders and 85 lbs.; females, 23" and 75 lbs. It was once common to hear a judge in the Alaskan Malamute ring, having put up a particularly impressive speci- men declare, “This dog could pull me out of a snow drift any time.” It goes without saying that a large dog will exert more pulling power force than a smaller dog in equal con- dition, in equal conditions. However, a Malamute is not designed for short bursts of pulling power; the auto club should be contacted if you need to get out of a snow bank. The Alaskan Mala- mute is designed to pull heavy loads over long distances—which is to say, sustained effort. While the words of the breed standard make it clear that one should not exclude a large dog of con- siderable merit, it makes it absolutely clear that a smaller dog of equal merit also should not be overlooked. “When dogs are judged equal in type, propor- tion, movement and other functional attributes, the dog nearest the desirable freighting size is to be preferred.” That is to repeat, NEAREST the desirable freighting size, NOT the larger one. And especially the larger dog should not go up purely on size regardless of sound- ness. The larger dog may win on pure

206 • S HOW S IGHT M AGAZINE , F EBRUARY 2017

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