How To Groom An Alaskan Malamute
Grooming an Alaskan Malamute
Alaskan malamutes can be a challenging breed in many ways. This also includes grooming them.
Alaskan malamutes are one of the double coated breeds, which means that their coat is comprised of two different textures.
They have an outer or "guard" coat as well as having an undercoat which is downy soft and covers their entire body at skin level.
Add to that the fact that some malamutes are of the "wooly" variety, which means that they can have guard coat hairs up to 8-12" in length, you can imagine that maintenance of their coat might prove worrisome to someone not familiar with the breed.
However, even though the malamute presents some quirks that are not common to other breeds, both in terms of temperament, training and even grooming, once you understand the mechanics and how to go about them, it becomes second nature.
Like most things that we do in life, also having the right equipment is essential to doing the best possible job.
Practice also makes perfect in grooming a mal with a generous dosing of patience on the groomer's part. Don't be surprised either if your malamute lets you know vocally how he or she is enjoying (or not enjoying) the experience.
Now let's take a look at the best ways to groom an Alaskan malamute.
The Alaskan Malamute Coat
Alaskan malamutes come in many different sizes, shapes and colors. Surprisingly, all fur is not alike either. I happen to have three beautiful malamutes and not one is like the other in terms of coat or body build. While they do share similar traits in some respects, their coloring and more importantly, the type of fur they have, is unique.
Malamutes can come in black and white, browns, reds, and even a combination of these colors. Their coats range from the more "traditional" malamute fur which is still a double coat, but considerably shorter while some, like my Griffin, (shown above) come in the so-called wooly variety. The woolies are definitely the most difficult to groom.
Before showing you how to begin, it's important to understand the basics about Alaskan malamute coats and how they evolved. Malamutes are an ancient breed of dog but a working breed. Their purpose was freight hauling, often in subzero temperatures. They were built to survive temperatures as low as 70 degrees below zero. Thus the development of the double coat. The double coat is made to keep heat in but it is also miraculously made to keep heat out.
So is it necessary to groom a malamute? In all truth, I have heard of people who do not groom their Alaskan malamutes per se. They just let them blow their coats (which they will do usually twice per year in spring and fall) and bathe or brush them as needed.
Interestingly, female malamutes will shed more often and longer, whereas males and older dogs shed less and blow their coat less often. As a personal testament, however, my wooly blows his coat faithfully and tremendously every spring to the point that (as you can see by the video below) we filled an entire Rubbermaid closet see-through container (probably 66 quarts at least) from one 3-hour session of brushing. And that was after he was professionally bathed and groomed.
Facts about malamute fur:
- It is soft as a teddy bear - think of angora
- Malamute fur is odorless
- Dirt does not cling to malamute fur but dries and falls off
- Their fur is so clean it can be used as wool and spun to make yarn
- Too much bathing dries the malamute's skin and is not recommended
- Malamutes should NEVER be shaved
- Change in light triggers shedding - usually spring and fall
- Some mals love water and some do not - I have both varieties
GIVING AN ALASKAN MALAMUTE A BATH
Please watch the delightful video on bathing an Alaskan malamute. I only wish I had a setup like that to bathe mine. It would make life much simpler. The important thing to remember before bathing a malamute is to brush them thoroughly. It will help the overall process go a lot faster and result in fewer tangles.
Since I do not have groomer wash tubs and the only place we could comfortably wash our mals was in the bathtub, it started to make more sense to us to have them professionally bathed once or twice per year. It is a tremendous amount of work getting 95 and 80 pound dogs in and out of bathtubs and the most challenging part of all is keeping them in the tub, making sure that they have been thoroughly rinsed, and then cleaning up the giant mess that you have made afterwards!
That said, there are U-wash places that work very well. Just follow the techniques given below and make sure in all cases that the malamute is completely dried after bathing. Leaving wet fur on a malamute can severely irritate their skin and create hotspots, which they are not generally prone to. It can also create mold situations in their fur if neglected for too long.
EQUIPMENT FOR BATHING YOUR MALAMUTE
- Large bathtub preferrably one with lift and tie-offs to secure them
- Nozzle or hose to reach all parts of the dog's body with water
- Shampoo (you can purchase specifically for double coated breeds)
- Mixing container for shampoo
- Cotton for cleaning ears and eyes or to insert during blow drying
- Very large dry towels
- Dog grooming blower or cattle dryer
The easiest way to wash a malamute is to have a large container that you can mix shampoo with water and shake vigorously to make certain it is well mixed. Apply shampoo mixture to the dog's fur, starting at the back and working forward. Take time to gently scrub the soapy mixture into the dog's fur completely. (You will be surprised how thin your dog looks when wet!)
Make sure you rinse with warm water thoroughly as the shampoo (especially in wooly breeds) is difficult to completely rinse out.
Apply conditioner if desired and massage thoroughly into the coat. This is a good time to apply a detangling solution as well but follow the manufacturer's directions. Make sure if it needs to be rinsed after application that it is completely rinsed off. (I use hypoallergenic products on my dogs to prevent skin problems)
Now comes the fun part. Stand back and prepare to be soaked by all that shaking fur. Wrap the dog thoroughly in towels and dry as much as humanly possible.
Use of a dryer or blower is highly recommended as it is impossible to completely dry a malamute's fur by simply towel drying. A commercial hair dryer will work but keep it on cool setting. Note that it will take a very long time by this method (and may burn up your hair dryer).
HOW TO GROOM YOUR MALAMUTE
Well, the bath is complete and your malamute is beautifully cleaned and dried. So you're done, right? Not so fast! The grooming has just begun. Especially for a wooly malamute, you should allow yourself hours if not days to finish the grooming job.
My groomer laughingly says to me every time Griffin is groomed that she can't stand it. She brushes and brushes for hours, and there is still hair that needs to come off. Truer words were never spoken.
BEST TOOLS FOR GROOMING MALAMUTES
- Metal comb
- Pin brush
- Hair cutting scissors
- Slicker brush
- Various rakes
- Claw for detangling
- Shedding blade (optional)
- Nail clippers
- Cotton and mineral oil for cleaning ears
- Container for fur
- Detangling leave-on solution if necessary (optional)
- Furminator and/or attachment to vacuum (my dogs are not thrilled with these)
You will notice that clippers are not listed here. I prefer to leave clippers out of the mix for my dogs unless it is absolutely necessary. Griffin developed a tremendous rash from a clipper experience and they were only used for "shaping" some of his fur. The Alaskan malamute has such a particular coat that being shaved or trimmed incorrectly can permanently affect how their coat grows back in. A "bad haircut" can end up destroying a malamute's inherently beautiful coat and it will never be the same.
I find that the rakes work the best for taking off the most fur in the shortest period of time. However, have a caution using rakes when brushing over joints or sensitive areas on the dog's body. As in all things canine, make sure that you have set aside ample time to accomplish your grooming task and that you are not rushed. I would say that it takes me at least an hour to groom my "regular fur" malamutes (and that is after a professional bath and blow out). If I was doing the entire bathing process and grooming myself, it would require at least twice as long.
For my wooly malamute, Griffin, I spent over three hours simply brushing and trimming up and that was after a professional groom and blow out...and he is still not done.
One way of grooming an Alaskan malamute is to concentrate on one area at each session. Malamutes are not notorious for being cooperative for long periods of time simply because they become bored with things easily. I do offer bones or things to chew on while I'm grooming Griffin, and I try to keep our sessions pretty short (maybe an hour at a time). Sometimes though it's a several hour ordeal and we both just grin and bear it.
Some days I will do "manely" his mane (the area around his head and neck). Another day I will do his underside and belly which is a tremendous challenge because you have to watch for the tangles. Another day I'll do legs and pantaloons and another day will be strictly reserved for his magnificent tail. The tail takes an extraordinary amount of time because it is much like the texture of horsehair.
I generally switch back and forth between bristle or pin brushes and rakes, using the claw sparingly and only for tangles, brushing away from the skin at all times. Gently brush the dog and if you encounter "pulling" or resistance, ease up as it means that the coat is not loosening up as quickly as it should. If you frighten the dog by yanking it out, the next grooming session will be a pain for both of you.
Finish off the grooming with a slicker brush run quickly and gently over the top surfaces. This tool can be used simultaneously with the shedding blade or interchangeably but be aware that these tools are just for getting the surface hair off, not truly addressing the undercoat hair.
Use hair cutting scissors to trim hair on feet and legs, even from between the pads of their feet. This keeps dirt and particles from getting in between. It also gives you a chance to trim their nails. Remember that nails should be trimmed every 2 weeks or so. Having nails that are too long actually makes dogs walk differently and they can strain muscles simply by having toenails that are too long.
When trimming nails, make sure you check for the "quick" in light colored nails and cut before that vessel (a red line in the nail itself). Cutting through this can result in bleeding and it does prove useful to have styptic powder or pencils in the event of an inadvertent cut. Dogs with black or dark nails are a bit harder to trim so err on the side of not taking much off at a time.
You can dry wash your malamute in between groomings if necessary but brushing is by far the most recommended way to groom your malamute in between actual grooming sessions. It keeps their fur alive and vibrant, and it helps get rid of excess dead hair. Malamutes actually shed into their fur rather than lose it so it does need to be pulled off in some fashion or another to help maintain their beautiful coat, which is but one of their wonderful attributes.
If your malamute is partial to developing "kling-ons" (specks of fecal material stuck to their pantaloon or rear end area fur), rakes work well to get these off but sometimes I find just a ltitle trip down to the hose in the backyard takes care of the problem.
How often to brush malamute? They should be brushed at least one or two times per week and during their shedding, especially if a wooly, daily. Of course, you also must not have an aversion to running the vacuum daily or investing in huge quantities of lint rollers and floor swiffers. Having tile or wood floors is highly recommended when you have malamutes.
Remember that the fur you pull off today may be donated to yarn shops throughout the country and used as dog wool. I found someone who was thrilled to receive soft, clean, beautiful fur from my three and she always has an order in for more.
If you have a puppy, begin grooming techniques at an early age to get the pup ready for the event later in life when it becomes more arduous (or they become more stubborn). It is far easier to train a puppy to enjoy grooming sessions than waiting until you have a 100 pound dog you are trying to "encourage" to relax and enjoy being made pretty.
Lastly, use quiet times like watching TV to simply brush your malamute. Once associated with the pleasure of someone's company, it can make future grooming sessions go faster and easier.
DIET AND GROOMING FOR YOUR MALAMUTE
A lot can be said for what your dog eats long before he or she hits the grooming arena. Feeding a high quality, protein rich dog food is essential for malamutes. It builds muscle and strengthens their organs but it also helps them to have beautiful coats. One of the favorite characteristics of the Alaskan malamute is their regal bearing and their breathtaking coat. I would be rich if I had a dime for every person who says to me on a regular basis "Oh my god, what a beautiful dog." As they say, beauty is only skin deep and the work must be done on the inside as well as the outside to keep them that way.
Nutritional supplements are also sometimes prescribed or recommended. Check with your vet or breeder to see which ones they recommend for your specific dog.
Some recommended add-ins:
- Brewer's yeast
- Wheat germ
- Cod liver oil
- Coconut oil
For our dogs, we use kelp and coconut oil. We used fish oil but found that they had a harder time digesting that than coconut oil.
We feed our dogs a fish and sweet potato high quality, no fillers added dog food and feed twice per day rather than once per day.
We limit them in terms of people food (hardly ever) and treats and snacks (never unless they are high quality with no fillers). We use kibble as training treats.
Feed your dog well, follow the above grooming tips for the Alaskan malamute and appreciate your dog for the truly unique and gorgeous dog that he or she is. They may require more work than other dogs when it comes to many areas but I've always found mine to be worth all the time and effort.
Lastly, make sure that grooming is a special time for you and your dog and you will further cement the bond between dog and human and strengthen your relationship. I enjoy my "quality" time with my malamutes when I'm doing nothing more than brushing them simply because they mean so much to me. Grooming is part of ensuring that they are well cared for and as healthy as possible.