Audrey has owned and trained Malamutes for over 15 years from puppyhood into adulthood. She has also rescued many other dog breeds.
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 preferably 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 hairdryer).
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.
The Best Grooming Tools
- 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 little 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 Dietary Supplements
- 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.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Question: How do I get heavy mats out?
Answer: There is a special tool like a very long-toothed rake that you can buy. I generally used a regular rake on Griffin and just was patient. I also used a detangler spray sometimes if it was really, really bad. Unfortunately, some in his armpit areas I just gave up and cut off to be honest. I tried to minimize cutting any off but sometimes the work on them was just insane. I even tried rubbing some coconut oil on the tangles and that seemed to help too - but he hated the smell. It was so comical to watch the faces he made though - I was very tempted to do it all the time!
Question: Where do you donate the fur?
Answer: I donate it to knitting stores. You can also look up anyone who does spinning, and they may be interested.
© 2012 Audrey Kirchner
Carol Hosteen on September 01, 2019:
I am a new owner of a beautiful malamute name yoshi. I’m having a hard time with him and him pooping in the house. I take him out every hour but he will hold his poop till he come back in!!!! Help!!!!!
Tyne on January 19, 2017:
We have two Mals. Both love...LOVE to be brushed. We dry them after a bath by using a leaf blower. Lol They will sprawl out when they see the leaf blower come out.
KG on August 17, 2016:
Very useful, thank you! Now I hope I can get mine to do this she is not a fan of water. We adopted her and she's five any tips or tricks to teach an older dog new tricks?
Bonnie Hickman on December 20, 2015:
During one shedding session, my son sat in an empty walk in closet. The dog just ran in circles and my son held the brush. Strangest, most effective, brushing session ever.
Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on July 06, 2012:
Good for you, Crewman~ I'm trying to get my feet wet again - hope I don't drown~~~ Thanks so much for stopping by and going to do my best this time to NOT take myself so seriously. Since I'm up to my earlobes in to do things I probably won't have the luxury of freaking out~~
Think of you often and glad you are doing well! Tell me all about it some time - would love to know what your successes are!
Take care and see you next time.
Crewman6 on July 06, 2012:
Hi Audrey! I see you're back, and jumping in with both feet. What a remarkable and thorough guide!! I don't visit hubpages as often as I used to, (am writing on my own sites now) but happened to notice you were writing again, so thought I'd stop by. Glad I did, it's a great read.
Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on July 05, 2012:
Hi Om - Congrats I think too~ Didn't I see your wedding photos on Facebook? Awesome! And your photos have been developing (so to speak) along magnificently - you are so talented. Could you send me a little of your fairy dust in an envelope so my pics will improve too?
Ah indeed - I'm back and hoping I do not crash and burn again~ Writing about my beloved mals though is easy for me to do. I always think of mals as a giant cat species to be honest. Their fur is odorless and basically clean as any you'll find - and despite their size, they are very "dainty" in some respects - except when they land their 95 pounds on you in bed! Gabby LOVES the water and we have a swimming pool just for her - Griffin on the other hand, not so much although we did have that bit of a fright (my fault entirely sigh) at the lake with him a couple years back. I do not think he has forgiven me. I should have gone slowly but instead figured he had loved it and would be a "natural" - not quite the deal. Denaya will go into a river or lake if LEAD in with a leash - to cool off - but then she's like "okay, my hair's frizzing - can you see this? - I need out NOW." I actually broke my finger during one of these escapades when she left and my other dog Kodi decided to follow her out. Too bad my hand was wrapped in the leash.
Ah - another book~ Indeed, I'm back! See ya and thanks again for stopping by - have missed you~
Om Paramapoonya on July 05, 2012:
Wow, the art of grooming is not as simple as I thought! So interesting to know that only certain types of malamutes love water. Glad to see you back on HubPages, Audrey. Looking forward to reading more about malamutes and whatever you have to share with us. =D
Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on July 04, 2012:
Dorsi - The second coat is amazing isn't it? I truly marvel at how they so "quietly" regrow it every year and always stop and consider the purpose of it. What a natural miracle - except when you're trying to get it all off so that they can breathe again~
Thanks for stopping by - and for the compliments. They truly are beautiful but inside and out. They are great companions and only wish as I said on our forum that I could spend many, many more years with all of them than we get but best to just enjoy the time we have and be grateful for my pals a day at a time. They are really the best entertainment ever! They require very little and give so much. Thanks for sharing them with me.
Dorsi Diaz from The San Francisco Bay Area on July 03, 2012:
Absolutely wonderful hub. Very detailed and your love for your dogs shines through. When I use to groom Karma, she had that second coat thing going on and I could not believe how much hair came off of her! Your dogs are just so beautiful!!
Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on July 03, 2012:
Thanks, Rhonda for the compliments and so glad you found those tips useful for your 4! Wow - you have me beat with just 3 - though they truly are quite enough for now. I'm sorry (ha ha) that it shows how much I despise them for all of that work....I actually just am always so in awe that they are mine I always say a little thank you-thank you even when it comes to the more dreary tasks. My husband truly must love me a lot to have indulged me with 2 pups~
toknowinfo on July 03, 2012:
Hi Audrey, OMG your Malamutes are so cute. This is a great hub! I have an English Cream Golden Retriever, a Standard Poodle, a Pug, and a Japanese Chin and your grooming tips are even useful for me. You can tell the love you put into taking care of your dogs, and I thank you for sharing your knowledge. Rated useful, awesome, interesting, beautiful and UP!
Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on July 03, 2012:
Thanks Seeker though it remains to be seen whether this will need to be changed into 3 chapters~ Hard for me to describe the whole process in 1 easy short deal but we'll see. Thanks so much for stopping by!
Helen Murphy Howell from Fife, Scotland on July 03, 2012:
I really enjoyed this hub. Even although I have never had an Alaskan Malamute I do think they are so beautiful. I didn't realise that there was so many different colours?
I would think for anyone looking for tips on how to bath, groom and generally look after their Malamute breed, they couldn't do any better than this hub.
Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on July 03, 2012:
Thanks Finance Hub and Lela for commenting. Ah indeed, Lela, if only I had more time in my life, I'd love to spin a sweater or 60 from Griffin's fur so I'd have him "with me" forever. He is a treasure that goofball. Even when he's howling "please stop brushing me" in my old lady ears~
Lela from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on July 03, 2012:
Looks like the pup is all grown up! They are all beautiful dogs. I couldn't imagine having a Mal in Texas though. How many dog fur sweaters do you have now? LOL
Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on July 02, 2012:
Thanks Kristy - Sometimes it does seem a bit overwhelming but then I think of him and all that hair~ He gets so hot from it at this time of year it just seems like the right thing to do for the poor guy - he is such a goofy dog and truly it's not a chore when I enjoy spending time with him. I'm not sure HE enjoys our time as much but oh well~
Kristy Sayer from Sydney, Australia on July 02, 2012:
What an interesting hub! I have too little furballs who have to be brushed out and dried with a blowdryer but I can't imagine spending 3 hours brushing! Kudos to you :P
Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on July 02, 2012:
Joyce - too funny. Indeed, you would think with all that hair that we would be sneezing but I think because they are so clean (their fur) it makes a difference...either that or I've just gotten used to all that hair! It surely helps having tile throughout the house...I'd be sunk otherwise. Thanks so much for the read.
Joyce Haragsim from Southern Nevada on July 02, 2012:
Great helpful hub. I think I would be sneezing all day if I brushed your beautiful dog for hours.
Voted up, useful and interesting, Joyce.