Audrey has owned and trained Malamutes from puppyhood into adulthood for over 15 years. She has also rescued many other dog breeds.
Alaskan Malamutes: About the Breed
Before we take a look at how best to train an Alaskan Malamute, the topic of the specifics of this remarkable breed must be addressed. In order to train a Malamute, one must understand this ancient breed's background and inherent behaviors.
Malamutes are one of the oldest working breeds and one of the most intelligent groups of canines you will ever encounter. That said, when training a Malamute, you must never expect them to be like your old black lab, Molly, who was content to please you at every turn and who seemingly artlessly learned commands she never forgot.
The Alaskan Malamute is known for several traits, and it is the wise owner who knows these traits from the beginning as it will make training for you both much simpler. The Mal is best known (sometimes only known) for its pack behavior. Whether people like it or not, these dogs are used to a pack hierarchy mentality, and in order to communicate with them and get them to obey you, there must be a human alpha.
That extends to every part of the human family that comes into contact with the dog. This alpha position is earned by the smart owner who knows how to keep the Malamute in line and garners that essential position of respect through actions and interactions with the dog.
Alaskan Malamute Training Challenges
Socialization and training for the Malamute can be a bit of a challenge, especially if you are not dealing with a pup. However, even starting out as a puppy in dog training classes, as the Mal matures, depending on circumstances, he or she can exhibit behaviors of dominance. This does not mean that the dog is abnormal in any way. It simply means that the hereditary behavior characteristics of the dog make it more difficult to get along in a society of dogs that are not of the same temperament or "way of thinking."
They Need Structure
If you decide to train your Malamute with the idea that once trained, he or she will be 100% dependable to go to dog parks and/or run off-leash and play like other dogs, think again. In most cases, this just doesn't happen. It doesn't mean again that the dog is aggressive or defective. It simply means that this breed needs more structure than most. The key is to train the dog for the situations that do work and get he or she to behave at all times but without the illusion that the Malamute will behave like other dog breeds.
They Can Get Bored
Boredom is perhaps the greatest challenge in training an Alaskan Malamute. This extends beyond the norm of boredom from not enough exercise, socialization, etc. A Malamute is one of the most stubborn breeds you can ever deal with but again, with their high degree of intelligence, if you don't keep the training interesting, you'll be just as frustrated as they are. They will adopt the "dumb" face and act like they do not know what in the world you want from them, so always keep it interesting.
And if you aren't in the mood to train your Mal, don't do it. Wait until a time when you are going to be fully engaged in the training with the dog because believe me, they will know a half-hearted attempt a mile away.
Everyone Needs to Get Involved in Training
Remember that all members of the dog's family must be equal participants in its training. That doesn't mean that children should be training the dog, however. Remember that these dogs are wickedly big for the most part, and small children should never be expected to "handle" these dogs or enforce behaviors.
However, including children in the teaching is an excellent way to maintain the dog's "low spot" on the totem pole and convey the fact that the dog is not the alpha in the household. Participation with and respect for children in (and out of) a Malamute's home are essential pieces of the puzzle that must be addressed to make living with this dog breed workable for all.
Commands to Teach a Malamute
When training any breed of dog, the goal is to selectively pick out the most important things you want them to know or the commands you feel are the top priority for your Mal to respond to. In determining those, you will need to have a laundry list of activities that you plan on doing with your dog. Then base the teaching of commands around those activity potentials, so when the time comes, you and the dog will be ready, and you will have a greater chance for success.
When we got two of our Malamutes as puppies, we decided, for instance, that we would walk them a lot because they need exercise and lots of it. We decided we would walk them in busy places, and we would occasionally sit outside and eat meals at cafes or drink lattes with them in tow. They, therefore, have to possess very good manners.
We also planned on bikejoring or scootering, snowshoeing, and backpacking/hiking with them, so there of necessity needed to be some mushing commands taught. We added those to our list.
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Our dogs are also part of our family, and we happen to have a lot of friends and family who visit, some with dogs. We also travel everywhere with at least two of our Mals, so in addition to all the above commands, they needed to be taught manners in the car and traveling behaviors.
Our Malamute need-to-know list included:
Teaching the "Sit" Command
- Start with the dog in front of you while you are standing or sitting.
- Have a piece of kibble in your hand and slowly move the kibble from the dog's nose backward over his or her head.
- Their natural inclination will be to follow the kibble, and they will "naturally" sit as they watch it go over their head, and their body has to sit.
- Just as the butt hits the floor and they are in the sit position, give the command sit.
- Repeat many times, and then leave it alone.
- Randomly issue the command (with and without kibble) and keep practicing.
After you've taught your Malamute this command, it's easy to move on to the next logical command, which is the down command. Simply extend the command by using the kibble, lowering it slowly from the dog's nose, between the dog's front legs to the floor. As soon as the dog is spread on the floor, say the command down.
Now move on to leave it from there or wait (putting it on the floor in front of them and not allowing them to take it until you say so) or the roll command or a variety of other commands.
Basic Obedience and Behavior Commands
- Sit: good anywhere and easy to teach—see inset
- Down: also good anywhere and harder to teach a Mal
- Wait: applies everywhere, from going out a door to attacking their food
- Stay: much like the wait only for longer periods of time
- (Dog name) come: priceless—they must come to you immediately
- Drop it: this can save a life—drop that poisonous bottle you picked up
- Off: off the bed, off people, off the furniture
- Leave it: do not even think about touching that or going after it
- Out: out of the car, out the door
- Spin: for fun and amusement—teaches them balance and makes them think
- Hold or stand: works for exams or grooming—stand up
- Roll: great for exams and brushing or grooming
- Shake: just for fun—both paws—or together for more fun
- Quiet! (good luck): just because, but some are more talkative than others
- Go get it: playing fetch—some will do it
- Bring it: bringing it back—some will do it
- On by: go past someone or dogs— great for close quarters
- Up: for jumping in the car into the crate or on a low table (or their chair)
Simple Musing Commands for Mals
- Whoa: stop!
- Gee: turn right
- Haw: turn left
- Giddy up or let's go: pour on the steam—run
- Over: move over to the side of the trail or road
That might seem like a long list, but working down the list some, though similar, are unique to certain situations, and others are usable anywhere and any time. Most are geared towards the safety of the dog and the safety of others. And some are just plain fun.
Malamutes, like other breeds, do have a humorous side and enjoy some activities just for fun. The important thing to remember is never to have an activity that overstimulates the dog or feeds into aggressive behavior. For instance, tug-of-war could get out of hand with the wrong Malamute.
All training should be done with the idea in mind that the owner is alpha, and the session begins and ends with him or her being in charge . . . period.
Training a Malamute Puppy
Obviously, life is much simpler when you start training a Malamute as a puppy. It isn't easy, but it is easier than trying to teach an old dog new tricks . . . literally. However, it can be done. My oldest Mal is a rescued Malamute who was abused, and over the course of a year, I was able to train her very well. It did take an inordinate amount of patience, however, as she fought me every step of the way.
The most important point to remember with training any dog, but especially Malamutes, is to always end on a high note. The high note means you win, not them. Sometimes in the course of a training session, in fact, almost always, if you require a Mal to do a command more than once, you will meet with resistance. Or they will become very creative in the way that they execute that command. For instance, sit becomes a down, etc.
The key is to keep it ever-changing. Take them to the park to train them one day, and take them out in the garage the next day. Never do the same routine of commands exactly the same way. Mix it up and interject some playtime in between. You will accomplish the same objective, but you will do it without going one on one with what I like to call the Malamute frozen brain.