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Teaching an Alaskan Malamute the Sit and Down Commands

As a "veteran" owner of several malamutes spanning 10+ years, I can attest to the wonderful experience of raising these amazing animals.

Training your Malamute is rewarding for you both.

Training your Malamute is rewarding for you both.

How to Train an Alaskan Malamute

An Alaskan Malamute can present many challenges in the course of ownership. That is, if you don't understand how to train them. If you start early, you'll have a great shot at transforming one of the largely stigmatized "dangerous dog breeds" into a great canine citizen.

The Alaskan Malamute is one of the smartest dog breeds you'll ever find anywhere, and one of the most loyal. That said, you'll also probably never find a more headstrong or clever breed. Malamutes seem to have a mind of their own. However, in my experience, if you learn to channel that great brain and capture their inherent love of owners, you've struck gold.

Come along with me on a journey in the last week while I train our newest Malamute, my little 12-week-old pup Gabby. These techniques are tried and true for Malamutes of any age. They also will work for any dog breed, large or small.

The videos are short and illustrate all the techniques I have described below as well. As you can see, I have a very talented pupil!

Training is all about trust.

Training is all about trust.

Basic Commands for Malamutes

I'm a firm believer in gearing dog training towards the breed of dog that you have. It's important to select the most important commands that you plan to use with your dog. Some commands are always going to be more important than others, and they should be modulated for situations real and imagined. They also need to be geared to your lifestyle and your interactions with your dog.

Below are the essential commands that my Alaskan Malamutes must have "under their collar" so to speak! I have also included the level of difficulty (for them to perform), from my own experience.

How to Teach a Malamute to Sit

The "sit" command is usually the one I start out with when I'm training any dog. It seems to be the easiest and quickest to learn. Training any dog to sit is very easy to do.

Tip: I always use part of their daily amount of kibble to treat rather than using fatty treats, which can easily add unwanted weight over a short period of time and upset their system.

  1. Start with a piece of kibble.
  2. When your dog is standing in front of you, slowly move the piece of kibble in your hand up and over the dog’s head towards his or her scruff of the neck.
  3. The dog will naturally sit by following the kibble.
  4. The moment the dog’s bum hits the ground, say the word “sit.”
  5. Immediately reward lavishly with praise and the treat.
  6. Repeat many times throughout the day.

Eventually, intersperse non-treated "sit" commands with treated "sit" commands. Work on getting the dog to sit more quickly each time.

You can also incorporate a clicker training method for this command easily. Just make sure to always wait for their bum to hit the floor before rewarding with praise or with treats.

Practice this in various locations, so the dog gets used to sitting in multiple situations. Once the dog has mastered this command well, start introducing different "sit" situations such as when someone is approaching.

A seated dog is a better dog because, while seated, they are under control. They cannot lunge at people, jump up on people, or pull you around. A good rule of thumb is to always ask strangers to allow you to have your dog sit before they approach your dog. It is a sensible plan for big dogs so that they are under control.

Tip: I always carry little baggies of kibble with me in my pocket so that if needed, I can "entice" my dog into a sit if a situation is particularly stimulating. Success is the name of reinforcing good behavior.

Training a Malamute to Sit When on a Leash

Teaching any dog to sit is very important. It is even more important when they are walking on a lead.

This command gives you an advantage and also protects your dog. If your dog has been trained to always sit when you stop, you are protecting him or her from dangers such as cars on the street once you leave the safety of the curb.

You are also learning to employ a great little trick to get your Malamute into a controlled position. This command comes in handy time and time again when you are out walking.

It is much easier to control a very large, powerful dog in a seated position than when they are standing. When little 90-year-old Mrs. Pratt comes bustling towards you, 80-pound Gabby won't jump up and knock her down.

Sitting on leash is also very handy when other dogs are approaching or if another dog is out of control. If your dog is under control and you have his or her attention, you stand a much better chance of getting out of the situation unscathed.

An Easy Way to Teach Your Malamute to Sit on Lead:

  1. Leash up your dog and make sure you have kibble in your pocket.
  2. Begin walking at a normal pace but stop after a few steps. Issue the command "sit."
  3. Wait for the dog to sit and then reward.
  4. Continue on a few more paces and repeat this process.
  5. Practice this over and over, with and without treating. Soon your dog will begin to get the idea that you want a "sit" whenever you stop.
  6. This is also a prelude to the "heel" command because your dog begins to anticipate that you are going to be wanting him or her close by (and there is the potential for a treat).
  7. Moving on to the "heel" can be easily done by holding a treat in your left hand as you hold the leash and then finishing off with a stopped "sit."

Tip: Keeping the treat in your left hand encourages the dog to stay on your left at all times rather than crossing in front of you to sit and get the treat. In this scenario, you want the dog to your left. You should also work with the dog to accomplish a sit in front of you on leash, too.

Teaching the "Down" Command

One of the most difficult commands for a Malamute to perform is the "down" command. It is, however, one of the first commands that you should teach.

The reason for the difficulty is that this is a command that makes the dog extremely vulnerable and some dogs rebel against it. Obviously, starting out with this command as a puppy is a great idea so this is the second command I teach my pups.

The "down" command is vital to a Malamute's well-being. It can mean the difference between a happy or bad ending in any given situation. If the dog trusts you, the alpha, enough to obey this command, you will always be in control of your dog.

The "down" command is useful for situations where your dog might be having trouble with self-control, such as when kids are running or dangling food around his face. It's also a great command for any time you need your dog to be quiet and simply "drop."

This command bears repeating over and over in all kinds of stressful, noisy situations to be sure your dog has mastered it. Also, making them do a "down" command on walks, at feeding times, and any time, in general, is a really good idea. It keeps them primed and tuned-in to you.

We routinely make our dogs do a "sit" and a "down" before they are allowed to eat. Sometimes several of them, depending on how exuberant they are to eat! It's a way of saying human to dog, "Slow down here pal and focus."

How to Teach Your Malamute the "Down" Command:

  1. Have a piece of kibble in your hand.
  2. Start with your dog in a "sit" position.
  3. Holding the kibble out of reach of your dog's mouth, slowly bring the kibble from the dog's nose in a downward motion right between his or her paws.
  4. Go slowly because you want the dog to grasp the concept that he or she is in fact going down.
  5. When you reach the floor, the dog will probably be in the "down" position or nearly there. Try to catch the exact moment when all four paws are spread out on the floor and say "down."
  6. When all four are on the floor and the "down" is accomplished, praise lavishly and excitedly. This is a hard position for many dogs, but especially Malamutes, at first and in certain situations.
  7. Repeat this command often with and without treats.
  8. Train the dog to do this command at random in all kinds of situations and you will realize what a valuable tool this command is.

Tip: Make sure your dog masters this command fully before moving on to the "down and "stay." A "down" that doesn't hold will not help with teaching the correct "stay."

Make Training Your Dog Fun for Both of You

I admittedly am very prejudiced when it comes to the Alaskan Malamute and how smart they are. I know their capacity for intelligence and for socialization. However, that said, facts are facts and in order to ensure that my Malamutes represent their breed in the best light, I spend a lot of time training my dogs.

Make training fun with any dog you are working with and your rewards will be two-fold. You'll experience a great feeling of accomplishment but so will your dog! I don't think there is a breed of dog that doesn't enjoy being successful or that doesn't want to please his or her owner.

These are just two of the basic commands to teach a Malamute but I think they are the most important when starting out. They are the springboard for more complicated commands later on.

If you have more training tips for these two basic commands, please add to the comments section below.

Essential Commands

CommandReason for ImportanceLevel of Difficulty

Basic Sit

Dog is controlled and "at ease."

Easy

Sit on Lead

Dog stops every time when you stop.

Medium difficulty

Down

Dog is totally submissive and safe.

Difficult

Stay

Dog is safe and submissive.

Very difficult at times

Come

Dog will come to you no matter what.

Extremely difficult

Heel

Dog will walk tight to your left side.

Medium difficulty

Fetch or Get it

Dog will retrieve something for you.

Medium difficulty

Leave it

Dog will ignore whatever "it" is always

Very difficult at times

Shake

Dog will shake hands with you.

Easy

Quiet

Dog will quit howling or vocalizing.

Medium difficulty

Wait

Dog will stand still until you release.

Very difficult at times

Talk

Dog will howl or talk on command.

Easy

Over

Dog will roll or move in position.

Medium difficulty

Hold

Dog will stand in position immediately.

Medium difficulty

Mushing commands

Dog will go left, right, etc. on command.

Medium difficulty

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: I have a 1 year old Alaskan malamute and sometimes he bites. Is it normal and is it hard to train?

Answer: It is normal for them to put their mouths on things but biting should never be tolerated because of the size of their teeth obviously. I answered but again, putting your closed fist in their mouth will stop the behavior.

Question: I have a 4 month Mal that I am having trouble to keep her focus on me. She is very easily distracted and will not give me her attention back for what I feel is far too long. Any tips, please?

Answer: I don't really think they get their full brain as I say until they are a few years old! Unfortunately, they can be super distracted very easily. I generally work with my dogs at any age when I'm doing anything routine. If I'm in the kitchen, I call them in there and reward them - with praise or just a piece of kibble for paying attention to me. If they are in the yard, I call them where I am and do the same - or any time just whatever I'm doing to get them to focus on me - praise or a kibble. Sometimes a bigger treat if they have done something really spectacular like left that interesting thing and come right to me. It is all about them understanding that they need to do it - bit by bit, time by time - and the more you do that, the more they respond - and usually the more quickly they respond. It takes a long time to train a pup though and 4 months old is still very, very young!

Question: I have a 1-year-old Alaskan malamute and sometimes he bites. Is it normal and is it hard to train?

Answer: The most important thing to do is stop it every single time it happens. Saying a VERY loud NO or no bite every time would be the best command that comes to mind. Also, as corny as it sounds, sticking your fist into their mouth every time that they do it REALLY works quickly to show them that you will not tolerate it and you do not like it.

Comments

jennifer on June 16, 2020:

Hi, i'm a new dog owner of an Alaskan malamute mix she is three months old and all ready doing sit. i'm have some trouble with the down position she wont do it without a treat.

Audrey Kirchner on September 14, 2017:

Oh my word yes - it is a definite mal trait in my experience. Mine drop balls, all kinds of things in their water bowls and then proceed to 'fish' with them and empty the entire bowl. We set up a small swimming pool for them as well because it is hilarious. They are not typically 'water' dogs but they do enjoy it. I just like the entertainment and I'm easy to please!

Maureen on April 22, 2017:

Great read and very helpful! We have a 10 week old Giant Mal pup, Kodiak, who is just the cutest and most rambunctious man on the planet. We also have a 6 year old Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Fetchy, so you can imagine how well she took it, at first. Lol... Kodi is learning his "sit" and his "come", and now lead training is next. He's quite a character with his water dish, though- is this a Mal trait? He likes to dance in it and then make my kitchen a pool to play in! Lol... I haven't mopped this much in YEARS.

Chellz on April 27, 2016:

I'm having a hard time getting my mal to not bite our hands or arms and digging any advice we know he is just playing but it gets a little out of hand

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on April 19, 2011:

MMP - Yes, pups are a thrill and a challenge but then when they grow up, if they aren't trained...yikes! My Griffin at almost 2 is quite a handful at times so we are continuing HIS training along with my Gabby's! It seems to be helping that they are both trying to listen...I say trying to listen because they are mals! Thanks so much for the great comment and can't IMAGINE mastiffs! Our mals are quite enough to handle when they decide to go somewhere!

MyMastiffPuppies on April 19, 2011:

Wow! This is such a great hub, you really outdid yourself. Excellent tips for training and I am going to bookmark for later use. Our mastiffs are 5yrs and 3yrs now and we had hoped to have puppies but they are not cooperating. Oh well...they are great additions to our family regardless!

Thanks for sharing, voted up,useful, awesome and beautiful...

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on April 18, 2011:

Hanna - Thank you for stopping by and for the kind comment.

Hello, hello, from London, UK on April 18, 2011:

A well worded and interesting hub. Thank you, Audrey.

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on April 15, 2011:

Funny Crewman - I think my son is doing that very thing these days! He does love the puppy as he has been staying with us for a while but he is only TOO happy to turn her back over to us....while she howls at night in her crate. I keep telling him 'before you know it, she'll be grown' but me thinks he is not buying it!

Crewman6 on April 15, 2011:

That certainly seems appropriate. They do have an air of good-natured cheerfulness that makes them fun to be around. Way too much commitment for me, though. I'd rather be like the grandparent that spoils them then leaves the parents to fix the mess!

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on April 14, 2011:

Thanks, Crewman6 - I surely appreciate it!! I love training the dogs and try to just not get upset with them. They eventually 'get' what I'm asking of them although with malamutes....it can take a while to break through their inherent stubborn nature. They tend to think they know more than their masters but they are really a LOT of fun to work with. I find them very comical so guess that's why I enjoy working so much with them since comedy seems to be part of my life naturally!

Crewman6 on April 14, 2011:

Love the advice, and Gabby is spectacular! I appreciate you sharing your hard-won experience. I love your humor hubs, but the dog training hubs are great reads, too.

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on April 13, 2011:

Yes, BJ in another life, I shall write all these books and I will be a hit! If only I could find the time to put all my things together and get it done!!

And yes, Gabby has us all wrapped around her little paws....mostly Griffin but I confess that even I have to chuckle at her most all the time. She is very smart and very sweet. I'm glad I'm working with her a lot though as I have a feeling she could run right over us ALL if we let her!

drbj and sherry from south Florida on April 13, 2011:

Gabby is beautiful and smart, Audrey, and I must commend her for being able to train you so quickly. What am I referring to? Take a look at the very first photo and you will see how your sweet puppy has you completely trained to bow on one knee and serve her Highness. So clever!

On the serious side, have you considered publishing a Dog Training Manual. Illustrated with your great photos and very special videos, I think it would be a best seller. Whatcha think?

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on April 13, 2011:

Pamela - Thanks so much - it's just one of my passions I guess so it makes it fun to write about. Gabby is quite the pupil which really makes it a breeze!

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on April 13, 2011:

Audry, You are quite the expert on dog training and you've written another excellent. voted/ rated awesome.

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on April 13, 2011:

Thanks, Simone!

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on April 13, 2011:

Oh, more excellent dog training advice! Well done! Your photos, list of commands, and video are SO helpful. What a great guide this is!

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on April 13, 2011:

OM - Now that is a great idea! I never thought about that one...I'll have to try it on Bob although I doubt he'll pay attention.

She is adorable - I try not to laugh but she just cracks me up with the jumping and barking....next up on the training circuit I guess as it won't be so dang funny when she weighs 75-85 pounds one day!

Om Paramapoonya on April 13, 2011:

OMG I'm so in love with Gabby. What a cutie she is. Thanks for these great tips and techniques. I don't have a dog but will use these commanding techniques with my bf. "Steve, sit and be quiet!" lol Rated awesome.

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on April 13, 2011:

Eiddwen - Thanks so much for the read - she is so easy to love but all 3 of mine truly are. I have a good time with them always!

Eiddwen from Wales on April 13, 2011:

Hi,

Thank you for sharing this hub on your beautiful pup. She is beautiful, for the first time ever i do not have a dog but that didn't stop me from enjoying this hub.

Awesome/up here.

Take care

Eiddwen.

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on April 12, 2011:

AJ - Thanks so much for reading! I love what I do so it makes it very, very easy.

Apostle Jack from Atlanta Ga on April 12, 2011:

You did it well.

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on April 12, 2011:

Yes it is~! Isn't she the smartest? They are all smart though. She is just so dang cooperative to training!

Shelly Epperly on April 12, 2011:

Great Article!!! is that your new pup?