Home / Hobbies / The Iconic Dogs of Alaska: Malamutes and Huskies

The Iconic Dogs of Alaska: Malamutes and Huskies

One cannot speak of Alaska without immediately thinking of their iconic canines: The Alaskan Malamute and the Siberian Husky.

And one cannot speak of sledding dogs without remembering that famous sled dog movie starring the late Paul Walker called Eight Below. The dogs in the movie are Huskies and Malamutes. (Movie clips linked below for your watching pleasure – But don’t forget to bring your Kleenex. The story of hardship and survival and most of all, bonding and friendship between man and dog will make your heart burst).

eight-below-1

Back to the canines, essentially, both Huskies and Malamutes look the same and their apparent difference at first glance would be their size. Malamutes are generally bigger. There’s even the Alaskan Husky but this is not a purebred dog but possibly a cross between the two and several others designed for working purposes.

1 SH featured pic

Read on about Alaskan Malamutes, Siberian and Alaskan Huskies by Linda Cole

The Difference Between the Three

To the untrained eye, it’s not always easy to tell the difference between some dog breeds. The Alaskan Malamute, Siberian Husky and Alaskan Husky may resemble each other, but there are differences between them.

Alaskan Malamute4 alaskan-malamute_04_lg

The Alaskan Malamute is the state of Alaska’s official mascot, and one of the oldest of the northern sled dogs. Named after the Inuit tribe Mahlemuts, the nomadic people of Alaska used this powerful breed for centuries to hunt seals and pull heavy sleds to move supplies and people throughout the Arctic region. Today the breed looks much like it did 4,000 years ago. The Malamute is taller and heavier than the Siberian Husky. The dog stands 23 to 25” at the shoulder and weighs 75 to 85 pounds, though it’s not unusual for a muscular male to hit 100 pounds.

Observe the difference in size
Observe the difference in size

The Malamute has brown eyes and a broad head with the ears set wide apart. His bushy tail is carried over his back. Because the Malamute is heavier than a Husky, he is less likely to jump a fence, and will use his powerful paws to dig out instead. This breed should not be let off his leash; he has a high prey drive and loves to run. He can be gender aggressive with same sex dogs, but is affectionate with his human family. This is an intelligent, confident and stubborn breed.

doggie line

Siberian Husky6 huskywallpaper

6 husky
The Siberian Husky

The Siberian Husky has roots in Siberia where the breed was used by semi-nomadic tribes called the Chukchi people. When forced to expand their hunting grounds and hunt farther from home, they developed a dog with endurance to go great distances while pulling a light load at a moderate speed in harsh weather conditions. The breed was developed to preserve needed energy to stay warm. In 1909, the first Siberian Huskies arrived in Alaska as racing dogs. At 35 to 60 pounds and 20 to 23.5” at the shoulders, the Sibe is smaller boned than the Malamute. They can have brown eyes, one brown and one blue, both blue, green or parti-colored eyes. The head is smaller and not as broad as the Malamute, and their eyes and ears are set closer together.

When on alert, the bushy tail is carried in a sickle shape that drops lower when the dog is relaxed. Because they are pack animals, the Siberian Husky gets along well with other dogs. He is stubborn, intelligent, confident, independent and loving with those who have earned his respect and trust. An opportunistic escape artist, a Sibe can squeeze through the smallest hole or quickly dig underneath any fence. Once he’s out, this dog will run to his heart’s content. Do not let him off leash – his prey drive will kick in if he sees anything move, like the neighbor’s cat.

3257413ee0ef71444f7103f1bea24781

doggie line

Alaskan Husky

The Alaskan Husky is a true sled dog that’s a type of dog rather than a specific breed, and not recognized by any kennel club. The Malamute and Siberian Husky are purebreds and recognized by the American Kennel Club. The Alaskan Husky was bred solely for working ability, not appearance. Breeders of this dog didn’t care what he looked like as long as he could pull his weight, so Alaskan Huskies are varied in their appearance. For hundreds of years Inuit people and mushers bred dogs with other canines found in villages, and there is no specific breed standard that dictates breeding practices. They needed a dog that was smart and could run hard and fast with the strength to pull heavy loads.

The hybrid Alaskan Husky (photo Jeff Nelson)
The hybrid Alaskan Husky — Taller, Stronger, Faster but not necessarily better looking (photo Jeff Nelson)

The dog’s coat is mostly short to medium in length with an undercoat. Alaskan Huskies are long legged with a lean body, deep in the chest, pointy ears, a tail that curls over the back and usually brown eyes. They weigh around 35 to 50 pounds and are taller than the Siberian Husky, although their height can vary. Some resemble a cross between the Malamute and Sibe, and others look more wolf like. The Alaskan Husky is faster than the Malamute or Siberian Husky.

Despite their differences, these three dog breeds do have some things in common. They can be difficult to train because they are independent and willful. They’re intelligent working dogs who learn at their own speed, not necessarily at yours. All three have a thick double-coat. They have a high prey drive and are escape artists. They are sled dogs of the North, born to run, which they all love to do.doggie line

 

Get to Know Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies

Alaskan Malamute Temperament

(from yourpurebredpuppy.com, story by Michele Welton)

The rugged Alaskan Malamute is a working dog, best suited to people who love the great outdoors. He plays vigorously and is most content when pulling or packing a load (sledding, ski-joring, weight pulling, backpacking), especially in cold weather. This breed should not be kept in a hot climate.

5 Dogs_Alaskan_Malamute_and_soap_bubbles_048613_

Alaskan Malamutes are very challenging to train and live with. Without sufficient exercise and challenging things to do, Malamutes become rambunctious and bored, which they usually express by chronic howling and destructive chewing. Bored Alaskan Malamutes are famous for chewing through drywall, ripping the stuffing out of sofas, and turning your yard into a moonscape of giant craters.2alaskan-malamute-4

Animal-aggression is a major concern. The Alaskan Malamute can be so aggressive with other dogs of the same sex that two males or two females should not be kept together. When this breed fights, the battles can be serious and bloody. Malamutes can be predatory with smaller pets — I would not keep a Malamute with a cat unless the pair has grown up together. When outdoors, Malamutes must be securely confined behind a high fence, for they can be escape artists with strong exploratory instincts. Once loose, they won’t come back when you call them and they may run deer and molest livestock.4 malamuts

With their wolfish appearance, Alaskan Malamutes may look like intimidating protectors, but most Mals are very friendly with everyone and make miserable watchdogs. Still, this is a substantial, powerful breed, so it is essential to socialize youngsters so they grow up to trust and respect people.

This self-reliant breed will test for position in the family pecking order. Unless you establish yourself as the alpha (number one), he can be headstrong and demanding. Unneutered males, especially, can be very dominant and possessive of their food.

If you want a dog who…

  • Is large, rugged, and furry, with a wolf-like appearance
  • Loves the great outdoors and thrives on vigorous activities in cool climates
  • Looks imposing, so makes an effective deterrent, yet is usually friendly with everyone

…An Alaskan Malamute may be right for you

If you don’t want to deal with…4alaskan-malamute_05_lg

  • Vigorous exercise requirements
  • Rowdiness and exuberant jumping, especially when young
  • Destructiveness and howling when bored or not exercised enough
  • Aggression toward other animals
  • Escaping from your yard in search of adventure
  • Strong-willed mind of his own, requiring a confident owner who can take charge
  • Extreme possessiveness of food — children and other animals should not approach an Alaskan Malamute who is eating
  • Very heavy shedding

…An Alaskan Malamute may not be right for you

More traits and characteristics of the Alaskan Malamute

If I was considering an Alaskan Malamute, I would be most concerned about…

  1. Providing enough exercise. Alaskan Malamutes MUST have regular opportunities to vent4 Best-Alaskan-Malamute-Dog-Wallpaper-HD-Resolution-1024x640 their energy. Unless you specifically want a large, rugged dog for sledding, carting, weight-pulling, or other outdoor-related activities, preferably in a cold climate, I do not recommend this breed. Alaskan Malamutes were never intended to be simply pets. Trying to suppress their “hardwired” drive to work, without providing alternate outlets for their energy, can be difficult.
  2. Young Alaskan Malamutes (up to about two years old) can be bulls in a china shop. When they romp and jump, they do so with great vigor, and things can go flying, including people.
  3. Animal aggression. Most Alaskan Malamutes will not tolerate another dog of the same sex, and some won’t tolerate the opposite sex either. Many Alaskan Malamutes have strong instincts to chase and seize cats and other fleeing creatures, including deer and livestock. If anything goes wrong in the breeding, socializing, training, handling, or management of this breed, it is capable of seriously injuring or killing other animals.
  4. The strong temperament. Alaskan Malamutes have an independent mind of their own. They can be manipulative, willful, obstinate, and dominant (they want to be the boss) and will make you prove that you can make them do things. You must show them, through absolute consistency, that you mean what you say.
  5. Heavy shedding.Alaskan Malamutes shed a LOT. You’ll find hair and fur all over your clothing, upholstery, carpeting, under your furniture, on your countertops — even in your food. Frequent vacuuming will become a way of life. Make sure you’re REALLY up for this.Unless you live way out in the boondocks and have no neighbors, Alaskan Malamutes should never be left outside in your yard, unsupervised. Their mournful howling will have your neighbors calling the cops to report the nuisance — or quietly letting your Alaskan Malamute out of his yard so he’ll disappear.

doggie line

Siberian Husky Temperament

The AKC Standard says the Siberian Husky “does not display the possessive qualities of the guard dog, nor is he overly suspicious of strangers or aggressive with other dogs.”

Indeed, the free-spirited Siberian Husky is usually good-natured with everyone.

6 in between alaskan_siberian_huskies_wallpaper_588x374

He is also very playful, athletic, agile, and light on his feet. He loves the great outdoors and requires vigorous exercise, especially in cool weather. He should be taken running, hiking, and/or biking every day, always on-leash, for he is independent and born to run. If something catches his interest, he’ll be gone. Teaching him to pull carts and sleds gives him a purpose in life.

Without such exercise, mental activity, and lots of companionship, he can be incredibly, massively destructive.7 husky

Most Siberian Huskies are sociable with other dogs, but he has a very high prey drive and may destroy cats if not raised with them. Siberians should not be kept around rabbits, ferrets, or birds. Fencing must be high and secure, for he can be an escape artist, and once loose, he may run deer and molest livestock.

3 husky

Training is a challenge because the strong-willed Siberian Husky is inclined to use his intelligence in clever ways that suit his own purposes. Use food rewards — jerking this breed can result in melodramatic theatrics, including screaming. Digging and howling are favorite pastimes.

If you want a dog who…

  • Is medium-sized and furry, with a wolfish appearance
  • Is free-spirited and playful
  • Is athletic and agile and loves the great outdoors, especially in cold weather
  • Thinks that running full-speed, pulling carts and sleds, and/or carrying a backpack on a mountain hike are his purposes in life
  • Is usually good-natured with strangers and sociable with other dogs

…A Siberian Husky may be right for you8Sled-Dogssh

If you don’t want to deal with…

  • Vigorous exercise requirements
  • Rowdiness and exuberant jumping, especially when young
  • Massive destructiveness and howling when bored, left alone too much, or not exercised enough
  • Strong instincts to chase and grab anything that runs, i.e. cats
  • Escaping from your yard in search of adventure
  • Strong-willed mind of his own, requiring a confident owner who can take charge
  • Heavy shedding

…A Siberian Husky may not be right for you

More traits and characteristics of the Alaskan Malamute

If I was considering an Alaskan Malamute, I would be most concerned about…

  1. Providing enough exercise.Siberian Huskies MUST have regular opportunities to vent their energy. Otherwise they will become rambunctious and bored — which they usually express by howling and destructive chewing. Bored Siberian Huskies are famous for chewing through drywall, ripping the stuffing out of sofas, and turning your yard into a moonscape of giant craters.
    Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes
    Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes
  2. Bounciness. Young Siberian Huskies (up to about two years old) romp and jump with great vigor, and things can go flying, including people.
  3. Strong chasing instincts.Most Siberian Huskies have strong instincts to chase and seize cats and other fleeing creatures, including deer and livestock. If anything goes wrong in the breeding, socializing, training, handling, or management of this breed, it is capable of seriously injuring or killing other animals.7husky_dog_face_eyes_
  4. Stubborness. Siberian Huskies are not Golden Retrievers. They have an independent mind of their own and are not pushovers to raise and train. They can be manipulative, and many are willful, obstinate, and dominant (they want to be the boss) and will make you prove that you can make them do things. You must show them, through absolute consistency, that you mean what you say.
  5. Heavy shedding.Siberian Huskies shed a LOT. You’ll find hair and fur all over your clothing, upholstery, carpeting, under your furniture, on your countertops — even in your food. Frequent vacuuming will become a way of life. Make sure you’re REALLY up for this.doggie line

And now for some clips of dog action from Eight Below.

A scene from "Eight Below"
A scene from “Eight Below”

The best scenes were actually performed by the canine actors. Below is the movie trailer.

Here is a clip from an ardent fan of the movie. Set to Michael Jackson’s “You Are Not Alone“, here are some of the most touching moments performed, not by the humans, but the dogs alone.

In memory of Paul Walker. The canine actors had their doubles. Only two of the dogs did not need stunt doubles. They did all the acting and sled pulling
In memory of Paul Walker. The canine actors had their doubles. Only two of the dogs did not need stunt doubles. They did all the acting and sled pulling by themselves.

cat last line

Check Also

The Stuka – “The Sound Of Death”

Junkers Ju 87 – The Sound Of Death “The Stuka was more than just a …