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A Day In the Life of a Malamute Trainer

Updated on August 11, 2012

On any given day in the life of owning an Alaskan Malamute, you have to be prepared for bad days. One of those bad days was today. It is to this end that I write so fervently about the malamute breed - because no matter how hard you try, they will always and forevermore be a challenge.

Much as you love them and trust them, they sometimes can just do the craziest things - and no matter how much training you have put in, things can go badly.

Unfortunately for Bob today, he was alone with the dogs - not that it would have been any better had I been along, but at least it could have been a shared experience!

On malamute matters, please see my other hubs about them such as bikjoring, exercising malamutes, urban mushing, and why so many malamutes end up in shelters.

Malamute Moments

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Malamutes require an extreme amount of work. Malamutes require an extreme amount of training. Malamutes require an extreme amount of exercise. Malamutes require an extreme amount of patience - and a sense of humor if you can salvage it at the end of the experience! Did I say extreme enough there? I can't reiterate that point enough!

All's well that ends well I suppose - the police have not shown up yet at the house and demanded that we give them our dogs - or taken us into custody because we are dumb dog owners! So that has to weigh in here somewhere along the way.

It all started out innocently enough. Bob tries to exercise our 2 malamutes as much as possible - we both do. We also train our dogs religiously because you can never stay too far ahead of a malamute. We also have Griffin the puppy (now almost 9 months old and weighing in at 80 pounds) enrolled in puppy class. He has been going for about 10 weeks now. You would honestly think we had a grip on this by this time. (I have to add here that we drive 1 hour each way once per week to go to these classes and again, we train diligently all week - the dog!)

We have had Denaya for about 6 years now - she was a rescued malamute and came from a horrific situation where she was starved, beaten and god knows what else. She was scheduled to be put to death but someone took her in and nursed her back to health - we came along 4 months later and adopted her. To say it has ever been 'easy' with her would be a joke. She is very territorial and especially so concerning food issues. But she is a great dog!!! (She says with many exclamations) She loves to run and to scooter - and she loves people. She adores kids. She is just not 100% trustworthy in my humble opinion, so I have always kept a watchful eye on her in new situations.

Griffin is a puppy - need I say more? Again, he weighs in at 80 pounds and he is only almost 9 months old! Compared to Denaya's 85 pounds, he is already starting to dwarf her in stature and at his age, he is now starting to 'feel his oats' so to speak. We are holding off on neutering him as our breeder has recommended we wait until he is 11 months old at least - but I have a feeling that some of his 'peculiarities' that are arising at this moment are stemming from an excess of hormones running around inside this gigantic 'teddy bear'.

Well, much as any other day, Bob decided to take the 2 gigantors down to the local dog park and let them have a run about. With malamutes, it is never a good idea to let them go off lead ANYWHERE but the dog park is safe as at least we can get them back. We take them there regularly - and to the park - and walks by the river in very populated areas - and sit outside at cafes and restaurants with them weather permitting. My point being - it is not like they don't see other places or experience 'life 101.' For two 'old' people, we are doing pretty good at socializing our dogs.

Everything was going okay Bob tells me - they were running about and investigating the dog park as they usually do. They just love the opportunity to run unfettered and unleashed. While he wasn't paying attention though, a woman drove into the parking lot and proceeded to get out with her lab mix. She approached the park gate and asked if it would be okay for her to bring her dog in. Yikes - now if I had been there alone with both of them, I would have said no right there and then. I would have volunteered to exit stage right with at least one if not both of them. I don't like being in an area that is bigger than I can cover in a few seconds if there is a problem. I have a rescued dog first of all who I always want to be 100% sure of if that is possible - and I have a puppy who is in training who is bigger than most dogs anywhere - so caution needs to be exercised on some level at all times. Okay - I'm extra careful but I'm old. I have to be careful!

Well, from the get-go, Griffin did not like the other dog. He seems to be going through a terrible stage of 'I like the dog, I hate the dog' - nothing in between. He went absolutely ballistic as if he owned the dog park and he was just not going to let this other dog come in! Bob tried in vain to control him but he was totally beyond getting 'back to normal' - if he was ever there! He tried treats, he tried refocusing his attention but it was all about the other dog. The dog and owner have yet to enter the park! So Bob apologizes, and manhandles his 80+ pound OX back to the car and gets him into the crate. Whew - now he has just Denaya in the park.

He tells the gal to let him leash her up and then he'll see if they can 'make nice' and play - taking no chances - always a smart malamute owner move! So he leashes her up - and she is really quite friendly. No problem - they are sniffing each other about and doing their thing and Bob figures whew - at least one thing is going to go well! About this time, her dog runs off to parts in the little park and is trotting around way far away when the lady asks Bob - 'hey - would you mind if I give your dog a little doggie bone?' Bob figures sure - what the heck - the other dog is so far away that Denaya will have chomped it down in no time long before the other dog gets back - and we train our 2 dogs with treats and the clicker - BUT - we don't ever make it an issue between the 2 of them as in 'here's a treat who gets it?' It is always done in a controlled environment if you will.

Well, Denaya takes the treat just fine - and chomps it down - however, as the other hapless dog comes galloping back to play with her, she turns into She-Devil and decides that the dog is evil! Whereas just a moment before, they were buddies, now she is Psycho Dog. She proceeds to bite the poor dog - not once - but repeatedly - although she does not bite enough to puncture anything - skin or otherwise thank god - just a warning of sorts! As Bob is recounting this story to me, I can just imagine this scene. My poor husband who does not have a violent bone in his body and who hates confrontations of ANY kind standing there aghast as his dog who was just fine one minute is now tearing this other woman's dog a new you-know-what!

He is screaming at the dog to stop it - which she eventually does and acts like nothing ever happened!!! The woman luckily did not go hysterical on him or apeshit on him and start hitting him or hurling insults! But she is just standing there looking at the dogs and says something like 'wow - nice dogs!' Bob apologized profusely - he was so upset about it after coming home and telling me about it that he actually drove back down there and tried to find her again to make sure (100%) that her dog was okay. He said that they had both checked the dog and it was okay as in not missing any body parts - but he was absolutely heartsick. How in the name of god does a scene go so bad so quickly? Ah - the beauty of malamutes!

I figure it is a territorial thing or at least that's what I'm going to approach it as next. He did confess later that he had her tied to the picnic table on the leash and that could have triggered her somehow. But - obviously we have more work to do than Carter has pills. We have been socializing Griffin with other dogs at the puppy class and trying to work in other dogs as the situations present themselves, but obviously we don't want to have situations like this arising. It is a great way to have a heart attack or a great way to lose your dog - permanently to euthanasia.

This is why I think it is so vital that people understand arctic breeds - although on any given day, even someone who has had them for 10+ years now - do we ever really understand them or know what sets them off?

We now have another trainer who is scheduled to come over and evaluate them and give us some tips on how we can desensitize them even more. We run them on the street and meet people and dogs although some dogs trigger them and some don't. However, if they get loose, it is not like they go out tearing up animals. They are extremely cheerful and happy dogs - it is just that unpredictability that makes us both sometimes think 'Do you remember when we had labs?'.

Seriously, I would not trade them for the world but some days it is just very difficult to understand how you went from zero to crazy in 5 seconds. Even more upsetting is that we are not spring chickens.

The thing I think that upset Bob more than anything was that the gal had just said to him before chaos broke out that another 'old guy' brought his dogs to the park to run them, too. Bob at 63 does not think he is old - although he admittedly felt VERY old after the above incident today! I am 56 but in spite of our ages, we still feel confident with the dogs and enjoy their company immensely. We are training them on the scooter and take them snowshoeing - hope to even cross country ski with them one of these times. I trained both Denaya and our previous malamute Kodi to pull the scooter and in fact think it is the greatest thing I've ever done!

Ah well, again, all's well that ends well I suppose and we will just have to go back to the think tank on this and keep on training! The important thing I have learned is not to put yourself or your dogs into situations you cannot get out of free of damage - today's situation probably could have gone a LOT worse so for that I shall be grateful - for Denaya's sake as well as the other dog's - and Bob's. Just frustrating to know that you put so much effort into rearing a dog the right way and have it all shot to heck and back. But I guess in all fairness that is why they call it training - who is training whom though? Are we training the dog or are we training ourselves because of the dog? I guess a little bit of both!

Summing It Up

After all that, when Bob wanted to pull the world over his ears and give it up, I managed to talk him into gearing up the dogs and the scooter and doing another pass at training. You simply have to get back on the horse - or the proverbial scooter - and thank god it worked! We even passed a very small dog and they kept to their task and went about their business. Whew!

Owning a malamute is an enriching experience. Owning a malamute can be a draining experience. Owning a malamute will keep you busy every day of your life. Owning a malamute is a ride!

I did even coax a laugh or two out of Bob (although he is seriously worried to meet this lady and her dog ever again without wincing) - we came up with a few sayings of our own and guess if we can laugh about it, we'll be able to keep on keeping on!

  • If you want a dog that will drive you out of your mind every day of your life, get a malamute!
  • If you want a dog that will never do what you ask it to do the first time, get a malamute!
  • If you want to remodel your deck and your yard every year, get a malamute!
  • If you want to spend time figuring out ways to outsmart the dog, get a malamute!
  • If you want a totally unpredictable dog, get a malamute!
  • If you want to have people crossing the street because they see you coming, get a malamute!
  • If you want to make enemies of the people in your town, get a malamute!
  • If you want to really tick off the ranchers and farmers in your area, get a malamute!
  • If you want to have your patience tested every single day of your life, get a malamute!
  • If you want to have a thinking contest every day of your life on how you are going to get this frigging dog to do what he or she is supposed to do.......get a malamute!
  • If you want a friend for life and to fall so head over heels in love with your dog - get a malamute!

All that said - I love the breed - I suppose I love the challenge too. They are truly great dogs. They just require an awful lot of thought and an awful lot of care and consistency. I was wondering later today if they had a 'miniature malamute'. That might be the ticket in another 10 years or so....if we survive that long with them!

Griffin and Molly Playing


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    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 4 years ago from Central Oregon

      LP--thanks for stopping by--I agree--the leash sets off behaviors that probably wouldn't have happened otherwise. We actually walk ours all the time --and scooter with harnesses, etc. So I do find that their behavior changes accordingly. We've had nothing but horrid luck with dog parks in our community, however, and think that is part of the prob there--little dogs who are totally out of control and have actually bitten our mals--and they did not retaliate so some kind of crazy thing there. We decided it safer to NOT frequent dog parks thanks to the idiots that we find there--owners not dogs--at least in our community! They seem to believe it's an okay place to turn your dog loose whether he or she has manners or not~ With mals, I'd rather not take the chance on one of mine getting ticked~

    • profile image

      lp 4 years ago

      Your mal was tied up and the other dog was loose, that was the problem. Your mal was trapped! Dogs are never supposed to be on leash inside a dog park.

      I used to take my mal boy to the dog park all the time and he was fine. Then I started taking him for walks on leash and found out he turns into cujo when he sees another dog and he is leashed.

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 5 years ago from Central Oregon

      BDawna - Bless you for sticking with her!!!! I know that feeling as I almost gave up on my Denaya after I'd had her for about 3 weeks for the same kinds of issues. It was because of her abuse I have no doubt and I to this day will not ever make food an issue. Our dogs are always fed separately and she has no reason to fight anyone.

      Out of the worst chaos comes the best dog(s) sometimes. I totally believe in that and again, I so admire you sticking with her and giving her the BEST home on the planet. I have no doubt our Denaya now 11 feels the same way and she is a love to both of our "young ones" now. I tell people though what you said - you would not BELIEVE what we went through to get 'here.' But it was all worth it in my humble opinion~~

    • profile image

      BDawna 5 years ago

      I rescued a malamute about a year ago, a 2-year old that I'm told may have been previously abused & starved due to the condition she was found in. She seems so polite & friendly but does have a "psycho switch" with resource competition.

      She bloodied up my other dog a few times (a german shepherd/ husky that 10 pounds bigger than her). I had vet bills and an E.R. visit (I got in the middle one time & received a nasty bite in the chaos). I almost gave up on her.

      Then it turned out she came with heartworms and I had to kennel her for 5 months during treatment without exercise. WOW *wide-eyed*. That was some adventure!! Without exercise she was shaking and absolutely insane. A few times I got so frustrated during those months that I actually broke down and cried!

      But I got good professional training for her and as a rule I hike her in the woods for an hour every morning. We now have a peaceful home and a sweetheart of a dog who's best friends with the other. I'm totally in love and couldn't have asked for a better companion!

      Mind you, I do have to take the responsibility seriously. She does get kenneled every day (she's mischievous & it's part of her training). I say one word and she immediately walks into her kennel from anywhere in the house/yard. I also do a "training leashed walk" with her every afternoon through the neighborhood. AND she must be fed separately due to her food obsession issues. But all in all, we've adjusted don't have any more problems with her.

      She's really sweet and people always comment on how pretty she is. Visitors get royal & affectionate treatment by her & she's polite, making everyone feel special when they meet her. Whew! If they only knew what I went through to get this well-behaved dog!

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 6 years ago from Central Oregon

      Michelle - YAY~! I love happy malamute stories!!! Our clan is now up to 3 - we have Griffin's niece, who is a PIS-TOL. They have so much fun and we take ours everywhere as well!

      On the jumping fences...yep...or they go under...or like my Kodi, just rip off boards and slither through...our 10-year-old rescue jumped into the front seat (with the car running) when our friend tried to pick her up - she had just escaped running 100 mph down the road). She would not BUDGE from his front seat - I guess she wanted to drive, too! We had to bring our car and open the BACK DOOR and get her to jump from his car into ours....good grief~

      They are amazing dogs and that is hilarious that the police are afraid of them~ Ours are very, very good though a little excitable when they meet new people and new dogs - so we try to get them out and about AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE - that is the key.

      I have no doubt ours would probably adjust to a cat though my hubby isn't huge on cats - so I never have to worry there~

      Love that they are service and therapy dogs!!! I think my Griffin would make an excellent therapy or service dog - people just love to feel him because he's a long coat and he is so soft!! Gabby on the other hand - she'd be a terror I think - sweet as pie but ALWAYS on the move everywhere!!

      Have fun and will smile thinking about someone else with 2 mals having a ball~

    • profile image

      Michelle 6 years ago

      I have two brother malamutes and they are the most interesting dogs I have ever had in my life. They are my boys and go everywhere with me. I have one currently in training to be a therapy dog and the other is my service dog. The police in my town are so terrified of them due to their size it is hysterical. They have managed to do some of the craziest things I have ever seen and this includes managing to jump a six foot fence, open gates, lock doors and attempt to drive. I have found with them that they do extremely well crated and love to be den dogs. As for my cat, she is not fond of them. They like to play a little rough with her but she does put them in their place. They have gotten along with most every dog they have ever met and people that understand the breed love them. I have other dog owners asking me how I trained them or where I took them for training. It is great! I love my boys!!!

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 6 years ago from Central Oregon

      Thanks Chinquapin for the excellent points! That is definitely my Denaya...she has resource guarding to the max perfected. We never feed our dogs together and we never leave food out for 'ad lib' feeding because of it. Interesting about the Dalmatian but I totally believe it!

    • profile image

      Chinquapin 6 years ago

      It's called "resource guarding" and any dog may be prone to it. I saw an Australian shepherd go from perfectly congenial to ferocious in no time.

      The best thing to do is to NOT present any toys or treats in the presence of other dogs UNLESS you know for certain your dog is free from this tendency. If you must feed your dog in a separate room - they are a resource guarder.

      The breed with the worst tendency is Dalmatian.

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 6 years ago from Central Oregon

      June - So glad you like....I wouldn't trade my guys for anything in the world and do have a hoot of a good time with them! That Diggler light bulb moment took me a while to catch on to - after I wiped out the back of my poor leg multiple times! Good luck to you and thanks for the info on Shiba inu's!!

    • profile image

      June 6 years ago

      If you're truly interested in a miniature malamute, in the far far far off future, you'll need to check out the Shiba Inu's, but I'm not sure getting a Shiba, a much smaller dog, would be any easier dog to train and socialize. Your Mals are so lucky to have you. Thank you for sharing your experiences; your posts are always informative, captivating, and uplifting. (I now know was a light bulb diggler dog scooter whacks me in the calf every once in a while. Now I always remember to have one foot on the board.)

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 6 years ago from Central Oregon

      Nikki - Yes please do if you are considering getting one. We have 2 and they are extremely social dogs. They need companionship most of all but they also require a lot of consistent even tempered discipline and scads of exercise....they also require a sense of humor! I love them and wonder why at our AGE we are still having mals but once bitten, I guess I'm in love for life. Good luck in your research!

    • profile image

      nikki 6 years ago

      thanks! i absolutely adore him.. i guess i need to do some research on this breed ! thanks again so much!

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 7 years ago from Central Oregon

      Nikki - most DEFINITELY! Looks like my little Griffin when he was just a lad......I would bet it is a full mal!

    • profile image

      nikki 7 years ago

      as an owner of a malamute id like to ask ur opinion do u think this is a malamute puppy? or is it a mix?

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 7 years ago from Central Oregon

      Thanks so much, Lorlie6 for commenting. Yes - they are a challenge and at 'our age' it becomes quite hysterical just trying to get them to do what they need to do - they know how to do it - they are just the most stubborn creatures! Thankfully, so are we! That or just senile.

    • lorlie6 profile image

      Laurel Rogers 7 years ago from Bishop, Ca

      What an ordeal! Unpredictability is apparently part of the package, and all the best to you and Bob tackling this at OUR age-I'm also in my 50's...

      I enjoy your narrative style!


    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 7 years ago from Central Oregon

      Too much! Yes, he was properly mortified - and now we are back to the drawing board yet again with the mals! It is always something with them but I guess that is keeping us young? Oy vey - the training never ends! Thanks for reading!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 7 years ago from England

      Hiya, poor bob! I wouldn't know what to do in that situation. I had an alsatian once that decided to eat a smaller dog!! I nearly had a coronary!! but it ended well, I think and my dog went home and sulked! not sure whether it was the telling off, or whether it was because I wouldn't let her eat it! Nell

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 7 years ago from Central Oregon

      Too funny - we never do bones with ours - even nyla bones set Denaya off like mad. You gotta love 'em! Or throw up your hands and quit which I would never do!

    • theherbivorehippi profile image

      theherbivorehippi 7 years ago from Holly, MI

      I LOVE this hub!! Mals truly are the best dogs and sometimes the most unpredictable! Griffin has the same exact markings on his nose as my Malachi has! (I think it's Griffin) I have to tell you my poor mom brought them both over bones the other day and Malachi knocked her right on her butt because she gave Shiloh a bone first and usually he gets the special treatment. Such jealousy! lol I love all of your Malamonster Hubs!

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 7 years ago from Central Oregon

      Thank you - I could ship them to you for a weekend - or a week! ha ha - they are great dogs, they are great dogs, they are great dogs....yesterday was a splendid day actually!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Beautiful dogs - makes me miss my Yukon!

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 7 years ago from Central Oregon

      Thanks - but don't get too upset - just one of those things when you have a malamute! You have to be on your toes all the time because things just seem to 'happen'. Nothing serious thank goodness.

    • Darlene Sabella profile image

      Darlene Sabella 7 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

      What a great hub, this story leave me laughing and getting upset, but the way you wrote this was so awesome. I really enjoyed reading this!