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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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