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Malamute vs Husky: What’s the Difference?

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Have you ever wondered the difference between the two snow dogs: Malamute vs Husky?

If you’re like me then you may have inadvertently mixed up these two beautiful breeds.

Although Alaskan Malamutes (aka Mals) and Siberian Huskies appear to be similar, there are differences in temperament, function, and even appearance.

In this article I’ll describe the similarities and differences between the Alaskan Malamute and Siberian Husky breeds. 

And you’ll be able to determine whether either breed would be an appropriate fit for your lifestyle.

Husky In The Snow

Malamute vs Husky: The Showdown!

Both are double-coated, handsome Nordic breeds who excel in cold weather. They don’t love warmer climates and aren’t suited for tropical climes. 

Neither breed is suitable for city life because they need to be outdoors in nature and need room for outdoor activities. 

Also, both breeds can be noisy and may howl and aren’t generally suited for apartment life. 

Both Alaskan Malamutes and Huskies were bred to work and seem to have a never-ending supply of energy. 

Because of their strong work ethic and energy, neither breed is meant for first-time dog owners. 

And both need early and ongoing socialization and training.

Read on to learn more about the Malamute and Husky.

The Alaskan Malamute Breed

A strong working breed, the Alaskan Malamute has ancient roots. They are large, handsome dogs who require an active owner who loves outdoor activities.

Origins and History

Alaskan Malamutes are an ancient breed bred by the Mahlemiut Intuit tribe to carry heavy loads on their nomadic quests across the Kotzebue Sound, which is now part of Northwest Alaska. 

Mals were crucial to the tribe’s survival. 

Multi-talented, the dogs were also used to hunt seals and defend against polar bears. 

During the 19th Century Klondike Gold Rush, their numbers dwindled and the breed almost became extinct. 

Because of the large demand for sled dogs, Alaskan Malamues were interbred with other dogs, producing mixed-breeds. 

Because of the isolation and remote location of the Mahlemiut Intuit tribe, however, the Alaskan Malamute breed survived and their lines remained relatively pure. 

These dogs served as the foundation for the dogs we now know as Alaskan Malamutes.

During World War I and II, they helped transport supplies and worked as search and rescue dogs.

Working Ability and Purpose

The sturdy, strong Alaskan Malamute was bred to pull sleds with heavy loads over shorter distances in the arctic region than the Husky was. Slower and steady wins the race is the Mal’s motto.

Although they are large and may appear to be good guard dogs, they are not. They are too friendly to serve as protectors.

Appearance

Alaskan Malamutes are larger than Huskies are and have a bulkier, sturdier, heavier appearance. 

They have a broad chest, powerful shoulders, and a full white underbelly from chest to the tip of their tail. 

Their plumed tail is carried in a dignified fashion over their back.

They have a beautiful, thick, medium-length double coat that’s waterproof in a full range of tones. 

Mals can be pure white or the following tones with white: agouti, black, blue, gray, red, sable, seal, or silver.

They have a broad, deep skull and a soft expression indicating their affectionate temperament. 

A Malamute has slightly offset erect ears and a downward peak on his forehead with a black or gray mask. His almond-shaped eyes are brown.

An Alaskan Malamute’s overall appearance is one of a sturdy working dog who is prepared to perform the task at hand.

Size

Male Malamutes stand 25 inches at the shoulder and 85 pounds. And females are 23 inches at the shoulder and 75 pounds.

Exercise and Training Needs

The Mal is a working dog and needs regular exercise. If his needs aren’t met, he will become bored–and destructive. 

They’re strong and athletic and, although not bred for racing, will require long walks and romps in a safely enclosed yard. 

A short, around-the-block walk is only an appetizer for a Malamute. Instead, he requires the equivalent of a four-mile brisk daily walk.

They love to be with their families and people-oriented activities would meet their social and exercise needs. 

These can include: hiking, swimming, backpacking, skijoring (pulling a person who is on skis), recreational or competitive sledding, weight pulling, carting, biking, agility and obedience competitions, and running with their owners.

Training should begin from puppyhood and continue throughout the dog’s life. 

Although Malamutes are an intelligent breed, they have an independent streak and can become dominant and pushy if not given guidance. 

They’re pack animals and need to see you as their leader or they make take over a household. 

Training all basic commands such as come, sit, down, and stay is needed. 

They have a prey drive to small animals so a “leave it” command is crucial. 

And without a solid recall, a Malamute is likely to take off and become lost. 

It’s therefore advisable not to let them off-lead if they’re not on a secure longline or a securely fenced area. 

Of course, they should also be taught to walk on a loose leash and not pull, because their natural instinct is to pull, the task for which they were bred. Teaching them to heel would help in this process.

In addition to formal obedience training, don’t forget to provide other mental stimulation that can be provided through puzzle toys.

Socialization Needs

Alaskan Malamutes should be exposed to all that they’ll face from puppyhood on. 

Because of their inclination not to be dog friendly (especially male to male), socializing them to friendly dogs from a young age can help them more readily accept them later. 

A well-run puppy kindergarten can help the Mal in your quest to have a well-rounded adult.

Temperament and Personality

Alaskan Malamutes love their families and need to be a part of the family. But they don’t discriminate against strangers either and welcome newcomers too. 

People-oriented, they love belly rubs. Unlike Huskies, they don’t generally love other canines.

If trained and socialized properly, Alaskan Malamutes are gentle, friendly, playful, and friendly with children. But, because of their large size and strength, caution must be taken with babies, toddlers, and young children. 

Because of their dedication to their families and need for human contact, Malamutes are more likely to develop separation anxiety than Huskies are.

Even though they are a high-energy breed, unlike Huskies, they can have an “off switch” and settle down if their exercise and socialization needs are met. 

But, if their needs to be with people or to get a sufficient amount of exercise aren’t met, you’ll see a destructive dog who will loudly yelp and howl their displeasure. 

They don’t bark, but emit a loud “WOO-WOO” sound that will be heard throughout your home–and neighborhood if outside.

I currently have a Mal in my puppy kindergarten class. And he speaks his excitement when he enters by a loud “WOO-WOO.” It’s cute but would interrupt class if it continued. 

Fortunately, while he’s participating in the events in the class, he settles down and focuses on the work at hand.

Both breeds have a high prey drive towards small animals such as squirrels, rabbits, and cats.

Dedicated diggers, Mals–like Huskies–shouldn’t be left in a yard alone. They can easily escape if not supervised. 

So it’s important for any fencing to also be placed deep in the ground to stop this Houdini dog from escaping. 

They can also jump high, so anything less than a six-foot high fence might not contain a Mal. 

Just in case, make sure that your Mal has identification and is microchipped.

Popularity

Alaskan Malamutes are not nearly as popular as Huskies. Their American Kennel Club ranking is 68th, whereas Huskies are 19th in popularity.

Health

Generally they are a healthy breed if bred by a conscientious breeder. 

Breeders should perform the following health tests of their breeding stock: hip evaluation, ophthalmologist evaluation, and polyneuropathy DNA test. 

They have a life expectancy of 10 to 14 years.

The Siberian Husky Breed

Huskies are energetic working dogs who excel in cooler climates. Pack animals, they love being with the humans and canines in their group.

Origins and History

The Siberian Husky was developed by the Chukchi people of Northeast Siberia as a sled dog. 

The Chukchi were an indigenous people of Russia who wanted to develop a cold-resistant dog who could haul sleds as well as be great family companions. 

The people and dogs later migrated to Alaska. 

In 1925, the breed became famous when mushers led dog relay teams over 650 miles in less than six days to deliver diphtheria recovery serum to Nome, Alaska, known as “The Great Race of Mercy.”

Working Ability and Purpose

The Siberian Husky was bred to pull lighter loads over longer distances than the Mal was. They move faster and are leaner than Mals and have a smooth and effortless gait.

Although not as friendly to strangers as the Alaskan Malamute, they are generally a friendly breed. 

Huskies are usually dog friendly and enjoy being part of  a pack. So they don’t make good guard dogs.

Appearance

Huskies are smaller and leaner than Alaskan Malamutes. 

Their lean and lithe build serves them well in covering long distances of light loads at moderate speeds. 

They are still powerfully built and muscular but noticeably smaller and leaner than Huskies.

They have a keen but friendly expression. 

Their medium-sized skull is in proportion to their body. And the Husky’s medium-length neck is held high and slightly forward when trotting. 

Their ears are erect and set high on the top of their skull. 

They have almond-shaped eyes which are blue or brown or sometimes one of each color. 

The solid stripe down their forehead distinguishes them from the Mal. 

They come in the following colors: agouti and white, black, black and white, black tan and white, brown and white, gray and white, red and white, sable and white, and white.

Size 

Male Huskies are between 21 and 23 ½ inches at the shoulder and females between 20 and 22 inches at the shoulder. 

And male huskies weigh between 45 and 60 pounds and females between 35 and 50 pounds.

Exercise and Training Needs

Siberian Huskies are very energetic working dogs. Like the Mal, they need regular, daily physical exercise to be content. 

If a Husky’s physical and mental needs aren’t met, he can become very destructive and can easily destroy household possessions. 

If bored, he will also howl and chew. 

And, like the Mal, they love to dig too. 

If not contained, their exuberance can also lead to escaping a yard. They can jump even over six-foot fences. 

I have worked on training Huskies with a local rescue. 

Husky rescuers will even advise people to not leave them in the yard unattended. And to put coyote-type poles that roll at the top of a fence so that the dog can’t escape.

Like the Mal, they require long, daily walks–and even runs–and are generally more energetic than the Mal and don’t settle down as readily. 

Running in an enclosed yard provides great exercise. 

And, because, unlike the Mal, they are usually dog-friendly, a doggie playgroup can help expend some of a Husky’s energy. 

They are more adaptable than the Mal and, if his needs are met, a Husky can sometimes live in an urban setting. 

Play, engaging in activities together, and training can help further your bond and tire out your dog. 

Huskies can enjoy competitive obedience, rally, and agility. A friend of mine successfully showed her Huskies in obedience competitions.

Of course training should begin in puppyhood and continue throughout the dog’s life. 

Extremely intelligent, Huskies are biddable and eager to learn but also have an independent streak. 

In order to be a pack leader, you need to earn the dog’s respect and trust. 

Positive reinforcement training should be used for both breeds–praise, treats, and play.

PRO-TRAINER TIP: Have a supply of great, yummy treats that your puppy can’t resist ready as a reward. They should be small, no larger than a pea. Always have your reward treats ready before giving your obedience cue.

Training all basic commands, such as sit/down/stay and attention work are required. 

Because of a Husky’s independent nature and propensity to run, a solid recall is crucial and must be constantly reinforced and generalized to various settings.

You should use a special treat for a recall for either breed, such as small pieces of boiled, deboned chicken or a purchased treat such a Happy Howie’s Beef Roll cut into small pieces.

He shouldn’t be let loose in an unfenced area or off a secure longline or he will probably take off. 

Like the Mal, Huskies have a high prey drive to small animals and need to learn a reliable “leave it” command. 

Loose leash walking is also important for a Husky to learn so that he doesn’t pull you down. After all, he’s a sled dog who was bred to pull. 

Because of their exceptionally high working drive, impulse control exercises should be taught, such as stay and going to a mat or bed and remaining in a down/stay. 

Also, a settle command can help the Husky have self-control when needed. 

Trick training can also help exercise his mind. 

Puzzle and enrichment toys and activities can also help meet his needs.

Socialization Needs

Huskies are generally friendly to people and other dogs. 

But a Husky needs to be socialized from puppyhood throughout his life. 

Because of their desire to run, they need to be carefully exposed to what they’ll face in everyday life.

Temperament and Personality

Huskies have a gentle temperament and are friendly and outgoing to people and dogs alike. 

They are very social and require the company of people or other dogs. 

Child-friendly, you just need to be sure that, in their exuberance, they don’t overwhelm toddlers or young children. 

Mature Huskies may be somewhat reserved and dignified. 

When he wants attention, your Husky will let you know through howls, growls, and whimpers. 

Popularity

Huskies are much more popular than Alaskan Malamutes are. Their American Kennel Club ranking is 19th, whereas Mals are 68th.

Health

Huskies are a relatively healthy breed. 

Responsible breeders screen breeding stock with a canine ophthalmologist for juvenile cataracts and with a specialist for hip problems. 

They have a life expectancy of 12 to 14 years.

FAQs

I live in an apartment and really want to get a Husky. Would this be a good fit?  

Maybe, but generally not. Huskies need daily long walks–for miles–and some free running in a safely enclosed area.

If you can meet his physical needs and provide mental exercise through training and other activities, it might be a good fit.

But remember, your Husky may howl or otherwise disturb neighbors.

We have two cats and am thinking about getting a Husky. Would this be a good fit? 

Probably not. Although you can potentially make it work, you need to be aware of the Husky’s innate prey drive towards small animals, including cats.

If you get a Husky puppy from a good breeder who has socialized the litter to cats and your cats are dog-friendly and savvy, you may be able to make it work.

Will an Alaskan Malamute make a good watch dog? 

No. They are a very friendly breed and don’t make good watch or guard dogs.

Final Thoughts

Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies are both very energetic sled dogs. They need a lot of daily exercise and are not for first-time pet owners. 

Although they appear to be somewhat similar, there are distinct differences in purpose, appearance, and temperament.

Mals were bred to haul heavier loads over shorter distance, whereas Huskies carry lighter loads over longer distances. 

Both have a beautiful, thick, weather resistant double coat. But Mals are much larger and bulkier in appearance than the lithe Husky.

Although both are friendly to people, Mals generally bond more with their immediate family and may not get along with other dogs.

In deciding whether either breed is right for your family, consider their needs and whether you can meet them.

Have you ever had an Alaskan Malamute or Siberian Husky?

Please tell us about it in the comments section below.

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