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– Breed Priorities – Alaskan Malamute

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274 – June, 2015

By Nikki Riggsbee

Alaskan Malamute mentors have always emphasized function. They pull heavy loads (freight). They work in brutally cold conditions. In their standard, under Summary: Important is:

• Their function as a sledge dog for heavy freighting in the Arctic must be given consideration above all else.

• The legs of the Malamute must indicate unusual strength and tremendous propelling power.

• Any indication of unsoundness in legs and feet, front or rear, standing or moving, is to be considered a serious fault.

The parent club wants to make sure

we get it. Great clarity!

I was curious how much agreement we would find on a survey of the experts on their breed priorities. We found thirty-three breeder-judges to invite to take the survey, and twenty-six agreed to participate. Twenty-two surveys were returned. The experts have been in the breed over forty years and have been judging it for nearly nineteen years, both on average. Most have judged their national specialty, and all but one has judged other Alaskan Malamute specialties.

Alaskan Malamute Virtues

The Malamute breeder-judges prioritized a list of virtues taken from their breed standard. Here is the list in sequence by the average of the experts’ ranks, with one being the most important.

1. Gait steady, balanced, tireless, totally efficient

2. Shoulders are moderately sloping

3. Body compactly built but not short-coupled

4. Feet of snowshoe type, tight and deep, with

well-cushioned pads

5. Coat thick with a coarse guard coat of sufficient length

6. Back straight, gently sloping to the hips

7. Chest is well-developed

8. Stifles moderately bent

9. Rear legs broad and heavily muscled through the thighs

10. Head broad and deep, muzzle bulky, only slight diminishing in width from root to nose

11. At a fast trot, feet converge toward centerline

12. Heavy boned

13. Ears medium-sized, small in proportion to head, triangular, slightly rounded, set wide apart

14. Tail well-furred, carried over back, with the appearance of a waving plume

15. Eyes obliquely placed, brown, almond-shaped and of medium size

16. Face Markings

As with other surveys, the greatest agreement was on the most important and least important characteristics. All put “Face Markings” (16th) at or nearly at the bottom of the list. All but two had “Gait steady, balanced, tireless, totally efficient” (1st) ranked at or near the top.

Only three other virtues had a majority of the experts agree. Over seventy percent considered “Eyes obliquely placed, brown, almond-shaped and of medium size” (15th) relatively less important. “Shoulders are moderately sloping” (2nd) was placed highly by thirteen. “Feet of snowshoe type, tight and deep, with well-cushioned pads” (4th) averaged around the second quartile by the smallest majority.

“Heavy boned” (12th) was valued similarly by half of the group, although one expert advised that it shouldn’t be “St. Bernard” bone. Almost half concurred on “Body compactly built but not short coupled” (3rd), “Chest is well-developed” (7th), “Head broad and deep, muzzle bulky, only slight diminishing in width from root to nose” (10th), and “Tail well-furred, carried over back, with the appearance of a waving plume” (14th).

Many of the virtues had bi-polar results. “Compact body” (3rd) had ten rank it in the middle, but nine in the top quartile. “Coat thick with a coarse guard coat of sufficient length” (5th) had a very similar split as did “Back straight, gently sloping to the hips” (6th).

Also split, with approximately forty percent valuing the virtue above average importance and a similar number having it below average, were “Chest” (7th), “Stifles moderately bent” (8th), “Rear legs broad and heavily muscled through the thighs” (9th), and “At a fast trot, feet converge toward centerline” (11th). “Tail” (14th) was ranked about midpoint by almost half, but nearly as many put it in the last quartile.

While not most important on any survey, “Ears medium-sized, small in proportion to head, triangular, slightly rounded, set wide apart” (13th) ranked all over with about forty percent having it in the last quartile.

“Gait” (1st) had an average rank more than three points higher than second place “Shoulders,” emphasizing its being most important. “Face Markings” (16th) had an average rank almost four points below “Eyes” (15th), giving it unequivocally last place.

Several virtues’ average ranks were very close so that additional input could easily change the relative positions in the list. In fact, there were many ties and changing places as the surveys were returned. “Back” (6th) and “Chest” (7th) were slightly more than a tenth of a point apart. “Rear legs (9th) and “Head” (10th) were much closer than that as were “Heavy boned” (12th) and “Ears” (13th).

Alaskan Malamute Faults

The survey also included a list of faults from or derived from the breed standard. The experts prioritized the faults from most serious to least serious, the list below being in sequence by the average ranks.

1. Unsoundness in legs

2. Stilted gait

3. Coat long or soft

4. Temperament which interferes with his purpose as

a sled dog

5. Straight shoulders

6. Splay-footedness

7. Cowhocks

8. Bad pasterns

9. Shallowness or ranginess

10. Lack of angulation

11. Long loin

12. Lightness of bone

13. Snap tail or curled tight against the back

14. High-set ears

15. Overshot or undershot

16. Broken colors extending over the body

or uneven splashing

Again, the greatest majority was on the most important “Unsoundness in legs” and least important “Broken colors extending over the body or uneven splashing.” This is consistent with the virtues ranks and with the important points from the standard referenced above.

Interestingly, many of the other majorities were on the less serious faults. Sixteen experts agreed on “High-set ears” (14th), fifteen on “Snap tail or curled tight against the back” (13th), fourteen on “Overshot or undershot” (15th), and thirteen on “Lightness of bone” (12th). Two other faults had the smallest majority concurring: “Coat long or soft” (3rd) and “Long loin” (11th).

Half of the experts similarly valued these faults: “Temperament which interferes with his purpose as a sled dog” (4th), “Cowhocks” (7th), and “Lack of angulation” (10th). The half that agreed on “Temperament” placed it in the top three, but a quarter put it in the bottom quartile, lowering its average. Almost half of the group agreed on “Stilted gait” (2nd) and “Splay-footedness” (6th).

As with the virtues, many faults had split opinions. “Stilted gait” (2nd) was very serious for ten, but toward the middle for nearly as many, with a similar split on “Straight shoulders” (5th). Ten had “Splay-footedness” (6th) fairly serious, but almost as many put it at or below average. “Bad pasterns” had a third consider it above average and another below average as a problem. Half had “Lack of angulation” (10th) below average, but nearly a third had it more serious. “Shallowness or ranginess” had a consensus rank it middling, and others placed it all over.

“Unsound legs” (1st) was more than two-and-a-half points above second place, confirming it as most serious. “Splay foot” (6th) and “Cowhocks” (7th) were less than a tenth of a point apart, so that more input could change their relative ranks.

There was some consistency between the lists. “Gait” was high on both lists and “Color” issues last. “Bone,” “Ears,” and “Tail” are at the lower end on both lists. “Coat” is somewhat more important as a fault, but “Shoulders,” “Compact body,” “Feet” and “Stifles” more important as virtues.


The judges were asked to evaluate two sets of Alaskan Malamute outlines, six dogs and six bitches, place first through fourth in each set, and then select Best of Breed. The outlines were made from photographs of quality dogs, so while none is perfect, no outline was made to deliberately illustrate specific virtues or faults. Some feet were in grass in the photos, so some feet were estimated.

The dog with the best average placement and the most first placements was Malamute “B.” Those who placed him first offered these comments: “overall balance, moderate angles, slightly sloping topline,” “good outline: tail, head, leg/body, bone,” “can do the job bred for,” “best proportions overall, decent bone, correct tail,” “strong, athletic,” “excellent topline and underline,” “nice arch of neck, not overdone,” and “good leg length.”

Second favorite dog based on average placement and number of first placements was dog “C.” Experts who liked him best said “best overall visualization of breed standard (proportion, feet, ear set, tail carriage),” “compact, excellent length of neck, strong topline, excellent bone and body, very good angulation with front legs set well back, best feet, excellent head with deep muzzle, pleasing profile,” “compact but not cobby, balanced for size, good rear angles, good tail set and carriage,” “well let down hocks, good pasterns, small ears,” and “nice arch of neck into good shoulder.”

The Alaskan Malamute female with the best placement average and most first placements was bitch “Y.” Breeder-judges who ranked her first commented “best overall proportions, good bone, balanced angles, proper tail set, correct sloping topline, well let down hock, tail does not touch back,” “best type,” “shoulders/forechest very good, neck and topline excellent,” “length and arch of neck part of a good front, tail the extension of the topline, correct earset, nice width of thigh, moderate angles,” “compact but not cobby, good length of leg,” “slightly longer than tall, correct ear set and size for well formed head, depth of muzzle,” and “stands well over front.”

Second place female is bitch “Z.” Those who selected her first noted “nice bitch,” “moderate angles, good body length, slightly sloping topline, athletic,” and “very good profile with length of neck, strong topline, very good front,” “excellent bone, deep chest, excellent head with deep muzzle.”

Alaskan Malamute dog “B” had the most first placements and the best placement average of all. This might be because, as one expert noted, the bitches overall were better than the dog outlines. But “B” was also awarded Best of Breed by half of the group, which makes him the clear winner. “Y” was placed BOB six times and “C” three times. Those three outlines were the only ones placed Best more than once.

Dogs “A,” “E,” and “F” and bitch “X” were not placed first by any expert. Dog “B” was the only Malamute never out of the ribbons. Dog “E” was out of the ribbons more than any other. Bitches “X” and “U” were out of the ribbons most frequently among the bitches.

Essential Characteristics

The experts were asked to name four to six essential characteristics that a good Alaskan Malamute must have, that they look for when they judge. I was a bit surprised that proper coat was named most often; not that it was unimportant, but that it topped the list above other important features. Next most frequently named was good feet (large snowshoe; no feet – no dog), followed by movement and tireless gait, and then balance. Next given were sound, good bone, breed type, and temperament.


The Alaskan Malamute breeder-judges were invited to offer comments to help others correctly evaluate their breed. Here are some of them.

• Emphasize the breed’s survival and performance traits, with cosmetic traits considered only in close decisions.

Most important are proportions,

substance, movement, and

overall balance.

• All day endurance is most important to sled dogs.

• Don’t be overly concerned with size.

• Yellow eyes are so common now and eliminate

the hallmark soft expression.

• Coats must not be soft or wooly.

• No overt display of aggression should be tolerated.

• Front and rear angulation have to match.

• Bigger is not necessarily better. A standard-sized dog

with the correct attributes to do the job is the one to

look for.

• Choose the substantially-built dog, with strong bone,

impervious to cold, with endurance.

• Judge the whole dog; don’t overanalyze.

• Watch them standing naturally; move them at a

moderate speed; get your hands under the coat.

• Don’t expect the breed to stand like statues in the ring.

• Award the dog whom you would choose, if your life

depended on it, to pull you 50 miles on a loaded sled.

• “Styles” of head vary regionally. The head and skull

are broad, the muzzle is large and bulky in proportion

to the skull, and it does have a stop.

• Watch out for too tightly curled tails or snap tails;

it should be a waving plume.

• Essentials of breed type: ears, outline, coat, freighting

ability – strength in movement.

• Must have the traits to survive and the strength and

endurance to perform.

• Feel the coat for texture – coarse guard coat is a must.

Thanks to the Alaskan Malamute breeder-judges for sharing their expertise and love of their breed.

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