The Alaskan Malamute by nature is one of the most social breeds there is. That being said, they are also one of the most stubborn breeds you will come across. In order to achieve the best result of these two personality traits, it is recommended that malamutes be socialized early and that the socialization continues throughout their life.
Socializing a malamute is the best way to ensure that you have a people-friendly and even a dog-friendly dog. However, Alaskan Malamutes can present several challenges when trying to socialize them. The reason for this is that highly social trait they possess and that they also love being the center of attention. Learning to control their exuberance and their inherent stubborn nature are great reasons to approach socialization in earnest.
Even if you don’t start early socializing your malamute, this breed is so intelligent that starting any time will produce results, though it may take longer to get past certain developed personality quirks when dealing with older dogs. I had a rescued malamute who was 2 years old when we got her but she still ended up being able to be socialized wonderfully.
The key to success in training any dog, young or old, is to never put your dog in a situation that he or she cannot succeed in. If you always remember that, you will be highly successful in socializing your malamute (or any dog for that matter) though most importantly, your dog will be successful.
TAKING YOUR MALAMUTE TO A PUBLIC PLACE
First and foremost rule for socializing your malamute is to start in small increments and work up progressively. Success is the goal for both owner and dog. In my experience while training, it’s best to try and handle only one dog at a time to avoid chaos. It’s also best that the dog, no matter what age, has a working understanding of some basic commands.
If your dog is over 40 pounds when you start taking him or her into public, fit the dog properly with a choker chain or tightening collar so if needed you can give a warning yank on the collar.
Walk off nervous energy by taking your dog down less busy streets or rural streets first. Let them do their business before you take them into a crowded situation. Look at this preliminary “walk time” as the prelude to the socialization exercise. Most malamutes when getting out of confinement in the car need time to unwind, stretch their legs and generally loosen up. After you’ve walked your dog for at least 10-15 minutes, then approach more crowded venues.
Always carry water and waste disposal bags with you. Kibble or treats can be a great thing to have in your training arsenal as well, tucked into a bag in your pocket or a fanny pack but you want them readily accessible if you’re using them.
If starting out with socialization exercises with your malamute, try not to tackle crowds that present a lot of challenges at first. This means avoid venues that have lots of kids eating ice cream cones for instance (right at their eye level) or folks with lots of dogs. Positive socialization involves setting your dog up for challenges but challenges that he or she can meet with confidence. Taking baby steps in training and being successful far outweighs plunging into difficult situations and having a bad experience – for you or your dog.
Keeping your dog on your left side and with some slack but not with the dog 10 feet out in front of you, proceed into an area of people on a sidewalk or at a public craft fair for example. As people approach you, talk to your dog in calm tones and use phrases like “on by” or “keep on”. Note that if you use these phrases at home on a regular basis or while walking your dog daily, it is much easier to apply these phrases when you are out in a crowded area. The dog will readily understand what you mean.
Another good term is “leave it.” You can apply this to just about anything in your dog’s life. For instance, that hot dog that just fell on the floor at home, that piece of sandwich you pass on the street someone dropped, or that puddle of liquid that might be antifreeze on the street you want your dog to definitely ignore without drinking.
People generally get the idea if they hear you giving verbal commands to your dog. If need be, shorten the leash so that you have firm control of your dog as you pass other people. Do not allow your dog to jump on people, lunge at them as they pass, and most specifically do not let them try to grab at anything.
Keep issuing commands as necessary but don’t overdo it on the number of commands with the caveat that if they are not listening, issue the command again and give a distinct yank on the collar or redirect their attention. Reinforce obedience. A firm “leave it” can snap them back to awareness coupled with a little quick tug on the leash.
MALAMUTES ARE PEOPLE DOGS
If people ask to pet your malamute, that’s great. This is yet another opportunity for training. Keep in mind though that most malamutes like to be the center of attention and can become very rambunctious if you haven’t taught them to behave when people approach them.
Make your dog sit and also ask the greeter to encourage good behavior. This means the greeter should not encourage them to jump at them, on them or otherwise “act up”. The whole point of socialization is teaching your dog to greet people in a polite fashion so that they will do it with young and old alike. Inherently, most malamutes sense when they should be gentle in situations with older people or children but reinforcing their good behavior is always the best way to ensure positive experiences.
The fact of the matter is, sometimes people just don’t know how to greet a dog, much less a breed such as a malamute. When they come at the dog with high squeaking voices and exuberance, it is only “natural” that a dog will respond with the same exuberance. This is where repeated socialization pays off. No matter how “out of control” the person is who greets your malamute, with practice, your dog will know what appropriate behavior is no matter what.
Words like “off” are good for puppies as they tend to jump into people’s arms rather than sit patiently waiting to be petted! Using this word at home often and any time that the puppy is jumping up on something they shouldn’t will also reinforce this command. Any time that people approach your dog and the dog jumps or lunges, issue the “off” command and give a yank on the collar. Also always explain to people that your dog is “in training” and that you must keep your dog under control. Usually they are only too happy to help you in this teaching moment.
The best way for a dog of any breed to greet people approaching them is to be sitting. Lunging and jumping at people should never be tolerated. The way to curb this is to have people approach when you say it’s okay. Don’t be shy about telling them to wait until your dog is behaving. Not coming at them straight on but rather from their side also minimizes the risk of jumping or lunging.
Make sure you praise your dog lavishly for good behavior. Good behavior means remaining seated, by accepting a hug or a pat and by not overreacting. Only repeated training sessions will work at encouraging great behavior both out in public and in the home setting with meeting new people.
If your dog reacts strongly to people approaching with behaviors like barking or howling, encourage “quiet” by using the command. Also practice this at other times when the dog is being vocal at home repeatedly and offer a treat as a reward for not vocalizing inappropriately, for doing a “quiet.”
If your malamute displays any kind of behavior such as being frightened by certain types of people, for instance men, or men with hats, encourage these people to approach your dog and even offer the greeters kibble to give to the dog as they approach in an open hand. This will lessen the dog’s anxiety and create confidence rather than encouraging fear of these certain situations.
DOG BEHAVIOR AND SOCIALIZING ALASKAN MALAMUTES
Malamutes are lovers of people of all ages. They will, if not carefully watched, jump or pull to get nearer to children because kids are generally at eye level for them. They will also seize the opportunity to be petted by anyone anywhere anytime!
If someone rolls down a window to admire our dogs, it is a natural instinct for them to even try to jump on the car to say “hello”.
Alaskan Malamutes are notorious for being so social that they will follow anyone anywhere and will jump into anyone’s vehicle without a care about who is driving away with them.
Repeated training nips bad behaviors in the bud and encourages positive experiences.
Making your dog wait for praise and affection is okay and just a stepping stone to more complex meet and greets such as walking past people with dogs.
Remember to teach commands like “leave it”, “off”, “easy”, “on by”, “quiet” and “keep on” and use them in day to day encounters with your dog. Reward the dog with lavish praise and kibble or treats when he or she is doing what’s appropriate and you’ll see the positive behaviors repeated in public settings much to your delight!
It really doesn’t matter what phrases or words you use as long as you and your dog are on the same page and you’re moving in the same direction…that of positive socialization. Here are just a few and what they mean to get you started:
- “Wait” – usually combined with a sit – the dog must wait there until another command
- “Off” - do not jump on that person, do not jump on that chair, do not jump up on that counter and grab something
- “Easy” – slow down, quit pulling, ease up on the speed, go gently
- “On by” – walk past that child with an ice cream cone, walk past that dog, run past that other dog team, ignore whatever “it” is
- “Keep on” – focus, pay attention, devote yourself to going straight ahead and listen for your next assignment
- “Quiet” – no howling, whining, barking
See this article for tips on early training and teaching your Alaskan Malamute to sit.
See this article on how to teach a malamute safely about water.