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You Can't Keep Your Dog...
Or Can You?

Dogs are great friends and playmates, but they aren’t always easy to live with.  If you’re having some trouble with your pet, slow down, take a deep breath, and do your best to make a calm and rational assessment of the situation.  Remember the reasons you chose a Malamute — a fun-loving companion for outdoor adventures and indoor snoozing.  Now, make a list of the problems you’ve encountered.  Many of the common difficulties, which people and their pets encounter have some pretty straightforward solutions.

Does your Malamute have a major case of bad manners?  Does he drag you all over the county when you go for a walk, jump up on visitors, develop acute deafness when you call “come”, lounge on forbidden furniture, steal food from the counter?  Well, these are all training problems and, with some time and effort on your part, can be fixed.  Of course, it’s easier to train a young pup than an older dog who has learned some bad habits but rest assured, you can teach an old dog new tricks!

There are lots of places you can go for help.  Your Mal's breeder will be able to offer advice, including training methods they have found effective, names of training manuals and videos and, if they live in your area, referrals to trainers.  Your vet may also be able to make some suggestions, particularly about local trainers.  A good trainer can be a lifesaver.  At the very least, you and your Mal should enroll in group classes, where you will learn how to teach your pet some basic obedience skills.  If your Mal's misbehaviour is a bit more challenging, you may wish to hire a private trainer, who will evaluate your dog in your home, and then help you to implement training ideas designed specifically to deal with your dog’s problems.  Finally, there are many excellent books and videos available.  Read/view as many as possible — you will learn a lot about canine behaviour and training, and will increase your chances of finding training methods which will work with your Malamute.

Retraining a rowdy teenager or young adult is not an easy task but is one which can be accomplished, with dedication, patience and persistence.  Give yourself some time (at least two months) and set some reasonable goals.  Then, make a real commitment to your pet and work with him to accomplish those goals.  At first, your progress may seem slow, but if you make learning fun for your Mal, he will begin to enjoy his education and you will be rewarded with a well-mannered companion.

Is your house covered in Malamute hair?  Well, nobody’s invented a hairless Malamute, and shaving your pet is not an option — he needs his coat to protect him from the elements!  Still, a bit of regular grooming can minimise the amount of hair that finds its way onto your floors and furniture.

Every dog, be it a Mexican Hairless or an Afghan with a long, flowing coat, should be groomed once a week.  This includes brushing teeth, trimming toenails, cleaning ears and combing the coat.  It takes only about half an hour each week to keep your Mal well groomed.  If your pet is fidgety about being groomed, you may wish to invest in a grooming table, with an arm and a noose.  Most dogs get accustomed to this set-up fairly quickly — some always make a beeline for the table, because they know there’s a biscuit or two waiting for them at the end of each session.  You can groom your dog outside (with or without a table), to cut down on the amount of loose hair in the house.  When your dog is blowing his undercoat, you may want to give him a quick comb-out every day or two — it only takes a few minutes and really helps to reduce the amount of hair in your house.

mal_image10.jpg (3594 bytes)Does your Malamute dig, chew or howl?  These destructive behaviours are all indicative of boredom and/or loneliness.  If your Mal is forced to spend long hours alone, with no way of passing the time, he will find things to do — none of them desirable!  Dogs are social animals and, although they can adapt to spending part of their day alone, they do not thrive in “solitary confinement”.  The solution may be as simple as allowing your dog to just “be” with you more — bring him into the house whenever you’re at home, and allow him to sleep inside at night, preferably in somebody’s bedroom.  Some owners may consider getting another dog, for their dog.  While two dogs will provide companionship for each other, they are twice as much work, and cost, for you.  Be very sure that you are willing and able to accept this extra responsibility before you acquire a second pet.  And remember that both of your pets should live as part of the family as much as possible.

If your dog is destroying your house, part of the problem may be that you have expected too much of him, too soon.  Your dog should have a safe place to call his own while you’re out during the day.  Ideally, this will be a kennel, with shade, water and a doghouse for shelter.  Your pet will be safe, able to move about freely, play with the toys you provide for him, and relieve himself when he needs to.  If your dog must stay in the house when you’re gone, start by restricting him to one room, which has been dogproofed.  Leave a radio playing for him, and provide some toys.  Do not have unreasonable expectations about how long he can stay in without relieving himself — an older dog will be okay for eight to ten hours, but a three or four month old pup may only last for two to four hours.  Try to arrange to come home at noon hour, at least until your pup’s a bit older, or to have a neighbour let him out halfway through the day.  If your backyard is securely fenced, you could install a dog door, so he can go in and out as he pleases.

There are numerous toys you can provide so your Mal can amuse himself while you’re at work and school.  Beef shank and knucklebones provide hours of enjoyment.  Some dogs enjoy nylabone and gumabone products, and others play with Kongs (which can be stuffed with goodies — potentially fattening, but definitely entertaining).  Your pet may enjoy a big plastic ball, or he may prefer a buster ball (a cube, which you fill with part of his daily ration of kibble — as he plays with the cube, the kibble, falls out piece by piece).  Rawhide is always a favourite choice, and some Mals enjoy raw vegetables.  Experiment a bit — see what your dog likes and, equally importantly, what he can play with safely, unsupervised.  There is no such thing as an “indestructible, 100% safe” dog toy (although nylabones and Kongs are pretty close) — anything plastic can break, and be swallowed, some dogs choke on rawhide, soft toys and anything small enough to be swallowed can be ingested, bones can splinter.  Each dog is an individual, but you should be able to find some toys which your dog can enjoy safely in your absence.  Finally, don’t overwhelm your Mal with all of his toys at one time — rotate them, so he has a bit of variety.

Howling is a more difficult problem to deal with, partly because it affects your neighbours, and partly because it usually happens when you’re not at home.  However, it is possible to deal with this problem, by providing entertainment as outlined above, and by retraining.  You will need to engage the services of a professional trainer or, if that is impossible, refer to some of the many training manuals that are available.   As a last resort, you can consider some of the devices which are available to control barking and howling.  There are several choices.  The most effective is a shock collar, which administers a mild shock each time your dog barks or howls.  Most dogs quickly learn to be quiet when they are wearing the collar.  Two newer devices are also available:  a collar which sprays the dog’s nose with citronella each time it barks or howls, and a muzzle-like device, made out of stretchy fabric which allows the dog to breathe, pant and drink freely, while preventing it from opening its mouth wide enough to bark or howl.  We have no experience with either of these devices and do not know how effective, or safe, they are for use with Malamutes — with both, there would appear to be a risk of the dog being able to chew and swallow the device.  Debarking surgery can also be considered, as a last resort when all else has failed.

Some people are not comfortable with any of these choices.  Debarking is a surgical procedure, with all the risks associated with any surgery, which considerably lowers the volume of your Malamute’s voice.  Shock collars, or other devices, work by causing your dog some discomfort.  Although these solutions will eliminate the undesirable behaviour, the cause will still exist, and your pet may find new ways of expressing his frustration.  Still, if your attempts at retraining and providing entertainment for your pet have failed, one of these options may present a solution.  While not necessarily desirable, they are far better than having to find a new home for your dog or, worse still, having to euthanise your pet.

Are you moving somewhere your dog won’t be welcome?  Occasionally, people will need to place their dog in a new home because they are moving, permanently or temporarily, to a place where their dog cannot accompany them.  It can, however, be possible to manage the move, and keep your dog.  Often landlords will accept pets if you can demonstrate to them that your Mal is a well-mannered pet, who poses no risk either to the landlord’s property or the community.  If your pet is well groomed, in good health, spayed or neutered, obedience trained and crate trained, landlords may be willing to consider renting to you.

Country dogs can make the move to town, as long as you’re willing to help them through a period of adjustment, as they become accustomed to the sights and sounds in their new community.  Let them get used to new things slowly, and try to make each new experience positive.  Generous use of food treats during this transition period will help your dog learn that this new place has a lot going for it!  Exercise will have to be a bit more structured, but you will be able to find safe places to walk, jog, bicycle, and rollerblade... with your Malamute.  You may even have better access to organised sports, like agility or competitive obedience.

Some families may find themselves in a situation where they will be unable to look after their dog for several months (e.g., armed forces assignment).  Long term boarding for your Mal is an excellent option in this type of situation.  Your dog’s breeder may be able to board your pet for several months, or they may be able to refer you to a kennel where long-term boarders are accepted.  The cost is usually quite reasonable and, best of all, when you come home again, your Malamute is there to welcome you.  This type of arrangement does not seem to be any harder on the dog than placing him in a new home would be — we know of dogs who have been boarded for twelve months, and then settled right back into their family.

Is your dog having trouble adjusting to a new, blended family?  Blending two families is a difficult task at the best of times, and adding pets to the equation can complicate things even more.  You may be trying to integrate pets from each side of the new family, or, if only one of the families has a pet, someone on the other side may be allergic to or afraid of the pet.  In the case of allergies, severe fears, or duelling animals who just won’t learn to be friends, it is probably best to find new, loving homes for all of the animals.  However, if all members of the new family are committed to keeping the pet(s), there are some steps you can try.  First, introduce animals to each other on neutral territory.  Keep the meeting as relaxed and casual as possible (animals will pick up on your tension), and don’t force the issue.  If the first meeting is successful, gradually increase the time and freedom the pets have together.  However, if the meeting doesn’t go well, we strongly recommend enlisting the services of a professional trainer or behaviour specialist.

One member of the new family may be afraid of dogs.  In the case of younger children, it is probably best to find a new home for your pet.  If they choose to, though, teenagers and adults can work to overcome their fears.  Have them spend time with you and the dog, in a structured setting.  Attending an obedience class together can be a good start.  As they become more comfortable, have them assume responsibility for most of the dog’s care — especially feeding and exercise.  Make their shared experiences fun and relaxing and, above all, do not force them to progress too quickly or ask them to do anything with the dog which may elicit a negative response from the critter (e.g., toenail clipping).

If the dog is accustomed to being part of a one-dog/one human family, he may become jealous of the new people in his family.  If this is the case, proceed much as you would if helping a person overcome their fear of the dog.  The new family member(s) should assume responsibility for feeding and exercising the dog.  Have them spend lots of time playing with and lavishing affection on the green-eyed monster and, in time, the pet should come around.

With patience and perseverance, many of the problems faced by pets in blended families can be resolved.  However, in the case of allergies, severe fears or jealousy, or intractable hostility between pets, the best solution for all is to place the pet(s) in new, loving homes. 

Does your dog need more exercise than you can provide?  Malamutes are high-energy dogs, and they need a significant amount of exercise.  And yes, you do have to play an active role in exercising your pet.  With a bit of imagination though, daily exercise can be fun, healthy and relaxing — for both of you.

First, everyone in the family who is physically able to handle the dog should share in exercising him.  If there are two adults and one teenager in the family who can share the task, and the dog needs to be exercised twice each day, that’s just under five sessions per week each.  Make a schedule, and stick to it.

sled1.jpg (3205 bytes)Try to choose a variety of activities — this will lessen the sense of boredom and routine for both of you, and will provide a varied workout.  Enjoy leisurely walks, fast-paced runs, roller blading or bike rides, go hiking or swimming, you could learn to skijor on cross country ski trails, or train your dog for competitive weight pulling or dog agility.  The main thing is to get out and have fun with your Malamute — isn’t that one of the reasons you got him in the first place?  And remember, well exercised Mals tend to be healthier, and are often better-behaved companions than dogs who are not given a suitable outlet for their energy.

Has your Malamute demonstrated serious behaviour and/or temperament problems?  It’s a sad fact, but some malamutes demonstrate aggressive behaviour towards people, and may even be biters.  This is a heartbreaking problem to have to face.  Often the aggressive behaviour is learned — the result of improper training techniques, or no training at all.  Malamutes are, after all, very strong willed animals with a strong sense of pack hierarchy and high natural levels of dominance.  As young pups, we can use simple humane methods to teach them to accept their humans as benevolent dictators; but if these lessons are not taught early, some dogs will develop serious problems with dominance aggression.  Occasionally there may also be a genetic basis for poor temperament.  In either case, it is very difficult to rehabilitate these dogs.  The power of early learning is very strong, and retraining requires levels of commitment, patience and expertise, which many pet owners simply do not possess.  These dogs also require a very structured, predictable environment — often they are at highest risk of biting when faced with unusual or confusing situations.

Still, it is sometimes possible to rehabilitate aggressive dogs.  The first step should be a trip to your vet.  She will examine your pet to ensure that there is not a physical cause for his aggression.  If your pet has not been spayed or neutered, this surgery will probably be recommended.  She should also be able to help you evaluate your Mal's aggressive behaviour, and determine what type of aggression (fear, dominance, prey, territorial) he is exhibiting.  Next will be a referral to an experienced trainer or animal behaviour specialist.  Your chance of success will be best with someone who has prior experience with Malamutes, or at the very least, with breeds with similar temperaments.  Ensure that the trainer is open-minded about different training techniques, and willing to try new ideas.  Be very leery of anyone who assures you that their particular method works for all dogs — there is no such beast!

There are also excellent books and videos available.  Read and learn as much as you can, but we must caution you against trying to retrain your dog on your own — aggressive behaviour is very serious and dangerous, and you must obtain professional help to deal with it.

Be prepared to spend months working with your dog — after all, he did not become aggressive overnight, and it’s going to take even longer to retrain him.  Patience, commitment and consistency are essential.  Owners will often feel so encouraged when their dog starts to make some progress, that they speed up the training to a level the dog cannot sustain, resulting in serious setbacks.  Slow and steady progress is much more reliable, and stands more chance of being lasting.

Finally, be prepared for failure.  Each case of aggression is different, but it is very often difficult to rehabilitate an aggressive dog to the point that he can function safely as an active member of your family and community.  Ultimately, all dog owners have a responsibility to ensure that their pets do not pose an undue risk to their families and the communities in which they live.  We also have a responsibility to provide our pets with a good quality of life.  If you are unable to do both of these things, and have to seriously curtail your dog’s activities because you live in constant fear that he may attack a family member, a friend, the paper boy, your neighbour's child, delivery people or your letter carrier, and none of your efforts at retaining are able to calm that fear, then you may have to consider euthanising your dog.  Reaching this decision is heartwrenching, but there are situations when euthanasia is the only sane, safe and humane choice to make.  Trying to place your dog in a new home, or surrendering him to a shelter or rescue group are, to put it bluntly, the coward’s way out of this type of dilemma.  Your dog’s behaviour will not change miraculously in a new environment.  If anything, the stress and upheaval associated with a move may exacerbate his aggressive tendencies.  In any case, it is irresponsible to expect someone else to take on your problem.  And face it, who in their right mind is going to adopt a dog with known aggressive tendencies?  Hundreds of thousands of healthy, friendly, well-mannered dogs are killed each year simply because nobody wants them.  As difficult as it is to find good homes for all the sound dogs who are homeless, it is virtually impossible to find new owners with the necessary experience, and the desire, to take on an aggressive dog.

Along with our ethical responsibility to our families and communities, consider also the potential legal consequences of keeping a known biter, or of placing one in a new home or with a shelter or rescue group.  Damage awards in cases of unprovoked aggression can be staggering, and be assured that surrendering a known aggressive dog to a shelter or rescue group does not relieve you of legal liability in the event the dog attacks someone.

Euthanasia is a difficult choice, even when a dog is terminally ill.  It is important for us to accept the fact that aggressive dogs are indeed ill.  Their illness puts people around them at risk, it curtails their freedom and ability to enjoy a satisfying life and it puts them at risk of being apprehended and put to death by strangers.  Choosing to end their lives humanely, in the company of people who care about them is ultimately the only completely safe way of dealing with aggressive dogs and, in many cases, is the best choice for all concerned.

As you can see, there are positive solutions for the vast majority of problems faced by dog owners.  True, there will always be a tiny handful of cases where euthanasia remains the safest option for all concerned.  However, dedicated owners who are prepared to make a reasonable commitment to their dog (perhaps with the help of a professional trainer) will find that they can happily resolve just about any difficulty they may face.  And believe us, Mals are worth it!

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