It goes without saying that the Malamute is a large, powerful dog. Standard males can reach 95lbs and some varieties like the “giant” can exceed 150lbs (my male, Scout, weighed 165lbs in his prime). Should your dog decide to attack another dog, there is little you can do to stop it. Malamutes are a primal breed and being such their genetic drive is not diluted like a majority of more domesticated breeds. It is a given that Malamutes are a dog aggressive breed and while socializing them with people may not be a must owing to their friendly disposition to people, early and continuous socializing with other dogs is.
With Malamutes things like pack order, resource protection, and prey drive are more predominant in them than, say, a border collie. Malamute puppies begin to show signs of pack ordering among their litter mates as early as two to four months. Unfortunately, most puppies find new homes during that time and never get the chance to complete their pack education. Coming into a new home as the only dog, the Malamute puppy may not get the opportunity to discover this with other dogs so the family becomes the pack. As the young dog matures, it will seek to move up in the pack hierarchy (your family) by challenging you, taking over walks, not obeying commands, aggression, etc. This behavior can often be looked at as inappropriate but without strong pack identity it is to be expected. It is not that there is something wrong with your dog. It is simply playing out its genetic drive to find its place in the pack. If you allow it to, it will take over your position as family leader (alpha). So the first, and most important aspect of socialization is to make sure your young Malamute puppy knows where it ranks in your household and that should be last, behind your youngest child or dog (as the case may be). This position must be reinforced as often as challenges occur otherwise the dog will become unmanageable and even aggressive. No matter what, there is you, your family members, and then your Malamute in that order…always.
As a puppy, it automatically assumes the lowest position in the pack. Other household dogs (any breed) will recognize the puppy’s position automatically and enforce it. This is how dog’s learn to respect the pack. As it grows it will challenge other dogs of the pack for higher positioning. Most of the time, the older dogs will keep the younger dog in check while allowing it to explore its status. I have seen young but very large Malamutes roll over into a submissive position at the snarl of a much smaller but older dog. Although it is amusing to see, it shows us just how serious this pack ordering behavior is to our dogs and we have to support it, and actually participate in it.
It is important to always remember that your Malamutes position in its pack (other dogs, your family, or both) defines who your dog is and what its responsibilities are. We are familiar with people getting away from it all to “find themselves”. Well, your Malamute is driven to do so and if you don’t provide a well-defined structure for it to exist in, you will raise one very confused and possibly, anxious dog.
When a malamute steps outside your home it must face encounters with other people and other dogs. It is highly recommended that the young Malamute puppy interact with other dogs as soon as possible (around three months). Dog parks are not the best option for this due to the larger number of dogs the puppy will have to deal with, susceptibility to puppy diseases, and the lack of control you have over what happens to your puppy should a dog become overly aggressive. Despite the fact that even at three months, the young Mal will most likely be one of the larger dogs in the park, don’t let its size fool you. It is a young puppy and is very vulnerable to attack and injury. Small puppy instruction classes are a better bet for early socialization as well as puppy gatherings. These are both situations where dogs of similar age gather in a more controlled environment allowing for them to interact safely with each other. Save the dog park until the dog is more mature (6-7 months). There are some dog parks that do have puppy areas and although I do not have any experience with them, I think that those may be fine so long as dog owners obey the age restrictions.
The obstacles the Malamute owner faces are formidable. Mals are inherently dog-aggressive and tend to confront any strange dog that may enter its “home” or challenge its social order too aggressively. This trait is found in wolves as well. In the wild, wolves will kill any other outside wolf that enters its domain to protect its pack and its food resources. Malamutes are very close to wolves on the genetic ladder and share the same behavior. Only through proper and consistent training can that urge be suppressed. Also, Malamutes are often the largest and most confident dog in the park so it’s not unusual to see them throw their weight around a bit (literally). This makes them take on a more dominant behavior than the other dogs around them. Given the wrong circumstances, conflicts can arise with other dogs, especially of the same sex. Unfortunately, far too often, conflicts arise from other dogs who are not properly socialized nor supervised. You have to work hard to be able to trust that your Malamute will behave properly despite the possibility that another dog may try to bully it around.
All that being said, a well-socialized Malamute will generally get along with most other dogs and in fact, will be a welcomed addition at any dog park or gathering. My big girl, Leela, is a 135lb. giant Malamute and has been (and continues to be) well-socialized. She has a bit of a fan club at the local dog parks (I take her to two for more exposure). She is well-tempered, patient, and very playful with other dogs. When confronted with an aggressive dog she submits to avoid conflict. When backed against a wall, she shows her angry face and emits a deep nasty growl which usually ends the challenge. Then she goes back to playing. That is how things usually go in the dog world and that’s how you want it to go.
As far as socializing your dog with people, I found that a great way to socialize my Malamute to people was to stand outside the entrance of a large store (usually while waiting for my wife who was shopping) with my dog. Few people can resist a Malamute puppy so there was always a group of people who would come over and want to pet the puppy. Of course, everyone would ask if it was a Husky (something that infuriates all Malamute owners). Later, as she grew in size, it became an opportunity to educate people on the breed. Leela loves the attention and will pose for pictures. Of course, even in this setting I have her on a short leash and maintain control of the encounter. Also, pet stores are a great place to go to meet pet-minded people and other dogs, so we go twice a week to our local pet stores. Now I take her to the dog park at least 3 days a week (more if I have time off).
Wrapping this up, socialization is very important to your young Malamute. Through proper socialization your Malamute understands its place in your world and develops confidence in itself and you. This solid foundation you create for your puppy allows it to function around other dogs without stress and thus, allows your dog to engage in a very natural drive to interact with other dogs in discovery and play. Well supervised socializing will go a very long way in creating a well-behaved and confident dog.