Much Maligned Mals

     As most of you already know, dog parks can be great for your Mal.  It’s the other people who also bring their dogs that can be problematic.  Malamutes are big, powerful dogs that have a wolf-like appearance.  That is why many of us love the breed to begin with.  What we see as a big, loving fur ball others may see as a menace.  They do not understand the breed and quite honestly, few of them understand their own dogs.

Video created by Karsten Bidstrup, photographer, Denmark.

     To say that Malamutes play rough is an understatement.  To the average person, a Malamute at play with other dogs has to be a scary site.  Malamute play is really just a toned down version of fighting or hunting.  It is not uncommon to see Mals running over other dogs, pinning them down, tail biting, holding dogs down by the neck, showing their enormous teeth, etc.  All of this done in front of Bosco’s owner who swears your Mal is trying to kill his dog.  Of course, saying “No, he’s just playing.  You’d know it if he was really attacking your dog”, does little to comfort the terrified owner of Bosco.  That being said, the past two dog park outings my pack and I had clearly demonstrated the difference between a good play experience and a poor, micro-managed experience. 

     Most of the frequent dog park crowd in my town know my big girl, Leela, quite well.  They know she is a very calm, fun-loving, dog that never causes any problems, even when confronted.  She also has an interesting behavior that can be misunderstood.  Leela is a pack “peacemaker”.  At the first sign of problem between other dogs, she rushes over and wedges herself between the two dogs, seemingly trying to stop any fight from starting.  It is a fairly well documented pack behavioral role and it is amazing to witness it firsthand.  Unfortunately, many people believe that it is an aggressive behavior and try to blame her for the chaos.  I have even had a dog owner kick her, trying to get her away from the other dogs who were obviously going after each other before she arrived.  The following video of a past outing demonstrates this behavior and one owner’s response (again, grabbing the Malamute).

     I was told by the gentleman in the video that I needed to control my “aggressive” dog.  I responded by attempting to educate the other owners that the dogs were simply playing and there were no signals that there was any aggression by any dog in the video, least of all my Mal.

     Anyway, back to the two outings.  A couple of days ago, there were a lot of dogs at the park.  I counted at least sixteen dogs including my Mal and my 5 month old puppy, Buddy.  The dogs were all types and sizes with, of course, my Mal being the largest of the group.  The typical dog play was crazy but not aggressive with multiple dogs all jumping on each other, growling and play biting.  Two or three medium size dogs began to scuffle a bit and Leela came over to see what was going on, wedging herself between the dogs.  One of the owners immediately panicked and grabbed her, pulling her away from the other dogs.  When I came up to him, he told me that she “attacked” the other dogs.  Another owner who walked over and knows Leela, immediately defended her, informing him that Leela was simply breaking up a potential fight as she often does.  He responded “well, it looked like an attack”.

     On the other side of the coin, the following day, I arrived at the dog park a bit earlier to avoid the larger crowd.  At the park was a husky-mix, a large Pomsky, my three dogs, and a Siberian husky named Odin who happens to be Leela’s dog park buddy.  All of the owners knew how their dogs play and let them have at it.  It was fun to watch as the aggressive play that those types of dogs engage in was allowed to take place without owner interference.  Had the people from the day before seen that type of dog play, I am sure they would have called the police, yet the owners (including myself) all enjoyed watching their dogs play until they were exhausted.  No fights, no panicked owners, just dogs being dogs.  An hour later, the dogs were totally exhausted.

     Odin’s owner, as well as the other husky mix owner, told me that they have a real problem with other dog owners thinking that their dogs play too rough.  We all agreed that we should come to the park at certain times to let the dogs play naturally like they did that day.

     Most of us that have Malamutes know there exists a prejudice against the breed by other dog owners.  At the first site of our Mal, dog owners rush to scoop up their Yorkies to protect them from the “wolf-dogs” that may certainly eat them.  I can understand some of the concern.  Certainly, the Malamutes size and powerful build could contribute to the problem and, of course, their wolf-like appearance only adds to the misconception.

     So what is the answer?  How do we socialize our Mal's with other dogs and deal with the obvious concerns that other dog owners have?  I believe that education is key.  Perhaps pointing out dog behaviors that signal play or aggression would help.  Referring them to a good dog behavioral site to learn how to read dog body language.  I do it every outing.  Pointing out a potential problem or predicting what a dog will do.  Most of the time it’s appreciated.  I also think that trying to get similar breeds at the park at the same time to play would go a long way to allow the dogs to play naturally without interference.

     We love our Mal's but with the breed comes certain liabilities and prejudices.  A majority of people have never experienced the love and loyalty of this breed.  They have never had to fight for space on the couch or bed because the big fur ball was too comfortable to make room for you.  They don’t see how gentle a Mal can be around children.  All they see is the surface and they make their perceptions based on that.

     Everyone who owns a Malamute is an ambassador for this wonderful breed but at the same time we are the protectors of the breed.  We have to be responsible owners and make sure our Mal's are never the cause of a problem.  Knowing when to leave the dog park when more aggressive dogs are present is just as important as knowing when to let them run.

     I would love to share your stories, please contact me using the comment section below.


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