Alaskan Malamute vs. Siberian Husky: Both Will Make You Howl With Joy, But Here's How to Spot Their Differences
It's easy to fall paws-over-snout in love with enthusiastic and clever dogs who can also pull you around on a sled! Experienced pet owners frequently believe there's little to debate about the Alaskan malamute vs. Siberian husky, as both dogs spark a sense of wonder and delight. Devoted followers of these breeds understand their dedicated work ethic and can't help but smile at their mischievous antics.
Against a snowy backdrop, it's sometimes a challenge to tell one plushy dog from the other, so to help us understand more about the similarities and differences between a husky and a malamute, we asked a team of experts:
Now let's mush on with the details!
History of the Alaskan Malamute and Siberian Husky Dog Breeds
Sometimes, it's in the way they sing. Kovu the Siberian husky became a viral sensation in this duet ballad with his pet parent. But Berquist and Smith say that Alaskan malamutes are known for their distinctive 'woo woo', like Waya performs here. Make no mistake: even when they're not moved by sweet melodies, both of these sassy breeds tell you exactly how they feel all the time! Their vocalizations are quite diverse, and include howls, mmphs, yips, whimpers, chuffs, and grumbles.
Their calls of the wild harken back to their spitz ancestors traveling the far-reaching tundra of North America, Russia, and Scandinavia. Alaskan malamutes and Siberian huskies share a paleolithic wolf ancestor, but their histories deviate from there.
'Mals', as they're often called, were bred by the ancient Mahlemiut Inuit tribe to carry heavy loads on their nomadic quests across the Kotzebue Sound, an area now part of northwest Alaska. They later made headlines during the Alaskan Gold Rush of 1896, and were active overseas in both World War I and II to help transport supplies and work as search-and-rescue dogs.
The Chukchi—indigenous people of Russia who inhabit far northeastern Siberia—developed a cold-resistant dog that could haul sleds and be good family companions, and these animals later migrated with humans to Alaska. In 1925, they became famous when mushers led dog relay teams over 650 miles in less than six days to deliver a diphtheria recovery serum to Nome, Alaska—a feat known as "The Great Race of Mercy."
O'Connor says huskies were bred to pull lighter loads over longer distances, while malamutes carry heavier loads over shorter distances. There's another significant point in their work abilities. "Huskies are fast. They're considered the sports cars of the mushing world," Berquist and Smith add. "Malamutes are the freighting trucks. When running malamutes, one will notice that instinctive preference for the 'malamute plod'—that slow, steady speed—over sprinting."
How to Tell the Difference Between an Alaskan Malamute vs. Siberian Husky
O'Connor says both Alaskan malamutes and Siberian huskies are independent thinkers. "Pet parents need be patient, have a sense of humor, and be able the think outside the box when training their husky or malamute," she adds. So they'll excel in life when they have proper socialization and consistent positive reinforcement training.
However, these snuggly, beautiful scamps do have a few key differences. Let's take a look at what makes these breeds unique.
You might notice that when comparing malamute vs. husky size:
- Mals are sturdy and strong, weighing 70–85 pounds and standing more than 2 feet tall at the shoulder.
- Huskies, despite what their name might imply, are lean and lithe, standing just under 2 feet tall and approximately 35–60 pounds.
If a malamute and a husky dash past you side-by-side, tongues lollying out of their wide doggie smiles and both fluffy tails waving in the wind, you'd have to blink a few times to know who's who!
But when you have them face-to-face, it's easier to see the longer legs on a husky and the broader chest on a malamute. A husky's face is narrow, too, with ears perched more atop his head, compared to a mal's ears that angle slightly more alongside her head, especially when she's feeling mellow.
Now here's a big hint: while both look like they have perpetually-raised eyebrows in response to the cue, "Wanna go for a run?" most Siberian huskies have a different color marking that goes up their forehead. This might be an extension of muzzle color, usually bright white, as a thick or thin stripe in the middle of their foreheads. Alaskan malamutes, on the other hand, have forehead color, frequently black, moving down toward their white snouts to form a peak.
Oh! One more thing! Siberian huskies are also more likely to have various shades of eye color, including amber, blue, and brown, while mals tend to have brown eyes. Huskies might also have bi-eyes, which means one brown eye and one blue; or they're parti-eyed, defined as half-blue and half-brown.
Speaking of color, both the Alaskan malamute and Siberian husky are drop dead gorgeous sashaying about in their thick double fur coats—all the better to withstand Arctic winds and cold.
- A mal has a full white underbelly from chest to tail tip, and a topcoat in a wide range of tones, including black, blue, brown, gray, red, sable, seal, and silver.
- A husky has varying full coat patterns that feature colors such as red, gray, black, as well as snow white and variations of red-and-white, black-and-white, and gray-and-white.
There's only a slight difference in the long lifespan of an Alaskan malamute vs. Siberian husky. They boisterously enjoy themselves for 10–14 and 12–15 years, respectively, and stay rather healthy as long as pet parents only offer treats for special training accomplishments and good dog deeds.
As working breeds, they're frequently at risk for hip dysplasia, a developmental condition. "Young puppies should only walk on natural surfaces for shorter distances," Berquist and Smith say. "They can begin harness work at an early age, but should not pull substantial weights until their joints have matured around 2 years old." They advise consulting a reputable breeder who's completed OFA hip testing to ensure the best likelihood of healthy hips and joints in a mature dog.
O'Connor says Siberian huskies can have hereditary defects of the eye, such as cataracts. "These can present 6–12 months of age and may require surgery," she says. "They might also be at risk for corneal dystrophy and progressive retinal atrophy."
Other potential health concerns for Alaskan malamutes are polyneuropathy (PN) and epilepsy "There is a test that identifies whether a dog is a carrier or non-carrier of PN, which breeders are required to complete (or clear by parentage) to attain CHIC certification," Berquist and Smith say. "Seizures are not as easily traced, though they're generally inherited."
Temperament and Personality
Both of these pups absolutely love their humans and expect a lot of personal attention, especially from active people who want to explore outdoors as much as they do. Because of this, neither dog should be left home alone for long periods of time. Adorable and cheerful rascals when they're happy, they tend to become rather destructive when unhappy.
Malamutes and huskies inherit unique endurance abilities, so prospective pet parents must be able keep up with all the running, carting, skijoring (skiing with dogs), hiking, snowshoeing, and biking these active pups are eager to do! Fortunately, they can often carry their own water bottles and other excursion necessities.
However, Berquist and Smith say mals do have an off-switch not as easily flipped on a husky. "A person who is looking to enjoy the scenery, rather than a continuous adrenaline rush, is going to be a better match for a malamute," they say.
Huskies might initially appear to be a tad more aloof, but O'Connor says they're wonderful companions and usually accept dogs of both genders into the family equally. Malamutes, Berquist and Smith say, are typically more people-oriented and ready to flop on their back for never-ending belly rubs. So they might take issue with dogs of the same sex competing for lap time. Without the benefit of learning in a puppy kindergarten environment, both dogs can also get a little excited in the moment, and could have a tendency to jump on people.
While malamutes and huskies bond well with kids, both have a high prey drive. This means smaller animals such as cats, bunnies, and squirrels are easily noticed, and not always in a good way. Consequently, these dogs require gentle and consistent cue training—and should be kept on a leash in public.
Additionally, huskies and malamutes are intense diggers, an inherent trait from having to create shelter in massive snow mounds. Because of this, they can greatly alter your landscape design to be more 'dog-friendly' or zip off at a moment's notice under the fence. We totally get it: when you're used to traversing vast expanses of wilderness, a suburban backyard holds little appeal! Huskies in particular are often referred to as 'Houdini hounds' and can both dig and jump their way toward a new adventure, so make sure you have secure fencing and an updated microchip.
Husky or Malamute: Which Dog Breed Is Best for You?
"Before welcoming a dog into your home, research the breed and talk with those who own the breed," O'Connor says. "Many dogs end up in rescue or shelters because their owners were not prepared to deal with the characteristics of the breed."
To love a husky or a malamute is to also brave frequent fur blizzards known as 'blowing coat'—which usually happens twice a year. These double-coated breeds might not need bathing very often, but they need regular brushing to control shedding day-to-day. When it's blowing coat season, you'll want to enlist the help of a good vacuum and avoid black pants for a couple of weeks.
So which of these stupendous breeds will be your best canine pal? Flip a coin! "Since both breeds are intelligent, active dogs, good humans for them will have a healthy sense of humor, a willingness to deal with a ton of fur, be outdoor-activity lovers, and have a certain mental flexibility," Berquist and Smith say. Guess we'll take one of each!
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