Alaskan Malamute Vs German Shepherd: Breed Comparison

The German Shepherd and the Alaskan Malamute are two of the most popular dog breeds in the world. They are both large, powerful dogs that can be intimidating to those unfamiliar with the breeds.

However, there are also some key differences between these two breeds and in this guide, we will break down all of these as well as the similarities between the two.

Before we jump into an overview of each of these popular dog breeds, here’s a quick rundown of the key similarities and differences between the two:

An infographic detailing the similarities and differences between malamutes and german shepherds

Alaskan Malamute Overview

The Alaskan Malamute is one of the most ancient dog breeds and was originally brought across to Alaska via the Bering Strait thousands of years ago.

The name originates from the Mahlemut people who settled in Alaska and depended on Malamutes for their survival.

Malamutes were used to pull sleds for hundreds of miles, as well as to hunt seals and other mammals. They almost went extinct during the Gold Rush in the 1800s as the demand for working dogs increased, but they luckily survived.

I highly recommend this article if you want to learn more about the fascinating history of this breed.

Fast forward to modern times and the Malamute is a recognised breed by the AKC since 1935 and a popular family pet. They are large in size and retain the ability to exercise for long periods of time.

They can be very stubborn and difficult to train, but they make very loving and caring companions with an independent streak.

German Shepherd Overview

The German Shepherd originates from a group of German herding dogs that varied in type until the late 19th century. At this time, a German cavalry officer decided to breed for the ‘ideal’ German herding dog, which resulted in the German Shepherd after 35 years.

The German Shepherd today is utilised as a military and police dog worldwide and is a popular pet.

They are incredibly intelligent and easy to train, which lends them more working capabilities than their herding origin and have a strong protective and guarding instinct.

They are very active and come in different coat lengths and colors. They make great family dogs because they are great with children and protective of the family.

Difference In Appearance

Before we explore more of the intricate differences between the Alaskan Malamute and the German Shepherd, let’s get the most obvious one out of the way first.

An Alaskan Malamute next to a German Shepherd

These two breeds clearly look very different.

Alaskan Malamutes have a wolf-like appearance that is common amongst many arctic breeds, like the husky for example.

They have a lot of Spitz characteristics due to this heritage, including a large curly tail, erect ears and a wedge-shaped head.

The Malamute can have a wide variety of coat colors such as silver and white to all white (learn more about their coat colors here).

German Shepherds are large and muscular and have a square muzzle, erect ears and a bushy tail.

They typically have a black mask and have a wide variety of coat colors, with the most popular being black and tan.

Funnily enough, Malamutes and German Shepherds are commonly crossbred to produce a mix known as the Alaskan Shepherd.

More Differences Between Alaskan Malamute Vs German Shepherd

Here are some more differences between these two popular dog breeds.

Guarding Instinct

German shepherds are amazing guard dogs and have a strong instinct to protect their families.

There is a reason why they are one of the most popular breeds of dogs that are trained as personal protection dogs and also regularly used in the police force.

Alaskan Malamutes on the other hand are notorious for being quite independent and stubborn. They do not have strong guarding instincts and are more likely to befriend strangers than anything else.

A German Shepherd on a meta leash barking

Fortunately, both dogs are intimidating, especially to those who are unfamiliar with the breed, but if you want a dog with a strong guarding instinct the German Shepherd is the better option.

German Shepherds Can Have ‘Single’ Coats

Okay, all German Shepherds are technically double coated just like the Alaskan Malamute, but there is greater variation in their coats.

Some German Shepherds, for example, have short fur and are referred to as ‘smoothies’ in competition. They still have a double coat, but the undercoat is so sparse they are often classed as single-coated.

In practice, this means that some German Shepherds (those with short, smooth coats) require less grooming than the Alaskan Malamute.

Long-haired German Shepherds are pretty much the same as Aalskan Malamutes in grooming and shedding frequency – they will need daily grooming and even multiple times per day when they are blowing their coats.


In terms of temperament, both are great with families and young children.

However, German Shepherds have a much stronger protective instinct and will guard the family against threats.

They are much more eager to please their owners as well, which makes them easier to train.

Alaskan Malamutes are not as interested in guarding their families and have a more independent and stubborn personality. They are much harder to train because of this.


The Alaskan Malamute has a strong and independent personality.

Don’t get them mistaken, they do love to be around people and other dogs, but they have little drive to please their owners.

This makes training a Malamute especially difficult, as they will pick and choose when they feel like listening to you.

German shepherds, on the other hand, are widely regarded for their training capabilities.

They love to please their owners, and when this is combined with the raw intelligence that German Shepherds exhibit, it makes for one of the fastest-learning dogs around.

Similarities Between Alaskan Malamute Vs German Shepherd

Despite their appearances, there are a lot of similarities between these two breeds that you probably haven’t considered.

Prey Drive

Alaskan Malamutes and German Shepherds share a high prey drive.

This means that they will chase after small animals without thinking about it, and this is one of the reasons why keeping them on leash is preferable, more for their own safety than anything else.

It’s also why they should ideally be raised with cats or other small dogs from a young age to prevent any potential issues.

If you look at shelters you’ll often find that these breeds are not suited for living with other small animals or cats, and this is one of the main reasons why.


Alaskan Malamutes and German Shepherds are pretty similarly sized:

  • Malamutes usually reach around 23-25 inches at the shoulder and weigh 75 to 85 lbs depending on gender. This is according to the AKC standard, and there is a lot of variation in practice, with many Malamutes exceeding these averages.
  • German Shepherds weigh anywhere from 65 to 90 lbs and reach 22 to 26 inches at the shoulder according to the AKC standard. Again, there is a lot of variation here.

They also both have ‘giant’ variations that get even larger and heavier.

Giant Variations

Yep, you heard that right.

There are giant malamutes and German Shepherds, although there is a slight difference between the two.

Giant Malamutes

Giant malamutes are simply Malamutes that have been bred to be larger in size by selective breeding.

They are not a separate breed, and there is a lot of concern that they are not as healthy as Malamutes bred to conform to the breed standard.

Breeders usually charge much more for such ‘giant’ Malamutes, but you should be wary as they are even more prone to health issues, especially those that affect the joints like hip dysplasia.

King Shepherds

King shepherds are the giant version of German Shepherds and are a mix of German Shepherds and Shiloh Shepherds, which are actually a hybrid between German Shepherds and Alaskan Malamutes!

They are often called giant German Shepherds because they retain most of the appearance of a Gemrna Shepherd but are much larger in size.

Both giant Malamutes and King shepherds can reach well over 100lbs and are usually a few inches taller at the shoulders than the breed standard for each breed.


Although Alaskan Malamutes don’t have much of a guarding instinct, they are still effective at intimidation, just like German Shepherds.

An Alaskan Malamute looking through a cage

Both breeds are large in stature and imposing, simply having one on your property is more than enough to make anybody think twice about stepping foot on your land.

Exercise & Mental Stimulation Requirements

Given the working background of these breeds, it should come as no surprise that they require a lot of exercise and mental stimulation.

Both require at least 2 hours of exercise per day, as well as other mental stimulation in the form of training or playing games.

Common Health Issues

Due to their large size and active natures, both of these breeds are prone to a few common health issues:

  • Hip Dysplasia– This is where the ball and socket of the hip grow at different rates, leading to degenerative joint disease. This is common amongst large dog breeds, and even more so in the ‘giant’ variations.
  • Elbow Dysplasia – Another condition where the elbow joint does not develop correctly, more commonly seen in large and giant dog breeds.
  • Arthritis – Arthritis, or osteoarthritis, is commonly seen in large dogs and usually gets worse with age.

In terms of overall health, both breeds are relatively healthy given their size. Malamutes usually live between 10 and 14 years old, and German Shepherds usually live between 9 and 13 years old.

Separation Anxiety

Alaskan Malamutes and German Shepherds suffer from separation anxiety.

This is a condition where they will become stressed if they are left alone for long periods of time.

It can become much worse if they have been previously abused, and common signs include excessive barking or howling and chewing.

In Summary

Both of these dogs are great choices for companion dogs and are perfect for families.

German Shepherds are easier to train and more protective, whereas Alaskan Malamutes are more stubborn and independent.

They are both incredibly hard work though and require an active owner who is committed and prepared for the lifestyle of owning one of these dogs.

Interested in checking out more Malamute comparison guides? We’ve covered plenty of others:

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About The Author

Caitlin is the owner and lead writer for The Malamute Mom. She has over 10 years of experience with Alaskan Malamutes and Huskies. She is currently working on getting her PhD in materials science but continues to write for The Malamute Mom in her spare time.

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