Are Alaskan Malamutes Smart? (An Owner’s Insight)

Are Alaskan Malamutes smart? If you want to know whether this powerful Spitz-type dog is smart, you’ve come to the right place.

Alaskan Malamutes are not conventionally smart, but that doesn’t mean this breed isn’t intelligent. Malamutes struggle to learn new tricks because they are stubborn and not interested in pleasing their owners, but they are fully capable when they want to listen.

This might sound confusing at first, but keep reading to learn all about Malamute intelligence and why they are much smarter than their rankings show. We’ll also get some insight from a long-time owner to clear things up.

How Is Dog Intelligence Measured?

Before we look at the Alaskan Malamute specifically, it’s important to know how dog intelligence is actually measured.

Cohens The Intelligence Of Dogs

The Intelligence of Dogs is a book by Stanley Cohen, a professor of psychology.

The book was written in 1994 and ranks over 100 dog breeds according to their intelligence. It has been used as the gold standard for dog intelligence since that time and ranks dogs according to three types of intelligence:

  • Instinctive Intelligence – This refers to the dog’s ability to perform the task it was bred for. In terms of the Alaskan Malamute, this would mean pulling sleds.
  • Adaptive Intelligence – This refers to the dog’s ability to solve problems on its own.
  • Obedience Intelligence – This refers to the ability to learn from humans.

The final rankings are split into categories like ‘Brightest Dogs,”Excellent Working Dogs’, and so on, classified on understanding of new commands and % of first commands obeyed.

smartDOG™ Study

Scientists at the University of Helsinki published a study in Nature that looked at 2,352 adult dogs that were assessed using a smartDOG™ test battery between March 2016 and February 2022.

10 tests in total were used, 7 to measure cognitive traits and three which measured behavior.

You can find details of each test here. The general idea behind this study was to examine dog behavior in a variety of different manners. For example, the exploration test looked at how interested each dog was in exploring a new environment.

Another test included the V-detour, which assessed the capability of a dog to get around a transparent v-shaped fence.

How Alaskan Malamutes Compare

According to the Intelligence of Dogs, Malamutes rank in position 50 and are in the class ‘Average working/Obedience Intelligence’.

This means that they understand new commands after 25 to 40 repetitions and ober first commands 50% of the time or better.

Unfortunately, Malamutes were not assessed in the smartDOG™ Study, but this does give an insight into how their intelligence would be tested in a more modern way.

Why Malamutes Don’t Place Highly In Conventional Tests

There are three key issues when it comes to assessing a Malamute’s intelligence.

Firstly, Malamutes assessed in the Intelligence of Dogs were ranked on their ability to learn new commands. Malamutes are notoriously hard to train because of how stubborn they are, but does being stubborn mean they are not intelligent?

Secondly, Malamutes have not been involved in any large-scale studies since that time. Although new studies have been done, they tend to focus on dogs that will work for food as these are easier to study.

This leads us nicely to point three – Malamutes are not very food motivated. This makes it very hard to train them and also hard to observe how intelligent they are in studies.

So, how are you supposed to tell how smart a Malamute is?

What Owners Say

To get a better idea of how smart Alaskan Malamutes really are, we need to speak to somebody with lots of experience with the breed – that’s where Caitlin, our founder, comes in.

Caitlin has had experience with Alaskan Malamutes for over ten years, and here’s what she has to say on the matter:

Alaskan Malamutes are very intelligent, and can be trained to perform many tricks. They recognise words in coversations and can communicate their feelings with you, for example when they are hungry, tired or bored. Alaskan Malamutes are known for being difficult to train, but this isn’t because they lack intelligence, it is because they are stubborn. They have the capability but lack enthusiasm for listening to people.

This opinion is shared with many other Malamute owners – you really do need to experience this breed to understand exactly why they are more intelligent than the tests show.

Working Background

When you take a look at the working background of the Alaskan Malamute, it’s clear to see where their intelligence comes from.

Malamutes were bred to work in packs to pull heavy sleds over long distances, and were also used for hunting. They are one of the most ancient dog breeds and have been hard workers for a very long time.

Held Back By Stubbornness

In most intelligence tests, Malamutes are held back by their stubbornness/independence.

They aren’t particularly motivated by food or by pleasing people, which means that they often score very average on intelligence tests.

Despite their drawbacks, Malamutes have earned titles in the obedience ring and at agility trials by the AKC, so they are clearly capable in the right hands, and with the right trainer.

In Summary

Alaskan Malamutes are not conventionally smart, but ask any owner and they will argue just how intelligent this breed is.

It’s all about understanding their intelligence. They might not be the easiest breed to train, and they probably won’t listen to you all of the time, but there’s no denying their intelligence.

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About The Author

Hi, I’m Joe! I spend most of my time writing and updating the articles on The Malamute Mom so that all our information stays relevant and managing outreach to ensure we reach as many Malamute and Husky owners as possible.

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