Alaskan Malamutes might be a highly intelligent breed, but any owner is bound to have stories about the difficulties they faced whilst trying to train one. Their stubborn personalities and pack mentality can make it difficult to communicate with them at first. Lucky for you, we’ve gathered our top 5 tips for training an Alaskan Malamute that have made sessions (slightly!) more bearable along with all the information you need to get started.
Is Training an Alaskan Malamute Necessary?
You may already be aware that Alaskan Malamutes strongly value a so-called ‘pack hierarchy’ which is essentially the ranking of the humans and other dogs they live with. For a Malamute to obey and effectively communicate with you, they must see you as the pack’s alpha which can be done through regular training.
This alpha position needs to be earned by the owner by asserting dominance over the Malamute. When we talk about asserting dominance, we don’t mean that you need to physically engage with your Malamute in a fight! It just means that you need to be able to consistently keep your Malamute in line with the rules you set out for them and not let them get away with unwanted behaviours.
For example, as the owner, if you decide that being up on the couch is not allowed for your Malamute, you need to consistently stick to this rule. Allowing them to occasionally sit on the couch will send a message to your Malamute that you are not assertive, and they may start to regard themselves as being in a higher position within the household pack than you.
Once a Malamute sees themself as being the pack’s alpha, they will become unwilling to follow commands from their owner and may develop destructive behaviours such as chewing furniture. It is therefore important to stay on top of training sessions to assert your dominance.
Whilst it may sometimes feel mean to enforce these rules, trust us when we say that your Alaskan Malamute will respect you for doing so. Earning this respect will in-turn make training sessions easier.
On top of all of this, training has the advantage of keeping your Malamute’s mind active. As they are an intelligent breed, they are prone to becoming bored. Training sessions allow them to engage their brains and spend time with their owners which will lead to a happier Malamute in the long run.
Top 5 Tips for Training an Alaskan Malamute
Now we’ll talk you through the tips that have made training sessions with our Alaskan Malamutes easier. Making use of our guidance during your Malamute’s training will not only prevent frustration from arising but will also help them to learn commands and behaviours faster.
1. Make Sure Your Alaskan Malamute is Well-Fed and Hydrated Before Training
Before you even begin your training sessions with your Alaskan Malamute, we advise that you make sure they are well fed and hydrated.
Training sessions can be hard for your Malamute and so to avoid them having a bad experience, it is best to remove any possible negative factors. Not only does this prevent them from getting distracted by feeling hungry or thirsty, but it also means that will be in their best shape to learn.
The same goes for people. If you were about to take a big exam, you would want to make sure you were physically feeling your best so that you could focus all of your energy on doing well.
If you try having a training session with your Malamute just before their mealtime, you may find that they are unwilling to cooperate as they are thinking about when they will be getting their food.
In the same manner, we don’t advise that you wake an Alaskan Malamute up from their nap to have a training session. If they are sleeping, it is better to let them get the rest they need to avoid any unwanted grumpiness!
2. Use Positive Reinforcement to Reward Good Behaviour
This one should be obvious – always remember to use positive reinforcement to reward your Alaskan Malamute when they behave well or respond to a command correctly.
Alaskan Malamutes are a very intelligent breed and if you give them positive reinforcement during training sessions, they will quickly start to associate good behaviour with getting a reward.
We’ve found that using food-based rewards is one of the best ways to motivate an Alaskan Malamute as they are usually highly food orientated. To help avoid feeding your Malamute too many calories during training sessions, we recommend using training treats. These are small, low-calorie nibbles that are perfect for use in training sessions as they won’t take your Malamute over their daily calorie allowance.
If your Alaskan Malamute is on a diet, or if they are not motivated by food, then you are still likely to have luck by giving them positive reinforcement through head-scratches, belly-rubs, and verbal praise.
Their sociable nature means that Malamutes will often do anything to more highly regarded by the humans within their pack. Once they make the connection that good behaviour will keep them in their owner’s good graces, they are unlikely to act up and disobey (apart from in their ‘teenage’ years!).
We do not recommend using negative reinforcement, or anything that could physically hurt your Malamute, even if they are not following commands. For a start, Malamutes love attention and they will often view scolding as a positive reward which may lead to them believing that disobeying commands is good. It is simply better to ignore them and try again than to raise your voice at them.
Secondly, physical harm, such as hitting or kicking, could lead to your Malamute becoming aggressive towards you in later years. If they begin to associate seeing you with feeling pain it will form traumatic memories that are hard to undo in their later years.
If you think you might be in a situation where you need to physically restrain or harm your Malamute for you to control them (for example bringing other dogs into their home), it is better to avoid those situations altogether.
3. Keep Training Sessions Short, But Frequent
Training your Alaskan Malamute takes a lot of patience in the beginning, particularly if they’re going through their rebellious ‘teen’ phase (typically between 8 months-2 years old).
One way to make it easier on both you and your Malamute is to keep training sessions short but increase their frequency. What we mean is instead of trying to force yourself through a one-hour training session where you’re likely to lose your patience, break it down into 5 or 6 10-minute sessions.
Keeping the training sessions short will help your Alaskan Malamute to maintain their focus throughout the whole session. This means that even though you’re training them for the same amount of time, you’ll be getting more meaningful sessions where more is accomplished.
Another advantage to having multiple, shorter sessions is that you will be repeatedly reminding your Malamute of their commands and good behaviours throughout the day. This will help them to learn faster and will frequently reinforce what they’ve already learnt.
It also means that if they’re struggling to learn a particular command, you get several opportunities to retry it with a fresh mind every day rather than having to wait for the next day. Once again, this decreases the time taken to learn commands and behaviours overall.
4. Train in Multiple Environments (e.g., inside the house, outside on a leash) to Keep Things Interesting for your Alaskan Malamute
One way to keep training sessions engaging for your Alaskan Malamute is to switch up the environment they are being trained in. Practising commands in different environments will remove some of the monotony of training and will help to keep your Malamute interested throughout the session.
Different environments can be as simple as training in a different room of the house, in an enclosed garden, or even just with the tv on!
Another benefit to training in different environments is that it allows your Alaskan Malamute to practise their commands with distractions around them. If your Malamute can perform the command or behaviour in a brand-new environment, you will know that they have learnt it well.
In the later stages of their training, you may want to change the environment to include other people to test whether your Malamute can resist distractions. If you are safely able to, another option is to take them to a park to practise commands. Make sure you keep them leashed the entire time if you chose to do this!
5. Be Consistent with Any Commands You Teach
If you are training your Alaskan Malamute to respond to commands (sit, stay, paw etc.) then consistency is key.
Alaskan Malamutes are intelligent, but they will still find it difficult to differentiate between two phrases that may seem obvious to us, for example, ‘sit’ vs ‘sit down’. That’s why it’s better to stick to using the same phrase throughout the entirety of their training to avoid any confusion and to help them learn commands faster.
It’s not just important to use the same phrase, however, as Alaskan Malamutes may find it hard to recognise the same word if it is said in a different tone. Try to say the word in the command in the same way every time you use it to make it more easily identifiable for your Malamute.
If you live in a home with multiple people who will be using these commands with your Malamute, you may want to train them using a visual aid as well as a vocal command. For example, if you are training your Malamute to give paw, you can hold your hand out to them at the same time as you say the command. If you are training them to sit, a command gesture is to point your fingers towards the ceiling.
Using these visual aids alongside the verbal commands can help your Alaskan Malamute to learn quicker and will make it easier for them to associate the same command to different voices.
So, there you have it. Training an Alaskan Malamute might be difficult due to their stubborn nature but using our tips should make the process more manageable.
If you have any questions about the content mentioned in this article, or if you want to share your training tips with us, please leave a comment below or fill out our contact form by clicking here.
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