Alaskan Malamutes are large, active dogs with a lot of energy to burn! In order to keep them occupied, it is best to find things that exercise their mind as well as their body. I highly recommend obedience and agility training- you can do this in a class (be sure to get references from many people to find a truly qualified training school in your area), or even on your own, with the aid of some of the wonderful and helpful training books that are available out there. My dogs are all "clicker" trained- check out the resources available on this "thinking" method of training at www.clickertraining.com, and through www.dogwise.com.
With Malamutes, however, there must be a clearly established "pack order" in your family- this does not take strength or physical punishment- dominance and the all-important Leader position in your pack is actually based on MENTAL control- it is not uncommon in multiple-dog households to find that the smallest dog is the leader of the canines in the pack- this wasn't accomplished through physical means!! There are many ways to establish and keep the leadership role in your home- one of those is what we call the NILIF principle- meaning, Nothing In Life Is Free. This is not difficult to do, but it can be hard to train yourself to do it- your puppy will accept it readily, as long as you are consistent! It's simple: Dog wants to go out, Dog must "earn" the door opening up- ask him to sit first. He sits right away, you praise and open the door for him. He doesn't sit, he doesn't go out. (wait until he's housebroken for this!- To take your new puppy out when you think they've gotta go, scoop them up and carry them out- that way, you prevent accidents, are right there to praise them for doing it "right", and set the puppy (and yourself!) up for success!) Say, dog wants dinner- sit, or down, or shake, or whatever you ask for comes first. They comply right away, you praise and put their bowl down. Just be sure your dog REALLY knows the behavior you're asking for, and that you don't accept substitutes- and do NOT ask twice! If you don't get the behavior you asked for, the food bowl gets set on the fridge or somewhere out of reach for a minute while you do something else- try again after a minute or so. With the excitement of dinner (my dogs are usually in a frenzy by the time I've put their dinner into their bowls), I try to ask for something simple- "Sit" is usually sufficient. For out (& back in), I can ask for something more elaborate. For simple demands for attention and petting or playing with a toy, it is especially hard to be strong enough to ignore them until you have asked for and received a behavior- but as the dog matures, can be quite important.
VERY important, however, is to continuously be prepared to reward your puppy (and adult dog) for coming when called- I try to keep a few treats in my pockets most of the time when I am home, so I can offer a treat when they come to me. As puppies, I do this most of the time- far less often as adults, but still do it periodically, just to keep them thinking there's something "in it" for them, no matter what else they might be doing- a good "recall" can save your dog's life...
As a good friend likes to remind us all- "A spoiled Malamute is a ruined Malamute"!! As someone else once said- these dogs grow up quickly- whatever your small fuzzy puppy does, think about whether it will be cute when a big, nearly 100 lb. dog does it. If that would NOT be cute, DON'T let your puppy do it! It's much more difficult to untrain unwanted behaviors, than to put a stop to them early. The only caution I have to purely positive training methods, is that I believe a Mal must learn that there are consequences for truly bad behavior- it is much like raising a child- there must be a balance, and growling or aggressive behaviors are never to be tolerated.
Many so-called dog trainers out there believe Malamutes are "stupid" dogs, because they are not as easy to train- this is also FALSE, and such trainers are not very knowledgable about dogs. If this describes your puppy class trainer- find another trainer!! Malamutes are highly intelligent dogs- however their development and history required them to be smart enough to make better decisions than their humans, and determined enough to override the demands of those humans- the lives of dogs and humans often depended on this ability. What this translates to in today's world is a very smart dog, easily bored, and often amused by our silly demands! Malamutes can succeed in the areas of advanced training and competition (such as advanced obedience or agility), but only if they believe it's worth their time- it's up to their humans to make training fun, interesting, and rewarding! To train a Malamute, you have to be smart enough to stay one step ahead of them, and interesting enough to keep their attention!! NOT always easy!! While such dogs as poodles and border collies are very intelligent dogs, what makes them often easier to train than a Malamute is that MOST of them generally care very deeply about pleasing their humans- Malamutes care most about pleasing themselves- so you have to find ways to make training satisfying to this mostly unimpressed canine!! It can become very rewarding to you, too, to find ways to make everything work!! This is where I find that clicker training really helps- that, and utilizing very short training sessions, several times daily, rather than one longer session. In puppy classes, I often break up the routine by taking my puppy out for a few minutes, or quietly (so as not to distract other dogs) playing with a toy between training-I don't utilize the whole session I am paying for, but my puppy gets so much more out of it this way by stopping before he gets bored- it is very important to always leave them wanting to do more, rather than have them be glad it's finally over!! I use several different training methods- I don't follow one thing exclusively, but rather take everything I learn from various sources, and blend them to suit the training I am doing.
Some wonderful sources are:
Books: So Your Dog's Not Lassie Quick Clicks Click for Joy Play Training Your Dog How to Raise a Puppy You Can Live With When Pigs Fly Ruff Love
Click to Calm And check out my new favorite Agility Foundation Training book: From the Ground Up !
DVD: Crate Games
These are all excellent resources to help guide you and your dog to a deeper understanding of each other; please feel free to contact us for more titles!
Of course, one does not HAVE to pursue advanced obedience exercises to occupy their Malamute- a nice long daily walk, weekend hiking, sledding....all these activities add up to a happy dog! As long as your dog has a chance to use up some of their energies-in appropriate ways- you will both be satisfied! But I do find it much easier to accomplish everything else, once there is a decent foundation of manners, training, trust and understanding in place...and the bond between you and your Mal is firm and strong. Teaching just the basics of sit, down, stay, wait, and not to pull on the leash will go a long way toward both of you enjoying each other's company!