Taming the beasts...Is it so hard?
Is training this breed so hard? In a word....no. Malamutes long have had a reputation for being
stubborn. Hard to train. Untrainable even. I have found that to be generally untrue. When I got
started in the breed, many/most people seemed to use a lot of hard corrections and were more
interested in "setting the dogs up" rather than creating a scenario where the dog could be more
successful. I think this creates trust issues and a dog who is less likely to do what is asked of them.
Gosh, who could blame them. I made a lot of mistakes. I bought into the "Alpha" crap --please don't.
It's bad news. No dog needs to be forcibly taken to the ground or rolled. They're not going to respect
you for it. That's how people get bitten and that's how dogs become unsaveable. You don't have to
"eat first", and while they should have good control at doorways, you don't always have to be the one
to go through a door first, and you don't need to be staring them down and winning every time.
That's all, at minimum, meaningless advice and some of it is bad advice. The method I have found
that works well when dogs are having problems is called "NILIF" or "Nothing in Life is Free". There
are ample articles about it online.
Malamutes are actually very smart and trainable *IF* you know what makes them tick.
Malamutes generally respond very well to food and praise. What they don't respond well to is
repetition. This, I feel, is where they get some of their reputation with trainers. Traditional training
means/meant that you drill, drill, drill a command to "make sure they know it." Well...Malamtes
disagree. Once they've demonstrated a couple times that they know something, it's time to move on.
Some breeds seem to LOVE repetition. This one does not. I've learned that drilling leads to them
offering up other behaviors instead OR just plain tuning you out. Nobody likes to be nagged. It's
important to recognize this and TALK to your trainer about this idea. You'll need to learn to read
your dog. I have learned to work other things in my space at class while others are drilling. Some
instructors/trainers might not like that so you might consider chatting about this with your
instructor/trainer before class to make sure this won't be a point of contention.
EXAMPLE: Nellie is one of my agility dogs. I thought she was terribly inconsistent, she'd run
GREAT and then when we'd do something again, it would all fall apart. So we'd run again because
we want to end on a good note, however, things would degenerate further. And further. It was very
frustrating. I learned that if our first run is perfect, I can't run it again. Frustrating because we go to
class to work, but her precision and confidence both have improved by literal leaps and bounds since
I figured this out. It turns out that Jen can learn.
Nellie, RO1 AG1 Powderhound's Over And Over Again WWPDX WPD RE OAP AJP NFP CGC TKN,
showing that Malamutes CAN do well. She has won her Rally AND Agility classes several times in
Another common training mistake I see, and have made the mistake of, is wanting perfection from
the outset. For competition people, a perfect straight sit is the goal and most trainers/instructors I
have worked with want you to demand that out of your dog from the very first class. "I want to see
nice straight sits!!" I have found that it works better to expect that over time. Initially, be happy their
butt is on the ground and somewhere near heel position. Praise, reward. As they become more
consistent, shape it into something better. Celebrate incremental victories. In fact, you really can't
celebrate too much. Putzing too much with perfection early on is likely to lose their interest and
because they're busy dogs, they'll find something that interests them more.
BE FUN. Be more fun than the alternative. Use super happy voices. When you're calling them to you,
it has to sound like an AWESOME idea. This is honestly true of every dog but for a breed with a
tendency to be dog aggressive I feel this is imperative. Your dog should ALWAYS want to choose you
over anything else. Even if you're not feeling particularly festive, a perfectly consistent recall is SO
BE PATIENT. Yeah, we all would love our agility dogs to run right up that teeter, tip it, and ride it to
the bottom with confidence straight away. The reality is, that's likely to scare the hell out of your dog
and set you back in ways you cannot even begin to understand. Like us, they may have fears to some
obstacles that others don't. One bad incident on the teeter set Bumper back literally for years. He
would get to the tipping point and then lose confidence. We'd take one step forward and then two
steps back. What ultimately worked well was a method called "back chaining". Have the dog jump
up at near the tipping point and have them walk down the plank. It's not moving at all. Then once
they're comfortable with that, prop something under the other end so the plank is only like 2" off the
floor. Have the dog hop up at the tipping point so they bang it down those 2". VERY BIG praise,
reward. When they're confident at that, set it so the plank is maybe 4" off the floor. Repeat. Very
gradually raise the height they're banging it. The last part of the training is actually having them get
on, walk up, and tip it. Once we adopted this method with Bumper, he did SO well and quickly
dispatched with his AKC and UKC agility titles for the courses that required teeter work.
Bumper, at the Alaskan Malamute Club of America 2017 National Specialty Agility trial nailing the
teeter on the Excellent Standard course after our work back chaining!
Age is not a disease. Some people decide after their dog is an adult that they would like to get into
some of the sports but think because their dog is not a puppy, it's too late. Nonsense. While you may
not be able to reasonably shoot for the Championship titles in Rally or Agility (depends just HOW old
your dog is and the time you have to devote to it), you can reasonably have a great time and teach
and older dog new tricks. The benefit to sometimes starting with an older dog is that they may be a
little more settled and already pretty in-tune to you. Training might actually accelerate faster. My
first agility dog was Ikey. Other than putzing on my homemade equipment, I don't think he started
actually training until he was 3+ years old. Our first trial was when he was 4 and a half. I think he
was in training under a year when we first trialed. He ran until he was nearly 9 years old, when I
lost him to complications after a surgery. Lucy, who had been on my homemade equipment but not
for a LOT of years, at 10 and a half years of age started doing some agility training after the class I
instruct. It was meant for conditioning and "something to do", nothing else. Well, she was quickly
doing sequences of several obstacles. My co-instructor joked (half-joked) that Lucy could run in AG1
(UKC) a couple months later. I responded that she'd never do the teeter. To show her, I violated my
own advice above and just ran her on up it. Aaaaand she rode it to the bottom. Three times. Well
now I had to keep going because she was enjoying herself. She earned her AG1 title just 4 months
after she started training. If you are starting with an adult or older dog, please get a full vet check to
make sure they can safely train.
Lucy, RO2 AG1 U-CH Powderhound's Blaze of Glory WWPDX WTD WPD RAE CGCA CGCU TKN
IDWP3 VAM AAAM ROM-WDX, on the left earning her first agility title at nearly 11 years of age
having just started training a few months prior. On the right, completing her Rally Advanced
Excellent (RAE) title at 10.5 years of age.
Ike at 8.5, AG2 Powderhound's The Ike-Man Cometh WWPDX WWPD WTD WPD RA NAP NJP NFP
IDWP3 VAM, his final agility trial. Alaskan Malamute Club of America National Specialty, 2013.
If your dog is running off on you or not listening, take a step back and examine your training
method. It's not them, it's you. Ask yourself:
* Are you pushing them too hard? (Yep, probably)
* Are YOU giving clear signals as to what you are asking?
* Are you being fun? Are you praising big and rewarding often?
* Are your rewards high enough value? Don't use the treats you use at home. Whatever you use
should be something they absolutely love and ONLY get at class.
* Is there a physical reason they are not doing as you ask? Especially if they WERE doing it before.
Keeping your dog's physical health in mind is so important. My very good friends were doing agility
with their Malamute before I got into it and in fact, are the inspiration for me getting into it. Their
first Malamute WAS a tougher dog but at jumps, he started refusing and then running off to sniff.
We were all well-meaning back then but didn't really see what was really going on. They got a lot of
advice about ways they needed to train him. The tipping point came when someone told them they
needed to use a shock collar to correct their obstinate Malamute. Being kind people, there was no "Q"
important enough to start shocking their dog into jumping (does that even work?), but they did start
to think something else might be up. Their vet found what he thought was an abnormality so they
went to a specialist. The diagnosis was quickly confirmed. He had Lumbar Sacral Stenosis. It HURT
to jump. There ended his agility career and his people felt SO bad but it explained so much. This is
probably an extreme case but an important lesson nonetheless.
I am a huge advocate of keeping your dog's body well cared for through chiropractics and if need be,
acupuncture. Talk to the agility people in your area, they will know who is best. They can tweak
something just playing in the backyard and pain will cause them to refuse training, especially if they
were training well before. If you aren't sure, you might ask your instructor or an experienced
classmate to see if they are seeing an abnormality you can't.
* Is your training session too long? I found when Chrome was young that I had to, mid class, take
him for a very quick sniff break and a pee outside. It was a quick stress relief for him and when we
came back, we were working well again. Do not be afraid to give your dog a short break but out of
courtesy to your instructor, just give them a heads' up that you need to step out.
* Is your pace too slow? Some dogs really pick up the enthusiasm when you pick up your pace.
Malamutes are team dogs. They actually do excel at Rally Obedience and Agility because you, as the
handler, can interact with them and the scenery changes every time. They love the feedback: give it.
They aren't always the fastest but they're absolutely capable of being great at both of those. Don't let
anyone tell you different!
|I am not a certified trainer.
I am a breeder who competes in Rally Obedience and Agility with her dogs.
I instruct for my local obedience club in those two sports.
This should not take the place of professional advice.
**If your dog is having problems, please contact a trainer or behaviorist for personalized help.**
Do not blindly follow uncredentialed internet advice to save a couple bucks.
There is no quick fix, nor magic pill or tincture to fix behavioral issues.
|He loves doing it all!
RO3 AG2 AKC/UKC CH Powderhound's Silver Lining WWPDX WTD WPD RM2 RAE2 OAP OJP XFP
CGCA CGCU TKN VAM AAAM
* Multiple High Combined Advanced/Excellent winner at All Breed and Specialty Rally Trials
* Multiple High Triple Score winner at All Breed and Specialty Rally Trials
* First Rally Masters titled dog in the Breed.
* Multiple class winner at All Breed and Specialty Agility Trials
* Multiple class winner at All Breed and Specialty Rally Trials
* AKC Rally National Specialty qualifier, multiple years