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How To Exercise Your Alaskan Malamute Dog

Backpacking With Your Dog

Backpacking with your dog and having your DOG carry a backpack designed specifically for him or her is a wonderful way to exercise a malamute and/or any working dog. It can be a fun way to get in their daily work product and with the extra weight in the backpack, accomplishes that quite nicely while also taking a load off the human part of the team!

They have many, many types of backpacks that are designed specifically for dogs of any breed and most are weight-based or recommended by chest circumference. You can order them as well on the Internet very easily or purchase them at an REI store if you have one near you. REI has many different kinds to select from along with many dog products for hiking/walking, etc. such as collapsible water bowls, swimming products, toys, dogs, booties, etc. and as well, they have many products for the avid human backpacker/hiker.

Exercising Malamutes and Other High Energy Dogs

Start Them Young!  Photo by Audrey Kirchner

Start Them Young! Photo by Audrey Kirchner


In order to have it be a pleasant experience for both dog and owner, would recommend the strategy of planning ahead. Sizing up the weather, the terrain, and knowing if there are any restrictions to a certain area that you want to backpack in helps prevent any unexpected glitches to the plan! While you as the human can carry a backpack, so can your 4-legged friend and you should have your pack loaded with things you might need to have a pleasant hiking or walking experience. Likewise, you can have things in your dog's backpack that can be used to add some weight to the exercise but not overly tax the dog. Perhaps putting the dog's food in its own backpack might not be a good idea! I'm sure if mine were carrying their dog food or dog treats on their own backs, it would make for an interesting hike as one or both tried to open the packs to get the "goods" and paid less attention to the actual exercise!

Make sure you carry water - for both yourself and for your dog. Again, having collapsible water bowls makes it super easy. Carry with you as well dog waste bags to collect any potty breaks that you need to clean up. As well carrying a bottle of hand sanitizer or wipes is a good idea as well for the human part of the clean-up. At the very least, pet waste should be covered with dirt and sand if you have no bags available as there is nothing worse than finding trails littered with pet waste in my humble opinion! It can be a breeding ground for parvo for young dogs and certain breeds are very susceptible to it. I am a huge advocate of picking up your dog's waste for that very reason. It is also "the right thing" to do in my opinion out of respect to people who do not have pets and are hiking/walking the same trails. I like to think appropriate behavior with your dog gives dog owners a good name!

Having the right clothing and appropriate foot gear is essential and again, planning for the weather is a must. I always like to carry a few snacks or something just in case there could be an unexpected delay in getting back to the car or something happened out of the ordinary. Always take a cell phone with you and frequently check for a signal to make sure it is going to be of use to you. Even if you go out of range of a signal, knowing where you DID get a signal can sometimes alleviate panic if a situation should arise where you need to call out. If you know where you can backtrack to where a signal was present, it makes things that much easier and puts your mind at ease. I also like to carry a digital camera and document where we have been and what the dogs did, etc.

Because most of the backpacking is done off the beaten path, I like to keep my dog(s) on a lead at all times. Especially being malamutes, I would not even attempt to let them amble along with me off lead because if they scented anything, I have a feeling it would turn ugly very quickly; a skunk can be a magical puzzle for them to go after until they actually get up TO the skunk and then it is a disaster! Having been through a skunking once, I have no desire to do that again. Likewise, any small critter might spook them and they could be gone in a flash. I would not relish the idea of tramping about in the woods trying to locate my malamutes!

If you plan on wading across any streams or rivers, make sure that you know if the backpack that you are having your dog wear is waterproof. Most are, but knowing it ahead of time could save the contents of the pack. Our malamutes are split half and half; one malamute will love the water and the other barely tolerate it, so it has never been a favorite part of our meanderings to include rivers or streams. There are many books available as well that should tell you if it is safe for them to drink from rushing water or not. I would always prefer to give my dog water I brought just in case and not expose them to anything later on but I know a lot of folks who hike with their dogs let them swim and drink from streams and rivers as long as they are rushing water and nothing has ever happened.

Backpacking and using your dog to "carry a load" is a great way to exercise together and is very effective in providing them with that work product so many of the working breeds are built for. A well exercised dog is a content dog and the added benefit is that the exercise is good for us as well! If there is any doubt about how many pounds a certain breed should carry, I would consult a vet, perhaps research it with breeders or on the Internet but a good rule of thumb seems to be that they carry no more than about 25% of their body weight.

A checklist for humans and dogs might look something like this, depending on how much you want to put into it and what you foresee you could need for the circumstances.

  • Water for both people and dogs.
  • Frisbies (on malamutes, this would most likely be wasted effort!)
  • Treats for both people and dogs
  • Hat for humans
  • Gloves for humans
  • Matches/lighter
  • Bandana for head covering or sling/something to wash with or cover a wound
  • Small first aid kit with triple antibiotic ointment and bandaids/bandage material
  • Extra socks
  • Dog shot records
  • Money
  • Extra leash or rope
  • Bug spray
  • Small notebook and pen
  • Dog booties
  • Dog waste bags
  • Hand wipes/sanitizer

Rollerblading With Malamutes and Dogs in General

This is a subject I can speak on with great authority since I did in fact train one of our malamutes to exercise with me on rollerblades. I can also say that it was the most harrowing experience I have had to date! Let me explain.

I have never BEEN on rollerblades in my life. I had purchased a scooter (see next section) and had received mushing harnesses and towlines but I was still waiting for the scooter to arrive. Being a very impatient kind of person, I decided what the heck - I would just strap on my daughter's pair of rollerblades and begin training our biggest malamute to pull. He had been through a clinic for 1 afternoon mind you, pulling truck tires, and I figured how hard could it be?

Without mentioning my intent to anyone, I put on the rollerblades (they sure hurt my ankles since I wasn't used to them!), I put the harness on our male who weighed about 100 pounds, attached the towline to him around my WAIST, put on the helmet and pads (luckily) and proceeded to just give it a go! Too bad I had not thought this through very well. Too bad I had not bothered to read any books or literature on actual rollerblading - but especially with 100 pounds of dog in front of me. Lastly, too bad, my dog did not know the command WHOA - or any other command for that matter!

As in most things, I found out the hard way that once the dog "took" to this new sport, it was a little too late to fret over what I didn't know or could not control. However, from the beginning, Kodi took to it like a duck to water to say the least. In 2 minutes flat, I found myself literally flying down the street at an outrageous rate of speed and knowing the street which was blurring past me faster and faster, I knew we were headed for a very busy main road - and there was no stopping this dog! He was digging in and putting his entire body into it, bless his heart - but I had a very bad feeling!

I was yelling "WHOA" as loud as I could - along with many other words I will not repeat. I was trying not to panic and remembered vaguely something my daughter had said about BRAKES. In retrospect, trying to stop 100 pounds of torque with the little piddly brakes on a rollerblade should be laughable right there. I put my toe down, I put my heel down, I was trying to put them BOTH down at the same time and I'm sure although there might have been SMOKE involved, there was no braking going on! In fact, it seemed like I was going faster.

Well, not to be a quitter here, I figured we were both going to be roadkill if we shot out across the main road and I could not blame the dog - he was actually doing what I had asked of him, albeit it who knew he was going to be going Mach 1? I did the only thing I knew to do in that moment - I gathered myself up and literally THREW myself onto the side of the road hoping to at least not break anything of mine or break the dog's back when I hit the ground by the jerking he probably would get. I basiclaly just did the Arte Johnson move of a lifetime - onto gravel and pavement since there was no grass available.

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That did stop him; that definitely stopped me! It definitely stopped traffic as well as people could not believe I did it but I did not really have a choice - snowplowing does not work on rollerblades! I took off the rollerblades and limped home! I have never put on another pair SINCE nor do I think for me personally, this is a great way to exercise malamutes. To think that I was going to actually strap BOTH of them to my waist and give it a go still gives me nightmares. We would probably still be running!

All this said, I think it a great way to exercise any dog but especially a malamute. He took to it right away and if the person BEHIND him happened to be athletic, it would have been wonderful. IF he had known the commands before I went out and attempted such a feat, it would have been wonderful!

In retrospect, what should have happened is that I should have put on the harness and towline and walked behind them WITHOUT blades on and taught them the proper commands. I should have obviously done my homework and learned how to control my dog(s) before I decided that I knew what I was doing. And last but not least, knowing how to ROLLERBLADE before I put them on my feet and strapped 100 pounds of sheer power to me just might have been the best plan ever! Hindsight is always 20/20 but who knew there was a "knack" to rollerblading? And who knew you could go from 0 to 65 in such a short amount of time?

If you are going to do it, just from my experience above, had it not been for the helmet and all the pads, I would seriously have been banged up pretty badly. That was without even falling. I don't think throwing yourself on the ground qualifies as a fall! If I had actually fallen and the dog had not stopped, I would have been serious road-rash. As it was, I was very sore and banged up for a week but at least I stopped him before we hit the real road.

Also in retrospect, I would recommend "instant release", NOT having a towline wrapped around your waist. If you have to ditch, you should not be at the other end of the towline with 100-200 or worse pulling you along because it is not going to be pretty. Just the meeting with the ground is enough to put a lot of sense into you if you didn't have it already (in my case) but the towing along said ground....priceless!

The moral of that story is to do your homework and be prepared if this is the route you want to take in exercising any high energy dog. It was thrilling while it lasted - I have to say that! It is also a rather dangerous way to do it simply because you are very vulnerable. Above all, invest in good equipment and train your dog(s) first and foremost to obey the stop command!

Backpacking With Dogs

Rollerblading As It Can Be

Training For The Scooter

Giddy up! Photo by Audrey Kirchner

Giddy up! Photo by Audrey Kirchner


Photo Credit:  Flickr Ken_Mayer

Scootering With Malamutes and Other Large Breed Dogs

As if the rollerblading experience had not been enough, I still looked forward with glee to training the malamutes to pull me on the Diggler scooter that I ordered. However, I did have a somewhat better idea of the vulnerability of being towed behind sheer brawn and never did take that for granted again.

The scooter experience with malamutes or any high energy dog is a great one. I did do that long enough to experience the pure joy of being pulled along faster than the speed of light (or so it seemed) and having the dogs completely get "into" it. I trained them for weeks a bit at a time and there really is not too much to it per se other than making sure that they understand the commands and they do not become distracted by a squirrel or a cat! Having specific commands for them really helps in any situation and pretty much to a fault, they were marvelous.

The scooter itself in my mind now has a bit of vulnerability to it as well since I in fact did "go down with the scooter" once and that was very frightening. We were probably doing about 20-25 mph and I somehow lost my balance, tried to right the scooter, couldn't, then jumped off, only to have the handlebars hit me in the back and knock me prone onto the street - where I sustained a nice case of whiplash and road-rash all in about 3 seconds! Along with a very big dose of humble pie! So much for my athletic abilities (again).

The scooter is designed pretty much like a giant skateboard and has huge tires, one on the front, one on the back. It also does have hand brakes which is a really nice feature as well. However, the only problem with the scooter that I had to deal with was if you step OFF the scooter with the aforementioned dogs of sufficient torque to equal at least 200 pounds, the scooter pitches forward and the skateboard basically comes up and slaps your entire leg. I spent many weeks learning never to step off the scooter with the dogs attached - and many weeks sporting quite a few interesting bruises up the backs of one or both legs!

Again, you are being pulled along with a towline and however many dogs you want pulling in front of you, if they decide to giddy up, you are going to be motoring. It is a great feeling though and swinging out and going around a corner is something to experience! It is pretty much like water skiing. One drawback is if you need to turn around and there is only 1 way in; much like a sled, unless you have taught them to back up (I did not of course until faced with the problem), you have to physically turn the whole mess including you, the dogs and the scooter and lines, get them straightened out and start again. As well, there is no way to "disconnect" from the dogs if something goes wrong and if the scooter goes down, you are probably going with it.

Another problem I encountered was having dogs run at us. If we just walk our dogs, we don't get too much aggression or dogs following us so much. However, when we flew by on the scooter, that somehow made other dogs really mad - or jealous! At one time, I have had 4 dogs chasing me or coming at us from both sides. I have had dogs run in between my dogs (little tiny dogs) and almost cause a serious accident not to mention nipping the dogs in pieces. In all instances, every bit of trouble we have had involved other people's dogs. It is quite frustrating and the ideal is to be able to run your dogs where there are few such distractions! Luckily, my dogs know the command "leave it" and they never disengaged from their purpose which was to run and they never disengaged physically from their harnesses, which they could easily have done. They were more concerned about hiking back up to speed than dallying with loose dogs (thankfully).

Having the proper safety gear again is paramount to a good experience, and in the abovementioned instance where I fell off and banged my head on the ground, the helmet I was wearing definitely saved my brain if not my life! I had a dent where I hit the ground so I know that the impact was as bad as I thought! The pads saved me some wear and tear on my elbows and knees but unfortunately my legs and my hands were a nasty mess. The whiplash was also not pleasant to recover from and the damage to the scooter was terrible! Alas, even knowing the commands, they did not stop. They kept running for perhaps 1/4 mile and the scooter was in tow behind them (much to my dismay) bouncing and banging the entire way.

We did decide after that little bounce on the pavement of life to always accompany each other so that whoever was riding the scooter had a "spotter" in case something went wrong. That person rides a bike while the other rides the dogs on the scooter. At least that way, we could look out for dogs and have some protection or at least back-up to render if there was a crash or trouble of any kind. It also helped assure that whoever was riding the dogs had some back-up in case they were lying on the side of the road! The bike rider gets the phone!

Always carry a cell phone and always wear total body clothing as the skin you save may be your own! I have ridden with my glasses on in the rain and would not recommend that particular ensemble - unless your glasses have windshield wipers! As well, riding the few times that I did in slick conditions was a little unnerving as the scooter tended to really have some "get-up" to it - as in sideways as well as forward motion. In retrospect, I'm surprised I made it safely back in those particular conditions. As well, the dogs were soaked to the skin (yes, me too!) and it was a little encumbering to be scootering with what felt like 800 pounds of wet clothes on.

All in all though, I would rate the experience as a 10! Except for the falling part! We are currently training our little Griffin to pull but he will not be able to add any appreciable weight to his pull until at least 8 months or so. For now, it is just the exercise of pulling and getting used to the chin strap holding him to the other dog, the towline and the commands. And for right now, no one (including me) can get into an accident (probably) just walking them through the commands! The training beforehand though is definitely worth it for it to be a positive for all concerned!


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Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on April 16, 2010:

You BET! I love other dog stories besides my own and it is a constant thing with the mals - they are so used to pulling that if you decide 'hey we are walking today' they decide we are running today and hence the yank. I did have to go to a simple choker chain for a bit with both my males just because they would not listen and 80-100 pounds of dog is a lot to hold back sometimes. It got their attention enough with a few sessions of 'no - this is WALKING' - and they were much better. I firmly believe that stop/whoa whatever is THE command of a lifetime! I also believe that having something to release is also a VERY good idea - when I threw myself down onto the gravel with Kodi, I was hoping and praying that he was as smart as I had hoped - if not, I would have been road rash. I had tied the blasted thing around my waist if you can believe that and it could have been pretty ugly. When I fell months LATER off the scooter going about 20-25, I hit pavement and again - it could have been ugly. They did not stop and the scooter took a beating for 1/2 mile before they caught up to Bob who was my 'point man' - unfortunately he had gotten too far ahead of me so now we have learned if you have a point person, the person needs to actually BE there in case of a crash. The helmet probably saved my life - at least my brain because there is a permanent dent where I hit the pavement with my forehead. I ended up with all kinds of pleasantries - skinned elbows and knees not to mention my hands - and whiplash. I always recommend to folks that they invest in some skateboard or rollerblading type helmets and pads - I actually had on the helmet at that time but had not gotten the pads - after that little episode, I got the pads! We take our mals to fenced in parks as we find them - or dog parks just to let them RUN. We've had so many bad experiences with other people's dogs NOT being trained though (especially small dogs which is a risk to those dogs to be frank) that now we only take them if we have friends who have 'like' dogs and let them romp - or we wait until other folks leave and let ours romp/run freely within the fences. However, the scootering and exercising them/associating with other folks who DO scootering and such is a godsend. We had hesitated to do it because we were 'too old' but in truth, it's been a blast. Our dogs love it and we get some exercise out of it as well - so it's all good! I would look perhaps on Craig's List or somewhere on the internet for fun runs with scootering or something like that and maybe hook up with some folks who are doing the same thing if possible. Keep me posted!

karen on April 16, 2010:

Hi Audrey

Thank you for your reply regarding my experiences with Alfie my Mal cross, today I went back to basics, and am now trying to teach him the command to stop, and go. He is extremely eager to learn, and already I feel more confident that we can work together and hopefully over a period of time he will understand the word STOP. Sadly, all the fields around us that we used through the winter that I could let him off the lead and let him run has been ruined by the farmers cattle that have now taken over our walks. Instead it is more road work, and some old railway tracks that are now cycle paths that could be fun. I want to beable to have him by my side on the lead and then understand the difference to pull when he is in his harness. The poor dog has alot to learn, but I am positive that we will both get there. I is a very quick learner and is eager to please so fingers crossed everyday we will take a step forward to safe, even alittle crazy fun runs. I will keep you posted if that's ok.

thank you karen

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on April 15, 2010:

OMG - there is someone in England who is carrying on the tradition of craziness!! Bless you!! I actually have gotten a bit smarter with this whole mess and we started our new pup out walking behind and training with the command WHOA - oh how important that one is!!! They still get distracted but we are now running them on a dirt road (hurts less when you fall for sure) - and we have joined some other crazy people like us (although they are way younger and what are we doing?) and we all go out on country logging roads and have all the dogs give it a go. That seems to be a better deal than all this trying to get the mals to accommodate 'regular' society and dogs and all that! I especially am tired of being literally CHASED by 4 dogs at a time who are off leash - very annoying not to mention dangerous. Great kudos to you for scootering and all the rest - the mals are a wonderful breed - you just gotta love their desire - and our desire (stupidity ha ha) to keep them happy and healthy! Many thanks for commenting...Audrey in Oregon

karen thomson on April 15, 2010:

I have just read your roller blade story, absolutely halarious, on took my 10 month old Malumute cross border collie to the local park and decided to have a go with him pulling me on my roller blades, this experience also was horrific, I also own a mini labradoodle who was encouraging Alfie my malumute to visit other people with their dogs, I had to drop the bungy lead 3 or 4 times or end up crashing into these poor dog owners. Tonight I took Alfie for some exerise with him running along with me on my bike. I feel off twice because as soon as he sees another dog his engine starts up and my commands and breaks dont work. I also have a scooter which is fine, but I haven;t trained the commands well enough and it is at present a very scary time. I am going tomorrow to go back to basics I feel with me just walking behind him with in harness and achieve some command control before I attemp more daring exercise with the scooter, bike and especially rollerblades again. thanks so much for sharing your story. karen from England

theherbivorehippi from Holly, MI on October 23, 2009:

OMW...I just laughed so hard at your rollerblade story! Only because I thought for a brief second once to do this before with my Mals and decided against it since I have been dragged even just on foot when they saw their first deer and just forgot I was on the other end of the leash. I knew there was no way I could stop them on rollerblades! lol

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