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Malamute Dogs: How To Be Alpha


Training any dog on the dangerous dogs list is going to be a challenge.  In fact, training any dog the right way is fraught with stumbling blocks.

The single most important point you can remember about training an Alaskan Malamute or any dog for that matter is this....being the alpha matters and it matters big time!

In order for dogs to grow into good citizens that can coexist in a human world with the least amount of trouble and chaos, they have to know that their human counterparts are the biggest, the baddest leader of the pack!

Alpha boot camp

Alpha boot camp


Many people are under the misconception that in order to be the leader of the pack, one has to be mean or one has to be loud and overbearing.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Some of the best alphas out there are quiet, meek souls who handle themselves perfectly in every situation with their dogs but who do it uncompromisingly.  They also do it consistently. 

Being the alpha means being the leader of your pack.  It means teaching your dog or dogs that no matter what, you are in charge and they can depend on you! They also need to be assured that their pack leader is as consistent as the day is long and that good behavior will be rewarded and bad behavior dealt with in a fair manner. 

So does that mean that the alpha part of a dog relationship needs to stomp, scream, yell, throw things or resort to other bullying tactics to get a dog to submit to them?  No way! 

It does mean though that the alpha counterpart of this dog relationship has to "bone up" on techniques and exercises that let the dog or dogs in a household know who's the boss and who intends to stay the boss!

Let's look at some of the techniques for being the leader of the pack.  Let's talk about alpha boot camp.


Whether you're a very confident person or you're a shy and retiring sort, in order to have any breed of dog behave in an appropriate manner, you have to do the work. You have to put the time in when it comes to playing the alpha game. It doesn't matter if the dog is a 5 pound miniature chihuahua or a 150 pound Alaskan Malamute.

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The best time to become the alpha with any dog is when he or she is a puppy obviously. You have a much easier time of training any dog if you can start as young as possible to train them up in the ways that you want them to go. However, there is no time like the present so don't let that put you off.

If you are starting out with a puppy, as you can see in the You Tube video of my Gabby, she was not a happy camper when our vet tech Shannon demonstrated the alpha exercise of making her turn over on her back and be held until she calmed. It isn't a cruelty by any means though the screeching and screaming Gabby was doing would have led you to believe it! However, she learns something very valuable from that every time we go through our alpha training exercise with her. She learns that she is not the leader of the pack and that we humans are. This is the only reason for this exercise and it works.

Why do we need to be the leader of the pack? If humans do not become the leader of the pack in terms of raising their dogs, then trouble starts to crop up. Bad dog behaviors such as destroying property, biting, lunging, escaping, barking and digging (to name a few) start rearing their ugly heads.

Dogs that are left to their own devices can become bullies. Dogs that are not properly trained to show respect for their human counterparts turn into problem dogs or dogs with "limitations". Dogs that do not know their place in the scheme of the human and canine world react in all kinds of ways that can land them in shelters or worse yet, euthanized. Simply taking the time to make sure you're an alpha dog owner can save you years of frustration, money, and peace of mind where your dog is concerned.

Great sit Gabradoodle!

Great sit Gabradoodle!


There are many techniques and suggestions for teaching a dog its place in the structure of your pack.

Remember that your home and family is your dog's pack and they need to be secure in their place within that group.

Ways that you teach your dog that you are the alpha:

  • Playing games - you should never end the game with the dog "winning." The last tug should be won by you, the leader of the pack.
  • Stealing things like socks should not be tolerated. If a dog repeatedly does this and runs away, keep the dog on a leash until the behavior is fixed.
  • Feeding times and amounts of food should be controlled by the alpha (you).
  • Dogs should be fed after you or the family eat if at all possible.
  • Giving treats from the table is contradictory to being the leader of the pack as an alpha would not share their food.
  • Dogs should not "own" sleeping areas. Allowing your dog to share spots for spaces of time is one thing but allowing them to overtake beds or furniture diminishes your alpha status.
  • Walking around a dog can be perceived as a sign of weakness whereas stepping over them or making them move is an alpha trait.
  • If someone is not capable of assuming the alpha position with a dog, the dog should not be left in their care. For instance, children cannot be expected to be an alpha and a dog intuitively knows this.

Basic Alpha Training Techniques


Here are situations that we work on with our dogs. They illustrate how as a dog owner, you have to assert yourself and become the leader of the pack.

These are simple exercises that anyone can do. Rather than being "cute tricks", they actually teach our malamutes what they need to know to be successful in our world.

Feeding times: We do not let our dogs eat "at will". We have a malamute who is a rescued dog who has always had food issues. While I imagine that with much more training, we could eliminate those, it has always seemed better in my opinion to feed them when we want to feed them. It is more disciplined and it makes more orderly sense.

Each dog is fed separately. Each malamute must wait at the door until released to come in to eat. We have our dogs do a "sit" and a "down" before we release them to eat the food. We have also trained them to allow us to interrupt their feeding and pick up the bowl, wait a few moments and then give it back to them. In this way, the alpha illustration is that they are receiving things through us and that they must wait for us to give those things to them. They just don't take and they must obey their pack leaders in order to eat.

Ins and Outs, Ups and Downs: Nothing can be more exasperating than a big dog or two or three who bolt out doors in front of you when going on a walk or who try to run down the stairs ahead of you. It's dangerous for one thing....if they happen to trip you on the stairs, you could be injured. If they bolt out the front door ahead of you, something could happen like being hit by a car. So over and over the lessons are taught.

They are taught to sit when the door is approached and they have to remain sitting until we, the alphas, go out the door. When they are invited, they may come out or conversely, after we have gone inside, they may come in. (See the You Tube video below)  The same rule applies for the stairs or getting in and out of the car. This is an excellent teaching tool for any dog because it proves once again that you are in charge and you are in fact the leader of their pack.

Submission to the Alpha: The ideal time to teach submission to the alpha is when a dog is a puppy. A puppy will learn to submit to the alpha in many ways. In our case, Gabby has 2 other dogs to contend with on a daily basis so she has had a lot of training in alpha boot camp.  She is learning to submit on many levels.  

She has an older dog to contend with who is never silly and who rarely "plays". Denaya has nipped at her 3 times in order to teach her what she expects in terms of respect. Griffin is pretty much a gregarious fellow at almost 2 but he also teaches her in his own way what he will tolerate and what he won't.

The same goes for us, the adult alphas who are in charge of our little Gabby. In order to train her the right way, we must always keep in mind that she is a darling little puppy but she is also our responsibility to train to be the best canine citizen possible. This does mean using techniques such as the one demonstrated on the video. 

We may take her out of her "comfort" zone but we allow her to see that she can be vulnerable with us while at the same time knowing we will not hurt her. Some people would say that this was totally unnecessary but in terms of a large dog and a potentially aggressive dog, it is very necessary. It also has a wonderful side benefit such as being able to tend to your dog if necessary or have other people examine him or her. 

Eye contact is also very important in training dogs to respect the human alpha authority. We train our dogs to always check in visually before releasing them on a command such as "sit" or "okay" to eat their food.

If a dog displays jittery behavior around new people or lunging or barking, the appropriate alpha problem solver is to make the dog go into a "sit" or a "down" until they feel more confident to address the new situation. This also displays to the dog that you are in charge and you have every confidence things can be handled calmly.

It is imperative that anyone coming into contact with your dog or dogs understands the alpha concept. Consistency is the name of the leader of the pack "game" whereas variations in style can confuse a dog and create more problems.

In reality, dogs have similar traits to children. If our son or daughter is jabbering a hundred miles an hour and talking over someone else to get our attention, we would handle that situation by waiting until he or she wound down and was quiet, then answering. Handling a dog should be no different. If you come home and your dog (big or small) is clamoring for your attention and jumping all over you, barking shrilly or just making a huge pest of itself, the best thing you can do is to ignore it until it is behaving normally. Picking it up or encouraging the "bad" behavior is going to perpetuate it. Dogs become spoiled just like children if they get what they want every single time and most importantly immediately.  You can create a monster by giving in to a demanding dog just as you can a demanding child.


There are many training techniques that work for dogs but the Alaskan Malamute can present many challenges in terms of obedience training. However, with a malamute as with any other dog breed, you do not have to be aggressive or abusive to get alpha dog training to work for you.

Always ending on a positive note (a task completed successfully) is my policy in training any dog but especially so for a malamute. I prefer working in short spurts at a time many times a  day rather than doing longer training sessions. 

The funny thing about malamutes is that they will look at you like you're a bit daft if you keep asking them to repeat the same thing over and over once they've mastered it.  Better to come back another time and get them to repeat it than keep drilling away on one point that they seem to have lost interest in.  

Loving and caring for your dogs should include the most valuable gift of all which is discipline. Without knowing their place in the pack, dogs have a tendency to act out or become prone to all kinds of different behavior problems. I am of the firm belief that there are no bad dogs but instead just bad dog owners.

Training dogs to do things is a great way to interact with them. It stimulates them mentally and makes them feel part of a society. Within that society, they need to have a leader though and that leader must be human for the delicate balance of man and dog to work.

If you have ideas and suggestions that have worked for you in being leader of the pack, please leave them in the comments section below.


Compassionate on December 06, 2016:

"If you are starting out with a puppy, as you can see in the You Tube video of my Gabby, she was not a happy camper when our vet tech Shannon demonstrated the alpha exercise of making her turn over on her back and be held until she calmed. It isn't a cruelty by any means though the screeching and screaming Gabby was doing would have led you to believe it!" ----I can't read anymore. That is a horrible thing to do to a puppy. I have a malamute and this is not necessary.

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on April 12, 2011:

Pixie - What a great name for a killer dog! Denaya would undoubtedly beat up on mine as well if I let her. She was a little more feisty in her younger days though now she can just be a total witch! First it was Griffin and trying his 'manly' ways on her and now it is Gabby trying to 'nurse' on her! The indignity of it all.

She is just not a 'fun' dog meaning that she prefers to be working all the time (much like her master I'm afraid) and is happiest in harness or walking/running. She is just high intensity whereas Griff and Gabby are just goofballs! Plus they are young. I consider us very lucky indeed though that she has 'put up' with all this nonsense of us bringing in 2 young dogs.

We let her in regularly to assume her rightful place...her throne bed where she can retire from the hustle and bustle of my other 2 nutwads running full tilt doing their own obstacle course...whether it's inside OR outside! I was worrying before we got Gabby though if we were biting off more than we could chew but I think not. It's really been pretty great - just have to keep an eye on the 'wise one'. Good luck with your TOP DOG!

Crewman6 on April 12, 2011:

Humor and practicality... I should have known that's the 'Audrey Way' to get the job done right! Thanks, I'll just keep on keeping on. When I'm there, I won't let Pixie hurt the others, but invevitably, Pixie waits with single-minded evilness... and punishes them worse once I leave the room.

You are so right- chihuahuas have enough attitude for 10 dogs.

Thanks for the help!

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on April 12, 2011:

Crewman6 - that's too hilarious! Good for you though as chihuahua in my opinion are one of the bossiest breeds and if allowed to, CAN rule the roost.

Our Denaya pretty much makes it very clear what will be tolerated and what won't. I let her 'get away' with that only insofar as she does not hurt the other dogs. She is the rescued 10-year-old mal and she just doesn't like 'playing' per se and has a low tolerance for the puppy jumping on her, etc. She's nipped her now 3 times. We keep a really close eye on their interaction at all times simply because Gabs is so small right now. However, every time Denaya has nipped at her, I made her 'knock it off' in my alpha voice. She still got her point across but she didn't hurt the dog which is what I wanted!

I think just keeping on with her and making sure she knows WHO the ultimate alpha is (you) is the best thing. Denaya always looks at me afterwards not in challenge but in 'okay - I get it - but she WAS jumping on me....did you see that part?' I think they have a pecking order for sure but I don't plan on letting mine hurt each other.

It's all very interesting to watch evolve, too and seeing what things 'trigger' bad behavior or aggressive behavior. I think the jumping on her triggers Naya and Gabs seems to want to lick her mouth right after she eats....for some reason, Denaya does NOT want puppy flossing! Too funny - but I keep exposing them to get the reactions taken care of. I figure that way, it'll be better down the road and no fighting....we shall see!

Crewman6 on April 12, 2011:

Great advice, with lots of useful tips. Our Pixie is a 5-pound chihuahua who THINKS she's a 150-pound 'maladjust'. She's convinced she's alpha, and is constantly testing me. She loves to jump up in my arms to be held. I have two rules for this- She's not allowed up if I'm holding anything, like a book, drink, or food. And when she wants to get down, I make sure to wait long enough that she understands it was my choice to release her, not hers.

The other two dogs are bigger than her, but she dominates them entirely. Even to the point of making them sit in one place, and growling and biting them when they move without permission. She's quite vicious to them. The poodle mix, Scarlett, will sometimes say enough is enough, but Tootsie, the Schnauzer is a pacifist by nature, and has never defended herself, even when she's being hurt.

Any suggestions on how to change that? (Sorry for such a long post!)


Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on April 11, 2011:

Too funny BJ - I only have learned the hardest way me thinks so now I guard against being taken unawares. An ounce of prevention is worth 50 pounds of cure in this case because things can get out of hand too fast! Thanks so much for the read.

drbj and sherry from south Florida on April 11, 2011:

Fascinating stuff, Audrey. Obviously, it's not easy being the owner of a well-trained dog. As you pointed out, it takes patience and knowledge and is definitely an asset when the owner (like you) is smarter than the animal. I have met a number of folks who would definitely be 'omegas' when it came to dog training.

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on April 11, 2011:

Om - True, true, sometimes little dogs can be harder to train than big ones though mine are very, very smart....I spend a lot of time with them though so expect them to be 'good citizens'. Since their breed has such a 'great rep' I try and make mine be the best that they can be. I truthfully also find it wonderfully rewarding to get them to do what they should! (most of the time she says recalling how one sprang out the door yesterday)

Om Paramapoonya on April 11, 2011:

What an awesome hub! I'm sure a lot of dog owners will find this hub really helpful. Training a dog is a tough job. Even smaller ones can be difficult, too. I used to try to train my poodle but gave up after a while. Now he's with my mom and very very very spoiled. LOL Rated this awesome!

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on April 11, 2011:

Thanks, Simone....more to come - I love teaching dog training just because I think it's that important. Good dogs only come from good owners and all that but surely appreciate the votes!

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on April 11, 2011:

Wow, akirchner! This Hub is AMAZING! So useful, and your photos (and original video! WOW!) are awesome! Voted up, useful, and awesome. I don't think I'll ever own dogs, but I really admire people who train their dogs well. And you've done that to the nines!

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on April 10, 2011:

Ha ha, Gus - I think you mean a mutt for I've never been known as even CLOSE to mute! Too funny - thanks for making me laugh!! And yes, I suppose I could be classified as "top female dog" by many in my quest to keep my mals in line!

Gustave Kilthau from USA on April 10, 2011:

Audrey - Not to make light of this fine article, but it got me to smiling just to think of either you or I being any sort of "mute," much less a trainer of them.

Gus :-)))

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