Alaskan Malamutes Intelligence: How Smart Are They?

Alaskan Malamutes Intelligence

Alaskan Malamutes are highly intelligent, yet they are notably challenging to train. Similar to other sled dog breeds, Alaskan Malamutes are known for their independent thinking. If training is not consistent and firm, they may assert dominance as the pack leader and ignore commands.

There are certain metrics used to measure dog intelligence. Most of these come from training studies. For instance, a study by Stanley Coren in his book The Intelligence of dogs defines three aspects of dog intelligence, including instinctive intelligence, adaptive intelligence, and working and obedience intelligence. Here is a closer look at all this and more.

How Do Alaskan Malamutes Rank in Intelligence?

Alaskan Malamutes rank 50th out of 138 breeds analyzed for working and obedience intelligence in Stanley Coren’s landmark book The Intelligence of Dogs. This places them solidly in the category of “Average Working/Obedience Intelligence”.

Factors Affecting Alaskan Malamute Intelligence

Alaskan Malamutes are intelligent, but aspects of their nature make them seem harder to train compared to other dog breeds.

Background as Sled Dogs

The intelligence of the Alaskan Malamute has been shaped over generations, selectively bred for sled dog roles in the harsh Arctic climate.

  • They were originally bred for pulling heavy loads over long distances, requiring skills such as navigating tough terrain, choosing the best routes, and adjusting to weather and trail conditions.
  • These dogs relied on their independent thinking and problem-solving skills, often without human guidance for days.
  • In their traditional roles, trainability and obedience were less valued beyond basic control, as they often worked alone or in small teams.
  • The Alaskan Malamute lacks the innate drive to intensely focus on pleasing a handler, unlike herding, sporting, or working dog breeds.

Challenging Temperament

Certain traits of the Malamute’s temperament, such as stubbornness and independence, make training more challenging.

  • Malamutes are strong-willed and stubborn, often preferring to do things their own way.
  • They get bored easily with repetitive exercises and have a short attention span for mundane tasks.
  • Their strong independent thinking makes it hard to motivate them with just praise or approval.
  • Malamutes are aloof with strangers and less eager to please than more compliant breeds.
  • They are clever at getting what they want, such as food or toys, and will often test boundaries.
  • They exhibit selective hearing and may pretend not to hear commands or their owners.

Why Alaskan Malamute Rank Low in Dog Intelligence?

When you consider Stanley Coren’s three aspects of dog intelligence, it becomes easy to see why the Alaskan Malamute is ranked low as far as intelligence is concerned.

Instinctive intelligence is the dog’s ability to perform the tasks they were bred for. For example, the Alaskan ability to pull sleds. Adaptive intelligence is the dog’s problem-solving abilities especially when they are alone. Working and obedience intelligence is the dog’s ability to learn from humans.

In his book, Stanley Coren gave prominence to the working and obedience intelligence in ranking the dog breeds. And for good reason, because this is the most important type of intelligence for human-dog relationships. If a dog can easily learn from humans then it makes for better relationships.

The Alaskan is categorized as average using the working and obedience intelligence metrics. It requires many repetitions while learning new commands, and they only obey commands half the time.

Instinctive Intelligence

Alaskan Malamutes, or as they are commonly called, mals, were first classified as a working dog breed in 1935. They are regarded as high-performance dogs. This means the breed delivers on the function it was bred for diligently.

Additionally, it has a decorated history throughout its existence on American soil. It has been a great companion for hunters and for pulling long haul freights. They were used in the Second World War service such as rescue missions which led to high losses. Afterward, they were only about 30 registered Alaskan malamutes.

However, times have changed and most people want an Alaskan Mal as a pet at home. Due to their temperaments, they are not good apartment dogs. They tend to be destructive when bored. Overall, Mal performs its duties as it was originally bred.

Obedience Intelligence

One thing to remember about the Alaskan Malamute is that it’s a pack centered dog. This means that the behavior is motivated by the rules of a pack. If you are training them, you have to remember to show them you are the alpha. It will be easier for you.

It’s good to define that hierarchy for a better understanding between you and your Alaskan Mal. Of course, you will have to earn the alpha position.

As stated earlier, you need 25 -40 repetitions for this dog breed to grasp a new command. They only obey the first commands 50% of the time. On the intelligence scale, they are regarded as average working and obedient intelligent dog breed.

Sometimes they get aggressive and dominant in reaction to certain behaviors from their owner. Remember, this is a dog that gets bored quite easily. The kind of training you give them should be interesting enough for your Alaskan malamute.


How easy is it to train an Alaskan malamute? Well, from all that we’ve seen so far, training an Alaskan malamute is not a walk in the park. They are challenging to train because of their traits and inherited behaviors. If they are not allowed to exercise or work as much they want to they turn to howl and get destructive. Further, this is expressed through tearing stuff around the house, chewing and making holes around the backyard.

They tend to be aggressive towards other dogs including dogs from the same sex. Plus they never back down from a true bloody and injurious fight. Of course, when around other dogs they want to be the alpha which explains their show of dominance while around them.

Furthermore, they can be predatory with cats or any other animals you have around the home. If they are no well secured they can escape easily. In most cases, when they do, they do not respond to come back calls positively.

This is not a dog for the fainthearted. That said, if you are familiar with its characteristics you can train this dog breed with much ease. You can start their training and socialization as puppies for better results.

How to Develop Alaskan Malamute Puppy Intelligence?

You can start developing Alaskan puppy intelligence through positive reinforcement while training. Its wolf characteristics won’t respond positively to punishment. Positive reinforcement is a common term in dog training. However, it requires much emphasis on the Alaskan malamute because of its dominant nature.

Dog owners tend to overdo the “alpha” nature by using the wrong methods. Secondly, it needs a lot of exercise to avoid boredom. Regular training means that they learn better. Always remember to approach your Mal behavior with enthusiasm and not as a defect.

Strengthening Physique, Preventing and Reducing Disease

Alaskan malamute training can be enforced through regular exercises such as running, jogging or agility training. The reason running or jogging is crowd favorites is because you get to enjoy as well. However, do not go outdoors with your Mal without a leash.

You can play fetch, tug of war or find the treat.

Agility training can be done through a hired service. Most importantly, you should ensure you walk your dog regularly.

Continuous Learning is Conducive to the Development of Alaskan Malamute Intelligence

As we have seen previously, Alaskan malamute requires continuous learning. They need repetitive commands to ensure they get various concepts.

The best approach is to focus on the few commands you want them to get. Fewer commands are easier to teach. Plus they should be done in intervals. For instance, you can start walking for their exercise needs.

Afterward, you can introduce outdoor training by going out with them as a family. As far as dominance is concerned to remember that a simple activity such as walking out the door can change perceptions. Ideally, you shouldn’t allow your Mal to enter or leave the door first to show who the alpha is.

Establish a Strong Affinity for the Owner

Once you have established whose boss the Mal needs to be taught how to like the owner and all the family members.

The Alaskan malamute needs early socialization as puppies. The other way you can develop a bond with the dog is through positive reinforcement. Reward them if they perform a task dutifully. Additionally, do not handle your Alaskan malamute roughly. Deal with them in a gentle but firm way.

Adapt to the Environment and Cultivate Guts

Even with all its shortcomings, the Alaskan malamute must adapt to your environment. The puppy needs to be trained early on how they are supposed to behave when around you. Even if they tend to be aggressive towards other animals, you need to tame that.

You can only achieve success with Alaskan mal by showing your alpha tendencies early on in their lives. They also need to be trained on how to live with other members of the family including children and other animals as well.

You can take them to the outdoors to help familiarize themselves with other humans and different environments too.

Command Unification

Do not spoil your malamute. Try as much as you can to earn their respect. How can you do this? Well, for one thing, you need to be firm and gentle without being harsh when dealing with a Mal.

The family should eat first before the Malamute and he should not be fed at the dinner table. The dog should lie on the floor and never at the same level as you.

You should also always call the shots when playing games with your Alaskan malamute. A command should only be given once. If they do not respond make them do it until they learn how to respond to commands.


Respect training is a highly recommended training method for Alaskan malamutes. In essence, the idea is to instill respect, so that the dog learns to follow your commands easily.

For stubborn dogs like the Alaskan malamute, you have to always instill respect in all your interactions. For example, to reprimand him when he misbehaves, you should stand instead of crouching to his level.

Can Adult Alaskan Malamute Intelligence be Improved?

Yes. They say that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks but you can improve the Alaskan malamute intelligence. Just like in most dog breeds, training or socializing a puppy is easier than an adult.

However, if the adult was well trained or socialized at the environment they were trained in it won’t be so hard to improve her response to the commands you give.

The Alaskan malamute only requires the owner to reinforce the alpha mentality on them. In such a case, it becomes easier to train them accordingly. While it is a challenge to improve their working and obedience intelligence it is possible.

Alaskan Malamutes Intelligence in Comparison with Shiba Inus, Akitas, and Golden Retrievers

Shiba Inus and Akitas are a lot like the Alaskan malamute, at least according to the Stanley Coren ranking. Shiba Inus and Akitas are categorized as spitz dog breeds.

The FCI (Fédération Cynologique Internationale) recognizes the spitz and the Alaskan malamutes in the primitive type groups. They are categorized in the same group, and they all have the same wolf-like appearance and ancestry, along with being well adapted to cold climates.

On the other hand, the golden retriever is a highly intelligent dog breed. It is ranked as the fourth most intelligent dog breed as far as working obedience intelligence is concerned. They are easy to train and have a 95% retention rate.

Golden retrievers only require about five repetitions to get a new human command.

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