The precise origin of this noble breed and the nomadic Mahlemut people for whom it was named has never been fully documented. Malamutes were found by Russian explorers when they visited the Kotzebue Sound region of the Pacific Alaskan coast. The dogs were prized by their native owners, who took excellent care of them and housed them in their own simple dwellings. First and foremost they were “heavy haulers” - bred to pull tremendous weight and transport supplies and people during the winter months. Without them, the tribespeople would have had no means of travel in the bitter winter climate of what is now northwestern Alaska. As a result, Malamutes have an inbred willingness and desire to pull. They secondarily were used as pack animals during the warmer months and reportedly carried up to half of their own weight transporting goods for their owners.
From about 1890 to 1920, the Klondike Gold Rush brought many outsiders to California and then north to Alaska, where the sport of sled-racing became extremely popular. While the Mahlemuts had bred their dogs purely for centuries, these newcomers began crossbreeding the Alaskan Malamute with southern breeds built for speed rather than stamina. The overall quality of the Alaskan Malamute went into a steep decline, although in some remote outposts the undiluted breed persevered. In the early 1920’s, two dog enthusiasts reportedly spent more than one year living in an Eskimo village and gathering a group of these untouched Mals, which they used as their foundation stock to revitalize the breed. By 1935, the Alaskan Malamute was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club.
The average life span of the Alaskan Malamute is 10 to 12 years. Breed health concerns may include autoimmune hemolytic anemia, bloat, cancer, chondrodysplasia (dwarfism), diabetes, epilepsy, eye problems (refractory corneal ulceration, corneal dystrophy, glaucoma, cataracts, day blindness and generalized progressive retinal atrophy), hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, and skin problems such as generalized demodicosis and follicular dysplasia. Malamutes also can have a genetic defect causing malabsorption of zinc, which leads to skin lesions despite adequate levels of zinc in their diet.