My view upon Alaskan Malamute and Belgian Sheepdog
Some personal thoughts about
You can find breed standards and generel characteristica for all kind of different breeds, all around the net. Almost every breed has it own FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) where you can find answers on a lot of your questions and a good description of the breed in mind.
But what does it really mean when a Alaskan Malamute is said to be "dominant"?
How is it to live with a guarding herding dog as a Groenendael?
The reason why I have choosen to write about these two breeds, is because it's the only breeds I have owned ;-) .
I will here give a very personal reflection upon these two - of nature so very different breeds. Before I make an important decision, I often make these kind of pro- and con-lists. Maybe, can these two lists help somebody else too, who is fronting the same situation of making choice.
And bear in mind that I'm from Sweden. The language will not always be grammatically correct and there are probably plenty of spellings mistakes. I don't mind if you write and correct me! Other comments are also welcome.
My views are also influenced from the Swedish way of living and the way we keep our dogs. Also, the pros and cons are not listed in any kind of order - just as they popped up while writing.
There are certainly more +/- to be mentioned and I have only listed those things important to me and my family. Aspects as amount of food, easy or not to take with you while traveling by air/bus/car doesn't matter much to us. The dogs will get as much food as they need and we plan our trips from our dogs' needs. Before you get a dog you should also consider aspects like inherited defects, diseases, need of exercise, size etc. Do you want to have just a nice and cosy family pet for strolls around the block or a dog for any kind of special dog-sport? Shall my dog be able to accompany me while jogging or skiing etc?
How our daily life look like
We live in a typical suburbian area of Umeå with town-houses. It's about 3 km walk om biking roads/pavements to the city center. We have a big field and a small forest area just a couple of 100 meters from our house. There is also a track for running/skiing and some dirt roads. There are quite a lot of dogs living here and we often meet several leashed - or un-leashed uncontrolled - dogs while walking.
Our dogs have always been true family members and loved pets foremost. We show in both conformation and obedience. The dogs are regularly trained in agility, obedience, tracking or human search on different levels depending on the dogs ability. I see the obedience training as a great way of strengthening the bonds between dog and owner and an activity to give them some "brain-work". The showing and trials are more a way to give myself some motivation to keep up the training ans striving for perfection. A successful show is an evidence of a successful training. When it comes to skijoring, I'm not very interested in racing: I'm a far too lousy skiier for entering any kind of race. ;-)
In order to give the dogs their physical exercise we walk them a lot, take them jogging, biking and skiing. Sometimes they help me carry home the grocery in their back-packs. Nowadays, they also pulls our little daughter in a "pulka".
The rest of the time, the dogs are relaxing on the sofa, by our feet or at least somewhere close to us. When we're at work, the dogs spend their days in an outside pen, but the rest of the time they are always with the family. The Groenendael follows me around everywhere in the house and has full control on all our daily activities: From changing diapers to cooking dinner.
I have no claims on being objective...
But before you start reading: bear in mind that:
A dog gets what you make it!
Why did we get a Malamute?
Our first dog just had to be some kind of spitz! My SO had already made up his mind. We were really far too unexperienced when we got our first dog. All we knew was that we wanted a hardy dog that could cope with the cold long winters up here in the Northern part of Sweden, a dog that we could taking jogging, an easy to care for coat and a relatively big dog. A friend of ours had a litter of Siberian/Malamute mixes and one of those pups became a member of our family. We got our second dog, a purebred Alaskan Malamute this time, because I wanted my own skijoring dog. She was a longhaired and absolutely adorable. A long coat is a disqualification when showing, but despite of that longhaired pups are born regularly. I have understood that some breeders breed their line to a longhair occasionally , in order to keep the thick unique off-standish Malamute-coat.
You can't find a more loving dog than a Malamute. It greats all visitiors and new people with a wagging tail and it's special people gets a welcoming: woooooo-woooo. Some people finds it almost embarassing when the big dog throws itself on it's back and asks for a belly-rub.
The Malamute is calm and relaxed in the house. It finds a place to sleep and stays there until something calls it attention. The favourite place during the nights is often under a bed, a desk, or something else that can work as a "den".
This coat can stand any sort of climate: heat or cold. They get alerter the colder the temperature is and you can find them laying outspread outside in the snow, enjoying themselves as if they were resting on a lawn a sunny Summer day. Of course, they stay calmer during the Summer time and you should never exercise them during the hot time of the day, but thy don't suffer as much as you would believe from the Summer heat. This coat isolates well from both cold and warmth.
+ Easy to care for coat
A correct Malamute coat is easy to wipe off after a walk. It's amazing how little dirt that sticks to it. A Malamute doesn't have the "dog-smell". The coat sheds heavily twice a year, but in between that hardly a hair falls off.
+ Strong and good sleddog
This was one of their main purposes and for me the Malamute is just perfect. I'm not a fast skiier and me and my trotting Malamute bitch was perfect together in the ski track. That, and her knowledge about basic obedience, gave us plenty of great skiing together.
- Don't want to be left alone
- Food thief
Don't ever leave food or anything else that is eatable if you have a Malamute in the house - it will disappear.
- Dog aggressiv
In my opinion the only real disadvantage of the breed. Our bitches were the most aggressive during their heats. They don't start a fight, but will try to get even if they senses the slightest provocation:
- Another dog barks at them or provokes them. The size doesn't matter and it's no fun at all when a small yapping miniature dog places itself closely in front of my dogs. And when a Malamute gets mad - it gets furious.
- Another dog doesn't have a correct body language but approaches them straight on without the ritual "dog greeting" routines. Breeds with heavy coat and hanging ears are especially impopular, such as Bearded Collie and Poodle.
- Another bitch comes too close.
I think my dogs are controlled and obedient and most of the times we pass other dogs without any problems at all. They get a command to keep themselves by my left side on a short leash and doesn't really care much about what kind of dog we're meeting. If they on the other hand is on heat and feel the slightest provocation from another dog they throw themselves towards it and roars loudly. It's times like that, you hope that the collars and leashes are strong enough to hold for the Malamute power....
I have gotten several comments from other Malamute-owners about this description where they strongly disagree with me about this part. I write solely from the experiences I have from my own dogs and dogs I have met in real life. Temper may differ from different lines/breeders/kennels. We also got our first Malamute back in 1991 which is some time ago by now.
Also keep in mind, that we live in a city area where my dogs are constantly exposed to new dogs during our daily walks.
The Malamute is seeking for a cool space during the Summer time and try to dig itself a "layer". Our pen is on a sandy ground and in the soft dirt our Malamute has digged tunnels where she can hide during hot Summer days. It only takes seconds before your Malamute has dug a big hole in your lawn.
The longhaired varitey drags tons of sand and dirt into your house and during the winter snow lumps forms in the coat. You must cut the hair between the pads. We had to regularly stop when skiing to remove snow balls that had formed between the pads. But - as said earlier - the longhaired variety is really not a desired one.
Even though a Malamute doesn't shed more than twice a year, the shedding periods can be really difficult if you want to keep your floors free from a constant white cover of Malamute-hair. Despite intense combing of the coat you will find Malamute hair everywhere in your house.
We only let our dogs off leash when it's a safe area: no other dogs, people, cars or other animals nearby, which means in the woods. We are not sure that our dogs will obey the command "here" if anything dangerous would occur or if the dogs would find and follow the scent of an interesting track.
There are some incredible dominant Malamutes and despite their big love for humans you'll have to be careful when handling them. Our old dog can for example growl and show her teeth if a non-pack member tries to push her off the sofa or trim her nails.
A polardog is a polardog and you can't expect them to be as willing to please your slightest will as for example a herding dog. The Malamute is a dog with a strong instinct of survival and hence the dog needs to make his own decisions. With some motivation (food...) it can easily be taught all different sorts of "tricks". It doesn't take just a "Good Dog" as a reward as a herding dog does.
This is yet another reason why it's difficult to keep a Malamute off leash. It's not easy to stop a Malamute when it's tracking a squirrel, cat, deer or moose. If the Malamute is supposed to live in peace with cats in the house, it must be trained already from puppy hood and be told that cats are not permitted preys.
The Malamute is a wonderful and bearlike family dog but it's doubtful wether we'll get yet another one of this breed. It's the dog aggressiveness that scares me most. If I could get hold of a Malamute that would be guaranteed to be non-dog aggressive as adult the answer would be YES! But today I'm not ready to take the chance.
Why did we get a Groenendael?
I was training obedience with my Malamute, but when she was around 2 years old she just didn't wanted to be a part of it any more. We had been showing a couple of times and thought it was incredibly exciting - the obedience bug had bitten me...
As the previous time, I wanted to have a hardy dog, with easy to care for coat, more suitable for obedience work than the polar dogs. I was researching all the different spitz-breeds (foremost the Finnish Lapphund and Samoyed) as well as the herding breeds (the favourites here were the Belgian Shepherds, Collie and GSD. Today I would also have looked into the Australian Shepherd.) I was very close to choose a Finnish Lapphund, but had problems finding references from people actually showing them in obedience. There are some people that can get a UDX on any dog - I'm not one of them...
Coincidenses were to speak again. Glenda was already reserved but the new owners got second thoughts about getting a Groenendael. We were offered her instead. I had already met Glenda as a 10 days old puppy, and even though she was very young and already booked, she was my favourite in the litter. How could I say no to such an offer?
If there is any dog breed that can really be called intelligent: it's a Groenendael. It's an incredibly fast learner. The Groenendael quickly adopts words from the everyday language and we can hardly utter the words: "Go out", before the Groenendael stands up and is ready for a walk. They remember exactly where they have left their toys and clearly tells you what they want. If we're in the woods I often ask her: "Have you found any nice stick?" and she immediately starts looking for a "nice" stick that she proudly presents to her Mom.
When we come home from a walk the polardog always rushes throught the door and into the house. The Belgian always stands and wait for me to give her the command: "Go inside" before she can enter the house. It's nothing I have taught her, it's just something she does before passing a door, stairs etc. She expects me, as leader, to command her and lead her way. Before I got used to this behaviour it happened that I "forgot" the Groenendael outside the door. The polardogs threw themselves into the house. I took off their leashes and checked if they needed a wipe off. When I turned to look for the Groenendael i wondered where she went, since I hadn't seen her passing me, but there she stood - at the other side of the door - completely still and looking wondering at the closed door. A "Go inside" and she was in the house!
The Groenendael wants to be a part of everything. It follows you around and is surely always somewhere close to you. It has always full control of it's surrounding and reacts instantly. The devise: "Thought and action simultaneously" describes the Groenendael well. It loves to work and will gladly do whatever work you have in mind for it. They have a natural ability to please their handler in every possible way and is wonderful to work together with.
The long flowing beautiful coat is surprisingly easy to care for. It sheds heavily twice a year but not much in between that. A couple of thourough combings every now and than keeps the coat in good shape. It doesn't have any "dog-smell".
The Groenendael guards and protects it's house and it's family. It's not very likely that an unknown person enters the house where a Groenendael vividly is barking at the intrudor. When the person has been accepted by the people of the house, the Groenendael quiets reposseses it's favourite place, not unlikely by his master's feet.
I will always remember the last time of my pregnancy. I was incredible big and heavy. Upon that, I had hurt both my ancles and could hardly move. Even so, I had to stay at home alone during one weekend with the Groenendael. Our dog is a real working dog and used to get her daily doze of exercise and I was afraid that I would spend the weekend with a understimulated hard to handle dog, trying in every way to find some kind of "job". For some reason, all our friends that could have helped me out, by giving the dog a walk and some action, were also away during this weekend. To at least give the dog something to do I lay in the bed throwing tennisballs for her to fetch and I hid treats all over the living room for her to find. The walks were no more than in and out - just so she could take care of her "needs". I stumbled slowly and heavy. Somehow, the little Groenendael knew her Mom did the best as she could and the dog walked nicely, slowly and carefully on her leash with me. She, who always is on "her toes" and usually jumps around even on leash, always trying to walk just a little bit faster than Mom, that menas she is a heavy puller on leash if you not tell her to behave. When we were in the house, she surely took a leap at every sign of activity from me, but in between that she laid still and quiet next to me in the bed and watched me with those dark brown eyes. I don't think I have ever loved that dog as much as than... It was a very happy dog when her Dad cam back home again and the routines was back to normal.
Even though the Groenendael is an alert dog, it's not yappy or "sloppy" (flamsig???). It's not one of those breeds who wags the whole body, ending with a hysterical wagging tail which clears any living room table in it's way.
The Groenendael is mostly often totally uninterested in other people or animals, other than those included in it's pack. It won't rush to every human you meet during a walk and cover it with kisses or trying to greet every dog you see.
It doesn't matter what kind of dog-activities your're interested in: Obedience, aigility, tracking, schutzhund, skijoring, sledding (but than you need more than one Belgian...), search and rescue, water trials or obedience. Even though the Belgian isn't the top dog at everything your Groenendael will happily do it's best. The important thing is that it will be given some kind work.
This is a dog that demands daily training and excercise. It's not a dog you put away during a busy week of work and then take hiking during the weekend. 7 miles of jogging is just a warm up for the Groenendael who needs something more "intellectual" to stimulate and tire out it's brain. It needs some real brain-work in order to stay happy. Remember that this was a dog that was supposed to herd and guard it's sheep all day and all night.
Since the Groenendael is so alert and such a fast thinker you'll have to be at least as fast as the Groenendael and constantly keep a watching eye upon the surroundings. The Groenendael has a vivid intellect and is quick to invent it's own way of doing things. If you have trained a command and believe that it absolutely knows it perfectly well and by heart you can be sure that for it's own amusement, the Groenendael will start adding some cute tricks to the routines. The Groenendael is just bored and want to start doing something more advanced - something new. To train a Groenendael takes a great portion of humour. If you are aware of that, you will have an absolutely GREAT time working with your dog.
Since this is a lively dog - even as adult - it's at least twice as lively as a puppy. Be prepared with a big pile of rawhide bones so to chew on so it won't start using your furnitures for teeth-work instead.
It may also be periods when almost everything is regarded as dangerous and the dog can react quite strongly at for example bikers, cars, mail-boxes. During these periods it's very important to carefully but firm guiding the dog. If you succeed, you will have a stable and secure adult dog later on. Some times we had to ignore the dog when it suddenly became deadly afraid for a special person and barkingly hid behind Mom's legs. Other times, we had to help the pup "greeting" an ordinary mail-box as it if was another human: Mom first - the pup then. It looks kind of funny when an adult person is patting a mailbox and repeats how nice it is. :-) You will have to guide the dog during these periods, but still making sure the dog clearly knows it's place in the pack
Even if this is a dog that would follow it's master to the end of the world, some individuals can be become very dominant and maybe even take action and snap back from a correction by it's handler. If that happens, you must know how to handle your dog in such a situation. If not you better seek advice from an experienced owner of Belgians. A Belgian should be fostered with a gentle hand, but should never be allowed to become the alpha of the family. Även om det här är en hund som är villig att följa sin förare till vägens ände, så kan vissa individer vara väldigt dominanta och kanske till och med "svara upp" mot en korrigering av sin förare. Det gäller då att veta hur man ska hantera situationen och i annat fall söka hjälp av en erfaren Belgar-ägare. En Belgare ska fostras med mjuk hand, men den får aldrig ta övertaget.
Even though I like that the Groenendael guards it house it can sometimes be a little too much. People who are friends of the family, expects the dog to know them equally well, even though it can have been quite a long time since last time we met. Sometimes the Groenendael starts barking at ghosts or misplaces our door-bell with one from a TV-show. When our dog wants to tell us about a possible intruder, it talks loudly. Sometimes, you get almost air-born when you're not prepared for an intense attack of loud barks.
The Belgian, as a true herder, can show i little too much interest in animals like sheeps, chickens, horses etc. The herding instinct is really a modificated prey drive. Already as a puppy, the dog has to be taught to not "herd" people around by nipping them.
Swedish people expects all dogs to be much like Golden Retrievers: Eager to greet and lick everything and everybody. My dog just doesn't care much about other people and I have gotten plenty of comments about that: "It must be something worng with that dog, because a dog isn't supposed to be like that!" But, my dog is like that and it suits me perfectly well. Towards her own family she is almost too cuddly and lovable. The same thing can be said about dogs and other animals, that is a part it's "pack".
A lot of people regard the Groenendael as "skittish" and "nervous" because of it's way to always be "on it's toes", constant watch of it's surroundings and it's thrive to always be a part of everything and not to forget it's fast movements. It's ability to act instantly is often giving the impression of "nervousity". As an owner, you'll have to try to explain about the breed's original task and why this special character has been developed. You can't deny that there really are some Belgians that are nervous wrecks, but those are often a result of bad breeding and/or bad handling.