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The Alaskan Malamute vs. Siberian Husky – A Comparison of Two Arctic Dogs

The key differences and similarities between an Alaskan Malamute and Siberian Husky.
Written by Richard Jeng

Both Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies are “wolf hybrids.” As such, they’re both similar in many ways, including their looks and temperament. However, there are a few notable differences between the two.

Neither the Alaskan Malamute nor Siberian Husky are overly cuddlesome. But because both breeds were bred to pull sleds, both are energetic, active and strong. Huskies tend to be more sociable, while Malamutes are naturally more aloof.

Of course, there’s much more to these arctic dogs when comparing the two. In this article, we’ll describe both the breeds’ origins and examine all the similarities and differences between these two amazing dogs.

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Breed Comparison Chart

A quick and brief comparison chart of the Siberian Husky and the Alaskan Malamute. Let’s take a quick look at the numbers and basic vital statistics of these two iconic sled dog breeds.

 Siberian HuskyAlaskan Malamute
Height:20-24 inches22-26 inches
Weight:35-60 pounds70-100 pounds
Group:Working DogWorking Dog
Lifespan:12-14 years10-14 years
Coat:Thick double coat.Thick double coat with a coarse guard coat.
Bred for:Sled-pulling, guarding livestock and companionship.Hauling heavy freight, sleigh pulling and companionship.
Temperament:Loyal, Outgoing, MischievousAffectionate, Loyal, Playful
Intelligence:77th smartest dog breed.95th smartest dog breed.
Grooming:One of the heaviest shedding dog breeds, especially during shedding season.Potential for plenty of shedding, especially during shedding season.
Exercise:Huskies need roughly 2 hours of physical activity each day.Malamutes need a lot of exercise. Recommended 1-2 hours or activity a day.

The Alaskan Malamute

The modern Alaskan Malamute has its origins in the rugged Alaskan wilderness. In addition, they are among the oldest sled dog breeds of the Arctic!

Ancestors of these dogs are believed to have descended from domesticated wolf-dogs. Not only did they cross the land bridges of the Bering Strait, but migrated into North America over 4,000 years ago.

The Malamute is a bulky breed that can grow to weigh as much as 100 pounds. Plus, Alaskan Malamutes are aloof rather than gregarious (like with most dogs).

Malamutes aren’t the best with children, but can learn to be around older kids with a lot of socialization. All these factors make the Alaskan Malamute a less than ideal choice for a family companion, especially in an urban setting.

With their thick double coats, Alaskan Malamutes thrive in cold climates and conversely struggle in warm climates.

However, Alaskan Malamutes are perfect companions for outdoor-loving families living outside metropolitan areas with access to lots of space. They need a place to roam free and get their daily quota of workouts.

The Siberian Husky

The Siberian Husky originated from the cold and forbidding environments of Siberia. Their origins can be traced as far back as thousands of years in northeastern Siberia.

However, these dogs weren’t introduced into North America until the Nome Gold Rush of 1909. As the miners flooded to Alaska, Huskies were initially used as sled dogs before taking on other various jobs.

Since their humble beginnings, Huskies are hard-working dogs with unbelievable stamina. In fact, they’re known to cover over a thousand miles in as little as 9 days!

When they’re not working, they’re great family companions. However, Huskies tend to be mischievous and will have their stubborn streaks. This makes the Siberian Husky a little bit “difficult to train” and not because of their intelligence.

Even when Huskies are being somewhat defiant, it’s just what makes Huskies unique and special. They have individualized personalities that will endear them to owners in many ways.

The Siberian Husky is a great fit for those who have access to lots of outdoor space. With its immense energy reserve, your dog will give you entertainment for hours and be a great co-competitor on your jogging trips.

Differences Between the Husky and Malamute

To the naked eye, these two dogs may be extremely hard to tell apart for the casual dog owner. Physically, there are only subtle differences that aren’t so obvious.

Even when it comes to temperament, original roles and personality, both Malamutes and Huskies share many similarities. But the fact is, there are several key differences between these two breeds.

Journey to Alaska

As evident by the name, Alaskan Malamutes are known as the state’s “native” sled dogs. But did they really originate from Alaska? No, not technically.

Despite popular belief, Alaskan Malamutes actually originated from Siberia. And while both Huskies and Malamutes originally came from Siberia, how they both arrived to Alaska is very different.

First of all, the Alaskan Malamutes migrated to Alaska thousands of years before the Siberian Husky did. According to the AMCA, these dogs crossed the Bering Straits at least 4,000 years ago with traveling eskimo tribes.

So while the ancestors of the Malamute are technically Siberian, the modern Malamute you see today was developed in Alaska. As such, they’re rightfully called the “Alaskan” Malamute.

On the other hand, Siberian Huskies are relatively new to North America. As mentioned, these dogs didn’t arrive until the beginning of the 20th century. Specifically, in 1908 during the Nome (Alaska) Gold Rush.

While Siberian Huskies are one of the most common dog breeds in Alaska today, the modern version was fully developed in Siberia (Russia).

Physical Build & Size

The main difference between these two arctic dogs is the size. Huskies are typically considered as medium-sized dogs and have nowhere near the heft of the largest dogs in the world.

On the other hand, Malamutes are much bigger in both height and weight. That being said, Siberian Huskies are of “medium build” and range anywhere from 45 to 60 pounds for males and 35 to 50 pounds for females.

In comparison, Alaskan Malamutes can grow to be quite a handful at up to 100 pounds. That’s nearly twice the weight of the Siberian Husky! Malamutes are a true large dog breed.

Huskies stand at just 20 to 24 inches tall at the shoulder. However, Malamutes are not that much taller, reaching between 22 and 26 inches tall. Most of the Malamute’s extra weight comes from their hefty frame.

Malamutes have a thicker frame than their cousin Huskies. They have broader shoulders and a stronger neck. Malamutes also have a much larger head than a Husky. Overall, they’re just bigger dogs.

Their build and size alone makes Malamutes look quite intimidating. For this reason, they may be unsuitable for first-time dog owners.

So, if size does matter to you, Siberian Huskies are a tad less menacing than Alaskan Malamutes based purely on heft and appearance.

Eye Coloration

While a good number of Huskies have blue eyes, there are even more with black or brown colored eyes. And in some cases, they’ll have one blue eye and another black eye.

However, Alaskan Malamutes can only have brown eyes – at least with a purebred Malamute. And according to AKC’s breed standard for the Malamute, blue eyes are a disqualifying fault.

In a recent collaboration between Cornell University, Embark Vet and PLOS Genetics, researchers studied 6,070 dogs to understand why some dogs have blue eyes.

They believe that the cause is from a duplication of a variant of the homeobox gene – which plays a key role in the development of a mammal’s eyes. And according to their studies, the gene appeared to be isolated to Siberian Huskies.

What’s even more interesting is that some Huskies have a single blue eye. Having just one blue eye is a medical condition called heterochromia. For reasons we haven’t discovered yet, it’s far more common in Huskies than other breeds.

So both Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies can potentially have the same eye color. What’s different is that Malamutes don’t have the possibility for blue colored eyes.

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Which Breed is More Expensive?

Though dog prices can vary quite a bit depending on location, pedigree, coat colors and other factors, Alaskan Malamutes are generally more expensive.

According to Next Day Pets, the average price of the Alaskan Malamute is $1,000 USD. The median price is just below, estimated to be around $900. But if you’re looking for a top tier Malamute, expect to pay between $2,200 and $6,500.

Siberian Huskies are slightly cheap, with an average price of $700 USD. Although the median price is roughly the same, you’ll likely need to pay $1,400 to $6,000 for a top quality Siberian Husky.

Malamutes and Huskies aren’t more difficult to breed than the other. The reason for higher Malamute prices is likely due to scarcity.

Because Siberian Huskies are considerably more popular in America, more breeders may breed them because, well, there’s more business. So with a higher supply of Huskies, it makes sense why they cost less.

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Popularity in North America

Malamutes aren’t rare, just more uncommon than Huskies. Though Malamutes have been in this continent for much longer, they’re far less popular.

According to the American Kennel Club, Siberian Huskies have been on the top 15 most popular dog breed list from 2013 to 2018. But in reality, they’ve been that popular for much longer.

In contrast, the Alaskan Malamute has never cracked the top 50 most popular breeds list. For reference, they came in at 58th place in 2018.

This doesn’t mean that Malamutes are “worse” dogs than Huskies. Rather, it means that Huskies are probably more suited to the households in North America.

Malamute and Husky Similarities

The Alaskan Malamute and Siberian Husky are probably the two dog breeds that are most commonly mistaken for one another. But we don’t blame you if you can’t tell them apart – they’re truly similar dogs.

In this section, well be discussing all the wonderful similarities of these two dogs. And trust me, there are plenty of similar aspects in regards to temperament, appearance and history.

World’s Best Sled Dogs

The most obvious similarity may be the fact that both dogs were (and still are) bred to pull sleds around the arctic circle.

There may be many dog breeds that are “capable” of pulling sleds, such as the Samoyed, Greenland dog, Canadian Eskimo and a few others.

But according to Canidae, there are only 3 true sled dog breeds based on endurance and performance. Two of which, are the Siberian Husky and Alaskan Malamute. The third breed is the Eskimo dog.

Though both of these dog breeds share this same instinctive dog intelligence (innate ability), there are key differences in performance. Each dog specializes in their role.

For example, Alaskan Malamutes are the strongest of the three. They have the most power and can pull the heaviest of sleighs. On the flip side, Malamutes are also the slowest of the three.

In contrast, Siberian Huskies are the fastest of the three. For this reason, they’re the most commonly used dog breed for dogsled racing. But that’s not all they’re used for. Huskies also frequently participate in hauling equipment too.

No matter which dog breed you go with, they’re both some of the world’s best sled pulling dogs. And, it’s not really even close.

The Spitz Dog “Look”

A big reason why the Husky and Malamute are often mistaken for one another is because of their looks, especially with the head and tail. And the reason they look so similar is because they’re both from the spitz family of dogs.

These dogs are genetically linked to prehistoric wolves and likely originated from regions around the arctic circle. They include popular dog breeds, such as Pomeranians, Akita Inus, Samoyeds, Shibas and more.

Spitz dog breeds have similar physical qualities. For instance, they usually have small erect ears, a sharp snout, dense double coats, almond-shaped eyes and a fluffy curled tail.

While the spitz dog look is not apparent in every breed from the spitz family, they are certainly obvious in the Malamute and Husky. So if you can’t tell the difference between the two, don’t worry. It’s because they’re cousins!

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Obedience & Working Intelligence

Stanley Coren is largely credited for coining the term, obedience and working intelligence. The criteria for this aspect of dog intelligence is simple.

Hundreds of dog breeds were measured based on two factors:

  1. The number of repetitions necessary to learn a new command. Breeds that needed fewer repetitions were “more intelligent” according to Coren.
  2. The success rate in which a breed will obey a known command on the first attempt. Higher success rates are associated with higher intelligence and obedience.

Not all dog breeds participated and nor qualified for Coren’s list of smartest dogs. But fortunately, both the Malamute and Husky made the cut.

What’s more interesting is that both of these dogs scored in the same intelligence class. Both Malamutes and Huskies are the in “average intelligence” group, however, Huskies ranked slightly higher.

Out of 138 qualifying dog breeds, Siberian Huskies were ranked the 77th smartest dog. Similarly, Malamutes were ranked the 95th smartest breed – just barely cracking the top 100 list.

Keep in mind, this doesn’t mean that these dogs are “dumb.” They just have different motivators than the top-ranking dog breeds. Unlike Border Collies, both breeds won’t do your bidding for the sake of working.

High Energy Dogs

Thanks to their roles as exceptional sled dogs, it’s no surprise that both Huskies and Malamutes are highly active and always full of energy.

With that said, both dogs need to receive a sufficient amount of physical activity every day to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Failure to do so may lead to “destructive behavior,” such as tearing apart your new couch.

According to a Malamute owner, you may need to spend a few hours a day working out your dog:

My Malamute likes to wrestle. He’s keen to go for 1-2 hour walks and bike rides. I wrestle with him, hike just about every weekend, and sometimes he still digs holes in the back yard. He’s happiest when he’s had 2-3 solid hours of exercise a day.

– Istheforcats (Reddit user)

You can expect Siberian Huskies to have a similar thirst for physical activity. And in some cases, they can need more. It really depends on your dog.

One Husky owner from Reddit gives us an idea of his Husky’s exercise needs (along with some great advice), saying:

A couple of medium-length walks a day is fine for my Husky. Although it’s a little more ideal if you have a fenced yard that you can just let them run free in.

Reddit User

So whether you decide to go with a Husky or Malamute, just know that you’ll need to spend a decent amount of time with exercise. If you can’t spend this time with your dog, then I’d stay far away from them.

Physical activity isn’t just necessary for releasing all that pent-up energy. The best is if you can interactively play with your dog, thus providing exercise, attention and mental stimulation.

Thick Double Coats

Given the climate in which these dogs have to work in, it’s no surprise that they were bred with a thick fur coat to protect them. In Alaska, temperatures can reach an alarming negative 50 degrees celsius.

And because they aren’t solely companion dogs, both Malamutes and Huskies spend the bulk of their days working outdoors. Without a warm coat, this wouldn’t even be possible.

There are two types of dog coats. Most dogs have a single coat, whereas Malamutes and Huskies have a double coat.

A double coat is a coat with two layers of fur, providing two layers of protection. There’s the undercoat, which has an oily and wooly texture and can be up to two inches thick. Also, there’s the top coat, which is often waterproof and protects the dog from external elements.

What this means for Malamutes and Huskies is extra shedding. With double the fur comes double the opportunity for shed hairs. In fact, Siberian Huskies are notoriously heavy shedding dogs. Malamutes are similar.

Double coated dogs also experience “coat blowing” season, which typically happens during spring and fall. For example, when spring rolls around, these dogs shed their thicker winter coats in preparation for their lighter summer coats.

Likewise, both dogs will shed their lighter summer coats during fall and simultaneously grow out their winter coats. So, if you don’t want to deal with excessive shedding, these dogs may not be ideal.

Stubborn Arctic Dogs

Malamutes and Huskies don’t just look alike, but also act alike in many ways too. One thing that stands out is the stubbornness of these arctic dog breeds.

Pet Helpful calls Malamutes “notoriously stubborn” and we agree with them. Because these dogs have an independent mindset, they’re always pushing for their own ways. It’s not that they want to be disobedient, they’re just confident in their ways.

My Malamute Nasus is probably the stubborn creature I have ever seen, and my mom calls me stubborn like a donkey.

– Ashthepotatoforyou (Reddit User)

Likewise, Huskies are strong-willed and independent dogs that often go on stubborn streaks. In fact, Wide Open Pets goes as far as calling them one of the 8 most stubborn dog breeds (they’re #4).

Huskies can be incredibly stubborn and difficult to train. They’re not dogs that will blindly follow your commands “just because.” These dogs know what they want and will always strive to achieve it.

My husky took obedience classes and was still uncontrollable at times. But they do love their owners and it’s worth it if you’re willing to dedicate extra time into them.

– Sparklybubble (Reddit User)

At the end of the day, both Malamutes and Huskies are pack dogs. In other words, they require an alpha leader of the pack (family).

If you can become the alpha, their dominant personalities can subside a little and the stubbornness becomes manageable. Remember, these dogs often require more dedication than others.

All About Loyalty

When it comes to Huskies, there’s a misconception that these dogs aren’t loyal. Perhaps, from the fact that they’re somewhat disobedient and often run away.

But this is far from the truth. Siberian Huskies are some of the most loyal dog breeds you can find. The same can be said about the Alaskan Malamute.

Huskies are simply independent dogs who don’t act like the typical super-clingy-I-love-you-even-if-you-hate-me dogs. It’s what I like most about them.

– Aguo2k (Reddit User)

When asked to describe both these dogs in three words, the American Kennel Club used the word “loyal” to describe both. And if you asked any owner, they’re likely to tell you the same thing.

The fact is, these dogs were developed in the wilderness to work highly energetic activities and jobs. They’re just fun-loving and adventurous dogs that may get a little too caught up and run away.

Just think about it. Let’s say you have an independent personality and don’t really like to rely on your parents. Does that mean you don’t love them or you’re not loyal? No.

When it comes down to it, they’re loyal to a fault. Both Malamutes and Huskies will have your family’s back if nurtured in a loving environment. After all, they were bred to be pack dogs.

Get a Malamute or Husky?

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Individual owners should decide which one to own based on their own specific needs and circumstances. There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to picking between the two.

Just be aware that there are many mixed breeds featuring Alaskan Malamutes or Siberian Huskies. And if you can’t decide, there’s even a mutt called the Alusky, which is a mix of the Alaskan Malamute and the Siberian Husky.

However, these dogs are not great for those with allergies due to the heavy shedding of both breeds (consider a hypoallergenic dog instead). And if you’re a busy person, these dogs aren’t suitable as well.

As long as you acquire them when they’re puppies and the breeder is a responsible and reputable one, you can train Alaskan Malamutes or Siberian Huskies to be faithful companions as well as energetic buddies.

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About the author

Richard Jeng

Richard has been raising dogs his whole life, including a Poodle, Pomeranian, Corgi and Australian Shepherd. He's always working with animal shelters and dog rescues because of his passion for all dogs. Fun fact: his all time favorite breed is the German Shepherd. Read More.

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