Strong beauties: Alaskan malamutes visit Janesville

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Frank Schultz
Saturday, February 22, 2014

JANESVILLE—Dark eyes peer from big, fluffy heads reminiscent of bears.

The animals whine plaintively in their cages, begging for attention.

They are Alaskan malamutes, reputed to be the strongest draft animals, pound for pound, on the planet.

Malamutes and their owners visited the Rock County Humane Society on Saturday and put on a show of their pulling skills.

The competition was part of the humane society's winter fundraiser, its fourth annual Pooch Pull.

Beginner dogs started out pulling a 450-pound wheeled cart. Two hundred pounds were added for each round.

The biggest dogs, which weigh in the neighborhood of 100 pounds, can pull upwards of 3,000 pounds, or 30 times their own weight, said Scott Bell of Menomonee Falls, dog owner and co-chairman of pulls for the Alaskan Malamute Club of Wisconsin.

Draft horses, by contrast, are said to be able to pull three or four times their weight.

One other breed of dog can pull like a malamute. Pit bull terriers often join in the malamute pull competitions, as several Indiana pit bulls did Saturday.

The bulldogs are as strong as their longhaired rivals, Bell said.

Pit bulls can train all year, while malamutes should not be made to pull in temperatures above 70 degrees, another owner remarked.

Malamutes, originally bred by natives in Alaska, are of the spitz family of dogs that includes Samoyeds, chow chows and the Siberian husky.

Huskies, which have a similar look, are smaller and faster and “much more hyper,” Bell said.

Sometimes fierce looking, malamutes are adorable to their owners and onlookers.

Two 3-month-old puppies were sideshow stars as they nuzzled anyone who came near in the humane society's parking lot.

“They are very good family dogs,” Bell said. “Malamutes just love people. Very seldom will you find one that's nasty. They're a handful at times. You have to be firm.”

Sue Reed of Hebron, Ill., who has owned malamutes for 22 years, said their intelligence makes them difficult: “They don't listen very well. You've got to make them think it's their idea. That's the challenge of the breed.”

They make terrible watchdogs, and probably would help a thief carry the valuables out of the house, Bell joked. “On the other hand, if you mess with a family member, that's when you are in trouble.”

Reed's dog Dottie has grown to her full height but is quite young and still learning to pull. As she waited her turn in the competition, Dottie pushed against the legs of strangers and even jumped up on them playfully.

Dottie loves attention, Reed said, and she also is a show dog, as were several other of Saturday's pullers. 

Malamutes love to pull, Bell said, although some of the beginners on Saturday didn't appear sure of what they were supposed to do as their owners coaxed them.

Some dogs just put their heads down and heaved with no word from their owners. Others needed a lot of encouragement.

Training is important, some owners said as they watched the pulls.

“That's what they're born and bred to do—pulling heavy loads and sweating. That's when they're having the most fun, is when they're working,” Bell said.

And polar vortexes don't faze a malamute. Bell has houses for his four dogs, but two of them preferred to sleep on the roofs of their houses during this winter's coldest days.

The humane society, meanwhile, was selling dog supplies, raffle tickets and treats inside. The society's Laura Mikkelson said the event is the organization's biggest fundraiser of the winter, and it's also a chance to show how organizations can work together for mutual benefit.

Last updated: 4:32 pm Saturday, February 22, 2014

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