Anana at a bit over two years of age and Qanuk at nine and a half weeks
During a number of my postings I’ve either mentioned my two canine companions (Anana and Qanuk) or shown them in images but I’ve never really gone into what I perceive as their feelings regarding our relocation. First a little background: I’ve always been an animal lover in general and a canine lover in particular. I’ve always been drawn to big, active dogs and even at 60 years of age still love to get on the floor and play or wrestle with my four-legged companions. Because of a single lifestyle coupled with jobs that required frequent long-term travel for many decades I could not have an animal companions. Only with my retirement did this finally change and within a year or so I decided I was ready to bring a new canine into my life. I spent hours looking at possible breeds and finally narrowed it down to German Shepherd Dogs (GSDs), Black Labs, Huskies or Alaskan Malamutes (Mals). I’d shared my life with GSDs growing up and even in college so I was very familiar with that breed and they remain one of my two favorite breeds to this day. I’ve always loved the appearance of Huskies but upon reading more about their physical requirements I ruled them out. I’d recently met a wonderful Black Lab and really liked the breed. I was clueless regarding Mals other than knowing they were a large, powerful freighting dog with an affinity for cold and snow. I finally ruled out a GSD because I wanted to try something new. Therefore I was left with either a Black Lab or a Mal; at this point I started searching for breeders of both in the general SE Michigan vicinity. I found many for the Labs but very few for Mals. However, the one I did locate (Sindi at North Country Kennel) was someone I immediately liked and as we talked about her breeding philosophy, her experience with Mals and the litters she would soon see I became even more impressed. In the end it was my regard for Sindi that helped me decide to go with a Mal.
At this point I feel it necessary to defend the breed mainly because I’ve met so many people with negative views of Alaskan Malamutes. Right up front Sindi was very honest about Mals not being like other dogs and also the fact that not everyone could, or should, own a Mal. First off is the incredible amount of fur they possess which will eventually be all over one’s house and clothing; there’s just no way around this fact. If you cannot live in dog fur then a Mal is not for you. Secondly, the breed produces large freighting dogs who require loads of regular exercise especially when they are young (ages 3 months to 2 years). Thirdly, they are very intelligent and absolutely must have lots of mental stimulation on an ongoing basis. If they do not get this they will become very destructive and trust me, this is something you do not want to see! Finally, they truly are different from other canines and you must accept this and indeed learn a whole new paradigm regarding training and living with this breed. They live to be a part of the family they are with; this is all important and provides the tool for training them. More traditional learning techniques (i.e. rewards, negative physical contacts like a smack on the butt, raising one’s voice, etc.) are ineffective with Mals. Instead, one must insure that when a Mal has done well or is doing well you praise them to the sky and really let them know they are a part of your family. Similarly, if they’ve done wrong I found forcing them to be alone and away from human interaction, even for just a brief time, provided the best negative reinforcement. It’s these breed characteristics that have led many professional trainers to opine that Mals are ‘not trainable’. This is nonsense; they are indeed not trainable via the methods used with other breeds but they are eminently trainable when you understand their breed’s characteristics and what really drives them. Its imperative to both recognize and accept that you will not win every battle with a Mal; indeed, they are the basis for the wisdom ‘pick your battles wisely’! To this day Anana has habits or routines which annoy me but I also know I cannot change them and so I’ve learned to live with them. In turn Anana has learned to live by my rules in many areas like taking care of business outside, coming when I call, walking under control on a lead and coming to my dog whistle. In this sense most of what I forced Anana to accept was based upon maintaining her own safety; beyond this we pretty much reached our own agreements.
I had decided to take a female pup from a litter due in a matter of a few weeks and put down my deposit. Perhaps a week later Sindi called me with an intriguing offer; another family who had taken a pup from a littler just born was forced to delay taking their Mal because of family issues. They, instead, would take one from the soon to be birthed litter. Therefore Sindi had a ten week old female and she was wondering if I was interested. At first I was hesitant but as we talked I became more interested. In the end Sindi knocked $100 off the price and it was a done deal. I was heading out for a week of camping in lower Michigan but made arrangements to stop by and pick up my new ‘little angel’ on my way back to Dearborn. I made this happen and the rest is indeed history. I went through some very tough times with Anana (pronounced like ‘banana’ except drop the ‘b’ and go short on the ‘a’s’) as a pup but Sindi was an invaluable resource. As she warned me I had a lot of previous experience with canines which really wasn’t relative to raising Anana and I also had loads to learn. However, I persevered and with Anana doing her best to teach me about Mals we really did meld as companions. She grew up to become a true ambassador for the Mal breed; she loves all humans to the point she’s useless as a ‘watch dog’ (this is a characteristic of the breed) and came to join me in my volunteering work at an assisted living facility in SE Michigan working with dementia residents. She was given the title ‘visiting therapy dog’ and she made many friends and brought a lot of joy to so many residents. She is stellar with children; while being part of a team that transported the aforementioned residents to outdoor concerts for children – they loved to watch the kids – I started bringing Anana along. By this time she was over two years of age and fully grown; she is a big girl and technically a ‘Giant Malamute’ as she tips the scales at 124 pounds. Because of her gorgeous black and white markings, her perfect mask and her size young kids were just drawn to her. Many of their mothers were tentative at first but when they saw Anana drop to her side and roll over exposing her belly so the kids could scratch her they recognized Anana was no threat. I saw as many as fifteen children clustered around Anana all petting and scratching her; she was completely calm and just loving every second of the attention. She is indeed a very special canine and as one of my four-legged companion I couldn’t have asked for anything more.
Anana at eleven weeks of age; quite spoiled but she deserved it!
Within a couple of years of bringing Anana into my life I realized she needed a pal to play with and keep her company when I had to head out and couldn’t bring her along. By this point I was very familiar with the Mal breed and I seriously thought about getting another Mal but I also wanted more of a watch dog and that pretty much ruled out a Mal. Because of this I elected to go with a German Shepherd Dog; I was hoping Anana’s easy-going and friendly temperament might tone down the natural protectiveness in the GSD breed. I once again started my on-line search and finally selected a good breeder in the general area. In early November of 2011 I brought Qanuk (Ca-nook) home and my life has never been the same since doing so! He immediately bonded with Anana and as he developed and grew up she was the center of his existence. This bothered me a bit at first but I was also betting that once Qanuk really started to develop the characteristics of the breed he would come to focus on me as the alpha male. Indeed, this did happen and I started the amazingly difficult process of rearing a young GSD with an adult Mal. I knew the two breeds were about as polar opposite as one could find: Mals love people, are innately friendly, just want to be part of the family and play via physical contact while GSDs are notoriously unsure of anyone outside their immediate family, tend to be protective of their families, live to be trained and taught working chores and tend to favor playing with ‘things’ like tennis balls and Frisbees. I thought I was prepared for these differences but while I understood them intellectually I really didn’t grasp the subtleties on an emotional level. In dealing with each dog I had to use different methods of approach and reasoning; it made for some ‘interesting’ times as Qanuk grew up. He is fully grown now at a bit over two years of age (Anana is now a few months past her fourth birthday) and an incredibly strong and healthy GSD at 88 pounds with a gorgeous Sable coat. Poor guy’s ears never fully stood up thanks to a series of ear infections from age 2 months through age 6 months; these were exacerbated by Anana’s licking of his infected ears which caused secondary yeast infections. His ears are fully up when he’s really curious, chasing something or really vigilant but otherwise they just flop around. I’m quite okay with this actually as they fit his puppy persona which I’m beginning to believe will never leave him. He is an incredible athlete and lives to run; he loves pounding through the current 15 inches of accumulated snow and will venture far off the plowed roads into the boreal forest any chance he gets. Even Anana will only follow him so far into the forest; I can tell she thinks that running through 15″ of snow ‘for fun’ isn’t that much fun.
Qanuk at three months of age
As he developed he naturally started to feel his male genes and as such he recognized that Anana was female and thus he should be dominant. As an aside, both Anana and Qanuk have been spayed and neutered. Its healthier for them and in my opinion it’s just responsible pet ownership to do so. Anyway, at around ten months of age poor Qanuk, now weighing maybe 75 pounds to Anana’s 117 pounds, started trying to exert his dominance. At first it was kinda comical but later I started to wince as I’d watch Qanuk repeatedly try to show Anana he was dominant; Anana would take just so much before she would bowl him over, pin him to the ground with her massive chest and let him know the score. Qanuk was nothing if not persistent but even he finally accepted he was not the alpha canine – with both these breeds its vital the human establish themselves as the alpha male and do so at an early age – and Anana would always be able to best him. I think this was a very difficult situation for him to accept but ultimately its simple physics; as of today Qanuk weighs 88 pounds and Anana has bulked up to 124 pounds. This means poor Qanuk gives away 36 pounds to Anana in weight and that’s 41% of his total body weight. He has learned to play with Anana very well and can hold his own in their frequent ‘play fighting’ but if it were to get serious he’d be in a world of hurt. However, because of breed differences he can and does run rings around Anana outside; the Mal build is upright, massive and powerful but they are not really runners while GSDs are true athletes and can run and leap with the best of ’em.
My ‘little angel’ Anana just home from her second TPLO surgery
But back to my original purpose in writing this piece; just how are my companions adjusting to Alaska..? Without question they are in seventh heaven! While both had some experience wandering in wooded areas and they both like to chase deer they never experienced anything like the huge boreal forest that surrounds this area. Nor had they enjoyed being able to just walk out of the house and immediately be immersed in a wild and natural setting. Neither of them liked the insect hoards we endured in August and September but their thick coats gave them good protection. When the snow came both loved it although at this point I’d have to give Qanuk the nod as the reigning ‘snow dog’. Anana loves to just lay in the snow but its Qanuk who cannot seem to get enough of leaping and pounding through the deep snow cover. To be fair to Anana, my ‘little angel’, underwent two major TPLO operations within a year back in SE Michigan; these are very invasive surgeries which require a breaking of the tibia and a slight repositioning of the bone through use of a metal plate and bone screws. In the first occurrence she blew out all her cruciate ligaments and destroyed the meniscus as well in her right leg; thankfully I was made aware by her exemplary surgeon (Dr. Kyle Kerstetter, I cannot recommend he and his staff enough!!) of the likelihood she would experience a second occurrence in her left ‘knee’ within 18 to 24 months and so I was extra vigilant. Indeed, within three months of her recovery from the first operation I observed her favoring her left leg and immediately had her in for a complete examination; it was the same situation which is analogous to an ACL injury in a human being. Because Dr Kerstetter had warned me of this possibility I was able to get Anana in for another TPLO but this time only one ligament was damaged and the meniscus was still intact. She required a full 16 months to recover from these two major surgeries and she is still slowly getting stronger and more agile on her back legs even now. Without these surgeries Anana would have had to be put down because the injuries leave the dog with a virtually useless rear leg.
Not everything is perfect regarding my four-legged companions and their acceptance of our relocation. I can see Anana truly misses the varied social interactions she had while joining me at the assisted care facility. She just loves humans and when volunteering with me she had more than 80 residents and staff to interact with and to enjoy. Socialization is vital with Mals and it’s not something you accomplish and then you’re done; it’s an ongoing thing. To this end I need to find ways to allow Anana to interact with more different human beings. Qanuk, being true to his breed, really only needs me although he truly does dote on Anana. In addition both dogs have a penchant for chasing moose and this is not good. When I walk them I control them with my voice – both need the exercise they get from not being on a lead – and this works fairly well unless they are really excited, then it gets tenuous at best. I’ve known moose are all around this area and regularly see them in the forest. However, since the foot of snow arrived in a weekend storm the moose have become much more prevalent leading me to speculate they are being forced to explore new areas to find food based upon the snow cover. I remain very concerned about injuries or worse for both Anana and Qanuk should they really tangle with a moose. For now all I can do is work to keep them from chasing after these huge ungulates; because of the snow depth Anana cannot even come close to catching one but I’m not so sure this is true with Qanuk.
All told I believe my canine companions truly love their new home and are still learning about life in Alaska just as I continue to do so. I know the lifestyle is much healthier for them as they need not be concerned about cars and trucks although they do need to watch out for snow machines and they can get out and roam to their heart’s content. I cannot imagine living up here and not having them along with me to provide company, a reason for exercise and the means to observe wildlife I’d never have seen on my own because of their extraordinarily sensitive noses. The fact that virtually everyone I’ve met up here has at least one dog and most have two or more just lends credence to the idea that Alaska is made for dogs and all the better to experience in their presence!
Qanuk and Anana playing in snow (depth is around 15″)