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THE CONTROVERSIAL DEWLAP OF THE ALASKAN MALAMUTE
By Nancy Russell, Storm Kloud Kennel

During the Gold Rush in Alaska in the l890’s there was such a demand for sled dogs that any dog large enough to pull was sent to Alaska.  The dogs of the Eskimos were surely mixed with those breeds.   Because of this I have made a study of the wild animals of the high Arctic (above the treeline) and those physical characteristics that are common to all of them.  The Eskimos of North America and Greenland were the only people that lived in the high Arctic during the winter.  The tribes in Europe and Asia were reindeer herders and therefore had to move south to the forest for food for their herds.  Therefore the Alaskan Malamute, dog of the Malamute Eskimo in Alaska, was exposed to the most severe Arctic climate. The AKC Alaskan Malamute Standard covers most of those adaptations necessary to survive in that climate such as dark pigment; almond shaped deep set eyes; smaller,thick, well-furred, prick ears; tight lip line and gradual changes in the skull so there are no indentations or depressions to collect snow; roundness of the body and extremities; large feet and a thick weatherproof coat.  All of the above you will find on all land animals that live in the high Arctic environment all year.  However there is one other adaptation found on all of these animals that is not in the standard of the Alaskan Malamute and that is the dewlap.  I have never seen a Malamute without one but they certainly vary in size.  The loose skin with its layer of fat in winter is a protection for the trachea.  The extremely cold air that is taken in must be warmed to above freezing before it gets to the lungs or the lung tissue will be damaged.

The function of the dewlap is described in the book, “The Complete Alaskan Malamute” by Maxwell Riddle and Beth Harris.  In Chapter 12 which is written by Virginia Devaney and Beth Harris is the following:  “The neck is furnished with a prominent dewlap which is more noticeable in males.  This fatty dewlap warms the air descending to the lungs.  When a dog pants, air descends directly to the lungs.  The dewlap prevents the shock of cold air from being taken directly into the body.  The shock of cold air would injure the delicate lung tissues.

“When in repose, the dewlap is laid across the thorax, protecting the vital heart and lung area from the cold.  Many dogs also fold their forelegs under the dewlap when in repose. Thereby keeping the forelimbs warm and preventing muscle damage that would occur should they become cold and the animal be required to work immediately.”

It was common knowledge of the early mushers in Alaska that if a dog team were run in temperatures below minus 40 degrees that the dogs would have lung damage. During the serum run to Nome in l927 when the teams pressed on though the temperatures reached 60 below zero, several of the dogs died of pneumonia.

Very few Malamutes, if any, are working in the temperatures of the high Arctic so the dewlap is not a necessity to their survival today.  Since it is not in the standard there will be no reason for the breeders to maintain this characteristic that was so important in their native environment and it will very likely disappear.  In fact, some breeders today feel it is not a characteristic of the breed just because it is not in the standard and want to see it eliminated as it will give the appearance of a cleaner, longer neckline.  However, Mother Nature does not put dewlaps on all wild animals in the high Arctic unless it is necessary for their survival.  And if you look at the same species in warmer climates the dewlap decreases or even goes away.  That is enough proof for me that it must be maintained in the Alaskan Malamute if we are to preserve the breeds ability to survive and work in the high Arctic.  And it needs to be put in the Standard to assure this will be done.

Ed. Note: See photos and descriptions of various species. Click on Photos
Arctic Fox Dewlap
Arctic Hare
Note dewlap and
thickness of ears and fur

Although the Caribou migrates down to forest for the winter it is still cold and note the dewlap versus the clean neck of the Fallow Deer, a species native to the desert of the Middle East.

Caribou
Fallow Deer
Polar Bear
The Arctic survival characteristics are strikingly evident in this animal.

Red Wolf on the right in found in Mexico and Southern US.  Middle - Timberwolf common in the Northern US and southern Canada and Arctic Wolf on the left.  Note the change in the Dewlap from none in the Red Wolf to moderate in the Timber Wolf and largest in the Arctic Wolf.  Also note the change in ear size, thickness and fur.  Also the body shape gets rounder as it gets colder and of course the coat increases in density.

About the author: Nancy C. Russell, Storm Cloud Kennels. Nancy had a private zoo for 40 years – over 30 species including Artic Wolves and Foxes as well as those from temperate zones. Retired Humane Officer, retired Professional Handler, AKC Judge, judged Alaskan Malamute National Specialities in US and 10 other countries, ex President Alaskan Malamute Club of America (AMCA), AMCA Co-Chair Judges Education, International Sled Dog Racing Association breeder, owner and driver of ranked freight racing team in 1984 and 1985, had team of 15 Alaskan Malamutes run by Professional Musher Jamie Nelson in 1994 Iditarod Race in Alaska, conducts breed seminars, handling classes, sled and weight pulling clinics, breeder seminars on several Continents. Nancy has bred, at last count, 217 AKC Champions including 145 BIS’s on 6 Continents, 206 AMCA Working titles, and 34 ROM’s (AMCA Top Producers). And then there are the Shiba Inu.