Alaskan Malamute vs Siberian Husky: 8 Key Differences

Written by Patrick Sather
Published: September 5, 2021


When you think of cold-weather dogs, what breeds come to mind? Two of the most popular answers that dog-lovers think of include Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies. These working dogs share many features in common. Considered spitz breeds, which means “pointed” in German, they thrive in cold-weather climates. Humans raised them to pull sleds over icy terrain and to help hunters find wild game. Both possess thick, heavy double coats, pricked ears, and an overall wolf-like appearance. However, while they look similar and evolved to perform the same tasks, several key differences distinguish the two breeds from each other. In this article, we’ll explore 8 key differences that separate Alaskan Malamutes vs Siberian Huskies.

Comparing Alaskan Malamutes vs Siberian Huskies

Although the Siberian Husky is the only officially recognized husky breed, other breeds bear the name husky. These include the Alaskan husky, Labrador Husky, MacKenzie River Husky, and Sakhalin Husky. While these other breeds deserve exploring, they will not be the main focus of our comparison. Still, here is a brief introduction to the other types of huskies:

Alaskan husky

A mongrel breed bred specifically for its performance as a sled racing dog. The Alaskan husky came about due to crossbreeding with multiple other breeds, including English Pointers, German Shepherds, and Salukis. They typically do not inherit the wolfish appearance of other husky breeds. 

Labrador Husky

Despite its name, the Labrador Husky is not a cross between a Labrador and a Husky. Rather, they got their name because they originate from the Labrador region of Canada. The Inuit people used the breed as a working dog for hundreds of years, and it is closely related to the Canadian Eskimo dog

MacKenzie River Husky

The MacKenzie River husky constitutes a group of overlapping populations of sled dogs from the Yukon Territory. People crossbred these dogs with St. Bernards and Newfoundlands, thereby creating powerful sled-pulling dogs capable of surviving harsh cold-weather conditions.

Sakhalin Husky

Known as karafuto ken in Japanese, meaning “Sakhalin dog,” the Sakhalin Husky is an almost extinct breed of sled dog from Japan. They originated from the island of Sakhalin and came to fame during an ill-fated Japanese expedition to Antarctica in 1958. 

Alaskan MalamutesSiberian Huskies
Size 23 to 25 inches tall75 to 85 pounds21 to 23.5 inches tall
45 to 60 pounds
Lifespan10 to 14 years12 to 15 years
Habitat Arctic tundra
Bred by the Malemiut Inuit tribe from Alaska’s Norton Sound region
Arctic tundra
From Northeast Asia, bred by the Chukchi people of Siberia
Coats and coloringDouble coat, longer hair
The coat ranges from black to gray with shades of red, brown, and sable
Brown eyes
Double coat, shorter hair
Colors include red, black, gray, sable, white, and agouti
Brown or blue eyes
Body Tails curl up and lay across the body, heavier bodies, offset ears, peaked forehead, broad chest, shorter legsTails hang straight down, leaner bodies, ears on top, striped forehead, narrow chest, longer legs
Energy levelMedium to highHigh
Temperament Friendly and confident
Intelligent
Generally quiet
Friendly and independent
Highly intelligent
More vocal
SocializationMore people-oriented
Can be aggressive towards other dogs
Natural pack animals
Enjoy spending time alone and with their owners

The 8 Key Differences Between Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies

Alaskan Malamute vs Siberian Husky: Size

The thing that most people notice which separates the two breeds is their size. Alaskan Malamutes tend to be much larger than Siberian Huskies. On average, male Alaskan Malamutes stand between 23-25 inches tall and weigh from 75-85 pounds. Exceptionally large males can easily reach 100 pounds in weight. Meanwhile, male Siberian Huskies generally stand between 21-23.5 inches tall and weigh 45-60 pounds. The same difference in size is readily apparent in females as well.

Alaskan Malamute vs Siberian Husky: Lifespan

However, while Alaskan Malamutes tend to grow larger than Siberian Huskies, their lifespan is not as long. On average, Alaskan Malamutes live between 10-14 years, with a median age of around 10.7 years. Siberian Huskies, on the other hand, frequently live between 12-15 years. The difference in their ages likely lies in the Siberian Husky’s smaller body and fewer health problems. 

Alaskan Malamute vs Siberian Husky: Habitat

While the two breeds may share a common ancestor, their paths diverged long ago. The current consensus is that the Malemiut Inuit people of Alaska’s Norton Sound region bred Malamutes to pull heavy sleds over short distances. They became well-known during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896 among prospectors and settlers. In addition, Rear Admiral Richard Byrd used Malamutes during his expedition to the South Pole. As for Siberian Huskies, research indicates that they originate from the Chukchi Peninsula in eastern Siberia. They came to Nome, Alaska, in 1908, where people employed them as working and sled racing dogs. Famous Siberian Huskies include Balto, who helped bring antitoxin by sled to Nome to combat an outbreak of Diphtheria in 1925.

Alaskan Malamute vs Siberian Husky: Coats and Coloring

Another easily identifiable difference between the two breeds is their coats and coloring. While both breeds possess double coats, the Alaskan Malamute’s tends to appear thicker with longer hair, while the Siberian Husky’s appears thinner with shorter hair. In addition, although their colorings look similar, there exist a few subtleties separating the two. Both tend to range from black to grey with white markings, but the range of colors is more striking in Siberian Huskies. Unlike most Malamutes, Huskies can range from all-white to almost completely red, which appear more rarely in their cousins. Finally, while Malamutes’ eyes generally appear dark brown, Huskies’ eyes can be brown, blue, or both.

Alaskan Malamute vs Siberian Husky: Body

In addition to differences in weight and height, the two breeds’ bodies look different as well. Alaskan Malamutes tend to have broader chests, shorter legs. Furthermore, their ears appear offset, and they usually sport a peaked forehead. Upon examining Siberian Huskies, it’s easy to notice their more narrow chest and longer legs. Unlike Malamutes, Huskies’ ears sit directly atop their head, and their forehead is less pronounced and more striped. However, the most noticeable difference in their bodies is certainly the shape of their tail. While the Alaskan Malamute’s tail curls upwards, the Siberian Husky’s tail hangs straight down.  

Alaskan Malamute vs Siberian Husky: Energy Level

Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies are both high-energy dogs. People bred them to pull heavy sleds, so they require a lot of exercise and training. However, compared to Alaskan Malamutes, Siberian Huskies seem to possess a nearly inexhaustible supply of energy. While a Malamute will eventually grow tired, Siberian Huskies never seem to run out of energy. This is likely due to their adaptation. While Alaskan Malamutes were bred to pull heavier sleds for short distances, Siberian Huskies were bred to pull sleds for longer distances. 

Alaskan Malamute vs Siberian Husky: Temperament

Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies typically act friendly toward people. However, while Malamutes tend to appear more confident around people, Huskies enjoy a higher level of independence. In addition, both breeds are quite intelligent, but Siberian Huskies exhibit more exceptional problem-solving skills. They will try to escape yards or enclosures when possible, as opposed to Malamutes, which are usually more resigned. Finally, Malamutes are the quieter of the two breeds, with Huskies being more vocal on average. 

Alaskan Malamute vs Siberian Husky: Socialization

Despite their status as working dogs, Malamutes can act aggressively towards other dogs. This, along with the fact that they tire more easily than Huskies, may explain why they were not used as often as sled-racing dogs. Huskies, on the other hand, generally get along well with other dogs. While both breeds may not get along well with other animals, Huskies perform better with same-sex dogs than Malamutes.

Frequently Asked Questions on the Differences Between Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies

Are Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies good with other pets?

Both Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies have high prey drives, which means they tend not to do well with other pets. However, Huskies tend to act better with other dogs than Malamutes. 

Which breed is more popular, Alaskan Malamutes or Siberian Huskies?

According to the American Kennel Club, Siberian Huskies are more popular in the United States than Alaskan Malamutes. The Siberian Husky ranks 14th among all dog breeds, while the Alaskan Malamute ranks 58th. 

Where do the words “husky” and “malamute” come from?

The term “husky” originates from the word used by English sailors to describe aboriginal Arctic people. Meanwhile, “malamute” comes from the tribe which bred these dogs, the Inupiat people called the Malemiut.