There is sometimes some confusion between Alaskan huskies, Siberian huskies and Malamutes. Holywood generally favours large fluffy malamutes or larger Siberians with blue eyes in films depicting sled dogs and this, therefore, has become the stereotypical image of the sled dog. In the safari world, Malamutes are not so commonly encountered (since they are not so suited to short-distance safaris). However, both Alaskan and Siberian huskies are frequently used. Most farms have strong opinions in favour of one or the other. However, at Hetta Huskies, we are happy to have both.
A very simplistic explanation of the differences between the two is that Alaskans are essentially mixed breed sled dogs. They often have Siberian husky in their blood but they have generally been crossed to enhance characteristics like speed. Both Alaskans and Siberians can have the Hollywood blue or blue / brown eyes. However in total, it is only about 20% of huskies that have blue eyes, whilst a further 20% have mixed colouration eyes (eg, one blue and one brown or eyes flecked with both colours). The remainder simply have brown eyes as normal.
Siberians tend to have thicker fur than Alaskans since many Alaskans have been bred with racing in mind and, therefore, have more ‘hound-like’ coats. Siberians can generally, therefore, withstand colder temperatures and are ideal for the longer safaris where they may have to sleep outdoors without shelter. It is normal for them to be good endurance athletes, to be durable and steady and they are plenty fast enough for tourist-related safaris although they are maybe less suited to fast, short, loops since they tend to get bored quickly if asked to do the same route many times over.
Alaskans, by comparison, tend to be skinnier than Siberians and to have thinner fur, so they generally have to eat more to stay warm – and we have to pay more attention to keeping them warm during rest breaks / overnight, whether out on safaris or at home on the farm. They often share a kennel for warmth and wear coats when on breaks between running loops.)
On the positive side, Alaskans tend to run faster than Siberians (at least over the shorter distances) and do not mind so much, running the same loops time and again with tourists, since they have a very strong desire to run. It is no surprise, therefore, that they are the breed that tends to excel in the modern sled-dog races, particularly the speed-racing events where there is no reason for dogs to sleep outside. The Fairbanks (Alaska) Open North American Championship and the Anchorage Fur Rendezvous, for instance, are invariably won by teams either of Alaskan huskies or of Alaskans crossed with hounds or gundogs. Winning speeds often average more than 19 miles per hour over three days' racing at 20 to 30 miles each day. On the rare occasion when purebred teams are entered in such races, they nearly always finish last.
We feel that they both have attributes that contribute to the team as a whole. Visitors to our farm love having their picture taken with the picture-perfect Siberians – but they also love being pulled fast by the Alaskans with the stronger work ethic.