Dog power has been utilized for hunting and travel for hundreds of years. As far back as the 10th century, dogs were being utilized to facilitate human life. However, dog sledding as we know it today, emerged as a way of life in at least three Arctic regions where there was a plentiful supply of meat through much of the year.
One was on the island of Greenland where so-called Greenland dogs developed as their own breed over time. Inuits valued strong, durable and well-coated dogs. The dogs would help them journey across sea ice and hunt polar bear using a sled built from driftwood and leather straps. The dogs were traditionally roped up as a ‘fan’ team – 10-14 dogs tied individually back to a central line leading to the sleigh or to the sleigh itself and proceeding forward without a clear leader. These dogs are extremely tough in both body and mind; they can withstand hunger and cold well and can be a little hard to train. They are often left to almost fend for themselves on isolated islands over the summer months and hence the breed is one in which genetic selection has often been through survival of the fittest. Dog to dog aggression is, therefore, more common within Greenland dogs than it is in other husky lines where the line has been controlled more by human selection.
The Siberian husky comes from tjuktjerfolket in north-eastern parts of Siberia and is considered one of the world's oldest breeds. Hence, the physical and mental characteristics of modern-day Siberians stem back from the hundreds, if not thousands, of years of breeding that went into the development of a suitable dog for Arctic living. Genetic evidence suggests the common assumption (based on physical appearance) that the Husky is descended from the Wolf to be true: however the exact nature and time of the first breeding between feral Dogs and Wolves is unknown.
The "Genetic Structure of the Purebred Domestic Dog" an analysis first published in 2004 of DNA patterns amongst a variety of breeds, however, does show conclusively that the Husky is actually part of a much larger family of Wolf descended dogs from a variety of regions, Central Africa (Basenji), the Middle East (Saluki and Afghan), Tibet (Tibetan Terrier and Lhasa Apso), China (Chow Chow, Pekingese, Shar- Pei, and Shi Tzu), Japan (Akita and ShibaInu), and the Arctic (Alaskan Malamute, and the Siberian Husky). The same study hypothesizes that early pariah dogs originated in Asia and migrated with nomadic human groups both south to Africa and north to the Arctic, with subsequent migrations occurring throughout Asia. This movement of nomadic tribes to the Arctic with the first of their Dog/Wolf hybrids may well be the genesis of the Siberian Husky.
The first known people to utilize the Siberian Husky were the Chukchi tribe; a group who relied upon both sea mammal hunting and reindeer herding for survival. Living on the Chukotka Peninsulafor over a thousand years (on the Western most edge of Siberia; where the Russian side of the ice bridge that once linked Asia and North America lies), the Chukchi found the Husky useful as sled-dogs, watch dogs and for herding reindeer. The hardy breed of dog lived for centuries with the Chukchi tribe, the latter’s practical breeding cycle for the dog accounting for its near physical perfection. Two of today’s polar breeds come from this region: the Siberian Husky (sometimes known as the Chuchi) and the now pure white, furry Samoyed.
Siberians are slightly built (contrary to popular opinion), very social dogs, with good endurance. They have few guard or hunting instincts (It is hard to excite most of our dogs about toys.) and a lot of their characteristics stem from the fact that their original Chukchi owners treated their dogs well. They believed that they were living spirits of the dead, and shared their food and tents with them even in times of famine. Some of the dogs would accompany the adults on the hunts across the plains, attached to light sledges that were bound together by dwarf birch branches, and obeying voice commands. Others would stay at home in katas to babysit the small children whilst the adults were away. It is not surprising, therefore, that today’s Siberians are supremely friendly towards people. In this part of the world, where the Greenland ‘Fan’ would have been impractical because of the forest and mountain terrain, dogs started to be run two by two.
As a breed, the Siberian Husky today is an active, energetic, and resilient breed whose ancestors were bred by the Chukchi of Northeastern Asia to pull heavy loads long distances through difficult conditions. Initially imported into Alaska during the Gold Rush the breed would prove itself to be not only a realiable sled dog but also a loving companion. This would lead to the dogs later spread throughout the whole of the United States and Canada. Today this breed is easily recogniziable for its thickly furred double coat, curly tail, erect triangular rounded tipped ears, and distinctive markings. The Siberian Husky has and is also known as the Chukcha, Chuksha, Husky, and Icee.
The Siberian Husky arrived in America in 1908 to both ridicule and controversy. Russian fur trader William Goosak imported a pack of Siberian Huskies to use in the 1909 All Alaska Sweepstakes (a dog-sled race of some 408 miles with a 10,000 prize). Goosak’s competitors, used to using larger dogs in racing, mocked his selection – some going as far as to dub the Huskies “Siberian Rats”. The race, though, soon changed their minds; with Goosak’s team (led by Danish Sailor Louis Thurstrop) finishing a strong third. Some contend Goosak’s team was actually winning the race, but so many bets against the team had been made his winning would break the Bank of Nome, so Goosak was bribed into allowing two other teams to pass him.
After the 1909 All Alaska the Siberian Husky became a mainstay on the dog-sled racing stage; cementing their reputation in the 1910 race when three teams of dogs collected from Siberia by Fox Maule Ramsay (a competitor in the 1909 race who had been supremely impressed by the Huskies performance) came in 1st, 2nd and 4th – with the 1st place team shattering the all-time speed record for the race. Soon nearly all teams in all competitions were comprised of Huskies, and the “rats from Siberia” had a new home in America
Alaska is the third region of note in the history of the development of the sled dog.
The history of the Alaskan Husky starts with the numerous native village dogs of North America present in the region well prior to the arrival of the Europeans and Russians. During the Pre-Columbian period, before Christopher Columbus's 1492 voyages, archeology has proven that there were a wide variety of dogs present in North America. The Innu people, the indigenous inhabitants of modern day northeastern Quebec and Labrador, lived on those lands as hunter-gatherers for several thousand years and had Canoe Hunting Dogs.
There were Salish Wool dogs, bred by the native peoples of what is now Washington State and British Columbia, specifically for their wool to make blankets and clothing. The Talhtan Indians of the Pacific Northwest territories of Canada had the Tahltan Bear Dog. This was a small dog that was typically carried in a moose hide backpack and used for hunting. In addition to these there were numerous other common Indian or village dogs throughout the North and South American Continents. It is from these early village dogs, more specifically the Coastal Eskimo Dog and the most northerly village dog of the time the Alaskan Interior Village dog, that the Alaskan Husky was derived.
Both the Coastal Eskimo Dog and the Alaskan Interior Village Dog descended from the ancient dogs of nomadic hunter gathers that used the Bering Land Bridge to migrate across the Bering Strait into Alaska over 14,000 years ago. According to recent DNA analysis these early dogs descended from the East or Central Asian wolves. Recovered artifacts show that they were fully domesticated at the time of the migration.
For the early tribal groups of North America, these dogs were a crucial part of survival and fulfilled a variety of roles. Dogs were used to hunt and track game for food, as companions, and as guardians of the home. They were also used for carrying loads in the summer and dragging supplies on the snow in the winter as the early nomadic people of Alaska migrated from one area to another.
It is theorized that early sledding technology or the advent thereof played an important role in and had the most significant influence on the development of the modern day Alaskan Husky. With the sled, came the ability to harness the power and stamina of these early dogs to assist with hunting, trapping and fishing. The advent of the sled also led to small village competitions as local tribesman wanted to know who had the fastest and most durable dog. They began to breed these early sled dogs purposely for strength, endurance, and speed, as well as hunting ability. The appearance of the early Coastal Eskimo Dog tended to vary from region to region with some areas producing larger, stronger dogs, and other areas producing smaller, faster, more leggy or rangy animals.
One common denominator in their appearance, regardless of their locale was that they were all well furred, had tightly curled tails, large heads and looked like huskies, without the fox like attributes of the modern Siberian Husky. These Coastal Village or Eskimo dogs were a hardy, heavy boned dog that could survive on very little food and water. As with many of the ancient breeds natural selection played an important role in the development of the Alaskan Husky. Due to scarcities in food; as most every meat product the villagers consumed had to be hunted, many dogs were only fed in the winter and were expected to care for themselves during the summer. It was also not uncommon to maroon these dogs on an island during the summer while providing only occasional feedings- again leaving them to fend for themselves the majority of the time. This practice of ‘only the strong will survive’ created a strain of dog that was and is to this day capable of unbelievable feats of strength. For example one task was to be able to haul large chunks of whale inland across the sea ice to be further butchered. These were the dogs witnessed by English seaman and explorer Martin Forbisher in 1577, and later in 1897 by the Norwegian explorer, Fridtjof Nansen.
Alaskan Interior Village Dogs on the other hand, sometimes had short half or broom tails and were typically more slender-bodied and rangier in appearance than Coastal Eskimo Dogs. Unlike the Coastal Eskimo Dog which was preserved in the modern day Inuit sled dog, Canadian Eskimo dog, and Greenlander, the Interior Village dog was completely diluted by imported European and Siberian breeds and is a thing of the past.
The first written accounts of Europeans reaching Alaska came from Russia come from the Russian explorer Semyon Dezhnev, who was blown off course and carried to Alaska while sailing from the mouth of the Kolyma River through the Arctic Ocean and around the eastern tip of Asia to the Anadyr River in 1648. His discovery was never forwarded to the central government of Russia which left open the question of whether or not Siberia was connected to North America. In 1725, Tsar Peter I of Russia called for another expedition to the territory.
The second Kamchatka expedition, as it was called consisted of two ships, the St. Paul, captained by Russian Alexei Chirikov and the St. Peter, captained by Dane Vitus Bering. Together they set sail in June 1741, from the Russian Kamchatkan port of Petropavlovsk. Although, they were quickly separated by inclement weather in route, they continued their journey. Captain Chirikov aboard the St. Paul was the first to sight the Alaskan coastline of Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska on July 15th, 1741. He subsequently sent a group of his men ashore by longboat, making them the first Europeans to make landfall on the northwestern coast of North America. The following day Captain Bering also sighted the Alaskan mainland at Mount Saint Elias, and after a short landing turned westward toward Russia to bring news of the discover.
Captain Chirikov on the other hand stayed a bit longer not beginning his return trip until late October. The decision meant that he would be forced to try and cross the Bering Sea during the beginning of winter. Known as one of the most dangerous bodies of water in the world for its shallow depth, volatile weather, extremely cold sea temperatures, and short tight waves that pack more power than deep sea waves; a winter crossing was akin to suicide. That being said, in November Bering’s ship was wrecked off the Kamchatka Peninsula on the Bering Island in the Bering Sea. Forced to abandon ship, he and his crew marooned on the island, could only watch as the high winds and rough seas crushed his ship into splinters. It was here that Bering eventually fell ill and died while trying to survive the winter on the island with his crew. When winter finally receded the surviving crew members built a small boat from what wreckage could be salvaged and set sail for home in August of 1742. When they reached the shore of Kamchatka Russia, they brought with them word of the expedition and sea otter pelts. It was these pelts, judged to be the finest fur in the world that would spark Russian settlement interest in Alaska.
In the years to follow, groups of fur traders would arrive in Alaska from Siberia on expeditions to harvest this lucrative resource. They called the territory "Alashak" or "Alyeska" which meant "wide land". They began to set up trading posts and by the late 1790’s had established permanent settlements in Alaska. Following the Russians, came the French and English explorers, fisherman, whalers and hunters. Like the Russians, they too wanted to capitalize on the territories valuable natural resources of whale, sea otter, walrus and seal. Wanting to establish their presence, the French Hudson's Bay Company began opening trading posts such as Great Whale River in 1820.
Of much interest to these capitalists were the Mahlemiut Eskimos and the kind and nearly inexhaustible large and strong dogs (Alaskan Malamutes) they used as draft / all-purpose animals n both summer and winter. he Alaskan Malamute was capable of working under nearly murderous circumstances, tough enough to survive the cold, required very little food and was capable of hauling extremely heavy loads of goods and supplies over long distances. All attributes that made the Alaskan Malamute extremely desirable for work in the fur trade. The foreigners began to acquaint themselves with the local native Eskimos as they had the dogs and the knowledge of how to handle and use them for heavy load sledding. However, white men found it very difficult to purchase Alaskan Malamutes because of their few numbers and the high value placed upon them by the Mahlemiut Eskimos. This also helps to explain the relatively small number of foundation dogs that form the basis of today's Alaskan Malamutes.
However, by the late 1800's over hunting and the introduction of petroleum collapsed the market for furs, whale oil and baleen. With Alaska no longer the profitable endeavor, the foreign invaders left, leaving the bowhead whale, the walrus, and the caribou in a state of near extinction. For the Mahlemiut Eskimo, survival depended upon being able to hunt for food and in this new land without animals, many died of starvation. Adding to the tragedy was the fact that they had no natural immunities to foreign diseases and many more died from epidemics of influenza and measles. It is estimated that the native Mahlemiut population decreased by 50% during this time.
Klondike ‘gold rush’
When the Klondike ‘gold rush’ boom started in the early 1900s, there was a renewed interest in Alaska and a massive demand for hauling dogs that could not be quickly fulfilled. Thus started the demise of the Alaskan Interior Village dog. Study and well coated dogs like Malamutes became extremely valuable and a team might cost €10000 in today's money. Because of the general scarcity of suitable dogs, some people brought with them European hunting dogs and put them to harness. Others used whatever breeds they could find and tried to create good sled dogs from them.
One enterprising fur trader, William Goosak, decided to add Siberian Huskies to the mix. He ran several trade missions to Tjuktien in the early 1900s in order to transfer several hundred dogs from the Chukchi and Koriak peoples of north-eastern Siberia into Alaska. The first Chukchi arrived in 1909 and over time, some became interbred into the mix.
With so many dogs from so many places in one area, and the demand for pulling dogs high, (including from the mail service which was trying to support the population explosion), it is not surprising that this region became a melting pot of sled dog breeds. This became particularly true after the rise in popularity of sled dog racing.
From pure-bred Malamutes, therefore, usage turned to crossbred dogs targeted at whatever end use (mail / racing / freighting) they were being bred for. Hence, the term Alaskan Husky is simply one that denotes mixed breed dogs used for this purpose. So long as the dogs could pull the weight needed, had the endurance needed to travel the distances commanded (from 5 to 80+ miles a day), had sufficient speed to cover those distances in a reasonable length of time and a sufficiently warm coat to survive in the conditions to hand, they were considered suitable sled dogs.
Hence, it was not unusual to find teams of Foxhounds or Staghounds or very random cross breeds fulfilling the demand by groups as diverse as the Hudson Bay traders, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, lumber-jacks, doctors and priests. These crossbred dogs – half husky, half Hound, Great Dane, Newfoundland etc, were what became known as Alaskan Huskies.
In the early days they tended to be fairly large dogs bred more for haulage than for speed and trying to replicate the physical attributes and abilities of the Coastal Eskimo Dog. However, breeding captured wolves, St Bernards and Newfoundalnds into the mix simply produced too agressive dogs without necessarily great arctic hair.
Over time, as the popularity of racing grew, other traits started to be favoured. During the last half of the 20th Century, a number of specialisations in type were developed in the category of Alaskan Husky to include freighting dogs (Mackenzie River husky, Malamute), sprint Alaskans (Eurohound) and distance Alaskans.
The Start of Racing
Interestingly, the whole popularity of racing stems back to the Alaskan Gold-rush era. With so many different teams operating in the same area, utilizing so many different types of dogs (even teams of standard poodles, like the infamous team of standard poodles that challenged preconceptions of suitable sled dogs by completing the Iditarod from 1988 through to 1991), it is not surprising that people wanted to test their team against others.
The Nome Kennel Club was founded in 1908 and they organized an annual 408 mile race from Nome to Candle and back called the All Alaska Sweepstakes. Winning this meant recognition, prize money and fame within and beyond the region. In the early days, it was the imported Siberian sled-dogs, sometimes referred to as Siberian rats because of their lighter body structure and smaller size than the Malamutes and mixed breeds traditionally used in Alaska, that soon won fame and success - not only as very fast competitors in the grand sled-dog races of the gold-rush era, but also as couriers of mail, and even of vaccines which saved human lives (one very famous instance of which, is remembered through the classic Iditarod race). The racing type crosses that resulted which were targeting speed, heralded the start of what some have declared the 'age of decay of the Arctic sledge dog'.
The prize money that could be generated through racing also incentivized the raising of dogs and this became a relatively common pastime in the gold-mining towns as people strove to breed ever-faster dogs. When the gold-rush ended, the owners of this "new" breed of both Siberian and Alaskan huskies left Alaska and took some of their dogs with them – in the process, widening the geographic base of the husky.
Nevertheless the racing fame and friendly behaviour of racing sled dogs started to make people interested in them world-wide – in large part through one person, Leonard Seppälä. A friend of Amundsen, Seppälä, a Norwegian born American Sled dog racer, had been asked to train a group of dogs to accompany Amundsen in his attempt to reach the North Pole. (See the section on Sled Dogs & Exploration.) However, when Amundsen called the expedition off – in part, because of the First World War and in part, because Cook and Peary had claimed the North Pole, the dogs remained with Seppälä and raced with him to victory in races across NW Alaska.
Over time, he was responsible for further dilution and replacement of the Alaskan Interior Village dog, by mixing in his imported Siberian Huskies. These new dogs were considerably faster than the larger slower Eskimo dogs and other large mixed breed dogs in use at the time. Renowned for their hardiness, happy nature and hard work ethic, numerous Siberian Huskies were taken to rural villages and mixed with the native village dogs creating Alaskans [The forbearer of the Alaskan Husky].
It was out of this line that the infamous Togo and Balto of Iditerod fame originated. (Our Togo and Balto are named in their honour.) A good example of one of these early mixed breed husky-hound or pointer racing dogs is the famous ‘Balto’. He was the lead sled dog on the final leg of the 1925 serum run to Nome in which diphtheria antitoxin was transported from Nenana, Alaska, to Nome by dog sled to combat an outbreak of the disease. This run is commemorated today by the annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Seppala's line - Seppala Siberian Sled Dogs – continues today, out of the same ancestral base as the Siberian Husky. You can learn more about Togo, Balto & Seppälä, here…
WW1 & WW2
During WW1, the french were unable to get supplies to their troops and turned to sled dogs as a solution. They employed a famous driver, 'Scotty' Allan as a trainier and dogs were shipped from Nome to Quebec by rail car, where they were trained in keeping quiet whilst on the ship so that they wouldn't attract the attention of the German submarines whilst being transported in crates chained to the deck. Once in France, Allan trained 50 French Mountain Soldiers to handle and drive the dogs using English commands. Some of the teams hauled supplies, some worked as sentries and others served in the Red Cross in areas which had previously been inaccessible. One team managed to reduce a resupply to a distant artillery battery that had previously taken over 2 weeks using men, horses and mules to just 96 hours. They continued to pull freight in the spring and summers by being hitched to the narrow gauge railway cars. Three of the dogs received the Croix de Guerre, one of Frances' highest military honours, for their actions in combat and all were awarded a life of leisure at the end of the war for their service to their adopted country. In Northern Russia and Siberia, the British Army also employed sled dog teams to rescue wounded soldiers from thr front line.
The Serum run in 1925 was not to be the last example of Husky heroism in the United States. In 1930, the same year the American Kennel Club officially recognized the breed, the Soviet Union ceased the export of any further Huskies. Three years later Navy Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd used teams comprised of more than 50 Huskies in an expedition called “Operation Highjump”, a 16,000-mile exploratory run around the coast of Antarctica. Their versality, tenacity and strength proved by the Serum Run and operation Highjump, Huskies made their way into the United States Military; serving in World War Two in the Army's Arctic Search and Rescue Unit of the Air Transport Command.
During the Second World War, sled dogs were also used operationally by the US Army for transporting mail, provisions, munitions and medicine. Although no one breed was considered the best, the majority of these missions were accomplished by a mix of Alaskan Malamutes, Mackenzie River Huskies and some Alsatians. They even lay down c. 20 feet of telephone wire in one night for soldier communication and were also involved in the standard search and rescue operations for downed pilots - the main job that dogs are remembered for, from the war.
The US military chose dogs vs horses for the transportation work since they considered them more economical. They believed that 2 seven-dog teams could do the work of 5 horses in formidable terrain and that they could endure conditions that no other domestic animal could. They gave guidance to their use in a field manual called 'dog team transportation' and trusted that when all other modes of transportation failed, the sled dogs could deliver. However, there is little information available about this - other than the work of Charles L. Dean in 'Soldiers and sled dogs'. Military dog sledding originated in New Hampshire, New England, where sled dogs had become as popular as in Alaska. However, training soon moved to Montana because of its arctic-like terrain.
The prototype for the original Army dog sleds were eight dogs per teams with one spare along with around an 8 foot by 31-inch toboggan. The harness was about 1 inch wide composed of military cotton and padded with felt made of wool. There was no set structure for these sleds. It varied by individual owner, yet this was the original structure used. Ski patrol soldiers were trained to accompany the dog teams and over two hundred sled dog teams completed the training between 1942 and 1944. Many were sent to Canada and the Arctic for search and rescue missions. Men and dogs search and rescue squadrons effectively retrieved approximately 150 survivors, 300 causalities, and millions of dollars worth of equipment by the close of world War II. In other words, sled dogs were a vehicle of American history that saved lives during one of the worst wars this world has known. However, the mission of sled dog teams ended at the conclusion of the war, ironically around the same time the air force became it’s own branch of military.
One Alaskan Malamute named “Tipper” served valiantly alongside his handler Marine Cpl Harold “Al” Tesch during some of the heaviest fighting at Guadalcanal, Guam, and Iwo Jima. Primarily, however, their service was limited to Alaska, the Northeastern coast of Canada, Greenland, the Arctic Circle and in the European theatre of war. The Battle of the Bulge featured these heroic dogs transporting wounded from the front.
As versatile as they were resilient many of these dogs became accomplished parachutists and just like their human counterparts were able to earn their parachutists wings after five successful jumps. It was noted that "..once suspended under the canopy they seemed to enjoy the ride.... they wagged their tails the whole time and became extremely excited every time they were strapped into their harnesses."
Numerous dogs gave their lives during WWII, so great were the losses to Alaskan Malamutes that post war the surviving number of breeding dogs was dangerously low. This was the primary reason that the AKC choose to reopen the register, even though it was closed a short time later. Following WWII, the United States Military maintained sled dogs for search and rescue missions. The future father of the Iditarod “Joe Redington Sr.” served in post war Alaska with these heroic dogs. He used his dog teams to salvage planes that had crashed in inaccessible remote, mountainous area and to rescue the survivors or reclaim the remains of those that did not survive. From 1949-1957, he and his dog teams salvaged millions of dollars worth of aircraft equipment and rescued hundreds of stranded servicemen in these remote mountainous areas.
After the Second World War the number of huskies in Alaska reduced, as firstly, air-travel became more accessible and then, in the 60s, came the advent of the snowmobile. There was less and less need for hauling dogs. However, the villagers of the Yukon River tried to keep the breed going and the Athabasca-Indian village named Huslia was particularly successful. It is, therefore, often referenced as the home of the Alaskan husky. Incidentally, it is also from there that the legendary musher, George Attla, and many modern-day Attla-Alaskan Huskies originated.
Around that time (the 1930s), the breed standard for the Siberian husky was forged and accepted as an official dog breed by AKC (American Kennel Club). All present-day Siberian huskies descend from these same dogs although breeders started to emphasise different qualities in their dogs in different parts of Alaska, and in the 1940s and 1950s, the breed was split into a working (racing), line and a show line.
Even inside these two lines, several subtypes can be discerned. Globally, the majority today are part of the show line. However, over 90% of the Nordic dog stock – which originates from Leonhard Seppala - are working dogs, maybe because of the snowy winters. It is within these dogs that the qualities most similar to those of the original huskies remain – health, endurance and good nature. In general, Siberian huskies are hard-working; they have long hair and pointed ears and they are usually box-shaped. They are friendly to humans, but not always so friendly with other dogs.
The resurgence of recreational mushing in Alaska since the 1970s is a direct result of the tremendous popularity of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, which honors the history of dog mushing with many traditions that commemorate the serum run. Other breeds such as hounds, pointers, and Irish Setters were added to increase various attributes such as speed, endurance and stamina. The popularity of long distance racing during the 1970’s also led to Greyhound being added into the Alaskan Husky gene pool.
Some modern racing kennels have even added Pointers and Salukis to the mix creating the specialized ‘Eurohounds’. Although still technically an Alaskan Husky, it is in actuality a cross between an Alaskan Husky and German Short haired Pointer. The Eurohound is considered by many to be the most formidable sprint racing dog in the world. It is a dog that combines centuries of honed sledding ability from the Alaskan Husky with the enthusiasm and athleticism of the German Shorthaired Pointer. The modern day Alaskan Husky or Alaskan is a mixture of all of these dogs. “The Alaskan Husky is a mixture of the best” as stated in the following excerpt on the history of the Alaskan Husky by Linda Spurlin the founder of the Alaskan Klee Kai breed.
Today, Siberian huskies come and go in all colours and no coat/eye pattern or colour is considered the breed standard although they stay warm in freezing temperatures since their coats are double the normal thickness, with bluffy underwool and normal hair. It is only through Hollywood, that people have come to associate huskies with blue-eyed black'n'white dogs.
Whilst it is sometimes hard to tell whether a dog is a Siberian or Alaskan husky by sight, with some it is very clear. One easy starting point is that if a dog does not have pointy ears, it can not be a Siberian – whereas Alaskans may have pointy or floppy ears.
Although these three regions are really the pivotal geographic locations in the history of the sled dog, and although there are really only three types of dog that people today classify as huskies – Alaskan Malamutes, Alaskan Huskies and Siberian Huskies – there are actually a number of other less well known polar breeds that developed over time which can be differentiated by region, height, weight and colour…
Modern-day Alaskan Huskies are a now very far from the original Alaskan mix. They are essentially unregistered hybridized huskies, often similar in appearance to the racing line of Siberians (since these are undeniably a major component of the Alaskan husky genetic mix) although they are usually taller and leggier with more pronounced tuck-up. They tend to be moderate in size, averaging perhaps 46 to 50 pounds for males and 38 to 42 pounds for females – although the sprint-targeted racing hound cross or German Shorthaired Pointer cross may be larger and heavier.
Since there is no preferred type and no restriction as to ancestry, it is defined only by its purpose, which is that of a highly efficient, genetically healthy, mixed-breed sled dog. Hence, it falls short of being a breed. Today, Alaskans are the sled dog of choice for world-class dog sled racing sprint competition and, since colour and markings are a matter of total indifference to racing drivers and safari companies, Alaskans can be any possible canine colour and have any pattern of markings.
Eyes may also be of any colour, although, as in the Siberian Husky, light-blue eyes are not rare. (About 60% of huskies have brown eyes, 20% blue and 20% have one blue and one brown eye.) Coats are almost always short to medium in length, never long, and usually less dense than the coats of northern purebreds; coat length is governed by the need for effective heat dissipation while racing. Breeders look for dogs with a strong work ethic, friendliness to humans (particularly for tourism work), good stamina, strength, speed and endurance.
The main specialisations include the freighting dogs (eg, the Mackenzie River Husky), sprint Alaskans, and distance Alaskans. Many Alaskan Huskies have pointy ears, meaning they are, in fact, classified as a spitz-type dog. Sprint Alaskans are commonly ‘hound crosses’ and many dog drivers usually distinguish between the Alaskan Husky and “hound crosses”, so perhaps there is informal recognition that the Alaskan Husky is expected to display a degree of northern dog type. Hounds are valued for their toughness and endurance. Winning speeds often average more than 19 miles per hour (31km/h) over three days, racing at 20 to 30 miles (32 to 48km) each day
High-performing racing Alaskans can be extremely valuable. A top-level racing lead dog can be worth $10-$15,000. None of the pure-bred northern (Siberian) breeds can match the best Alaskan huskies for sheer racing speed, so they often compete within their own breed sub-classes. Demanding speed-racing events such as, the Fairbanks, Alaska Open North American Championship and the Anchorage Fur Rendezvous, are invariably won by teams of Alaskan huskies, or by Alaskans crossed with hounds or gun dogs.In the words of 11 year old Lander Wood, this is what makes a modern-day musher...