Some are true polar breeds – eg, the Canadian Inuit dog which is one of the oldest and rarest of the remaining pure-bred indigenous domestic canines. Others, like the crossbred Eurohound, a mix between the Alaskan Husky and the Pointer, are not. The Eurohound has both the Alaskan Husky's sledding ability and the Pointer's enthusiasm and athleticism and is one of the most formidable sprint-racing sled dogs in the world.
The Alaskan Malamute is often used in Disney films portraying huskies since they provide the stereotypical image of a husky to many people. It is a large domestic breed indigenous to upper western Alaska, descended from dogs of the Mahlemut tribe of Inuit, today known as the Kobuk people, who originally were part of the mass migration from Siberia to Alaska. Malamutes are larger and more dominant than most siberian huskies but, since both have wolf ancestry, still look very similar.
Early Eskimo life consisted of nomadic travel in extremely harsh conditions as the humans and dogs hunted for food to survive. Around 1000 AD the Inuit (the culturally similar indigenous peoples of the Arctic regions of Canada, Siberia and Alaska) migrated from Alaska into Northern Canada and brought with them Canadian Eskimo dogs (without the help of which, for hauling supplies and general transportation) life probably wouldn't have been possible. They were selected for their freight pulling potential as well as as guard dogs, hunters and simply dogs capable of surviving outside. Archaeological sled finds have dated back to 1150 AD but they were probably hauling simple constructions earlier than that. It is thought that they were treated as prized possessions and were fed as often as their owners during migrations. This was not the norm for many other arctic breeds who lived a life of being treated fairly inhumanely, underfed and overworked.
For the Mahlemiut Eskimos the Alaskan Malamute was as much a member of the family and community as any human. Children and puppies would crawl together on the floor of the huts and it was not uncommon for small children to nurse alongside the puppies from the female bitches. Although, the Malamute Eskimos only bred the best and most promising young dogs and treated them well, shortages of food prevented them from large scale breeding of the Alaskan Malamute. This meant that, although the dogs they had were of very high quality; they did not have many of them. This shortage of dogs even made it customary for the women and children to have to pull alongside the dogs when the Mahlemiut moved from one location to another. - for more info click here.
Less well-known breeds include the Eskimo Dog, the Toganee, the Mackenzie River Husky, the Timber-Wolf Dog, the West Greenland Husky, the East Greenland Husky, the Baffinland Husky and the Ostiak. Eskimo dogs, used primarily by trappers, explorers, Eskimos and Indians, are rare outside of the NW Territories. The Timber-Wolf Dog of the Yukon basin was a first-cross between huskies and timber-wolves, bred to be used as pack leaders. The Toganee and Mackenzie River Dogs were sub-arctic breeds, closely related to the true husky and sometimes interbred. Toganee had longer legs than the longer-coated Mackenzie River Dog, bred to pull heavy freight in single file through deep snow.
Baffinland Huskies stood out from true huskies in that they had black coats with white markings. These dogs were sometimes crossed with West Greenland Huskies and the slightly smaller East Greenland Huskies – both of whom sometimes also had timber-wolf blood although the East Greenland Husky (also called the Angmagssalik Husky) was considered the oldest and least diluted type. Today’s Greenland Dog is a large breed of husky-type dog kept as a sled dog and also used for hunting polar bear and seal. It has a very dense double coat, wide padded feet, erect ears, a curled tail, wedge-shaped head, and a muscular build.
The comparatively small Ostiak or West Siberian Husky was used not only for sled hauling but also in hunting elk, bear and wolf. Chinook is a rare New England sled dog breed of "in-between" type, neither a sprinter nor an endurance freighter; the original lead dog "Chinook" on whom the breed is based was a mixture from working sled dog lines and of a more mastiff-type build than most sled dogs, and the breed varies in appearance much more than most sled dog breeds and often superficially resembles a yellow German Shepherd Dog mix. (Some of these dogs were also bred and trained for US Army search and rescue missions during World War II.)
A few other less common husky breeds exist, including the Greyster sled dog type bred in Norway, the Labrador husky, bred as a strong, fast, working sled dog in Canada and the Sakhalin Husky which is rarely used and usually lives in Japan. The Sakhalin Husky is a spitz type, related to the Japanese Spitz and the Akita Inu. Its size varies between 56cm and 66cm at the withers and its weight ranges from 30 to 40kg. The ears are small and pointed and may be upright or floppy. There is no standard colouration although many are russet-red and black. The hair is fine and thick, with an undercoat of very dense hair, similar to the hair of a Greenland dog. Sakhalin Huskies were the huskies of choice for the infamous Japanese Antarctica expedition upon which ‘Eight Below’ is loosely based.
Other Spitz dogs include the East Siberian Laika, the West Siberian Laika, the Karelo-Finnish Laika and the Russo-European Laika. Most have thick, long fur, pointed ears and muzzles and tails which curl over their backs . They are genetically quite closely related to wolves and thus are presumed to be some of the oldest types of dogs. Most Laikas are considered versatile hunting dogs but each breed has its own specialities. The East Siberian Laika is the largest of the Russian Laika's to be used for hunting a large variety of game, from squirrel to wild boar and bear but it also possesses the strength and endurance to pull sleds. It is the quietest and most even tempered of the four Laikas and can be made into a good watchdog even though it is naturally affectionate and devoted to its human family. West Siberian Laika's by comparison were selectively bred for the trait of being able to focus on only one type of game.
History of Huskies in Finland
Given that we are based in Finland, it is worth looking a little at the history of sled dogs here. Evidence suggests that dogs were used for pulling, in Finland, quite a bit in the 16th and 17th Centuries. Sleigh parts dating back 7000 and even 9500 years have been discovered - although the younger of this was a fairly different design to what we see nowadays. It had only one central runner and was pulled by 4 dogs.
Mushing weaned in popularity in the 19th and 20th century, however, so, by the time that it regained popularity in the 1960s, Finland didn’t have many traditional Northern huskies left. Nowadays, most of the Huskies in Finland are Siberians although there are, obviously, also Alaskans and most kennels seem to have one or the other, as opposed to a mix. Mushers here do not set much precedence on a dog’s looks – rather, on how it works and runs. One polar breed, the Tamaskan Dog, originated here. It is a mix between Alaskan Malamutes, German Shepherds and Siberian Huskies and was bred more to look like wolves than for sledding work although it is obviously still capable of this. It excels in agility, obedience, and working trials.
Since the Samoyed was mentioned earlier, it is worth looking briefly at this additional Siberian breed. This is a pure-white or mostly-white spitz that was used for herding reindeer as well as pulling sleds. It was sometimes called "The smiling dog", because of its characteristic facial expressions. Originally, it was a multi–coloured, sturdy dog with thick fur, well suited to hard work. However, today’s race stems from only three individual dogs that were carried over to England in the late 1800s. Since then, Samoyed breeding has concentrated solely on the appearance and the beautiful white fur. A few enthusiasts have managed to reproduce the characteristics of the Samoyed sled dog but these characteristics were almost totally absent for several decades.