Monday, February 1, 2010
By Linda Cole
The Siberian Husky is the breed most people associate with pulling a sled, but they aren't the only breed to make up a dog team. Teams of dogs can be made up of 10 different breeds, but there are only 3 breeds considered to be true sled dogs.
Alaska is an unforgiving country where dogs have provided transportation for centuries. With few roads, the Inuit Indians still use sled dogs today to get to hunting grounds and to move goods between villages. It's believed nomadic tribes in eastern Siberia were the first people to use dogs to pull sleds or sleighs, but it has never been determined exactly when dogs began pulling sleds for humans.
The term Husky at one time was used to define all northern sled dogs, and they were all considered as one group. The dogs were selected based on their performance rather than a specific breed characteristic. The northern dog of today, unlike other breeds, is considered to be most like their cousin, the wolf. Like the wolf, northern dogs can travel easily over large distances by utilizing powerful leg muscles and backs that enable them to trot at a steady pace for days if necessary. Plus, they are well suited for harsh winter conditions. These dogs are social, but they do have an independent spirit.
There are three breeds considered to be the true sled dogs, selected based on their performance, endurance and the task at hand: Alaskan Malamute, Siberian Husky and the Eskimo Dog.
The Alaskan Malamute is a hardy dog that is a descendant of the Arctic wolf. Its name comes from the Alaskan tribe called Mahlemut who began raising this breed 2000 to 3000 years ago for transportation. Malamutes are cousins to the Siberian Husky, American Eskimo Dog and Samoyed. Of the three true breeds of sled dogs, the Malamute has the most power, but is slower than the other two.
The Siberian Husky is believed to have been bred centuries ago in Siberia off the eastern peninsula by a tribe called the Chukchi Tribe. The Husky was used as a guard dog, to herd reindeer and pull sleds. Because the Husky is the fastest of the three true sled dogs, they found their way to Alaska by way of fur traders who brought them from Siberia for dog racing.
It was teams of Siberian Huskies who pulled the sleds and musher carrying vials of life saving serum being transported to Nome, Alaska during the 1925 diphtheria epidemic. They also made up a special Arctic Search and Rescue Unit for the Army during World War II because of their sense of smell. The Husky is a strong, surefooted and determined dog. Strong, quick and lightweight, the Husky has the endurance to go long distances and loves to run, as do all three of the true sled dogs.
The Eskimo Dog (Canadian Eskimo Dog) is a true native of Canada. Their early history was aiding Inuit tribes in hunting, guarding and pulling sleds 2,000 years ago. They are an extremely hardy dog and, like the Siberian Husky and Alaskan Malamute, are well suited for living and working in the harsh climate of the north. This true sled dog can pull up to twice his weight and still cover up to 70 plus miles a day. However, the Eskimo Dog is considered to be a rare dog these days and not as well known as their counterparts. This hardy work horse is extremely intelligent and once he learns a command, he never forgets it.
With a muscular, toned body accustomed to pulling heavy loads and running for miles at a time, the Eskimo Dog is playful, submissive, easy to train, not as stubborn as a Husky or Malamute, not as apt to wander away, very alert and curious. This fearless dog was once used for protection from polar bears and musk ox, and was quite capable of holding the wild animal at bay or attacking it, whichever was needed. Compared to the other true sled dogs, the Eskimo dog is moderate in speed and the middleweight of the group.
Most sled dogs are quiet and rarely bark. However, they do howl like wolves which can be a beautiful, eerie sound on a cold winter night. They make excellent family dogs for the most part. I know from experience that the Siberian Husky loves to run, and if they get away from you, they will come back home when they are good and ready.
Other breeds used as sled dogs are: Alaskan Husky, Alusky, Chinook, Eurohound, Greenland Dog, Mackenzie River Husky and Samoyed.
Read more articles by Linda Cole