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Alaskan Husky

Six-year-old Alaskan Husky
Country of origin United States (Alaska)
Traits

The Alaskan Husky is not so much a breed of dog as it is a type or a category. It falls short of being a breed in that 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 sled dog. That said, 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. Specializations in type exist within the breed, such as freighting dogs (Mackenzie River Husky, Malamute), sprint Alaskans (Eurohound), and distance Alaskans. Most Alaskan Huskies have pointy ears, meaning they are in fact classified as a spitz-type dog.

The Alaskan is the sled dog of choice for world-class dog sled racing sprint competition. None of the purebred northern breeds can match it for sheer racing speed. 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 of Alaskans crossed with hounds or gun dogs. Hounds are valued for their toughness and endurance. Winning speeds often average more than 19 miles per hour (31 km/h) over three days' racing at 20 to 30 miles (32 to 48 km) each day.

Alaskan huskies that fulfill the demanding performance standards of world-class dogsled racing are extremely valuable. A top-level racing lead dog can be worth $10–15,000. Alaskans that fail to meet the performance standards of the musher who bred them often go on to be sold to less competitive mushers, allowing them to continue to run.

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Description

Alaskan Huskies (at least those used for speed racing) are moderate in size, averaging perhaps 46 to 50 pounds (21 to 25 kg) for males and 38 to 42 pounds (17 to 19 kg) for females. Some of them superficially resemble racing strains of the Siberian Husky breed (which is likely part of the Alaskan Husky genetic mix), but are usually taller and larger with more pronounced tuck-up.

Two Alaskan Huskies in the harness.

Color and markings are a matter of total indifference to racing drivers; Alaskans may be of any possible canine color and any pattern of markings. Eyes may be of any color and are often light blue. Coats are almost always short to medium in length, never long, and usually less dense than those of northern purebreds; the shorter coat length is governed by the need for effective heat dissipation while racing.

In very cold conditions, Alaskans often race in “dog coats” or belly protectors. Particularly in long distance races, these dogs often require “dog booties” to protect their feet from abrasion and cracking so the considerations of hardiness and climate resistance prevalent in breeds such as the Siberian Husky and Canadian Inuit Dog are subordinated in the Alaskan Husky to the overriding consideration of speed. On long distance races they require considerable care and attention on the trail at rest stops.

In Alaska and other extreme northern regions they are occasionally killed by moose in the winter. Infrequently, moose in search of non-existent winter browse of willows and mountain ash during desperate times of long cold snaps and deep snow will enter human areas attracted by the scent of fresh straw used as bedding for the dogs. True to their wolf ancestors, huskies tend not to back down from such encounters and an angry moose can easily stomp and kick several dogs causing severe injuries. Most moose/husky encounters occur during runs when a musher accidentally startles a moose on a trail. Most of the time moose avoid fights, but in cases of deep snow when escape is difficult a moose may confuse a sled team for a wolf pack and cause some serious trouble.

Normally, moose are aware that huskies are domesticated, tethered and not a threat and will frequently bed down adjacent to sled dog kennels in order to use the huskies as sentries who will alert the sleeping moose of approaching wolves. Sled dogs tethered in far northern forests may be attacked and killed on their stakeouts by wolves when other prey is unavailable. However, this is rare. Professional dog sled racers often surround their lots with high fences to prevent wildlife attacks. More important is a low fence to keep out diseased rodents which can infect dogs by carrying parasites.

Health

The Alaskan Husky is generally a healthy dog. Some strains are prone to genetic health problems similar to those found in purebred dog breeds. These may include PRA, hypothyroidism, etc. Dogs with an esophagus disorder, termed "wheezers" sometimes occur. This disorder makes the dog unable to bark, but have the ability to produce a low-pitched howling noise. The defect is genetically linked and appears rarely. Theories of common exterior traits among "wheezers" abound, but are conflicting and undocumented. The life span of the Alaskan Husky is usually between 10 to 15 years.

History

The base of The Alaskan Husky sled dog in Alaska and Canada is the Native Village dog. The Interior Village dog is a leggier, rangier and taller dog that the coastal Eskimo Village types. Many mushers prefer the true husky dogs that they call: "Villagey", and although there are no pure native dogs left, some dogs still throw back to those looks. These fully domesticated dogs arrived with paleo Indians and Eskimos thousands of years ago. Today, Alaskan Sled dogs may be hound crosses, husky types, or a combination of both. They also range in size and build depending on the use of the dog, such as for racing or for working. A working sled dog may be 50 to 80 lbs or a racing sled dog may be 35 to 60 lbs for a male or female. The old time village dogs were indeed bred to imported Siberian dogs and also more recently to European dogs. Most mushers in Alaska, contrary to popular thought, are not racers. They have either working dogs or dogs that are used for giving tours to tourists or for recreation. There are many recreational clubs which may hold races, get together for fun runs, or go camping with dogs in the spring. Racing sled dogs vary greatly in type, and may be anything from a purebred pointer or hound to the modern Eurohound, a sprint dog that is unmatched for winning sprint races and is a predominantly black-colored combination of husky and German Shorthaired Pointer. There are also distance dogs which can race from 50 to 1,000 miles, and mid-distance dogs which race from 20 to 200 miles. Sled dogs are a combination of bloodlines developed by and best suited to the mushers who run them. Many of them retain the much-sought-after thick, beautiful coat, long long legs, balanced bodies, and tough feet of other northern breeds. Yet many others have too much hound or pointer for the northern climate and must wear booties and coats and sleep in heated barns. Many dogs are both racing and working dogs and are small and tough. Some are larger, depending on the type of work.

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Recent history

The Alaskan Husky is a tremendous athlete and a dog of great variety, with particular working specialties depending on the series of bloodlines used and the work they are used for. Originally, mushers primarily developed these bloodlines from native Inuit dogs. Eskimo dog, Siberian Husky, Greyhound and German Shorthaired Pointer have been added since the 1940s. Working dogs may be hauling logs, or cord wood, working a trap-line, or giving tourists rides on one of our glaciers. Racing dogs, on the other hand, are specialised for sprint, mid-distance or long distance racing. Recreational teams may be made up of working and/or racing dogs. Some dogs race in winter and work in summer. Recent sprint racing dogs are the Euro hound or Scandinavian Hound. These dogs live to run and love to pull. While reduced in popularity since the advent of snowmobiles, dog mushing with many Alaskans is still a beloved way of life, and in many other places in the United States dog mushing is a popular sport, either in the snow or with dry land carts.


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