Who are These Dogs That Pull Sleds
By Robert Forto, PhD
Who are these dogs that pull sleds? Are they purebreds or mongrels? What sets them apart from other dogs and enables them to work with man under brutal weather conditions? What sort of strange dog is it that yammers and yowls to be a part of a team, preferring to work or race than rest in a warm kennel?
Written pedigrees are not required to enter a sled dog race, nor does the dog have to be a northern breed, although a majority of dogs on the racing trail are related to working dogs of the North. These dogs have a strong instinct to pull. These dogs can be everything from an American Kennel Club registered Siberian Husky, a “one-quarter husky” mixed breed, or any variety in between. These dogs can be Irish Setters, Walker Coonhounds or even a Border Collie. In search of an unbeatable dog team, dozens and dozens of cross-breedings, in-breedings and line breedings have been tried. Some breeders work within a recognized breed, seeking to refine that breed’s natural talents; others select the fastest and strongest or whatever dogs come to their attention, caring more about performance than good looks or a fancy pedigree.
The Alaskan Malamute
The second most popular registered sled dog in North America is the Alaskan Malamute. Superficially the Malamute resembles the Siberian, with pricked ears, facemask, and bushy tail. In fact the Mal, as they are often called, is a larger dog bred for freighting. It averages an inch or two more in height and 15 to 20 pounds heavier than the Siberian. A Malamute’s coat is either black with white markings, like some Sibes, or wolfish gray. It’s eyes, almond shape and set obliquely into its broad head, are dark. As a sled dog, the Malamute is known as the “Workhorse of the North”, and is a superb and dependable animal. In a race he is not as fast as the Siberian, but his power and endurance have kept him as a favorite sled dog.
The Alaskan Malamute is one of five dog breeds that are reputedly native to the Western Hemisphere. A distinct native breed of the Arctic, having evolved from the breeding practices of Eskimos in the far northwest, it is one of the oldest known breeds of sled dog. Russian explorers were among the first white men to record the Malamute’s existence having found the dog among the native Inuit tribe of Kotzebue Sound, a people known then as the Mahlemut or Malemuit, hence the dog’s name.
The Alaskan Malamute sled dog contributed substantially to the rapid exploration and development of Alaska, the Yukon and the Arctic. This dog also “figured importantly in polar expeditions to the far reaches of the planet” and in both World Wars. With the advent of sled dog racing at the turn of the century in Alaska, the breed was threatened by cross-breeding practices of men who were interested in speed. The Mal was called upon to contribute its stamina to a variety of smaller, faster racing dogs. At Chinook Kennels in New Hampshire however, the Seeley’s concentrated on establishing perpetuity for this breed, and succeeded in registering the first one, Rowdy of Nome, in 1935.
Like the Siberian, the Malamute is a highly intelligent, loyal dog, one that loves to work and also loves to lie quietly in his own place. Malamutes are bred for show and racing. Faster members of the breed have helped improve the racing skills of the mixed Alaskan Husky. In the North the Malamute is still used; here and there, for its original purposes of freighting and tending to the trap lines. ( Note: endnotes have been removed for blog posting. If you would like to read article in its entirety please contact me through email at firstname.lastname@example.org )
Next Week: The Samoyed