Are Alaskan Huskies a True Breed?
By Al Magaw
A recent study led by graduate student Heather Huson on the genetic makeup of sled dogs has revealed some surprising answers to the question, “Are alaskan huskies a true breed? ” A news write up can be found at the “Fairbanks Daily Miner” (“Read more: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner – entry Sled dogs are a breed apart study finds”) and the complete study at http://www.biomedcentral.com/content/pdf/1471-2156-11-71.pdf
In brief, Heather Huson says that the alaskan husky, no matter the heritage, has developed genetic markers that define it as a unique breed of it’s own, “essentially a breed of their own, as unique as poodles or corgis”. “Alaskan sled dogs are selected to be fast, tough, and hard working. That’s been enough to make them a distinct breed, according to a new genetic study” This surprising, to many, result has developed not because of common ancestry, but by breeding for purpose. The genetic markers are more consistent than those found in siberians or malemutes, which often show identical markers. The markers in alaskan huskies do show their genetic makeup, be it german shorthair pointers or siberians or malemutes, eskimos or elkhounds, but the markers that make it an alaskan husky are the same. The study also showed whether the alaskan type was better for distance or sprint and it showed the ancestry that was best for “speed, endurance, or work ethic”. (I find that grouping of ratings amazingly coincidental as that is the same groupings I used when rating the dogs in my kennel as I started the attempt to establish my own bloodlines over 30 years ago and still use today).
“Alaskan sled dogs seem like they shouldn’t have much in common genetically. They look different—they can be long-haired or short-haired, floppy-eared or perky-eared, 13 or 30 kilograms. And though breeders of distance dogs tend to stick to other Alaskan sled dogs, sprint-dog breeders mix in other breeds, like English pointers, shorthaired pointers, and even greyhounds. But Huson found much more commonality than she anticipated”
I have to compare this emergence of a unique breed brought about through breeding for usage to Darwin’s brilliant study of evolutionary development. Darwin showed that how species developed was caused by environmental pressures, as well as mutations, over millions of years. Man has shortened this time frame dramatically in the development of different breeds of dogs to just a few hundred years and the Alaskan Husky may be the latest in this process. So now, all you alaskan husky fans, you can claim that you really are running a true breed of husky, and perhaps, due to this remarkable study, the use of alaskans in some previously prohibiting countries will now be allowed. Please excuse me as I’m on the way out the door now to give my purebred alaskans a big hug!
Al Magaw is a musher from Salmo, BC. Al keeps a medium sized kennel of 20 – 45 alaskan huskies as well as several pet dogs of various breeds. Al has been training and racing for the last 33 years. Before becoming involved with sled dogs, Al, along with his family, kept and competed with horses for many years. Al can be reached through his website athttp://www.spiritofthenorthkennels.com Al is a guest blogger for Denver Dog Works and can be reached through our website athttp://www.denverdogworks.com