Who are These Dogs That Pull Sleds? Other Northern Breeds
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.
Other Northern Breeds
Other purebred Northern breeds have been used on dog teams, but mostly in Europe, include the Japanese Akita, the Norwegian Elkhound, the Finnish Spitz and the Canadian and Greenland Eskimo Dogs. Only the first three are recognized by the American Kennel Club, but all are recognized by other international kennel clubs such as the Canadian Kennel Club, Federation Cynologique Internationale, The United Kennel Club and The Swiss Club for Northern Dogs. The Akita is large for a racing sled dog, averaging 26 ½ inches and 85 to 110 pounds, but have a double coat, tough feet and a love to work that enables them to pull well in cold climates. The Akita is a versatile dog used for sentry duty, guiding the blind, protecting children and homes, hunting everything from bears to ducks and companionship. On the Northern Japanese Island of Hokkaidó the Akita is used for sled work. In Europe he has pulled in Scandinavian-style races and in California he has been trained in front of wheeled rigs for racing.
The Norwegian Elkhound resembles a small, stocky husky. At 20 ½ inches and 50 pounds he is smaller than the Siberian, and not as speedy over long distances. The Elkhound was bred in Norway for tracking and hunting. He is a bold, powerful, agile, fast, dignified, independent animal. He is amenable to intelligent training, serving as a popular “pulk” dog in Norway. The Finnish Spitz has been used as a sled dog, but more popular as a pet. The Canadian and Greenland Eskimo dogs are rarely seen on racing teams. Roald Amundsen took one hundred Greenland huskies with him on his successful South Pole expedition of 1910-12. Much to the expense of the dogs, many died along the expedition mostly due to lack of training and sometimes were even used as food for the explorers.
Next Week: The Alaskan Husky
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Dr. Robert Forto is training for his first Iditarod under the Team Ineka banner. Dr. Forto can be reached through his website at https://teamineka.com