Who Are These Dogs That Pull Sleds? The Alaskan Husky and Village Dog
By Robert Forto, PhD
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.
Special Sled Dog Breeds
South of Alaska other dogs have been interbred to make up special sled dog breeds. Arthur Walden’s Chinooks, the Targhee Hounds of Idaho, and the Quebec Hounds of Canadian breeders are examples of these special racing dogs. The original Chinook’s ancestry is somewhat subdued in public relations mystery, but his offspring, many resulting in a breeding with a husky, served as credible sled dogs for Walden in eastern races during the 1920’s. Chinooks are still bred at a kennel in Maine, but most are sold to recreational mushers or strictly as pets.
The Targhee Hound was originally bred in Idaho, the result of a cross between a Stagehound and an Irish Setter. These were fast, sprint dogs who dominated the American Dog Derby held in Ashton, Idaho for years. They were also capable of hauling a sled full of mail after a blizzard. Targhee Hounds still appear on teams in the west, not only in their “pure” form but also as offspring of further cross-breedings.
The Quebec Hound, also called the Canadian Hound or the Canadian Greyhound is a name that describes the dogs resulting from the propensity of Canadians to breed a lot of sleek, racy-looking hounds into their northern sled dogs. These animals have short hair and long, strong legs. Their racing record is exceptional as evidenced by Emile St. Godard’s many victories in the 1920’s and through Emile Marlett’s top team of the 1930’s, to most of the Quebec teams of today. Quebec hounds race annually at the World Championships in Laconia, New Hampshire, placing well in the standings.
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Robert Forto is the training director of Denver Dog Works and a musher racing under the banner Team Ineka. Dr. Forto can be reached through his website at https://teamineka.com