Who are These Dogs That Pull Sleds? The Samyoed
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.
Less evident on the racing trails and the most striking when they are, are the Samoyeds. Pure white with dark eyes and curled, bushy tails, the “Sammy” is similar in size to the Siberian, but gives the impression of more hair per pound than any other sled dog.
Originally bred by the inland Siberian tribe called the Samoyed, the Samoyed dog served as a general-purpose work animal which hunted, drove reindeer herds and pulled loads at such times when reindeer could not be used. The dogs also acted as companions and watchdogs, and were used for both food and clothing. It was said that a good dog was worth more than a wife to a Samoyed herdsman, and when British explorers first came across this amazing white dog it took all their bargaining talents to accomplish a trade. In 1899 the first Samoyed dog was exported to Britain and from there his popularity has grown. Today’s Samoyed closely resembles the original sled dogs, for attempted improvements on such a dog as Moustau of Argenteau, the American Kennel Club’s first registered Samoyed in 1906, could have been to this natural breed’s detriment.
The best racing and working Samoyeds of recent times have been dogs of medium stature and structure, perhaps somewhat taller than the standard, which is 19 to 23 ½ inches at the shoulders but never exceptionally heavy in body or bone. The ideal working Samoyed ranges from 22 to 24 inches and weighs 42 to 55 pounds. Males have more “punch” and are ordinarily a more useful size for work, but smaller, racy females can certainly add to a racing team.
On the average, Samoyeds possess a more concerned personality than other Arctic breeds; they are capable of great loyalty and have a pronounced desire to please. They are somewhat more apt to stand up to pressure that is typical of a natural runner, and they often excel in less-than-perfect conditions, where other dogs lose heart. They have a natural stubbornness and a strong will which once tuned to the driver’s advantage will keep them working hard. Although most Samoyeds are not fast enough to compete in speed races against Siberians or Alaskans, the Samoyeds heart and loyalty make him an exceptional dog, and drivers of Sam teams will break no despairing comparisons with any other dog team.
Breed clubs, traditionally interested more in show or obedience activities, have begun to recognize racing teams or weight pulling accomplishments of purebred dogs. The Siberian Husky Club of America, The Malamute Club of America, or the Organization for Working Samoyeds, for example, seeks to reward those dogs, which excel at tasks they were originally bred for—pulling sleds.
Next Week: Other Northern Breeds