Will the Real Sled Dog Please Stand Up?

After our “wild” ride on the 4-wheeled  dog sled, we were invited into the musher’s camp to learn about the dogs, the equipment and the Iditarod.

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I have to confess, I don’t remember the musher’s name but he said he had won the Iditarod and another big race several times. He told us great stories about his experiences. One that stands out is a story of crossing the sea ice on one race during a blizzard. He couldn’t see anything and thought they were going in the wrong direction. They went on for hours when suddenly the marker came into view through the blowing snow.  The lead dogs had guided him and the team safely to the marker. The moral of the story… have good lead dogs and trust them!

Alaska2013 856 copyHis dogs and most of the dogs used for racing are not the purebred huskies and malamutes we see in the movies.

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There are some but according to our speaker they don’t have the stamina for the endurance races.

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He breeds all of his own dogs. They are chosen for size, strength and stamina, speed and endurance so most of his dogs are mongrels.

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A few of the most common sled dogs that almost everyone has heard about and the ones most likely to have made it into the movies are the Alaskan Husky, Alaskan Malamute, and Siberian Husky.

The Alaskan Husky is actually a mongrel bred specifically for its performance as a sled dog. They weigh between 40 and 75 pounds and may have dense or sleek fur.

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Alaska Malamutes are large, strong freight-type dogs. They weigh between 80 and 120 pounds  and have round faces with soft features. These dogs are known for their broad chests, thick coats, and tough feet. Speed has little to no value for these dogs – instead, the emphasis is on pulling strength.

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Siberian Huskies are smaller than the similar-appearing Malamute. The Siberian Husky pulls more, pound for pound, than a malamute, but cannot pull as long. They weigh between 40 and 60 pounds, and have been selectively bred for both appearance and pulling ability.

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There are even more breeds that have been developed including one that was developed not in Alaska but in New Hampshire! I guess the bottom line is that a sled dog can be any dog regardless of heritage, that has the strength and spirit to pull a sled.

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When asked why there were signs not to pet the adult dogs he said they are working dogs, not pets and in their excitement to get ready to run, they could accidently bite a stranger. No one wants anyone to get hurt. I guess these aren’t “dog whisperer” type dogs. 🙂

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