Sled dogs might look beautiful, but don’t let those luxurious coats and bouffant tails fool you. These are working dogs with an appetite for running, a power that belies their size, and more team spirit than the Olympics. They don’t always make the best family pets in the world (not in all cases and not without a lot of training and socialization, anyway) but ultimately, these aren’t dogs that were bred to spend their days snoozing on the sofa. They were bred to survive bitter temperatures, tackle the roughest of terrains, and withstand the pressures of long-distance racing. Here’s our list of the top five sled dog breeds.
1. Alaskan Husky
The Alaskan Husky was developed by mushers in Alaska from a number of different dog breeds, including the Siberian Husky, Greyhound, and the German Shorthaired-Pointer. Unlike many other dogs, the Alaskan Husky wasn’t bred to look a certain way – it was bred purely to pull sleds – all day, every day. As well as being capable of incredible endurance, they’re also strong and fast, with a natural instinct to pull heavy loads and run. Unlike the Siberian Husky or Alaskan Malamute, the Alaskan isn’t a purebreed – it isn’t recognized by the American Kennel Ring and you’ll never see one compete in the show ring. As there isn’t a breed standard, there’s no such thing as a typical Alaskan Husky. As a rule, they tend to be medium-sized dogs that weigh in between 35 and 60 pounds, with pricked ears and a thick undercoat to protect them from the snow. Other than that, appearances vary widely, particularly in regard to their coats, which come in a huge variety of patterns and colors. Temperamentally, Alaskans are affectionate, loving, and always good for a snuggle. They’re incredibly intelligent, with the result that plenty of interactive games, training sessions, and outings are needed to keep them entertained. Despite being smart and eager to please, their stubbornness can present a challenge when it comes to training – plenty of patience and positive reinforcement will help keep them on track. Due to their extensive training and exercise needs, they’re not usually recommended for novices.
2. Greenland Dog
According to Wikipedia, the Greenland Dog was bought from Siberia to North America around 1000 years ago by the Thule people. At the same time, they bought over the Canadian Eskimo Dog. The two dogs are generally considered to be the same breed as they still have very similar genetic makeups, despite living in very separate parts of the world. Once the preferred dog for pulling sleds intended to transport correspondence, the Greenland Dog’s population has fallen dramatically in recent years. Thankfully, numerous projects and initiatives have been launched to help develop an awareness of the breed, along with its significance to the dog sledding culture and history of Greenland. Physically, they’re medium-sized dogs with big-boned, muscular structures, thick necks, strong legs, and enough power to pull sleds across grueling terrain. Their double-layer coat features a warm undercoat and weatherproof guard hair. In Greenland, they’re raised in the same way they have been for centuries – puppies are allowed to run free until they reach adulthood, at which point they’re chained, trained, and set to work pulling and hauling. Although affectionate and loyal, they don’t make good pets- they’re not wholly domesticated and can be rowdy, boisterous, and hard to train unless they’re handled by an experienced dog owner.
3. Alaskan Malamute
The Alaskan Malamute is a big, powerful dog that’s used primarily for heavy sled pulling and big game hunting. As the largest of the Arctic sled dogs, the Alaskan Malamute can grow to mammoth proportions, easily hitting heights of 23 to 25 inches and weights of 75 to 85 pounds. Thanks to their bulk, they make powerful, strong working dogs – although it varies by size, the average male is capable of pulling weights of up to 3,330 lbs. Appearance-wise, they have strong legs, thick necks, triangular ears, and deep chests. Their double-layered coat comes in a variety of colors, including white, silver, and white, seal and white, sable and white, red and white, and black and white. Although they’re working dogs at heart, Alaskan Malamute’s can also make affectionate, playful pets. However, they’ll need plenty of intense exercise together with firm but fair training and lots of early socialization to turn them into civilized companions.
Described by cosmodoggyland.com as a strong and elegant working companion, the Samoyed takes its names from the Samoyedic peoples of Siberia. An ancient breed, it descends from the Nenets herding laika, a spitz-type dog common to Eurasia used for hunting, herding, guarding, and sledding. Like most sled dogs, they have a graceful but solid appearance, standing between 19 and 23 inches at the shoulder and weighing between 45 to 65 pounds. Their thick, all-white coat lends both beauty and function, as does their perpetual smile, the upturned corners of which stops them from drooling and forming icicles on the whiskers. A smart, social animal, they require firm but loving training, plenty of early socialization, and enough exercise and company to stop them from becoming bored and destructive. Although their stunning coats don’t need constant trips to the groomers, don’t believe anyone who says they’re low maintenance – Samoyed’s are heavy shedders who need daily brushing to keep their coat looking in peak condition.
Developed in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the Chinook first came to prominence as part of Admiral Byrd’s first Antarctic expedition in 1928. A rugged working dog with family-friendly appeal, they’re known for their intelligence, eagerness to please, and unruffled dignity. Described by AKC as dual-purpose haulers with the power of freighting dogs and the speed of sled racers, they’re adaptable enough to be used for sledding, carting, obedience, agility, search-and-rescue work, and herding, to name just a few. One of the rarest breeds around, their numbers have plummeted to near extinction levels on several occasions. Fortunately, a small band of loyal breeders has managed to pull it back from the brink each time. Unlike certain other sled dogs, the Chinook isn’t a hugely busy dog and will adapt quickly and easily to family living. Providing they get a good amount of exercise per day and enough games and training sessions to keep their minds busy, they make steadfast, affectionate, and very gentle pets.