Kids' Animal Station

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5 Facts About Alaskan Sled Dogs

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Solo, my favorite of the sled dogs (shh.. don’t tell the other dogs), looking beautiful. Photo by Zoe Smith-Holladay

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On a recent trip to Alaska, I went dog sledding on the Mendenhall glacier, which is the temporary home of a mushing camp. A glacier is an odd place to put a mushing camp, because of the crevices that often cover their surface. One of the other problems of starting any sort of camp on a glacier is that snow will pile up faster than humans can remove it, making it difficult to get in and out of your tent. To solve this problem, the mushers are forced to move their camp, which includes about 200 dogs, every couple of days. I thought I would do a post about the other things I learned from the mushers at the camp, specifically about sled dogs.

 

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Dog sledding on the Mendenhall glacier. Photo by Zoe Smith-Holladay

 

5. Contrary to popular belief, huskies are not the only breed of dog that can be a sled dog–the criteria for sled dogs has almost nothing to do with the breed. In fact, all of the dogs at the sled dog camp we went to were mutts, although all of them were part husky. When it came to choosing a sled dog, it was less about appearance and breed, and more about physical strength, and the bond between the dog and the musher. However, there are some teams who go more traditional, and only accept purebred Siberian huskies (poor mutts).

 

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Photo by Zoe Smith-Holladay

4. Unlike many dog owners who bring their dogs inside, mushers often leave their dogs outside of their tent, despite the often freezing temperatures. Don’t fret, the sled dogs won’t freeze, because of their thick coats of fur, which is one of the few physical requirements for sled dogs. The main concern of most mushers is other predators, such as foxes and bears, who would like to make a snack out of the sled dogs. Luckily for the dogs at the camp, the Mendenhall glacier was devoid of wildlife.  In fact, there was no way to get food on the glacier without shipping it in by helicopter from the nearest town, Juneau.

 

 

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Solo taking a break after a run. Photo by Zoe Smith-Holladay

3.  Mushing can strengthen the bond between the dogs and the musher in a way that other jobs with human-dog interaction cannot. Sometimes, the musher spends hours training their dogs and mushing with them, so they become very close.  A tight musher-dog bond is required to make a good sled dog team. One musher at the camp compared it to the relationship between a parent and a child. Now, I’m certain that most dog owners treat their dogs like family members, but the musher and the dogs depend on each other more than you might depend on your companion dog. (I mean, if you can’t trust your dog at home not to eat your food when you look away, how could you trust them with your life?).

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Cute and inquisitive! Photo by Zoe Smith-Holladay

2. Despite what you might expect, purebred Siberian huskies are not necessarily better at mushing than other breeds of dog that can mush. This assumption that many people have is due to the fact that the first dog mushers originally used tamed wolves to mush, which were eventually domesticated into huskies. While huskies are physically more qualified than most other types of dogs to mush, other breeds of dogs can do it just as well. Actually, purebred huskies may do worse than mutts, because, as I talked about in my The Creation of Dogs blog post, purebred dogs are only possible through tons of interbreeding, which can cause multiple physical and mental defects. Don’t underestimate the power of mutts (believe me, I used to have one).

 

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Looking quite domesticated, while trying to chomp my camera. Photo by Zoe Smith-Holladay

1. Speaking of my Creation of Dogs post, sled dogs were one of the first instances of dogs and humans working together. Some of the first groups to use dog mushing as transportation were several different Native American tribes, including the Inuits. Scientists theorize that mushing came to be in Mongolia around 35,000 years ago, and have been used in places around the world to migrate and travel, including (but not limited to) Greenland, Finland, Siberia, and Alaska.Without sled dogs, who may very well have been one of the first types of transportation besides feet, modern civilizations might’ve been in different places, or not exist at all, since our ancestors would have had trouble migrating. I don’t mean to be political, but maybe that would’ve been good, because Donald Trump wouldn’t be in America.

 

 

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This entry was posted on July 22, 2016 by in Advice/Reviews, Animal Facts and tagged , , , , , .

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