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Rugged, built for endurance, and always up for an adventure, America’s sled dog has captured a special place in our hearts and imaginations. Think northern lights, snow and ice as far as the eye can see, and a team of dogs specially bred and trained to work and survive. Alaskan husky dogs are the true working dog, and because owners rely on them for both survival and companionship, their devotion to these dogs can be unmatched. So what’s behind this unbreakable bond?
The Alaskan husky dog was bred for a purpose, hence their traditional breed characteristics. This husky is a sled dog, developed by—you might have guessed—mushers. The reason there is so much variety in this dog is that each group of mushers had different requirements, and therefore bred for a specific working purpose.
Alaskan husky dogs—not officially recognized as a breed—are a carefully bred mix of native Inuit dogs, Alaskan malamutes, Siberian huskies and…lots of other breeds that breeders specifically select to bring out hardy and athletic traits (think border collie, Samoyed, and a variety of hounds and pointers).
Often confused with the blue-eyed Siberian husky dog, Alaskan husky dogs (who sometimes inherit those baby blues) are related to these beautiful dogs, but are also very much their own dog.
While the American Kennel Club does not recognize the Alaskan husky dog as a breed, it does outline some of the common characteristics:
- Strong herd instincts
- As small as 35 pounds or as big as 70 pounds
- Sturdy, hardy feet
- A thick coat and undercoat
- Great jumping skills (Imagine a dog that can jump six feet from a sitting position!)
- Not so great at fetching
As you might expect with all those relatives, there is no one “look” that defines the Alaskan husky dog. In fact, on a sled team, it is often important to have dogs that exhibit a variety of strengths, so this naturally translates into a variety of appearances. This is why if you tune into coverage of the Iditarod, you’ll see teams of sled dogs that may look a little rag-tag, but there is nothing unplanned about how these teams are put together.
In general, expect some appearance traits to prevail, even with different bloodlines. For example, most Alaskan husky dogs have a curled tail (maybe from their Samoyed relatives?) and pointed ears, according to the AKC. Many of them will have one or two blue eyes, and some of the color patterns of the Alaskan malamute and Siberian Husky. It is just as common, however, to have a single-color Alaskan husky. It really just depends on what series of traits one particular breeder or owner was going for.
Alaskan Husky Personality
You might have guessed it…there’s no real standard for personality when it comes to the Alaskan husky dog. Again, blame it on all those breed cousins who help make up the Alaskan husky gene pool. While there is no standard, you can bet that there are a few personality traits that are imperative…and a few that just don’t fly.
Alaskan husky dogs have to be social. It’s actually a matter of life and death. True working Alaskan huskies spend much of their time assembled as part of a team, so they must be able to be in close working proximity to their teammates, and ideally should be able to fall into a social structure that allows the dog team to function well. Not planning to get out the dog sled anytime soon? Make sure your Alaskan husky has lots of opportunity to be social—it’s so much a part of his blood!
Like most working dogs, Alaskan huskies like to work. It’s part of their breeding and keeps their nimble minds occupied and engaged.
Didn’t expect this trait? If you think about it, these are social dogs who are bred to live outdoors in some of the coldest weather, traversing some of the most difficult terrain on the planet. That means they are pretty content to cozy up to warm bodies after a long day’s work. Combine this trait with their renown jumping skills, and you just might have an Alaskan husky in your arms.
Explorers by Nature
While Alaskan huskies have great social skills, they are also fiercely independent. This might sound contradictory, but each of these traits has a distinct purpose. The social side allows them to work as a team and the independent streak gives them the curiosity and courage to live out in the frozen wilds. They are adventure dogs, and so they love a good adventure–it is part of their life’s work!
Alaskan husky dogs are wanderers, are energetic, can be mischievous, and don’t always take the hint when they see a fence that is designed to keep them penned in (remember the jumping?).
As you might have guessed by now, Alaskan huskies thrive in environments that let them just be themselves—a social circle (with room for independence), lots of outdoor time (probably leashed), colder environments (that coat makes hot summers really tough), and more exercise than you can imagine.
Because of their extensive exercise requirements, PetMD recommends that prospective owners ensure they have a lot of time to spend with their dog before taking the plunge.
Do you love to run in cold weather? (And not just at one pace… sprints, long-distance, terrain)? Do you spend lots of time outdoors in the winter…say winter camping? While those standards may be hard to meet, how about just having some bandwidth for playing with a super-affectionate dog? Have a couch that could use a cuddly dog? A nice, high fence with plenty of yard for running?
At the end of the day, the wide variety of Alaskan huskies need a wide variety of owners. The basic ingredients seem to be a love of outdoor exercise and adventure, some time to spend with a dog, and lots of love.
Alaskan Husky Training
Fiercely independent, strong-willed, mischievous: you guessed it, training huskies can be a little intense. But it can be accomplished if you’re confident and consistent, and if you’re willing to keep your dog task-oriented, which if you remember, is basically his raison d’être. Alaskan husky owners would do well to sign their dogs up for obedience classes and agility, as these are great outlets for channeling their dog’s energy and smarts.
Health is of paramount importance for sled dogs—the whole team’s survival can depend on their ability to complete the mission. And because they are bred for such a specific, athletic, purpose (and are the product of many hardy breeds), they can be quite resilient.
Here’s where all those traits above become so important—the feet, the coat, and their stamina. These are the traits that define how healthy the dog will be on the trail, and because breeders focus on these traits instead of an appearance or standard, the dogs can be quite healthy. Their average lifespan is 12-15 years, which is a testament to their good general health.
But like all dogs, they can be prone to some health issues. According to PetMD, Alaskan husky dogs can suffer from eye problems and hypothyroidism. The most common health issue is probably a congenital lung condition, which creates a wheezing noise that some experienced owners associate with the Alaskan husky.
Getting an Alaskan Husky Dog
Are you hooked? Because these dogs are bred for a purpose (working sled dogs!), it might be difficult to find an Alaskan husky in your neck of the woods. Check out some of the Alaskan husky rescue programs and some Alaskan husky breeders if you want a dog that has been specifically bred for the traits discussed here.
Alaskan Husky Rescues
Because the Alaskan husky is not an official breed, many of the rescues out there call themselves “husky rescues” and focus on all breeds of winter sporting dogs. As you might have guessed, because these dogs require a lot of attention and exercise and aren’t suitable for every home, there is a real need for rescues to help find the right forever home.
- Arctic Rescue is an organization in Utah that specializes in placing all types of winter sport dogs, not just the Alaskan husky. They also care for dogs that are not able to be adopted.
- Forever Husky is another rescue program that focuses on huskies of all types. They also offer foster programs.
Alaskan Husky Breeders
Depending on where you live, you may be able to find an Alaskan husky breeder. Many states, particularly in the northern climates, have breeders and organizations you can research. As with any breeder, be sure to do your homework and be sure that you have the time and energy to devote to this lovable, loyal and extremely energetic dog.
Want to learn more? Check out these Rover.com articles:
- Husky Puppies: Everything you Need to Know
- Most Popular Husky Names
- Gifts for Husky Lovers
- Best Dog Beds for Huskies