What Makes a Great Sled Dog?

SPORTS

A mixed heritage gives sled dogs their love of running, a desire to work, and a need for wild places. And right now, sled dogs around the world are busy preparing for the upcoming racing season, including the premier event—Alaska’s Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. (National Geographic News)

See what it takes to be a vet at the Iditarod.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit.

"Since we are not breeding for any particular look but rather for performance," say the good folks at Denali National Park, "our dogs have a wide variety in their appearance." These three sled dogs are actually siblings—Banjo, Annie, and Red Top. Photograph by National Park Service

“Since we are not breeding for any particular look but rather for performance,” say the good folks at Denali National Park, “our dogs have a wide variety in their appearance.” These diverse-looking sled dogs are actually siblings—Banjo, Annie, and Red Top.
Photograph by National Park Service

Discussion Ideas

  • According to the Nat Geo News article, “Siberian huskies or Alaskan malamutes are not the most popular sled dog breed. That spot belongs to the Alaskan husky.” What is the key difference between Siberian huskies and Alaskan huskies?
    • Unlike Siberian huskies or Alaskan malamutes, Alaskan huskies are not an officially recognized breed. (A breed is a group of animals within a species, usually specifically bred and maintained for certain characteristics.) The heritage of an Alaskan husky probably includes Siberian huskies and Alaskan malamutes, as well as German or English pointers, greyhounds, or border collies.
    • According to Denali National Park, which keeps a kennel of about 30 sled dogs, Alaskan huskies “are the product of hundreds of years of breeding dogs that are great at what they do—running and pulling sleds, and dogs that have adapted to cold weather. The Alaskan husky is a dog that has a strong desire to run and pull, has a thick two-layer coat of fur, a bushy tail, long legs, and great demeanor.”

 

Illustration by Emily M. Eng, National Geographic

Illustration by Emily M. Eng, National Geographic

  • Read through the Nat Geo News article and take a look at the illustration above. What are the “positions” in a sled dog team?
    • Lead dogs lead the rest of the sled. They “execute a musher’s commands, set the team’s pace, and ensure everyone’s going in the right direction.”
    • Swing dogs run right behind lead dogs. They help to turn the team left or right.
    • Team dogs are the majority of dogs in a large sled dog team. “Team dogs provide the muscle. Their job is to keep pulling until it’s time to stop.”
    • Wheel dogs, running closest to the musher, help steer the sled.

 

  • Besides race in the Iditarod, what else do sled dogs do in Alaska?
    • Work! Sled dogs are important for the travel and tourism industry, and are also “canine rangers” in undeveloped regions such as Denali National Park and Preserve. According to the park, “Our dogs help to patrol the inner two-million acres of designated wilderness where mechanized vehicles are prohibited. The dogs help us to contact winter visitors, haul supplies, transport wildlife researchers, and help insure that there are not illegal activities happening within the park, such as poaching or snow machines entering into the wilderness area.”
    • Watch this video (about 15 minutes) to learn more about Denali’s sled dogs.

 

TEACHERS’ TOOLKIT

Nat Geo: What Makes a Great Sled Dog? Breed, Ambition, Tough Feet

Nat Geo: Real-World Geography: Dr. Michael Davis

Nat Geo: The ‘Last Great Race’ Is On

Denali National Park and Preserve: Meet the Sled Dogs

5 responses to “What Makes a Great Sled Dog?

  1. Hi I am doing a school project on the Iditarod race but I didn’t find what I was looking for, do any of you guys no any other facts

  2. I think I missed this episode! And never knew there are certain requirements to make a good sled dog.

  3. Veterinarians have allowed sick and injured dogs but its up to the owner and I don’t think that anyone will want his sick or injured dog to race.

    • Margery, how many times have you personally witnessed vets allowing sick & injured dogs to continue to race? I believe your answer will be zero.

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