Today is the start of the 2018 Winter Olympics! As nations come together to celebrate some of the biggest and most impressive athletes in the world, I think it is only right that we celebrate some canine athletes: Sled Dogs. Sled dogs are some of the most remarkable working dogs, and have been around for centuries as both an integral part of survival for Arctic cultures and a thrilling sport. Some archaeologists even believe that the first sled dog teams originated around 1,000 A.D., although they looked quite different than they do today! In the 1850’s and early 1900’s, dog sledding was the fastest and safest way to travel through the Arctic for supplies and transportation. Today, people all over North America commemorate the most famous sled dog ever, named Balto, as the brave Husky who along with his musher and team of dogs delivered Diptheria medicine to Nome, Alaska and saved the town. While dog sled teams were essentially created for convenience and survival by the native and Inuit people, it wasn’t until 1850 that it was recognized as a sport, and the true spirit of dog sled racing was born.
Much like the rest of the dog sport world, dog sledding has become modernized in today’s day and age. Good sled dogs are mostly Alaskan Huskies, often bred with Border Collie, Greyhound, or Hound/Pointer breeds for endurance, speed, and enthusiasm (it’s hard to picture a Greyhound mix in Alaska, eh?!) Mushers look for dogs with good, hardy feet to be able to endure the rough terrain, high speed, and long distances. They also keep their eyes peeled for pups with healthy, thick coats, and big appetites, to ensure that they can keep up their caloric intake and stay warm on the trail. Unlike a lot of other working dogs, sled dogs have to be especially friendly with other pups – considering they are harnessed together for the majority of their days! At the end of the day, sled racing is the epitome of a team sport. A musher cannot be successful without a cooperative and well-trained team, and the team cannot work together if they are paired incorrectly.
As a fun fact: Sled dogs of today are actually huge tourist attractions, and utilize their goofy, endearing personalities to greet visitors and engage tourists by teaching them about the importance of maintaining natural and wild spaces. If you happen to be up in Alaska, and now are struck with the dream of meeting a sled dog team, you’re in luck! Click the link below to learn more about the sled teams in Denali National Park: https://www.nps.gov/dena/planyourvisit/meet-the-sled-dogs.htm