GENERAL BREED INFO

Sled Dog Breeds: Amazing Dogs Who Love A Bit of Work in The Snow

Sled dogs
John Walton
Written by John Walton

There is something mystifying that draws us towards strength. We like strong people, and we like being around them. Maybe it has something to do with the beauty of strength, maybe it has something to do with a primordial need for strong allies, or maybe we just like hanging out with the big boys, the truth of the matter is that we are drawn towards strength.

Oddly enough, we are also drawn to strong dogs, and you can see it everywhere, statuesque German Shepherds, bulky and buff bulldogs and pit bulls, sleek and powerful Dobermans, all of them having one thing in common, strength, and lots of it. Something that we tend to forget or downright neglect is the fact that the strongest of dogs are actually the dogs that put their strength to use. Sure it’s nice to see a dog with muscles in places where other dogs don’t even have places, but how many of these dogs do you see putting those brutish muscles to good use?

Dogs with cargo

This is where the sled dog breeds come into play, because these dogs have been bred with one thing and only one thing in mind, pure unbridled power. Frankly, they needed this power in order to pull sleds around, which is no easy feat, and even though today there is no actual need for sled dogs other than the occasional competition here and there, these dogs have maintained a considerable and respectable level of strength.

Characteristics

Sled dogs breeds are special breeds to say the least, and can easily be identified by a set of physical attributes. While the representatives of these breeds are gorgeous and quite pleasant to look at, the real challenge is dealing with the mentality of these breeds, and each and every breed manages to throw its own hurdles at the owner.

Physical attributes

  • Thick coats, suited for arctic environments
  • Thick strong necks
  • Strong muscular shoulders, not particularly broad, but strong
  • The shoulder level is higher than the hip level
  • The chest is broad, muscular and strong, often giving the illusion of “pecks”
  • Front legs are thin at the base and broad towards the shoulders
  • The abdominal area is slim, allowing the dog to maneuver at high speeds and with a lot of weight being pulled
  • The dog’s back is very muscular and at the same time lean, the upper back is more broad than the lower back, the spine is well protected underneath a thick layer of muscle, and due to the heavy muscle mass, when the dog wags his or her tail, he or she is actually wagging half his or her body.
  • The hind legs, the most powerful part of a sled dog’s arsenal, are relatively thin at the bottom and bulky at the top. They have a lot of power behind them, meaning that their muscles are well developed.
  • The tail, at first sight gives the impression of thickness however that is just the coat. The tail actually has normal dimensions for a medium sized dog, however it is a bit thicker at the base.

Before moving on to the mental attributes, you must first understand that these breeds are not exactly your average dog breeds. They were bred for an active and often times demanding lifestyle, and with every generation they have become more and more accustomed to these demands.

Sled dogs infographic

That being said, these dogs tend to be a bit on the wild side of things, and often times you will find it very hard to control your dog, simply because his or her very nature is being denied by a passive pet lifestyle.

Mental attributes

These dogs have a fairly developed pack instinct. A single dog is more or less unable to pull a sled by himself or herself, therefore they had to get accustomed to working alongside other dogs in order to pull a sled in unison. Average sled packs can get up to 12 dogs, and fighting amongst each other will bring them nowhere. That being said, these dogs can easily work and get along with other dogs, especially from their own breeds.

These dogs are very intelligent. Yet another attribute which results from hard work, mainly because pulling a sled is not a mechanical job. The dogs have to more or less assess a situation, interpret signs, negotiate terrain, and above all else manage themselves and each other as a pack. Another thing to understand here is the fact that these are working dogs, and though ones at that, so they have been bred to understand human commands and even read certain signs that the owner does in order to make things easier.

They have a very strong personality. This is more or less to be expected from working dogs that are though by nature. It is widely accepted that pulling a sled over long distances is not without its dangers, and the dogs have to be able to interpret these dangers and respond to the appropriately.

Another cause for this toughness is the fact that have to deal with harsh environments, difficult weather conditions and unforgiving circumstances most of the time, so it goes without saying that these dogs come by default with enough willpower to not give up when things get hard.

They are very loyal. As mentioned earlier, these dogs have a strong pack sense, and as the owner you are the supreme pack leader. Proving yourself to these animals is not an easy feat, it takes time and it requires you and your dog(s) to be put in difficult situations, however once you manage to earn the trust of such dogs, you will benefit from it for the rest of your life.

Keep them busy

They go stir crazy if they have nothing to do. These are very active breeds, and their entire purpose in life is to burn as much energy as possible. That being said, if they have nothing to do, or simply are not subjected to any physical activity, they will go stir crazy and they will start doing a lot of crazy stuff. They are not dangerous or anything like that, however they tend to be a bit hard to handle while in this state.

They are mischievous. The last but by no means the least item on this list, mischievousness is a trait which is native to these dogs. They are supposed to live a very active lifestyle, and as such they can get bored very easily. Combine that with the intelligence that they sport, as well as the strong personality that they come equipped with, and you have yourself a bullying about to happen.

Make no mistake about it, they will prank you, they will make fun of you, they will play dumb, they will be stubborn on purpose and they will generally look for ways in which to annoy you for the sake of their amusement.

Trainability

It comes as no surprise to us that these dogs are actually very easy to motivate and train. Sled dogs breeds have been designed to work alongside humans, and as such they tend to please when all the conditions are met.

Granted, the training for these dogs is different from the training that your average house pet goes through, and it will require you to put a lot more effort into it that you normally would, but the end result is well worth it.

Young sled dogs training

Training start at a young age for these breeds, while they are still puppies, and they have a great learning capacity, allowing them to breeze through the simple standard commands and graduate to harder and more complicated ones fairly easily.

One thing to keep in mind is the fact that training is necessary for these breeds because they carry a large risk of aggression.

Technically, these breeds are closely related to the dog’s ancestor, the wolf, and without proper training, they be a bit on the aggressive side, not to mention the fact that they tend to get a bit overprotective without the right training.

There are a few things to bear in mind when it comes to training these dogs, and one of them is the fact that they are very intelligent. That being said, they can and they will exploit the fact that you are using treats in order to motivate them and reward them when they execute the commands correctly.

This might result in our dog only executing the commands if he or she really feels like having that treat, so it is advised to keep the treat usage to a bare minimum, and be quick to switch off of it.

Another good tip for training your sled dog is to always tire him or her out before training. Not to the point of exhaustion, but to the point where most of his or her energy has been burned out through exercise, so the dog is not as easily distracted and can concentrate more on the training at hand.

Sled dogs training

There is also the risk of taking it to the extreme, and there are a lot of people out there that have imposed such a strict training routine that they ended up with badly adjusted dogs that behaved more like soldiers that anything else. Discipline is a nice thing for your dog to have, however do make sure you don’t overdo it in order to have a well-balanced and well-adjusted dog.

Another thing you have to understand about these particular breeds is the fact that they like to venture off and take risks other dogs would not normally take. They are curious, they are intrigued and they can be easily amused at times, so don’t get too surprised when your dog all of a sudden veers off into the woods or starts doing things that are out of the ordinary. It’s his or her way of exploring the world, and even though it might be dangerous at times, such behavior is to be left unpunished.

Specific breeds

There are specific breeds that are labeled as being sled dogs breeds, each and every one of them different from the other apart from the way they look.

Let’s have a look at each individual breed and what it is so special about it.

Siberian Husky

This is by far the most famous and the most loved sled breed of them all. Their coat has that standard tundra design which is iconic for huskies, however they are not limited to black and white. They can also be brown and white, auburn and white, or pure white which is the rarest of them all.

Siberian huksy on the right

Huskies are notorious for their mischievous nature however they are extremely loyal as well. They are probably the hardest to train out of all the sled dogs breeds, however it is by far the most intelligent and the most self-reliant of them all.

The Alaskan Malamute

This is basically a Husky, but bigger, a lot bigger, and more powerful than one, however not as gracious and not as clever as one. Alaskan Malamutes have been bred in Alaska in order to haul heavier cargo than their Siberian cousins over longer distances.

The Alaskan Malamute

They look almost identical to huskies, the only difference being the actual size of the dogs, the Alaskan Malamute currently being classified as a giant dog. Malamutes need a lot of exercise, a lot of attention, however they are more docile and less mischievous than the huskies, and they are far easier to work with especially when it comes to training them, and they tend to be a bit more protective.

The Seppala Siberian sled dog

Yet another one of the Siberian breeds, the Seppala is by far iconic to the Siberian Tundra. Their coat resembles a wolf more than a Husky or a Malamute, and they have often been confused with wolves in the past.

The Seppala Siberian sled dog

They are very stubborn and gaining the respect of a Seppala is not an easy feat. You have to show a lot of willpower and a lot of dedication in order to do so. If you fail to show leadership skills and the required determination, your Seppala will fail to see the point and will downright refuse to obey your commands. They are true pack dogs, they get along easily with other dogs, however they are not suited to an apartment life, except if you are willing and able to provide the constant training that he or she needs in order to properly live in an apartment.

The Greenland dog

These dogs are probably some of the best dogs in the world. Imagine, if you will, a terrifying creature, charging towards you, however at the very last minute it stops and starts juggling balls at you.

This is the Greenland dog in a nutshell, the proof that you don’t have to be too serious in order to be a good working sled dog. Their coat is similar to that of a Siberian wolf, however over multiple generations the top darker part of the coat has grown more and more towards the lower one. Most specimens have the entire upper half of their face covered in dark fur while the lower part is covered in light fur.

Greenland dog sled expedition

A small note here is the fact that unlike Huskies, Malamutes and Seppalas which have predominantly blue eyes, the Greenland dog has predominantly light brown eyes. Combine that with the coat and how the head looks and can see why it has earned the nickname “demon dog” over the centuries. The Greenland dog is actually one of the closest relatives to the wolf out there, however it comes with a bit of a twist. It is as stubborn as all the other working and sled breeds, however instead of being mischievous like the other breeds the Greenland dog is more or less a clown.

That’s right, it will start hopping around, doing funny things, and even try to mimic you just for the sake of being funny. It is lovable, it is easy to train but hard to earn his or her respect, and it is quite a loyal dog overall.

In conclusion

Owning a dog from sled dogs breeds is not an easy thing to do. You have to not only take an active interest in the training needed for such a dog, but also account for the little mishaps and problems that can come along the way.

There will be a lot of people that downright discourage you from acquiring such a dog, and even though it’s a little harder and a little tougher than an average pet dog, managing an active working breed dog is something that gets easier and easier the more training the dog receives.

If you are committed and serious about acquiring such a dog, make sure you have the willpower, the dedication and the overall patience for it, and the end result will be well worth the effort.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.

  • Albert Dorell

    They say if I want to get fit, I should get myself a Siberian Husky. They are beautiful dogs indeed, but there’s no way I could keep up on the exercise requirements. Besides, can a Siberian husky live in a hot climate?

  • Winona Matthews

    I’ve read that sled dogs such as the Siberian Huskies need to be walked for around 5 miles. I’ve told my son about this since he plans of getting a Husky soon. He’s not much of a runner, mostly doing 2-3 miles on most days of the week. Should he be consistent and do 5 miles daily with the Husky?

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