Dog Mushing

The use of dogs as draft animals started thousands of years ago and, in North America, there are references that date back to before European contact. Dogs were used to transport a variety of cargoes, particularly when weather conditions prohibited transport by any other means. Dogs pulled people,  gold mining equipment, food, medicines and other supplies, sometimes over great distances. As other forms of transport developed that could be utilized in harsh winter conditions, the use of dogs as draft animals declined, although this form of transportation is still utilized in some rural communities in Alaska and northern Canada. Today, dog mushing is primarily for sport and recreation and is the official state sport of Alaska. There are many dog mushing sporting events in Alaska, as well as other states and countries and two of the more well-known events include the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest.
The original working sled dogs were bred for strength, stamina and size since they were used for pulling heavy loads. This type of dog was much more commonly represented in the movies. Sled dogs today are bred for speed and endurance so they look much different than their famous predecessors. They weigh much less, between 35-70 lbs. and look much less ferocious.   The most common breed of sled dog is the Alaskan Husky, a mongrel that first appeared in the 1800’s.  They are a mix of a variety of breeds including hound, border collie, Siberian Husky and others.  The sled dog has an efficient gait and can move at speeds of 28 mph.  They have webbed feet that act as a snowshoe and their tails protect their nose and feet from freezing when bedding down for the night.  Their fur is  double-coated and the blood vessels in the legs have a unique arrangement that protect against frostbite.  In addition to particular physical characteristics, sled dogs are bred also for particular behavioral attributes.  These dogs must be social in nature and must have good focusing ability.  Many dog sled kennels offer hands-on experiences, allowing visitors to handle the puppies.  This helps to develop socialization in the puppy as well as providing a unique and happy experience for the guest.  The Wolf Den Kennel, located in Cantwell, Alaska, near the Cantwell RV Park, provides a presentation, demonstration and hands-on experiences with the puppies.  So plan for a kennel visit when you are in Alaska.

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