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What Makes a Great Sled Dog?

Although nearly all Siberian Huskies share similar traits of being high-energy, athletic, and ready to work, not all Huskies are cut out for the toughest sled dog races and activities. True sled dogs, the ones specifically bred in this modern age to pull, haul, and work in tough conditions and for long hours, are just a slight cut above the Siberian Huskies bred for recreational activities and as family pets. A number of factors go into creating the perfect sled dog, which are discussed below.

While a family may be looking for an energetic dog to as the perfect playmate for a child, a working sled dog must have an insatiable yearning to run, wander, and explore. Although this trait is discouraged among family dogs for fear of dangerous escapes, a working sled dog is praised for his or her desire to seek out new territory, and do so in the fastest manner possible.

While the next point may sound obvious, dogs intended for work should be specimens of superior health. Common issues such as skin allergies, food allergies, and digestive problems can sideline a dog from being able to pull or compete in long races. Sled and freight dogs are expected to be in the snow and cold for days on end away from the comforts of a kennel, and must be able to subsist on sometimes meager rations, where there is no room for specially formulated diets or skin treatments. Sled dogs must also have strong feet that are not prone to drying or cracking, as remedies commonly used for family dogs, such as socks or booties, can hinder a dog’s performance on the trails.

Sled dogs also have an innate sense for teamwork, as each individual dog plays an important role when pulling a sled, especially on 8 – 12 dog teams. Lead dogs are obedient, yet independent thinkers. They must be able to make split-second decisions, and care not only for the safety of themselves, but also for the team. Other dogs are responsible for working together to pull or turn the sled, and must use reasoning and wisdom to maneuver hazards and obstacles, such as ice, trees, or forks in the road. Among sled dogs, there is no place for overt aggression, dominance, or submission.

The best sled dogs are ones who are fastest, strongest, and most willing to work for as long as possible. These dogs are not forced to pull hard while running fast, but rather do so on their own. There is no room for the dogs with bad attitudes that get tired or bored and stop and give up without being told to do so. Great dogs must respect the musher, but also have a keen enjoyment for the work they are performing.

Finally, sled dogs meant for work must be highly trainable, yet require little training. A dog that does not readily pull and run when attached to a sled likely is not sled dog material. For the natural puller, commands and maneuvers are readily learned. Although not every Siberian Husky is cut out for the strenuous work required to be a true sled or freight dog, the majority of Huskies do share the common traits of speed, strength, trainability, docility, endurance, and good health, which makes the breed a natural choice for work!

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