A black and white huskey in the snow.
A black and white huskey in the snow.
Sled dogs ready to mush.
Two husky sledding dogs.

Dogs at Work: The Sled Dog

You know what a sled is. You know what a dog is. But do you know about sled dogs? Soon, you will.

A Brief History of Sled Dogs

Historically, sled dogs have been used to send communications and transport people, goods and supplies in harsh arctic weather conditions — like that one time teams of sled dogs saved an Alaskan town from an epidemic by traveling over 650 miles in five and a half days to deliver much-needed medicine. (See, we told you it would be brief.)

Popular Sled Dog Breeds

Purebred sled dog breeds include the Alaskan malamute, Chinook, Samoyed and Siberian husky. But most modern sled dogs are Alaskan huskies, a breed with a mixed genetic heritage. With genes from Alaskan malamutes, Siberian huskies, border collies, hound breeds, pointers and even greyhounds, Alaskan huskies are well adapted to life on the trail.


sled dogs ready to mush

Sled Dogs on the Job

Today, sled dogs are still used for transportation in some rural parts of Alaska, Canada and Greenland. But their main role now is racing, or “mushing,” competitively. The two most popular mushing events are the legendary Iditarod and the Yukon Quest.

During races, each dog has a specific place on the team based on their skills. The leader dog is, as you might have guessed, placed at the front of the sled dog harness. They’re the brains of the operation and the most important dog on the team. The wheel dogs are the brawn. Placed at the back of the formation, their legs are the strongest, and they’re responsible for keeping the sled’s speed. And last but not least are the swing dogs. With the perfect mix of speed, endurance and pure athleticism, they’re the heart of the team (and the middle of the formation).

And it’s not just about finding the right formation. Mushers can spend years finding the right chemistry for their team. They look for sled dogs that love working on a team and mesh well with both the other dogs and the musher. An antisocial or aggressive sled dog doesn’t make a good fit, but a friendly and confident dog does.

two husky sledding dogs

What Makes a Great Sled Dog?

Obviously, sled dogs need to be fast and tough. But they also need a healthy, thick undercoat to keep them warm in the freezing temperatures and preserve essential calories. Premium dog foods like CRAVE™ have the nutrients these working dogs need for a healthy coat, plus protein to provide enough energy for all of their adventures across the ice and snow.

While sled dogs may find themselves serving a different purpose now than they did in the past, one thing remains the same: the companionship these pups provide to each other and their musher.

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