Alaskan husky
An Alaskan husky resting during a run at Riley Creek Campground in Denali National Park and Preserve, Denali Park, AK
OriginUnited States (Alaska)
Breed statusNot recognized as a breed by any major kennel club.
Height 20–26 in (51–66 cm)
Weight 35–75 lb (16–34 kg)
Coat Usually double coat
Color Any color or pattern
Life span 10–15 years
Dog (domestic dog)

The Alaskan husky is a breed of medium-sized working sled dog, developed specifically for its performance as such.[1][2][3]

Alaskan huskies are the most commonly used type of dog for competitive sled dog racing, both in short-distance sprint racing as well as long-distance expedition races such as the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race,[4] the Yukon Quest,[5] and the Finnmarkslopet.


The Alaskan husky is not an officially recognized breed by any kennel club, nor does it have a formal breed standard.[6] Unlike breeds developed for the show ring, the Alaskan husky is instead a product of careful selection for desirable sled dog traits from various other breeds, such as aptitude for pulling, endurance, speed, intelligence, appetite, and tolerance of extreme weather.[7][8] As a result of this specific and mindful performance-only based breeding, DNA studies show that Alaskan Huskies share a genetic signature and indeed can be identified accurately on DNA breed tests.[9]

Blue-eyed Alaskan husky, a common feature in the Siberian Husky contributor to the breed

The Alaskan husky is an incredibly athletic dog variety, and as a dog crossbreed their appearance can vary markedly, although various lines have been bred for multiple generations and breed very true to that line's type.[10] Some Alaskan husky lines have very traditional husky spitz-like features with pointed ears and curled tails, while other lines more closely resemble their hound or gundog heritage with tipped or floppy ears, straight tails and tucked up sighthound-like loins.[11][12] As they are not bred with conformation in mind, cosmetic features are not a consideration for breeding, and these features instead tend to follow the purpose of the dog's intended style of sled work.

Generally Alaskan huskies are taller than Siberian Huskies and are lighter in build than Alaskan Malamutes, both of whom they share lineage with and are descended from. On average they stand between 20 and 26 inches (51 and 66 cm) and weigh between 35 and 75 pounds (16 and 34 kg).[11][12] Tough feet are an important feature and desirable trait for breeding consideration. As with their build, the Alaskan husky's coat can vary greatly; they usually have double coats with all colors and patterns of colors seen within various lines.[11][12] Distance-type Alaskan huskies often have denser double coats to better contend with cold temperatures and harsh wind, whereas sprint lines have shorter coats to allow for greater heat dissipation during races at high speeds.

It is common for distance-type Alaskan huskies to be outfitted with dog coats and dog booties during long expeditions and races, in order to regulate temperature and protect the dog's feet from ice and rough terrain.[5] The use of dog coats has become more common into the late 20th and early 21st centuries as even the distance lines have been bred for greater speed, sacrificing some of the heavier and more dense protective double-coat of their Arctic breed ancestors.


As European traders and settlers arrived in Alaska they sought local entertainment, and turned to racing the local means of transportation, sled dogs.[10] Indigenous dogs found throughout Alaska were renowned for their great strength and stamina, but lacked speed, so various outcrosses to fleeter Old World breeds were utilized to produce faster-running dogs, including Siberian imports who dominated local organized races in Alaska.[13] Since the beginning of the 20th century, various breeders have turned to various outcrosses to produce different lines of racing dogs. Most lines today contain some form of traditional husky heritage in their bloodlines, Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies being the most common, although Mackenzie River huskies, Greenland Dogs, and Samoyeds have also been utilized.[10][12]

An Alaskan husky at Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska
Alaskan husky standing on his doghouse

In the latter half of the 20th century the primary use of sled dogs shifted from utility to sport, particularly career competitive sled dog racing. In order to facilitate greater speed for racing sport, various breeds of gundogs and sighthounds have now been bred into Alaskan husky lines, including Pointers, Greyhounds, German Shorthaired Pointers, Salukis, Borzois, Labradors and Setters; some breeders have even used wolves at various points.[10][12][11]


Genetic studies indicate that the Alaskan Husky originates from pre-Colonial North American Arctic village dogs (including precursors to the Alaskan Malamute) and Siberian imports (precursors to the Siberian Husky), crossbred with European breeds such as Pointers, German Shepherd Dogs, and Salukis to improve its performance.[9][8]

In 2015, a DNA study indicated that the Alaskan husky, the Siberian Husky, and the Alaskan Malamute share a close genetic relationship between each other and were related to Chukotka sled-dogs from Siberia. They were separate to the two Inuit dogs: the Canadian Eskimo Dog and the Greenland Dog. The Siberian Husky and the Malamute both had maintained their Siberian lineage and had contributed significantly to the Alaskan husky, which was developed through crossing with European breeds.[8]

Other breeds identified as having contributed to the Alaskan husky sled dog gene pool include Pointers, and a number of other non-arctic breeds by breed and type group. Genetic variation in the Alaskan husky has been analyzed based on the groupings of two purpose-driven distinct populations within the Alaskan sled dog gene pool: a distance group, and a sprint group:[9]

Two Alaskan husky lead dogs hooked up at a race event

Health and physical capabilities

A three-year-old male Alaskan husky

The Alaskan husky has selectively been bred specifically for its athletic performance.[14][5] As such, its level of athletic ability, as well as anabolic efficiency are far greater than the average domesticated dog, especially in endurance feats. Distance-specialist Alaskan huskies out-speed most animals and all other types of sled dogs when running distances of 50 miles or greater, even while pulling moderately sized loads.[5] Studies on the metabolic capabilities in working Alaskan husky sled dogs reveal that their system transitions to utilization of low-glucose energy sources (from high-glycogen carbohydrates) early on during long periods of travel, and their reliance on these low-glucose fuels (such as those higher in fats and proteins) continue and even extend to become more pronounced after working for longer periods.[14] A good appetite is a highly desirable trait, and is emphasized in breeding choices.[15]

Five-year-old male Alaskan husky from championship distance racing lines

Like most working sled dogs, Alaskan huskies are capable of pulling far greater than their own body weight in load while in harness. Sprint teams of Alaskan huskies are capable of speeds of up to 28 mph (45 km/h),[16] whereas distance-specialist teams have completed 938 mile (1510 km) races in just 8 days, 3 hours, 40 minutes, and 13 seconds with time including 40 hours of mandatory rests and other routine rests on the trail.[17]

As specifically purposed working sled dogs, Alaskan huskies can be subject to climate or work-specific health conditions that any sled dogs may experience, such as temperature-related bronchitis or bronchopulmonary ailments, also known as "ski asthma".[18]

In 2020, the largest study of "canine hematologic and serum biochemical analytes" to date was published, including within it the largest data set of healthy athlete dogs; the dogs of reference were 4,804 sled dogs training for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, the overwhelming majority of which were Alaskan huskies.[19] The study found that anti-aging and anti-inflammatory biochemical levels in the dogs increased over time and with training, enhancing the dogs' physical and mental abilities until an average of 6.6 years of age. Despite noted differences in sex, genetic, and age groups in other areas, they were not statistically significant and were outside the scope of the study, making them scientifically inconclusive despite their observance.[19]


The behaviors and temperament of the Alaskan husky can vary greatly due to the wide range of genetic backgrounds and bred-purposes within the breed. As with all sled dogs, a desire to pull and run are essential and are of high priority in decisions of breeding. Mental soundness is also important due to the need for dogs to be in close quarters with other dogs while hooked in the team, handled by people for proper care and transportation, and for dogs on racing teams to perform under environments which include trails crowded with spectators and other dog teams.[15]

As dogs selectively-bred for their ability as working sled dogs without direct physical feedback from the driver, intelligence and problem solving are highly desired in a specimen and are often marks of talented lead dogs, which are often those with the highest consideration as breeding prospects. Dogs are expected to read the trail and situation through instincts and experience, and thus superior cognitive abilities are often bred into Alaskan husky lines in tandem with physical athletic attributes.[20]

See also


  1. ^ Desmond., Morris (2008). Dogs : the ultimate dictionary of over 1,000 dog breeds. Trafalgar Square. ISBN 978-1-57076-410-3. OCLC 213449602.
  2. ^ Collins, Miki; Collins, Julie (2009). Dog driver: a guide for the serious musher (Rev. 2nd ed.). Crawford, CO: Alpine Publications. ISBN 978-1-57779-094-5. OCLC 232327350.
  3. ^ Levorsen, Bella (2007). Mush!: a beginner's manual of sled dog training (Revised, 4th ed.). Mechanicsburg, PA: Barkleigh Productions. ISBN 978-0-9790676-0-0. OCLC 187305124.
  4. ^ "Do many Siberian Huskies run the Iditarod? If not, why? – Iditarod". 12 October 2020. Retrieved 2021-09-11.
  5. ^ a b c d "Sled Dogs in the North". Yukon Quest. Retrieved 2021-09-10.
  6. ^ "Alaskan Husky Breed Information". Vetstreet. 2022-09-21. Retrieved 2023-06-29.
  7. ^ "What is a Sled Dog? – Iditarod". 5 May 2020. Retrieved 2021-11-02.
  8. ^ a b c Brown, S K; Darwent, C M; Wictum, E J; Sacks, B N (2015). "Using multiple markers to elucidate the ancient, historical and modern relationships among North American Arctic dog breeds". Heredity. 115 (6): 488–495. doi:10.1038/hdy.2015.49. PMC 4806895. PMID 26103948.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Huson, Heather J.; Parker, Heidi G.; Runstadler, Jonathan; Ostrander, Elaine A. (2010-07-22). "A genetic dissection of breed composition and performance enhancement in the Alaskan sled dog". BMC Genetics. 11 (1): 71. doi:10.1186/1471-2156-11-71. ISSN 1471-2156. PMC 2920855. PMID 20649949.
  10. ^ a b c d Morris, Desmond (2001). Dogs: the ultimate dictionary of over 1,000 dog breeds. North Pomfret, VT: Trafalgar Square Publishing. pp. 649–650. ISBN 1-57076-219-8.
  11. ^ a b c d Bonham, Margaret H. (2001). Northern breeds. Hauppauge: Barron's Educational Series Inc. ISBN 0-7641-1733-5.
  12. ^ a b c d e Coppinger, Lorna (1977). The world of sled dogs: from Siberia to sport racing. New York: Howell Book House. pp. 212–215. ISBN 0-87605-671-0.
  13. ^ Thomas, Bob (2015). Leonhard Seppala: the Siberian dog and the golden age of sleddog racing 1908-1941. Pictorial Histories Publishing Company. ISBN 978-1-57510-170-5. OCLC 931927411.
  14. ^ a b Miller, Benjamin F.; Drake, Joshua C.; Peelor, Frederick F.; Biela, Laurie M.; Geor, Raymond; Hinchcliff, Kenneth; Davis, Michael; Hamilton, Karyn L. (2014-08-22). "Participation in a 1,000-mile race increases the oxidation of carbohydrate in Alaskan sled dogs". Journal of Applied Physiology. 118 (12): 1502–1509. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00588.2014. ISSN 8750-7587. PMID 25150223.
  15. ^ a b "Modern Sled Dogs; Sled Dog Facts; Alaskan Huskies; Siberian Huskies". 2013-12-26. Archived from the original on 2013-12-26. Retrieved 2021-09-14.
  16. ^ Stephen, Person (2011). Sled dog: powerful miracle. Bearport Pub. pp. 4–10. ISBN 978-1-61772-134-2. OCLC 776988782.
  17. ^ "Fastest time to complete the Iditarod Trail". Guinness World Records. Retrieved 2021-09-14.
  18. ^ Davis, Michael S.; McKiernan, Brendan; McCullough, Sheila; Nelson, Stuart; Mandsager, Ronald E.; Willard, Michael; Dorsey, Karen (2002-09-15). "Racing Alaskan Sled Dogs as a Model of "Ski Asthma"". American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. 166 (6): 878–882. doi:10.1164/rccm.200112-142BC. ISSN 1073-449X. PMID 12231501. S2CID 34948487.
  19. ^ a b Connolly, Sara L.; Nelson, Stuart; Jones, Tabitha; Kahn, Julia; Constable, Peter D. (2020-08-20). "The effect of age and sex on selected hematologic and serum biochemical analytes in 4,804 elite endurance-trained sled dogs participating in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race pre-race examination program". PLOS ONE. 15 (8): e0237706. Bibcode:2020PLoSO..1537706C. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0237706. ISSN 1932-6203. PMC 7444536. PMID 32817656.
  20. ^ "What Makes a Great Sled Dog? Breed, Ambition, Tough Feet". Animals. 2015-01-31. Archived from the original on March 22, 2021. Retrieved 2021-09-18.