Known for spectacular nature, gold mining, the best salmon and glaciers, Alaska is truly the last frontier of North America. Few humans live in this arctic region. However, Alaska is a place where plenty of wild life thrive – including dogs!
Alaskan dog breeds are not your typical dogs. For starters, they need to be bred with a thick fur coat in order to keep them warm during the cold winter months. Plus, most Alaskan dogs were bred to be sled dogs, which means high stamina is needed.
That being said, we take a deep dive at the four Alaskan dog breeds and what makes them unique and special. And while the 4 dogs are all distinctly separate breeds, they do share a lot of similarities. Read on to learn about these arctic-loving dogs!
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History of Dogs in Alaska
Dogs have been used in snowy regions, such as Alaska, for thousands of years. In fact, it’s estimated that these dogs were essential for transportation even over 9,000 years ago in certain regions of the arctic circle. Without them, travel would be too difficult.
However, Alaska was not always home to their most “famous” breeds. Rather, it’s believed that the dogs were first brought to North America from northeastern Siberia. Though eventually, these dogs were later replaced by the Inuit tribe dogs roughly 2,000 years ago.
These Alaskan sled dogs that we know today are the last descendants of the Inuit dog lineage. Most of which, are in the same spitz-type dog family. For this reason, Alaskan dogs tend to have a similar look: erect pointed ears, double coats, sharp snout and more.
Alaskan sled dogs were essential
Just as the use of Alaskan sled dogs were dying down, the 19th century gold rush in Alaska had brought back the demand for sled dogs. Let’s be honest – Alaska is not an easy state to travel through, especially in the past without modern transportation vehicles.
In fact, many of the gold camps and mining sites were only accessible by dogsled during the long, snowy and brutal winters. These Alaskan dogs were not just transporting people. Rather, anything that had to be moved went with these dogs.
Sled dogs in Alaska were necessary. The late 1800s and early 1900s are now known as the ‘Era of the Sled Dog.’
For example: letters, mail, commerce, trade and medical supplies all went through sled dogs. Without these dogs, there would be no efficient way of moving around Alaska. In a sense, there would be no realistic way for many to live in the freezing state.
And despite the invention of modern transportation vehicles, sled dogs are still used in certain rural regions of Alaska today. Even today, plenty of enthusiasts compete in annual races in Alaska, such as the renowned Iditarod Trail and many others.
Because Alaska is a region that requires transportation during harsh winters where blizzards are rampant, most Alaskan dogs are meant for sled-pulling. Even imported “non-Alaskan” dogs will have this job.
All Alaskan Dog Breeds
There are 4 Alaskan dog breeds, including the Alaskan Malamute, Alusky, Alaskan Klee Kai and the Alaskan Husky.
Although some breeds originated or were developed from Alaska, others were actually imported and/or refined in Alaska later on. Read on to learn about these amazing Alaskan dogs.
1. Alaskan Malamute
Highlights: Devoted, Dignified, Friendly
The Alaskan Malamute is the largest among all Alaskan dog breeds. Weighing up to 80 lbs and standing nearly 26 inches tall, the Malamute is a force to be reckoned with. It’s why they’re one of the top dogs for pulling heavy sleds.
The Malamute was developed for various roles and jobs in Alaska. While they’re primarily used to pull heavy loads today, they were used for hunting seals and polar bears in the past. For these jobs, the Malamute needed to be quick, strong and with high stamina.
Malamutes are considered a staple of sled dog breeds. However, they don’t specialize in speed or long distance trips like the Huskies. Rather, they’re slower and travel a much shorter distance. But because of their size, they’re able to pull around 1,100–3,300 pounds of weight.
The Malamute will usually pull people, in addition to camp supplies, crates loaded with food and other heavier cargo. This means that they’ll have plenty of energy and tend to need a minimum of 2 hours of good and intense physical activity each day.
Check out this Malamute in a pulling competition here.
Alaskan Malamutes are very similar to other spitz-type dog breeds, as well as most of the popular arctic dogs. In fact, Malamutes share many similarities with the Husky and are often described as a bigger and heftier Husky But of course, there are key differences too.
- The Alaskan Malamute was named the official dog of Alaska in 2010.
- Alaskan malamutes were crucial during World War II. They were mostly used as sniffer dogs for mines, weapon carriers and search and rescue dogs.
- During the First World War, roughly 450 Alaskan Malamutes were sent to France to make a journey to the isolated mountain outposts in order to deliver relief supplies.
Malamutes in Alaska
While historians believe that dogs arrived in North America 12,000 years ago, many believe they did not settle in Alaska until 4,500 years ago. The Alaskan Malamutes were most likely bred and developed by Alaska’s Malemiut Inupiaq people.
So in other words, Malamutes are not a landrace breed of Alaska. Rather, the ancestors were brought to the state many thousands of years ago. From there, they were further developed by the Alaskan natives to create the Malamute we know today.
For many years in Alaska, these large dogs served prominent roles alongside humans. The Malamutes would hunt, pull and work. All of which, were essential in Alaska. So it’s no surprise they were extremely popular during the Klondike Gold Rush.
Today, the Alaskan Malamute is arguably the staple breed of the state. In fact, this breed was made the official state dog of Alaska in 2010. There probably isn’t another dog breed as important or significant to Alaska as the Malamute.
The Alaskan Malamute is a dog with high prey drive, thanks to their original purpose and role as a top hunting dog and sleigh-puller. This means that they don’t do so well in a household with smaller pets, such as cats, hamsters and guinea pigs.
But despite being a massive dog, they’re much friendlier than they look. They love to be around and with humans, thus making them terrible guard dogs. Plus, their tendency to remain silent will make them even worse watchdogs.
For the most part, a Malamute will have a soft nature and gentle demeanor. Few will be aggressive or “dangerous,” especially with the right training. Though with smaller kids, they can still pose a threat as they are large and can unintentionally knock over a kid.
2. Alaskan Klee Kai
Highlights: Energetic, Curious, Smart
The Klee Kai is not your typical Alaskan dog breed. While the others were developed for various work in the snowy region, the Alaskan Klee Kai was bred for companionship. After all, these small dogs will weigh just 20 pounds at most.
In short, the Klee Kais are a smaller version of Alaskan Huskies. The two distinct dog breeds look very similar in looks, though they share differences in temperament. However, that’s what these dogs were intended to be – companions without the intense work ethics.
The Alaskan Klee Kai are not mini Huskies. They are nicknamed mini Huskies due to their marking and coloring patterns.– Mydiamond (Husky Owners Forum)
What’s differentiates the Klee Kai even more is the standard sizes. That is, these dogs come in 3 sizes: toy, miniature and standard. This means that some Alaskan Klee Kais can stand as tall as 13 inches and others as tall as 17 inches.
Though they’re a relatively new dog breed, they’ve grown in popularity quickly. And in 1997, these dogs finally became recognized by the United Kennel Club, further solidifying their legitimacy in the canine kingdom as a top companion from Alaska.
- The word “Klee Kai” comes from the Inuit word for “little dog.”
- Despite being a popular small companion dog, the Alaskan Klee Kai is less than 50 years old.
- Alaskan Klee Kais are somewhat rare because their litters are extremely small, often with just 1 to 3 puppies at a time.
Developing the Klee Kai in Alaska
Given their name, it’s no surprise that this dog breed was developed in Alaska. In fact, they originate out of Wasilla, Alaska. The person largely credited with the development of the Klee Kai is a woman named Linda S. Spurlin.
All she wanted was a smaller Husky. And during a trip to Oklahoma, she saw a small Siberian Husky that gave her the idea of developing one. Once Spurlin returned, she went straight to work by developing and breeding the Klee Kai.
Most breeders that want to develop a smaller dog introduce the dwarfism gene. However, that is not the case with the Klee Kai. Instead, she bred Huskies with smaller similar breeds, such as the Eskimo dogs and Schipperke to reduce the size over many generations.
It took about 10 years to finally reveal the modern Alaskan Klee Kai. And although Spurlin retired from breeding dogs, others picked up the torch. Klee Kais were a hit in Alaska and eventually made its way around the world as a top companion.
Klee Kai Temperament
Linda Spurlin did a fantastic job in breeding for temperament. It’s why they’ve become such popular and sought-after dogs. Klee Kais are known for their energetic and lively personalities, which likely came from the Husky side.
And while the Alaskan Klee Kai is a friendly and people-loving dog, they can be excellent watchdogs due to their alert and cautious nature. With a little training, they’ll be a great second pair of eyes for the home and your property, despite being small.
Because they were bred from the Huskies, the Klee Kais tend to inherit the vocalness of the Husky. They may bark and howl, though they won’t be nearly as loud as the Husky. And because the Klee Kai is a sensitive breed, they’ll express their displeasure with sounds.
3. Alaskan Husky
Highlights: Devoted, Playful, Dignified
You may be thinking: what’s the difference between an Alaskan Husky and Siberian Husky? While the two breeds share a very similar genetic background, they do have a few differences. For example, an Alaskan Husky is slimmer with a more noticeable tuck-up.
The Siberian Husky is known for its mesmerizing blue eyes or a combination of eye colors. However, the Alaskan cousin will mostly have just brown eyes. And when it comes to size, Alaskans tend to be just slightly smaller, though weighing almost the same.
But what makes the two truly different is in the temperament. Alaskan Huskies were bred specifically for the job of pulling sleds. The Alaskans have better stamina and are usually the choice-of-dogs used for long distance races. They can run 100 miles in 24 hours!
Check out these Alaskan Huskies hard at work.
Unlike the Siberian Husky, the Alaskan Husky is unregistered breed. They’re still considered a hybrid dog today. Siberians work, but they’re also show dogs that compete in shows, which may explain why one is recognized and not the other.
- The Alaskan Husky is a hybrid dog developed from a mix of the Siberian Husky, Greyhound and German Short-Haired Pointer.
- Alaskan Huskies can run up to 28 miles per hour (mph), making them one of the fastest dog breeds in the world.
- In 1925 during the midst of a brutal winter, the town of Nome was faced with a major diphtheria outbreak and no treatment. Huskies delivered the serum on a 674-mile journey, effectively saving the whole town.
Huskies in Alaska
The history of the Alaskan Husky starts with the Siberian counterpart. Despite popular belief, the Husky in North America is a lot more recent than one would think. In fact, it’s believed that the first came to the continent in 1908.
And as the name suggests, Siberian Huskies originated in Russia. However, the first were imported to Nome in Alaska by fur trader William Goosak. They were set to compete in the 1909 All Alaska Race with a tough distance 408 miles.
The dogs Goosak brought to Nome in 1908 varied. Some were long and leggy, others shorter coupled and heavier boned, some marked symmetrically, some not.– Siberian Husky Club of America
And because they were much smaller, no one believed in them. People laughed at Goosak and called the dogs “Siberian Rats.” And while they didn’t win, the Huskies placed third despite the laughable 100 to 1 odds stacked against them. This did, however, get people’s attention.
It took several decades with different racers experimenting with Siberian Huskies before they were fully breeding these dogs in Alaska. And when they did, some breeders started breeding for speed and endurance, which is why we have the slightly different Alaskan Husky today.
Alaskan Husky Temperament
The Alaskan Husky still retains the playfulness of the Siberian, though they have a better work ethic than the Siberian. They were bred to be the ultimate sled-racing dogs, after all. As such, they need a lot of physical activity each day (2 hours).
Because they’re the ultimate pack dogs, as they often having running mates in the pack, these dogs will get along with other pets of the family. These Huskies are fiercely devoted and often described as loyal to a fault. They’ll stick by their owner’s side no matter what.
They are very vocal dogs, though they’re not big barkers. Instead, these Huskies will howl and make all kinds of interesting sounds. Being vocal is just how they communicate with one another and with the owners. It’s unavoidable, so just let them howl away!
Highlights: Loyal, Energetic, People-loving
The Alusky is not a purebred dog recognized by a major kennel club. In fact, they’re the hybrid of the two most famous Alaskan dogs: the Alaskan Malamute and Husky! And because both dogs were bred in Alaska, so is the hybrid version.
Both parent breeds were originally bred to be sled dogs, so you can expect the Alusky to have the same instincts and desire to pull sleighs. In addition, the high energy level and lively personality that is seen in both will likely be inherited as well.
These dogs can vary in size, often ranging from medium to large. Even so, they’ll always be sturdy and durable with a solid build. The almond shaped eyes can be brown, blue or mixed depending on which parent they take more from.
Plus, the fur double coat of the Alusky can come in an array of colors. They can come in white, gray, brown, cream, golden and even salt and pepper. Since both parents look eerily similar with the wolf-like features, expect the Alusky to have the same.
- The Alusky was bred to provide a more flexible option for transporting loads through snow.
- Aluskies are highly intelligent hybrid dogs, though their stubborn streaks make them more difficult to train.
- These hybrid dogs are notorious for digging holes. And during the winter time, they’ll dig up piles of snow and hang out in the holes.
The Alusky’s Role in Alaska
Because these dogs are very rare and still widely considered a hybrid dog, little is known about them. In Alaska, they were bred to offer a more versatile option for pulling sleighs. While Huskies are faster for sled-pulling, the Malamutes can pull heavier loads.
So when combined, the Alusky strikes a nice balance between the two. They’re able to carry a heavier load than the Husky, but move quicker than the Malamute. But despite this slight advantage, these dogs still have not received mainstream adoption in Alaska.
Currently, it’s difficult to find these dogs outside of Alaska or any cold region. Like the parents, they do not fare well in warmer climate thanks to their thicker coats developed to weather the snowy storms of Alaska. There’s little use of Aluskies outside the arctic region.
The Alusky is as charming and lovable as both the Husky and Malamute. They will have an outgoing side that will effortlessly blend into any family. It doesn’t matter if they’re with new friends or loved ones, they will always greet them with a big smile.
So if you’re looking for a watchdog, they may not be right for you. It’s also worth noting that these dogs have extremely high prey drive. They’ll have instincts to chase down small animals and in some cases, small children. That said, socializing is important.
Aluskies are not great dogs if you have to spend a lot of time outside the house. Plus, they don’t do well when left alone for long periods at a time. They’re people-oriented dogs that love nothing more than to be the center of attention, always.
So which Alaskan dog breed is your favorite? Let us know in the comments section below, especially if you have met one or currently own one.
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