Wednesday, March 02, 2005


During this last, Yukon Quest sled dog race, there were two mushers I was rooting for most of all. They were Blake Freking and John Schandelmeier.
This is because of the values I believe they represented. The value of doing more with the dogs you have.

There at one time was a conventional wisdom, that in order to win, what is needed is an enormous pool of dogs, with several litters produced a year, in hopes of whittling down from this pool, the best 15 dogs or so to put together a team. Breeding and putting together 100, 200 or more dogs. Culling all but the best.

By culling I don't neccessarily mean, euthenizing dogs, though historically this is what happened. I think it happens less and less, but even if dogs are passed on to beginning mushers or even pet owners, there is a glut of dogs created. Too many unwanted dogs.

I think this problem is exacerbated by multi-generational expirimental breeding programs. For example buying a pure bred greyhound or pointer, with the hopes of producing a cracjerjack team, three generations down the road. What generally happens is the first generation cross is hit or miss, a few stars created and other dogs that are worthless as sled dogs. Then the second generation will have more success. For anything other than a sprint race though, you need a quarter or less hound dog.

So really what justifies bring all these unwanted dogs into the world? Winning a race? For Sprint racing, this approach has had the most success. Today, the top sprint teams resemble hound dogs more than huskies. It is truly amazing what these dogs can do. They reach new heights of speed and endurance every year. These however are very specialized dogs. Sprint racing is a very specialized format that varies greatly from other forms of mushing like winter camping, expeditions and even long distance racing.

How this effects distance racing is that distance races are above all a race, and people want fast dogs. So commonly what mushers do is incorporate the best sprint dogs into their breeding programs and produce houndier faster dogs. These dogs also need more care on the trail. They aren't as naturally suited to the rigors of traveling long distances and sleeping out in the snow. They need coats to keep them warm and heating pads and blankets when they sleep. Their feet are not as tough and many need to wear booties for the entire duration of the race.

The trade off is the hope that this extra care won't take away from the superior speed of the dogs.

A different approach is to breed faster siberian huskies. This is Blake Freking's approach and the approach of the mushers that mentored and came before him.
Careful long term breeding programs. Not massive breeding programs, but litters that produce a higher success rate of good dogs. Dogs that are bred tightly, have less variation and more predictability. These dogs all have good coats and feet and sled dog ability. This will get passed off to their offspring.
Over time, testing breeding stock in harness and only breeding proven dogs, there is an increase in quality of dogs.
Also siberian husky mushers have not as many dogs to choose from, there are few racing quality siberians out there, and the ones available are expensive. The cost comes from various genetic tests that are done as well as the AKC registraition costs. In addition to that the dogs have great aesthetic appeal with their natural beauty. Also there is not an expectation of overnight success in breeding siberians.
The results of breeding two relatively fast siberians will not be as great as breeding a husky to a saluki for example. So a competitive racer will focus on training and conditioning to bring out the best in their dogs.

Now John Schandelmeier, is not a siberian racer. He races rescue dogs. Alaskan huskies that were dropped from other teams. He started a program called the "second chance league" he hopes to pass on the idea that all dogs deserve a second chance.
That dog you are thinking of cutting from your team might just need a second chance. A little more training, might bring out its ability.

The idea of "throw away" dogs is what he is fighting. This is a problem with all dogs not just sled dogs.

There are no doubt other mushers with these same values. Many mushers can be sucessful with small kennels and limited breeding programs aimed at the highest return and percentage of success. Also there is no doubt, that many of these mushers with huge breeding programs expirimenting with other breeds have improved the athletic performance of the alaskan husky sled dog. I just think that perhaps there is a little too much focus on exciting new crosses, and achieving success by the large multi generational breeding programs involved. . I think there can be aproaches to winning that rely more on training what you have and bringing out the best in them. Not cutting dogs every year and buying more dogs to get an competitive edge, but spending more time in training, perfecting the dogs you already have.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

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March 4, 2005 at 11:35 AM  
Blogger Mike Callahan said...

" What generally happens is the first generation cross is hit or miss, a few stars created and other dogs that are worthless as sled dogs."

Not true. The first generation is the hybrid and often the most reliable outcome. After that generation you get the dubious outcome. Look at Egil Ellis's dog Mike. He is a hybrid and half pointer. Breeding to Mike is not such a good idea in my opinion. Elementary genetics.

March 4, 2005 at 11:41 AM  
Blogger Theo_musher said...


Why is there only one Mike then? Was he the only pup in a litter?

I agree that f1 has the best effect of the hybrid vigor, but I also would imagine that it is also the luck of the draw. I would expect there would be littermates that were quite vigorous also but perhaps not in the way that would make them great sled dogs.

But I agree that breeding to Mike would be a mistake also, but still to get one Mike I think you would have to breed a lot unless you got lucky.

March 5, 2005 at 10:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hallon was NOT the bitch Egil wanted to breed to Hop, but she was the only one in heat when he came around. Egill accidently got Mike and Zeb (there were others) out of this breeding and both Mike and Zeb throw excellent dogs. You can sit around all day and argue about Hybrid Vigor and all, but look at results. Buddy and Terry Streeper did countless breedings to Mike, and the dogs from those breedings are the dogs that beat Egil in the 2003 ONAC. Eddy Streeper got some magnificant dogs out of Mike, and even Susan Butcher found it beneficial to breed to Mike. It did not Egil that long to get one Mike, Mike is 9 yrs at this time, and Egil has only been running hound crosses for 13 or 14 yrs. Helen Lundberg was running hounds while Egil was still running Siberians, but then Egil decided he liked to go fast and got rid of his sibes. Some people have had luck with half Hounds, but most others prefer 1/4, which discredits any stock in hybrid vigor. I get really into pedigrees and all, but when it comes to deciding which male I'm going to breed to, I look at performance and how that dogs previous offspring are doing.

Jake Robinson

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