Thursday, October 07, 2010

Alaskan Huskies are a Breed Apart

From the study, it can be concluded that the Alaskan Husky has a unique genetic signature, as well as obvious contributions from other breeds.

The Alaskan husky is composed of two sub populations:
Sprint and Distance

Of the two the Sprint population shows the greatest heterogeneity, but interestingly the highest percentage also of the unique Alaskan sled dog genetic signature.

The distance sub population show less heterogeneity but also has more contribution from Siberian husky and Alaskan malamute genetics, in qualities related to endurance. Also the most successful distance racing dogs are more closely related to the sprinting sub population dogs. It can be concluded from this that the best Sprint racing dogs can be successful in distance racing also whereas the reverse is not true.

Another interesting finding is that there appears to be no correlation between pointer genetics and athletic performance in terms of speed, endurance or work ethic.

Some other findings weren't so surprising to me, such as the sprint population having more contribution from hounds than the distance dogs.

One point I find that needs clarification is the distance sub population having more contribution from what the study calls "Anatolian shepherd."

I don't believe that the AKC breed known as the Anatolian Shepherd has made any contribution whatsoever to the Alaskan Sled dog gene pool, and neither have sharpeis, shitzus nor tibetan terriers, whose genetic markers also showed up in the study.

The "Anatolian shepherd" is just a breed of dog with a closed studbook, based on some People that brought some Flock Guardian dogs back from Turkey in the 1970's.

I think what these genetic markers are for are just flock guardian/mollosser genes in general. These types of dogs historically spread all over Eurasia and are believed to be descended from the Tibetan Mastiff. So I think it was various types of Mastiffs, St. Bernards, Newfoundalands, great Pyrenees etc. that made the original contribution to the Alaskan Husky gene pool, during the Gold Rush.

The genetic markers from the lapdogs showed up basically because these breeds come from Asia, and that is no doubt where the indigenous huskies in the Alaskan husky gene pool came from also, when they crossed the land bridge in the Berring strait with the first native Americans.

But what is most interesting to me is that there really is a unique Alaskan sled dog signature and that its stronger in the top sprint lines.

I chalk this up to the fact that these dogs originate with alaskan husky village dogs used by the Athabaskan indians around Huslia. These are indians not eskimos, not white people. So that would make sense why they would have had unique indian type dogs originally. The Eskimos would have had Malamutes along with the whites and the whites would have had Siberian huskies and also dogs with more of a mollosser content.

When the Iditarod was started these long distance lines were created from the Indian dog gene pool but also with big contributions from malamutes and Siberian huskies. So now the genetics of the two sub populations reflect that. Also historically Athabaskan sprint racers in the villages would trade many dogs back and forth pooling their dogs collectively to field big teams in the races like the Rondy and Open North American. Whereas when you picture what Iditarod mushers do, its usually white people that are fairly well off, financially who own their own land and keep more to themselves, in their breeding programs. So that's reflected in distance lines being more genetically isolated, though still not as isolated as AKC pure breds.

Its also interesting about elite dogs transitioning from sprint to distance being one way. A "good dog is a good dog" in terms of a good sprint dog being a good distance dog, but not the reverse.

As far as what to conclude from this in terms of creating a breeding program that could potentially win distance races: I think its obvious that distance racers should breed their dogs to top ONAC bloodlines, that don't contain too much pointer and they should probably out cross to the fastest siberian huskies they can get a hold of.

I think the fact is that the level of competition between elite sprint teams is greater than what you find in the distance games and that this creates a more severe selection criteria.

But still, though, Iditarod/Quest dogs still really need a certain amount of Siberian/malamute genetics.

Also if you wanted to create a really tough draft dog that pulls really hard to recreate a Gold rush type freight dog an anatolian Shepherd Malamute cross would be something to consider.


Blogger Sara said...

well, you are correct about native village dogs being the reason that most Alaskan Husky sled dogs are unique. However Huslia is only one contribution and not an more or less than other villages. Including Eskimo dogs, not akc mals. The genetic study can be interpreted in a variety of ways. And there are more than two sub groups, as working dogs make up a third and are not sprint or distance. They are highly sought after and often contribute to Distance bloodlines.
Stephanie, Fairbanks Alaska

October 8, 2010 at 8:13 AM  
Blogger Theo_musher said...

Well, I think Huslia had a bigger contribution than other villages just going by race history and popular studs that show up in pedigrees. I don't think dog breeding is necessarily democratic.

It would be interesting if the had sampled so called "working dogs" to see what their genetics were like. I know the Denali Ranger dogs have Greenland dog in them and that the dogs around Eagle actually do have AKC malamute in them plus eskimo dog.

October 8, 2010 at 12:52 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Hi Theo_Musher,

I am the engagement editor for, an online news source, and I found your blog using google. We just published this article today about Urban Mushers and their battle to train their dogs while not being cited by local police for being in the parks or on the trails after the 11pm closure time. I thought you might be interested in it and might drum up some good discussion on your site. If it is alright I would like to send you more articles as winter is quickly approaching and the Iditarod is right around the corner.

Thanks and enjoy!


October 14, 2010 at 10:36 AM  
Blogger Theo_musher said...

Sure send them That sounds interesting.


October 14, 2010 at 2:19 PM  
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