Several distinct dog breeds are in common use as sleddogs, although any medium-sized breed may be used to pull a sled. The best-known purebred sleddog breeds are the Siberian Husky, the Alaskan Malamute, the Canadian Inuit Dog, the Greenland Husky, and the Samoyed. There are other less well-known rare sleddog breeds such as Mackenzie River Huskies, Chinooks, and Seppala Siberian Sleddogs. Dog drivers, however, have a long history of using other breeds or crossbreds as sleddogs. In the days of the Gold Rush in Alaska, mongrel teams were the rule, but there were also teams of Foxhounds and Staghounds. Today the unregistered hybridised Alaskan husky is preferred for dogsled racing, along with a variety of crossbreds, the German Shorthaired Pointer often being chosen as the basis for crossbreeding. Some years ago, a team of Standard Poodles participated in the Iditarod Trail long-distance race.
Sleddogs are expected to demonstrate two major qualities in their work (apart from basic physical capability to pull the sled). Endurance is needed to travel the distances demanded in dogsled travel, which may be anything from five to eighty or more miles a day. Speed is needed to travel the distance in a reasonable length of time. Racing sleddogs will travel up to an average twenty miles per hour over distances up to 25 miles. Over longer distances, average travelling speed declines to 10 to 14 miles per hour. In poor trail conditions, sleddogs can still usually average 6 or 7 miles per hour.
Sleddogs pull various sorts of sleds, from the small 25-pound sprint-racing sleds, through the larger plastic-bottomed distance racing toboggan sleds, to traditional ash freighting sleds and the trapper’s high-fronted narrow toboggan. Sleddogs are also used to pull skiers and to draw wheeled rigs when there is no snow. A team of sleddogs may consist of anywhere from three to two dozen animals. Modern teams are usually hitched in tandem, with harnessed pairs of sleddogs pulling on tuglines attached to a central gangline. Trappers in deep snow conditions using the toboggan will hitch their dogs in single file with traces on either side of the line of dogs. Dog teams of arctic natives are usually run in “fan hitch,” each dog having its own tow line tied directly to the sled.
Driving sleddogs has become a popular winter recreation and sport in North America and Europe; sleddogs are now found even in such unlikely places as Australia and Patagonia.