Peak Dog vs. Degenerate Dog?

This is Balto, the famous Siberian Husky sled dog who led his team on the final leg of the 1925 serum run to Nome, Alaska. The windchill of the whiteout blizzard when Balto set out was −70 °F. The team traveled all night, with almost no visibility, over the 600-foot Topkok Mountain, and reached Nome at 5:30 AM.

Balto is not the only dog who deserves credit–Togo took a longer and even more dangerous stretch of the run.

And this is a modern Siberian Husky:

Now, don’t get me wrong. He’s a beautiful dog. But he’s a very different dog. I think he’s trying to turn into a German Shepherd-wolf hybrid. Balto practically looks like a corgi next to him.

Siberian huskies were bred by people who depended on them for their lives, and had to endure some of nature’s very harshest weather. We moderns, by contrast, like to keep our dogs inside our warm, comfortable houses to play with our kids or guard our stuff. Have modern huskies been bred for looks rather than sled-pulling?

On the other hand, winning times for the Iditarod have dropped from 20 days to just 8 since the race began in the 1970s, so clearly there are some very fast huskies out there.

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17 thoughts on “Peak Dog vs. Degenerate Dog?

  1. Modern Siberian huskies have a body shape more like Fritz than Balto. http://www.workingdogweb.com/siberian-husky-fritz.htm

    Also, modern Iditarod teams are almost made of Alaskan huskies instead of Siberian huskies. Alaskan huskies are a fairly new breed developed for speed, toughness, and intelligence in cold conditions. The base stock is Siberian husky, but there is a lot of admixture from shepards, running hounds, and native Eskimo dogs.

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  2. I would not be surprised if someone made the case that the Siberian husky looks similar to the German Shepherd for reasons of convergent selection – Siberian huskies being the Soviet dog of choice for guarding gulags and taking down escaping prisoners. (I’m not claiming huskies were used as guard dogs; I’m saying that as a causal role in a plausible explanation that makes sense. Someone would have to check.)

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  3. If you want an appex-dog, look no further than the Saluki.
    But modern breeds are abominations indeed, just look at the English Bulldog.

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  4. My favorite dog I ever had.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papillon_(dog)

    Such a great dog. She died unfortunately. Not noisy like a lot of lap dogs. She would bark but not incessantly. Loved to sit in your lap and hang out.

    Think of all the breeds that have died out. One that interest me is the war dogs of the Cimmerians. A tribe of giants the Romans fought. They finally defeated them by thrusting spears into their eyes while another soldier cut at their legs. After they were defeated they said it took three days to fight off their war dogs. Possibly they were the predecessors of these dogs.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molossus_(dog)

    “…The Spanish conquistadors used armored dogs that had been trained to kill natives….”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dogs_in_warfare

    There’s a guy who writes about violence. James LaFond, who says that the Spanish war dogs were the major factor in defeating the Native Americans. Armored dogs that tore people to pieces. Very frightening.

    http://www.jameslafond.com/

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    • Well, I think the diseases that killed something like 90% of the Native Americans were probably a bigger deal than the dogs, but dogs can certainly be tough.
      Papillons are cute little dogs–little dogs seem underrated. Too many people in my neighborhood have big golden retrievers or labs because they’re supposed to be “good with kids” but IMO they’re much too big for the houses/yards.

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      • “…I think the diseases that killed something like 90% of the Native Americans were probably a bigger deal than the dog…”

        You are of course correct. I should have been more specific. The war dogs impressed, violently, the power of the Europeans of the first tribes they met when relations between them became violent. The tribes were basically slaves of the Aztecs and when Hernán Cortés his horses, war dogs and armor whipped the first tribes they threw in with Cortés as the had no love for the Aztecs who were cutting the hearts out of their children in their temples. So in the first shock attacks by Europeans diseases were not the deciding factor. Later, yes very much so.

        A good book to read on the subjection of the Americas is, “Hernando De Soto, A Savage Quest in the Americas”. These Spanish Conquistadors were savage, vile, evil but either very, very brave or very, very stupid or psychopaths. The risk they took were astonishing. It’s amazing that they weren’t killed to the last Man.

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