Dogs have been man’s best friend for thousands of years, with archaeologists estimating that our ancestors over 100,000 years ago may have had some kind of relationship with domesticated wolves.
Between then and now, much has changed in the role, appearance and temperament of the world’s favourite pet animal. Starting out as purely hunting companions, dogs went on to become guards for our livestock, vermin control for our grain stores, assistance dogs for people with disabilities, rescue dogs for people lost at sea, buried beneath avalanches or those struck by low blood sugar. They have also become beloved pets and have created an unmistakable place in our art and culture.
It seems strange today to consider that the short-haired, wheezing, snuffly pug is a descendant of the mighty wolf – big, independent hunters who lived in challenging terrain. Selective breeding over the years has distilled the particular desirable traits of those long gone ancestors into concentrated examples of what we today call breeds. The Labrador, Chihuahua, the Puli and the greyhound are all members of the same species but could not look more different to one another.
In part this is due to their new roles. Labradors are gun dogs, bred to brave chilly water in a bid to retrieve fallen birds. Chihuahuas were on the menu in Mexico when they were first bred, before becoming fulltime lapdogs. The Puli, with its unusual waterproof dreadlocks, was bred to herd and guard livestock in Hungary. The greyhound, part of the sighthound family that includes Afghan hounds and Salukis, uses sharp eyesight and incredible speed to catch game.
Which brings us to the Siberian Husky. This dog was originally bred in north eastern Siberia and is descended, like many breeds in the Northern Hemisphere from the Qimmiq or Eskimo Dog. The people who first bred this dog used it to pull sleds across icy tundras, allowing them not only to survive harsh winters but to explore further than they could have on foot.
The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, still called the toughest race on earth, is run by teams made almost entirely of Siberian huskies, who show incredible endurance in the face of challenging conditions and forbidding terrain during the course of the 550km race, which sometimes can take up to 2 weeks to complete.
One of the most famous Siberian Huskies is Balto, who became the subject of an animated film about his brave journey between Nenana to Nome in Alaska in 1925. He was the lead dog in a team that brought life-saving medical supplies to the remote community.
With their legendary endurance, compact size and striking facial markings, it’s no wonder that huskies have captured hearts and imaginations all over the world.
The dog is a mascot for many sports teams worldwide and a quick search online will reveal the intelligence, stubbornness and capacity for mischief these dogs have. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, huskies have become one of the most beloved dog breeds in the world.