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Husky is a general name for a sled-type of dog used in northern regions, differentiated from other sled-dog types by their fast pulling style. They are an ever-changing cross-breed of the fastest dogs. The Alaskan Malamute, by contrast, was used for pulling heavier loads. Huskies are used in sled dog racing. In recent years, companies have been marketing tourist treks with dog sledges for adventure travelers in snow regions as well. Huskies are also today kept as pets, and groups work to find new pet homes for retired racing and adventure trekking dogs.
The word husky originated from the word referring to Arctic people in general, Eskimo, "...known as 'huskies', a contraction of 'Huskimos', the pronunciation given to the word 'Eskimos' by the English sailors of trading vessels." The use of husky is recorded from 1852 for dogs kept by Inuit people.
Nearly all dogs' genetic closeness to the gray wolf is due to admixture. However, several Arctic breeds also show a genetic closeness with the now-extinct Taimyr wolf of North Asia due to admixture: the Siberian Husky and Greenland dog (which are also historically associated with Arctic human populations) and to a lesser extent, the Shar Pei and Finnish spitz. An admixture graph of the Greenland dog indicates a best-fit of 3.5% shared material; however, an ancestry proportion ranging between 1.4% and 27.3% is consistent with the data and indicates admixture between the Taimyr wolf and the ancestors of these four high-latitude breeds.
This introgression could have provided early dogs living in high latitudes with phenotypic variation beneficial for adaption to a new and challenging environment, contributing significantly to the development of the husky. It also indicates that the ancestry of present-day dog breeds descends from more than one region.
Huskies are energetic and athletic. They usually have a thick double coat that can be gray, black, copper red, or white. Their eyes are typically pale blue, although they may also be brown, green, blue, yellow, or heterochromic. Huskies are more prone to some degree of uveitis than most other breeds.
Examples of these landraces in modern times have been selectively bred and registered with various kennel clubs as modern purebred breeds, including the Siberian Husky and the Labrador Husky. The Sakhalin Husky is a Japanese sled dog related to the Japanese Spitz and the Akita Inu.
The Mackenzie River husky is a subtype referring to different dog populations in the subarctic regions of the American state of Alaska and Canada.
Since many owners now have husky dogs as pets in settings that are not ideal for sledding, other activities have been found that are good for the dog and fun for the owner.
- Skijoring is an alternative to sled pulling, but mainly used in somewhat the same environment as sledding with the exception that the owner (cross-country skier) does not need a full pack in order to participate.
- Dog hiking is an alternative for owners who live closer to woodland trails. The owner travels with their dogs along trails in the wilderness. This activity allows the owner and dog to gain exercise without using the huskies' strong sense of pulling. Some companies make hiking equipment especially for dogs in which they may carry their own gear including water, food, and bowls for each.
- Carting, also known as dryland mushing or sulky driving, is an urban alternative to dog sledding. Here, the dog can pull a cart which contains either supplies or an individual. These carts can be bought or hand-made by the individual.
- Bikejoring is an activity where the owner bikes along with their dog while they are attached to their bike through a harness which keeps both the dog and owner safe. The dog, or team of dogs can be attached to a towline to also pull the biker.
In popular culture
- The phrase three dog night, meaning it is so cold you would need three dogs in bed with you to keep warm, originated with the Chukchi people of Siberia, who kept the Siberian husky landrace dog that became the modern purebred breed of Siberian Husky.
- Huskies are the mascots of several post-secondary institutions in the United States, including the Houston Baptist University, the University of Washington, the University of Connecticut, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, Northeastern University, Michigan Technological University, Northern Illinois University, St. Cloud State University, University of Southern Maine, and the University of Wisconsin-Marathon County. They are also the mascots for Saint Mary's University (Halifax), George Brown College (Toronto), and the University of Saskatchewan in Canada.
- Huskies have been the subject of several motion pictures, particularly in the context of sledding, including Balto, Iron Will, Snow Dogs, and Eight Below.
- The Twilight Saga, which features werewolves, and the TV series Game of Thrones, which heavily featured dire wolves during season one, are thought to have inspired a surge in popularity for husky breeds; however, animal charities have also seen a massive increase in owners abandoning the dogs as they become too difficult.
- The television series Due South features a half husky, half wolf named "Diefenbaker" as a major character on the show.
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