Sled dogs have been used by humans as a form of transportation for centuries. Native civilizations living in polar regions were dependant on large sledding dogs for survival in the frigid climate. Without them, hauling food and supplies across the arctic tundra to their villages would have been impossible. While still debated by scholars, it has been hypothesized that the nomadic Siberian people were once able to cross a now submerged land-bridge across the Bering Strait into what is now Alaska. It is possible that all sledding dogs could be descended from a common ancestor who was brought across this land-bridge with these native people.
The two most recognized breeds of sled dog, the Siberian Husky and the Alaskan Malamute, are considered to be two of the oldest living breeds. While the two are visually similar, and may share their ancestry, they are distinctly different breeds. The Alaskan Malamute is the larger of the two, and are named after Inuit people known as Mahlemut who lived along the Arctic coast of western Alaska. Their size and sheer strength is an indication that they were bred almost exclusively for their ability to freight heavy loads. The Siberian Husky is the smaller and faster of the two breeds. They originated in Northeastern Siberia alongside the Chukchi people who likely used them for freighting, as well as using them as herding dogs to steer reindeer, and as guard dogs to ward off large predators. Of course, both breeds are held in equally high regard for their ability as sled dogs.
Today, sled dogs are rarely used for freighting purposes and are primarily used for the sport of dog sledding. While the sport of dog sledding may not be quite as daunting a task as freighting the food supply for an entire village, it is not a sport to be taken lightly. Dog sledding courses are notoriously long and treacherous, and the food and supplies to survive such a journey are no light load to haul. Sled dog teams are composed of a number of dogs including a lead dog at the front of the pack, point dogs just bead the lead dog, wheel dogs who are closest to the sled, and any number of team dogs in between. These dogs share a close bond with each other, and with their musher whom they view as the leader of their pack.
While the Siberian Husky are Alaskan Malamute are still the most common breeds used for dog sledding, they are by no means the only breeds used. While it is uncommon, it is not unheard of for other working breeds such as German Shepherds or Belgian Malinois to be used. Of course, no matter the breed, is essential that sled dogs be physically and mentally prepared for the challenge. Mushers spend years both training and bonding with their dogs.