The Mackenzie River Husky

When Robert Peary got to the North Pole (and became the first man to do so), he found a bewildering assortment of sled dogs, and he couldn’t tell one breed from another.  In fact, he is said to have opined that things would be better if all the sled dogs were treated as variants of one major breed.

It didn’t happen, of course. The demands made of sled dogs were the same, but a good number of regionally bred dogs took on the name of the location in which they were found, and neither did they all look the same. Their names include the Old Crow Dog, the Ft. McPherson Dogs, Hay River Dogs, Arctic Red dogs, and others.

These dogs weren’t bred differently to “one up” the dog in the next settled area. Northern people lived in isolation from each other, often far apart, and they bred the dogs they had. This lead to a number of regionalized “types,” several of them breeding true over time and leading to some breeds we have today.

Depending upon the source, the Mackenzie River Husky is one such dog and we mention it in the spirit of education.

Many dog experts maintain that the Mackenzie isn’t so much a breed as a type that described some sled dogs throughout the Arctic. Early on, the name was often used as a sales tool to sell unwanted mutts, crossbreeds that were a mix of native sled dogs, St. Bernards, Newfoundlands, other breeds, and maybe even wolf.

The research of Alaskan, Donna Dowling, lead her to a different conclusion. She noted that the mixed dog described in the previous paragraph was the Mackenzie Hound, a more urban dog far different from the classic Arctic sled dog archetype she knew as the Mackenzie River Husky. Sometimes called Porcupine River dogs, these long legged dogs likely got their name from outsiders who couldn’t tell apart freight huskies from different villages.

The decline of the Mackenzie River Husky began in the 60s with a perfect storm: Snowmobiles, the Canadian government’s mass killing of dog teams under the pretense of eradicating rabies, and higher profits from sled dog racing leading to different “trends” in sled dogs – all lead to near extinction for the Mackenzie. Dowling attempted to find any remaining dogs in an effort to resurrect the original MacKenzie and keep it from vanishing. She found a few living with serious mountain folk, and a few were scattered in remote areas of the Alaskan interior. We don’t know the current status of her efforts to save these freight dogs from disappearing altogether, but we’ve reached out and hope to hear from her.

You may be wondering why we post about a dog that some sources describe as a mixed breed.  Our reasons are two-fold. After reading about Donna Dowling’s research – the time she spent “dug in” at libraries, and her interviews with Canadian Mounties, “old timers” involved with Admiral Byrd’s Antarctic Expeditions, trappers, guides and mailmen, strongly suggest that at one time, anyway, the Mackenzie River Husky was likely a stand-alone breed.

Secondly, we’ve noted that the name, Mackenzie River Husky, is being used as a marketing ploy to sell oversized (or “giant”) Alaskan Malamutes, some of whom are touted as “AKC registered.”  A reminder that the AKC is a dog registry. It isn’t a guarantee that the breeder has adhered to a breed standard, let alone ethics, standards or guidelines established by the parent club of that breed. The AKC Malamute standard is clear about size:

The desirable freighting sizes are males, 25 inches at the shoulders, 85 pounds; females, 23 inches at the shoulders, 75 pounds. However, size consideration should not outweigh that of type, proportion, movement and other functional attributes. When dogs are judged equal in type, proportion, movement, the dog nearest the desirable freighting size is to be preferred. The depth of chest is approximately one half the height of the dog at the shoulders, the deepest point being just behind the forelegs. The length of the body from point of shoulder to the rear point of pelvis is longer than the height of the body from ground to top of the withers. The body carries no excess weight, and bone is in proportion to size.

Breeding solely for size to meet a taste for giant Malamutes is a disservice to the breed and the dog. A Malamute is not supposed to be enormous. Buyer beware.

Image: We don’t have consent to share images from Donna Dowling’s website, but you can see them here. We used a generic outline for our thumbnail image. 


One thought on “The Mackenzie River Husky”

  1. We have a MacKenzie River Husky coming up for 14 months old. He came from a Husky puppy rescue out of Manitoba [Endless Paws]. No papers with him but we believe so as he fits the criteria and colouring last measured at 27″ to shoulder and good proportions. He is powerful watching him race through the forest.
    We recognise he is off mixed breed, he has a lovely temperament, wants to meet and greet but at the same time will discipline any ‘aggressive” usually male dogs who growl and give out hostility; then he is off as if nothing happened.
    He has a high intelligence, very independent, we often say we don’t train him, he trains us.
    Location Gulf Islands British Columbia Canada.

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