AK: How genetics changed mush dogs of the past

Lots of dogs resting in Galena, where many mushers are taking their 24 hour rests this year (Photo: Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media)

The huskies running today’s Iditarod bear little resemblance to the bulky sled-dogs Alaskans used to rely on year-round. As breeding programs have refined genetic lines to create dogs designed to excel at the thousand-mile winter-time race, the cost of specialization has been a lack of versatility. Decades ago, sled-dogs might have run in races, but they were also a source of labor. They helped haul everything from ice to beaver meat.

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Benedict Jones was born in 1933 at a fish camp up river from Koyukuk where he’s lived most of his life. His neighbor a few miles down, George Atla—better known as the Huslia Hustler – was born just a few days later. Alaska Public Media’s Zachariah Hughes spoke to Jones at the checkpoint in Koyukuk about how sled-dogs were in the old days.