Here is Grettir the strong, Our oldest sled dog that we still have. We have only one dog left that has his genetics in her, and we hope to preserve those genetics before he retires. He is a powerful, aggressive, and hard working dog. He (and Drooge below) are the genetic base from which our breeding plans come from.
I originally proposed the idea of a Northern Prepper Dog (NPD) in the beginning of this blog. One might also call it the Boreal Prepper Dog (BPD). We are about one generation of breeding into this plan; fusing our heavy freight huskies with other breeds to create a new kind of prepper dog for the northern forests of the subarctic. It's not a new idea, rather one that has been around since the stone age. It predates the invention of the wheel, of writing, of metal tools and other gifts of modern life... we might sarcastically include the invention of the so-called, "Smart Phone."
The stone age person, living on the edge of the great ice age glaciers that spread thousands of mile further south than today, would have called the smart phone a, "dumb phone." For this modern life seems to produce dependence upon an ever increasing array of technologies, that make us more helpless without them. The primal man was more independent, more sustainable, more in harmony with nature. He could make due with what was on hand, and didn't get his gear from Walmart or Sportsman's Warehouse.
So these crafty, hands on stone age people took what was on hand, and adapted it to their needs to solve problems. They took a seemingly unavoidable nuisance, and turned it into an asset that increased their chances of survival. Around every stone age camp were feral dogs, wolves, coyotes, or some sort of primal canine. They were a nuisance at best, and a menace at worst. A stone age child might be dragged from the hut or tent when a tired stone age mother neglected to guard her child for a few moments... from those persistent pests... wild scavenging dogs.
Someone somewhere, or perhaps many people in many places at different times, discovered the same idea. No one really knows when, where, or who; but somebody tamed the wild dogs and made them a tool of human survival. Eventually they discovered the idea of controlling the breeding of these dogs to increase desirable traits. The process is still going on now.
Yet today, what we consider survival strategies in modern life, have evolved into something that barely resembles what our stone age ancestors looked for. Winning in a show ring by strutting in a handsome gait, fetching a ball, Frisbee, or just looking really cute and cuddly; all these now pass as a survival strategy. But do these things enhance human survival success? Does breeding dogs with traits that sooth and flatter human egos make humans better adapted to survive? Do they even enhance the survival chances of the dogs we design?
I will leave these questions for the reader to ponder. I have my own answers but I want to consider what exactly a prepper dog is to me, and how I want to build a better dog.
"Better for what?" one might ask.
Well, simply better for living in a greater harmony with my environment. I want a dog that can help me live more directly from the resources that are locally available, and to protect those resources from competitive exploitation of intruders. In the Northern Boreal forests, Stone Age man developed a distinctive kind of dog. That dog is almost non-existent now, but some forms of it still persist in diluted specimens. The first use of a stone age prepper dog was hunting, and watch dog duty. With it's keenly superior senses a dog could find prey animals that the hunter could not find without the aid of a dog. His hunting success increased if his dog had a good nose, good ears, and the intelligence to tree or hold at bay a prey animal. Back at camp or in the field a dog had to be able to stand guard while the hunter skinned and butchered the animal, for back then there were large predators that were a constant worry for the Stone Age hunter.
The second duty of a Stone Age dog was as a draft animal. Hauling large loads of mammoth meat, wholly rhinoceros, or other large game was a tedious chore for man. As an Alaskan who has butchered many moose miles from the nearest road, I can assure you that a rear moose leg is a very tiresome burden after a few hundred feet. So some clever stone age hunter made either dog packs or some sort of drag frame to strap to a pulling dog.
Later the sled was invented, and dogs pulled meat by sled. An example of this clever use of a dog is the tradition of some Eskimos to wet a caribou hide in the field, roll it up with the flesh side out and freeze it in the shape of a crude runner or toboggan. This could then be harnessed to the dog and frozen meat piled into it for a trek home across the treeless tundra. All that was needed for this method was the hunting weapons, and a cutting instrument for butcher and making rawhide strips for roping and harnesses. The dog went out free roaming to find game, and came back with a frozen sled of meat, all made from the prey animal.
We see the pale remnants of these types of dogs in Alaska, Canada, Scandinavia, and Siberia. The Boreal subarctic zone, and the Arctic still have aboriginal specimens of these dogs. But the real aboriginal dogs still used in a subsistence life are obscure and rare outside of their remote ranges. We have Alaskan huskies, Siberian Huskies, Malamutes, and the Spitz hunting breeds of Scandinavia and Russia available to Western buyers. But these breeds have been bred for specialization, loosing there multi-tasking prowess of their forbears, or even worse have been ruined by being bred to be ego soothing pets for their owners.
An Alaskan husky will not and can not hunt, at least not to the degree of success that the original huskies from a hundreds of years ago. The Athabaskan hunters of Alaska and Canada used to have a hunting dog, sometimes called a, "giddy." A hunter would have at most two or three if he was rich. but the average Athabaskan hunter would have only one. They dog roamed freely to range for catching the scent or track of game; while the hunter pulled a sled, following the dogs lead. Such dogs were gradually merged with Eskimo sled dogs, and European dogs to make the present day, "Alaskan Husky." That original hunting prepper dog of the Athabaskan natives is extinct.
The Malamute was once a great prepper dog. It tracked, hunted, and pulled sleds full of whale blubber, caribou, seals and human cargo. But with it's entrance into the show ring and AKC culture, the Malamute of the original sort no longer exists. Many are not fit for pulling sleds the practical long distances required for subsistence living. Most do not have that original hunting genius that their forbears were famous for.
So here at St. Hugh's Mountain Kennel we are trying to recreate a similar primal prepper dog for our environment. Our first step was to fuse sled dogs with more protective breeds, such as Great Pyrenees and Akita. The purpose of such breeding was to make dogs that were able to work in the harness, pulling sleds, and still be wary and suspicious of strangers, intruding animals, and other wild canines such as wolves. We wanted dogs big enough and aggressive enough that they can fend off wolf attacks, for there is a long history of wolves eating sled dogs while the owner is asleep in his tent or cabin in Alaska. They needed to have a pack identity, so as to be able to live peacefully with each other, but also not tolerate strange canines in the area.
The second step is to breed in more obedience and biddability, for sled dogs are notorious for escaping and running around the neighborhood uncontrolled. As we often check traps and hunt on skis, we need dogs that will tag along in a controlled manner, staying with us and working with us to find game. We once had sled dogs that were able hunters and powerful sled dogs, but when loose would hunt... without the hunter. They would run miles away in pursuit of game... for themselves, and not in cooperation with the hunter. We needed dogs that understood the partnership of hunting with a human; the idea that the human and dog can get more game together than either could by themselves. So we found a highly intelligent and biddable Akita female, and Karelian bear dog that is highly bonded with me in the field. We are in the first stages of fusing their genetics into our breeding plan.
We also have a third step that we are beginning. It is to reinforce the guardian/watchdog traits in our dogs by crossing them with a very large and powerful Male Akita we have, and also a large, powerful female Central Asian shepherd. The goal is to increase the aggressive hostility to intruding canines and bears. The male Akita is an aggressor and an effective fighter. He is capable of mortal combat with wolves and even perhaps black bears. We call him, "Martel," which in Frankish means, "The Hammer." Molly, our Central Asian Shepherd female, is also very vigilant. Whenever a fox sneaks through the neighborhood, or a straggling moose, she is the first to notice and sound the alarm with loud, deep toned barking. She also has the strength and physiology for combat with large canines.
The end goal of all these cross breeding plans is a dog that has the courage and aggressive combat capabilities of the guardian breeds, the powerful athletic strength of the sled dogs, and the intelligent hunting drive and keen senses of the hunting breeds. The goal is a hunting, guarding, draft dog fit for the deep cold and long distance work of Alaska.
We also look for physical traits also. Coats should be medium length, with a downy undercoat, and frost resistant guard hair outer coat. The legs should be somewhat long in proportion to torso size for deep snows. Feet should be large but toes tightly packed together to prevent ice balls from forming between the toes in long treks in fresh snows. The two center toes on the foot should be prominently longer than the outer toes, as Northern wolves feet are. This has the snow shoe effect of being able to float higher in the fresh snow and for packing tail.
The belly and loins should be covered in fur, especially the male genitals and female mammary glands. We have never had any of our older dogs suffer frostbite on their genitals, but some of the bald bellied pure breeds have had such problems.
We prefer the ears to be upright and pricked like wild canines, not too large but upright for good hearing and cold resistance. Larger pendulous ears are prone to frost bite. Sight and scent should be excellent for hounding and gazing open spaces. Many modern breeds of sled dogs are almost blind, unable to see past fifty to a hundred feet. A hunting breed must possess keen vision. Scent work is very important for obvious hunting needs.
The physical torso should be muscular, with broad powerful hips, well rooted shoulders, and thick back muscles. In the Central Asian steppes, where dog fighting is a way to determine the best flock guardian dogs for breeding, powerful hips and muscularity are primary physical traits looked for in a dog that can kill wolves. Wolves are said to be weak in the hips, and that a dog with more powerful hips can defeat a wolf the same weight. I once had an Iditorad champion racer visit my dog lot, and he noticed my older sled dogs crossed with Great Pyrenees and Akita. He said that his Athabaskan father had dogs like mine, noted the hairy bellies of my dogs and brown pigmented whites of the eyes. He said that dogs like that could kill wolves, and sometimes his father's dogs encountered wolves. Dogs like that are quickly going extinct. His father's dogs couldn't win races, but they could run all day long hauling the typical heavy trap line loads that were the occupation of the Athabaskans back then.
Loins should be mildly tucked up for agility. Among Scandinavian hunters of moose and bear, the ability to dodge in sideways bounces is essential to holding large dangerous game at bay. This requires a, "high and dry," loin. For sled work the shoulder must always be slightly higher than the hips when pulling. Otherwise the dog will get sore and tired quickly after a few miles of running with a heavy load.
Some other traits that are well worth considering are the skin and neck length. Dogs that encounter and fight large predators, especially in shepherding societies of the Central Asian region, tend to have loose skin. On one of my Central Asian shepherds I can pull a handful of skin and twist it completely in a 360 degree twist without pain to the dog. This trait enables the dog to completely turn around even if his neck or shoulder skin is in the jaws of an attacking wolf and/or dog. Wolverines and Badgers are able to do this also, to the surprise of anything stupid enough to grab them. That makes him able to retaliate if attacked from behind, even if pinned by the attackers jaws. Since the neck is the common target for attacks from dogs and bears, this loose skin is sort of a surprise defense. The neck must also be long enough to scent the ground in tracking tasks, but not so long that the shoulders tire in long runs from holding up such a long extended neck and fat head.
Weight should be above 65 and not more than 120 pounds. The preferred weight range is 75-85 for females, and 80-100 for males. Dogs too small are not strong enough to fight and pull draft work, and dogs too large are prone to degenerative disorders, and eat more than they produce in useful labor.
We are planning two or three litters this fall. First we will breed our Central Asian female with either the Karelian Bear Dog, or the male Akita (Martel). Second we will be breeding our large white female Huskita with either our Siberian Laika male, or the Karelian bear dog. She will be bred to one of these hunting breeds because she has shown some prey drive, and superior athletic power. Finally, we may be able to breed our female Siberian Laika to a male Huskita that has shown some prey drive, but is also capable in the harness as a good hard puller for dog sledding.
Hopefully the genetic potential will produce puppies that have the particular traits that I am looking for. Check with us around November to see what we have available, and perhaps you too may find the traits that you are looking for. If you are looking for an outdoor adventure companion dog, that can do their fair share of the work, we may have what you are looking for.
Here is one of the finest prepper dogs that ever lived. Drooge (Russian for friend), departed from us at 14 years old not long ago. He was the greatest dog we produced from 15 years of breeding, and the descendant of local trap line dogs from another local line of remote trapping dogs that have since ceased to exist. His kind of breeding goes back to the gold rush days before statehood in Alaska, when people still made a living working with dogs in the wilderness hunting, trapping, and, heavy freighting. He could pull a full sled all day long, bay moose, chase bears, and operate as a team player with the pack of sled dogs we had. May he rest in peace in dog heaven. He was basically perfect.