Siberian huskies are known for their wolfish good looks, but deep down, they’re all dog. Here are 10 interesting facts about this beautiful northern breed.
1. Huskies are born to run.
When the semi-nomadic Chukchi people of Siberia had to expand their hunting grounds some 3000 years ago, they sought to breed the ideal sled dog. These dogs had to have endurance, a high tolerance to cold, and the ability to survive on very little food. The resulting pups could carry loads over long distances with minimal food and warmth. While there is controversy as to how pure the lineage is, Siberian huskies are widely believed to be the closest to the original Chukchi dogs.
2. Their skills impressed Alaskans.
Huskies made their American debut at the second year of the All Alaska Sweepstakes Race in 1909. Rumor had it that these canines were superior sled dogs; they proved the gossip true by dominating the racing competitions in Alaska for the following decade [PDF].
3. A lot of features help keep huskies warm.
Huskies have a thick double coat that keeps them well insulated. Their undercoat is short and warm, while the overcoat is long and water-resistant. Their almond-shaped eyes allow them to squint to keep out snow. Huskies will wrap their tails around their faces while they sleep; their breath warms the tail and keeps the nose and face protected from the cold.
4. A group of huskies saved a small town in Alaska.
In 1925, the children of Nome came down with the widely feared disease called diphtheria. The closest anti-toxin was 1000 miles away in a hospital in Anchorage. The train could only take the medicine so far, and it was up to mushers with teams of sled dogs to transport the package the remaining 674 miles.
Twenty mushers and their sled dogs battled the bitter cold in a relay to get the medicine there safely. It took 127.5 hours to complete the mission, but the medicine made it to the village. The final leg was completed by a black Siberian husky and his team. When finally reaching their destination, the dogs were hailed as heroes and appeared in newspapers across the country.
If this story sounds familiar, you might remember it from the 1995 animated movie, Balto. You can see a statue of Balto in New York’s Central Park (the real Balto is stuffed and mounted at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History).
5. Huskies are not great guard dogs.
Huskies are not one-person dogs—they’re unsuspicious and friendly to strangers. This can be charming, but it’s not very helpful when you’re looking for a canine sentry. Of course, their fierce wolf-like features might be enough to deter any intruders.
6. Huskies don’t get fatigued.
Huskies often run long distances on very little food. When humans attempt this, we start to use our body’s glycogen and fat and eventually get fatigued. But huskies burn a lot of calories without ever tapping into these other energy stores—and they do this by regulating their metabolism.
“Before the race, the dogs’ metabolic makeup is similar to humans. Then suddenly they throw a switch—we don’t know what it is yet—that reverses all of that,” animal exercise researcher Dr. Michael S. Davis told the New York Times in 2018. “In a 24-hour period, they go back to the same type of metabolic baseline you see in resting subjects. But it’s while they are running 100 miles a day.”
7. You need to watch huskies closely.
These pups love to run and explore. They’re known to be escape artists and are capable of digging under fences and slipping out of leashes.
8. The United States Army used huskies.
9. Huskies are closely related to wolves.
Studies say that the shiba inu and the chow chow share the most DNA with the gray wolf. Coming in near the top is the Siberian husky. That said, huskies are domesticated dogs and have evolved separately from their wild cousins for thousands of years.
10. Blue eyes make them distinct.
Not many dog breeds can boast piercing blue eyes. Some dogs—like the Australian shepherd or Weimaraner—have them thanks to the merle gene, which results in the loss of pigmentation. But huskies can have bright eyes without that gene. Not all huskies have blue eyes, though.
11. Huskies have a lot to say.
Huskies are very expressive dogs. They make a whole assortment of noises, from typical dog barks to wolf-like howls. The breed is also known for being rather talkative, as you can see in the video above.
A version of this story originally ran in 2016; it has been updated for 2022.