- Denali is the only national park with a sled dog den.
- Visitors can meet the dogs, but they are not there for entertainment.
- Working dogs are dogs with important duties in the park.
Denali National Park and Preserve had sled dogs long before visitors arrived.
“We’ve had dogs in the park almost continuously for the last 100 years,” said David Tomeo, manager of the Denali kennels, noting that they are the only sled dog kennels in the entire federal government.
According to Tomeo, the first park employee bought the first sled dogs in 1922 to mark the park boundary, build patrol cabins and tell gold miners they could no longer harvest sheep and caribou from the park to feed their crews.
A century later, Denali’s sled dogs continue to do important work in the Alaskan wilderness, but they’re also a popular visitor attraction.
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What breed are Denali sled dogs?
Denali’s sled dogs are Alaskan huskies.
“It’s a mixed breed. It’s not a purebred or registered with any kennel,” Tomeo said, noting that their genetic diversity stems from the gold rush era when all kinds of dogs were brought to Alaska. “Some people might call them blunt, but because we put so much intent into our breeding, they’re bred so carefully for health and genetics that they’re bred more carefully than purebred dogs.”
The kennel aims to breed a new litter every year. Sometimes both the dam and the sire come from the kennel. Other times, like with this year’s litters, Denali partners with outside kennels to promote the health and diversity of the dogs’ bloodlines.
“We breed only the best dogs and the healthiest dogs that will produce the best puppies,” he said. “You may or may not get one from the litter that’s as good as your parents, but you can strive for it, and the training we do for them is always about building their confidence so that hopefully they can be one of those great lead dogs that we have.”
Denail’s first sled dogs were 14 months old when they were brought to the park a century ago. For years they were known as the seven brothers. In their honor, this year’s cubs were each named after one of the brothers and called the centennial litter.
Mike, Bos’n and Skipper were born in June.
“This is their training year,” Tomeo said. “All fall and all winter is just exercise and fun exercise for them. They’re not going to be skiing. They’re still growing and developing, but what we’re going to do (is) they’re going to go hiking with us. We take them skiing and they’re running and running. We’re going on patrol with our dogs. once in, the pups will run after the dog team… And the whole idea of them chasing the adult dog team is that we have a free choice to just follow them.”
She said puppies can sometimes get scared when they encounter difficult terrain, such as steep hills and small ravines, but they learn by watching what the adult dogs do, and in late winter they will run alongside the adults when they pretend to be skiing.
“They just love to run and they love to see what’s around the next bend in the trail, it’s kind of fun,” he said. “They love getting out to explore the park just like we do.”
Are dog sleds still used today?
Most of the year, when snow is on the ground, Denali’s sled dogs help rangers access the 2 million acres of federally designated wilderness in Denali’s center, where only hiking, skiing and dog sledding are allowed to keep the area clear. possible.
“The reason dog sledding is allowed is because this landscape was done by Alaska Natives thousands of years ago before it became a national park, so dog sledding is known as a traditional way of travel,” Tomeo said.
He noted that in the 1930s, a pack of dogs could be found in almost everyone’s backyard, but not so many now.
“So visitors come in and say, ‘Wow, there are 32 dogs here?’ They’re dog rangers and they work for the government?” they hear a story about the tradition of dog sledding in this landscape,” Tomeo said. “And we help preserve that cultural heritage.”
Although it is a busy season for tourists, during their off-season in the summer, the dogs take part in demonstrations by pulling rangers in carts to show what they do in the park for the main part of the year.
“(Visitors) can get the impression that they’re here to entertain them, and I try to break that belief,” Tomeo said. “We work here in the park. We break trails out of here and into the wilderness area through deep snow that visitors can use. We carry supplies, we help the park scientists. They’re basically working dogs.”
Can you spot sled dogs in Denali National Park and Preserve?
Denali’s kennel is open to visitors year-round, but has limited hours outside of summer, the only season when the kennel hosts daily shows.
Since the dogs are often in the park during the winter, visitors hoping to see them are advised to check with the park’s visitor center before visiting the kennel.
During the summer, Denali also runs a cub cam so people can see the cubs from anywhere in the world. The webcam has been turned off for the 2022 season, but the park plans to post “stickers” on social media.
Are other dogs allowed in Denali?
Other dogs are allowed in other parts of Denali, but not in the kennel.
According to Denali’s website, “during guard shows in the summer, an unknown pet in the area will cause a pack reaction that will cause all the dogs to jump, bark, and jump in an attempt to scare away the unknown animal in our kennel.” It can be just as dangerous in the winter. “Kennels staff can use dogs or take teams in and out of kennels at any time, and an unknown pet on the premises can pose a serious safety hazard to anyone.”
In addition to the potential dangers and disruptions, Tomeo notes, there are also health concerns.
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“Our dogs are so isolated from other dogs that their immune systems probably aren’t as strong as dogs that live in Anchorage or Fairbanks,” she said. “So we have other stray dogs stay away.”
This includes service animals.
“We know your service animal is extremely well trained, but our dogs do not react differently than any other outside pet, so the same safety concerns apply,” Denali’s website states, noting precautions for people who want to visit. can be seen. while leaving their service dogs “in competent hands outside the kennels area”.
Can you go dog sledding in Denali?
Denali’s sled dogs are considered guard dogs and do not ski for visitors.
However, people living in Alaska can mix with their dogs without a permit.
Visitors who want to experience dog sledding can book a trip with an authorized guide.
At what age do sled dogs retire? Can sled dogs be pets?
Denali’s sled dogs are retired at nine years of age.
“After eight winters with us, we retire them, and we have a long list of people who have applied to adopt our dogs,” Tomeo said, adding that the average lifespan of an Alaskan husky is about 15 or 16.
“They make great, great house dogs,” she said.
Although separation anxiety is common after years of growing up and living with a pack, she said dogs generally mellow out by age nine and can adjust to their new homes fairly quickly.