I read with interest that the Iditarod Sled Dog Race is taking place this week. Which led me to the eventual question about the dogs that go through this grueling test of stamina. Long associating breeds like Alaskan Malamutes and Huskies with the nether regions of Alaska, I assumed this is the type of dog that would pull the sleds.
However, several years ago, my aunt and uncle bought land in northern Minnesota and became part of a local dog mushing group. Along the way, they acquired some 25 sled dogs that they housed in their “dog compound” of dog houses on their property. Turns out many of the ideal sled dogs are mutts, or mixed breeds, just like so many of our household pets we adopt at the local shelter.
Which leads me to my next question? Could it be because there really is something to this idea of “hybrid vigor”? It makes sense that while a purebred Malamute might be good at some things, that perhaps of combination of various breeds might produce the ideal mix of stamina, speed, leadership, direction, etc.
Hybrid vigor has been on my mind lately as I watch my dog, Simon, grow into old age, just turning 14 years of age the beginning of this year. When I adopted Simon, I was told he was mostly Flat-Coated Retriever. But Flat-Coats, like so many purebred retrievers, have a host of health issues that plague them and usually cut their life at 9 or 10 years of age.
At 14, Simon has had few health problems. Not only that, he still gallops around the neighborhood and as recently as last fall, hiked 6-mile hikes along with his younger, very rambunctious sibling, Shawnee. I have been amazed at how vigorous he still is, despite his advanced years.
Finally, last month, curiosity got the best of me. When I’d been at a shelter last year, I’d seen a Doggy DNA test you could purchase. In February, I purchased said test from Amazon. The process is actually quite simple — requiring a quick swab of his cheek with two separate swabs, drying them for five minutes and then mailing them in a prepackaged mailer.
Today, I found out the results and what a surprise it was! Not only does Simon have zero Flat Coat in him, he is mix of more than 4 different breeds. The rundown of 25% Golden Retriever (I knew there was some sort of retriever), 25% Cocker Spaniel, Chow, and Dalmatian (what????) along with some other assorted breeds was a stunner.
But given the host of problems purebreds have, I breathed a sigh of relief, and more than that had a chuckle. He is the poster dog for mixed breeds, and apparently whatever that amalgamation is, it’s brought him a very good life. He’s hiked numerous Fourteeners, been a devoted, loyal companion to both us and his other animal house mates.
Perhaps the ultimate hiking mountain dog is a combination of lots of different breeds, just like the sled dogs. Maybe there is something to this hybrid vigor….