The Alaskan Husky is not so much a breed of dog as it is a type or a category. It falls short of being a breed in that there is no preferred type and no restriction as to ancestry; it is defined only by its purpose, which is that of a highly efficient sled dog. That said, dog drivers usually distinguish between the Alaskan Husky and “hound crosses”, so perhaps there is informal recognition that the Alaskan Husky is expected to display a degree of northern dog type. Specializations in type exist within the breed, such as freighting dogs (Mackenzie River Husky), sprint Alaskans, and distance Alaskans. Most Alaskan Huskies have pointy ears, meaning they are in fact classified as a spitz-type dog.
The Alaskan is the sled dog of choice for world-class dog sled racing sprint competition. None of the purebred northern breeds can match it for sheer racing speed. Demanding speed-racing events such as the Fairbanks, Alaska Open North American Championship and the Anchorage Fur Rendezvous are invariably won by teams of Alaskan huskies, or of Alaskans crossed with hounds or gun dogs. Hounds are valued for their toughness and endurance. Winning speeds often average more than 19 miles per hour (31 km/h) over three days' racing at 20 to 30 miles (32 to 48 km) each day.
Alaskan huskies that fulfill the demanding performance standards of world-class dogsled racing are extremely valuable. A top-level racing lead dog can be worth $10-15,000. Alaskans that fail to meet the performance standards of the musher who bred them often go on to be sold to less competitive mushers, allowing them to continue to run.
Alaskan huskies (at least those used for speed racing) are moderate in size, averaging perhaps 46 to 60 pounds (21 to 25 kg) for males and 38 to 42 pounds (17 to 19 kg) for females. Some of them superficially resemble racing strains of the Siberian Husky breed (which is undeniably part of the Alaskan husky genetic mix), but are usually taller and larger with more pronounced tuck-up.
Color and markings are a matter of total indifference to racing drivers; Alaskans may be of any possible canine color and any pattern of markings. Eyes may be of any color and are often light blue. Coats are almost always short to medium in length, never long, and usually less dense than those of northern purebreds; the shorter coat length is governed by the need for effective heat dissipation while racing.
In very cold conditions, Alaskans often race in “dog coats” or belly protectors. Particularly in long distance races, these dogs often require “dog booties” to protect their feet from abrasion and cracking. Thus the considerations of hardiness and climate resistance prevalent in breeds such as the Siberian Husky and Canadian Inuit Dog are subordinated in the Alaskan husky to the overriding consideration of speed. On long distance races they require considerable care and attention on the trail at rest stops.
Alaskan huskies are popular as pets in Alaska; older dogs that have outlived their usefulness as racing dogs make excellent pets for people willing to exercise them regularly. Older ex-racers tend to be very alert and well behaved, as well as somewhat less energetic than their younger counterparts.
Young huskies make good pets if given plenty of space to run and play, but their high demand for exercise and activity makes them a poor choice for urban residents.
Huskies are often healthier in drier climates such as that of interior Alaska. In the more humid regions, they are prone to develop ear and related infections.
If multiple huskies are kept in the same lot they tend to be vocal, howling and barking at each other and any other dogs in the vicinity unless they are trained to be quiet. In crowded neighborhoods this can be a very irritating nuisance to neighbors. They can be trained for silence, albeit with some effort. They are accomplished diggers and will tunnel underneath fences and houses to hunt burrowing animals or to escape their enclosures.
Huskies make relatively poor household dogs. They shed heavily during the Spring and Fall and may be considered hyperactive by sedate humans, running in circles inside a house when bored or cramped. If left alone in a dwelling for long periods they may engage in destructive behavior out of boredom, mischief or malice. They enjoy hunting small and large animals due to a deeply wired instinct known as SMAR or small mammal attack response. When they are hooked up to a sled, and will have to stay there for a while, they may get crazy and excited and start to chew the gang line.
In Alaska and other extreme northern regions they are occasionally killed by moose in the winter. Infrequently, moose in search of non-existent winter browse of willows and mountain ash during desperate times of long cold snaps and deep snow will enter human areas attracted by the scent of fresh straw used as bedding for the dogs. True to their wolf ancestors, huskies tend not to back down from such encounters and an angry moose can easily stomp and kick several dogs causing severe injuries. Most moose/husky encounters occur during runs when a musher accidentally startles a moose on a trail. Most of the time moose avoid fights, but in cases of deep snow when escape is difficult a moose may confuse a sled team for a wolf pack and cause some serious trouble.
Normally, moose are aware that huskies are domesticated, tethered and not a threat and will frequently bed down adjacent to sled dog kennels in order to use the huskies as sentries who will alert the sleeping moose of approaching wolves. Sled dogs tethered in far northern forests may be attacked and killed on their stakeouts by wolves when other prey is unavailable. However this is rare. Professional dog sled racers often surround their lots with high fences to prevent wildlife attacks. More important is a low fence to keep out diseased rodents which can infect dogs by carrying parasites.
Various attempts have been made in the past to organize breeders of Alaskan huskies and to establish a registry for these dogs; such attempts have never received widespread support. Although racing sled dog kennels can be large, sometimes harboring well over a hundred dogs, and the breed population arguably in excess of one hundred thousand, this canine variety remains an informal and unregistered category of dog.
The Alaskan Husky, like its cousin the Border Collie, is a working large dog and defined by its ability to work. Serious aficionados of the breed are hesitant to cede the breed definition to "looks" (external appearance) in fear of losing the dog's defining working qualities and character by placing form over function, as has happened to many other breeds such as the Poodle (which was once regarded as an outstanding hunting dog rather than fashion accessory). This preference for form over function can be seen in other Northern breeds such as the AKC Alaskan Malamute which is bred for a curly tail: the curly tail is a purely decorative standard, and results in a shorter back that is not beneficial to running.