Born to Run

Gus Guenther races Alaskan huskies. Males grow to between forty and sixty pounds, while females reach weights of thirty-five to fifty pounds. During runs, the dogs wear booties to protect their feet from cracking and abrasions, and sometimes they wear coats. The dogs possess a thick “double” coat of fur, but in extremely cold temperatures, an additional layer of protection is sometimes necessary. The life span of an Alaskan husky that runs regularly is ten to fifteen years.

“Like people, there are some dogs that are destined to lead. There are dogs that love to run up front, that love that extra responsibility, that have the physical tools. It’s like watching some really great athlete, say Michael Jordan, at the top of his game. You’re looking at near perfection.”

Guenther begins racing his dogs when they reach four years old, and they generally continue competing until they are nine or ten. The huskies run recreationally until they are twelve or thirteen. They then retire and live in Guenther’s cabin as pets.

“I attribute their long life span to the fact that they are getting plenty of exercise, they’re living in the cleanest, most pristine environment, and they’re eating a diet that most people would be happy to eat,” Guenther said.

The dogs’ diet varies based on the time of year, how many miles they are logging each day, and their metabolic rate. Guenther feeds his Alaskan huskies high-quality dog food with a healthy dose of salmon and beef. The dogs eat much less in the summer than in the winter. During the winter, their meals are supplemented with pure beef fat.

Guenther's dogs on the run

Photo: Barbara Redington

“In the winter, when I’m really running the dogs, they get a hot meal in the morning,” Guenther said. “It’s high-grade kibble mixed with warm water. Depending on how much they run that day, they’ll get anywhere from two to six meat snacks while they’re running. Sometimes they get a broth—water mixed with some type of flavoring—during the day just to keep them hydrated. After the day is done, they get another hot meal.”

It’s Guenther’s responsibility to put his dogs in a position to succeed. That includes determining which are the fastest and strongest members of his team and which are the leaders of the pack.

As an IUP student, Gus Guenther knew that he would live in the Land of the Midnight Sun. Read about him and his dogs in Call of the Wild

“Like people, there are some dogs that are destined to lead. There are dogs that love to run up front, that love that extra responsibility, that have the physical tools. It’s like watching some really great athlete, say Michael Jordan, at the top of his game. You’re looking at near perfection.

“We’re pretty lucky with the team we have—it’s full of really good leaders, especially Junior. He’s an incredible dog. His grandfather was the very best dog I’ve ever run. I would trust my life with Junior. If there’s a blizzard and I don’t know where I’m going and he has to find the trail, I trust him to get me there.”