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VIDEO: Are Martin Buser's 'designer dogs' bred for a championship?

Tara Young

Four-time Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race champion Martin Buser has a keen eye for what’s going on with his dogs at a given moment, and he’s always striving to predict their behavior. At his Happy Trails Kennel in Big Lake, Buser tunes in to his dogs’ needs, strengths and physiology year-round. He has converted the Alaska Zoo’s former elephant treadmill into a dog trainer that he keeps in a chilled storage room for canine workouts. 

Buser has spent the last year breeding what he calls “designer dogs” of championship caliber. Buser’s kennel tracks his animals’ bloodlines and uses line-breeding techniques. “So the dogs are targetedly bred, so we keep coming up with champions,” said the musher, who owns the third-fastest Iditarod time in the history of the race. There are indications it's working this year. Son Rohn Buser drove a Happy Trails team to victory at the Kuskokwim 300, the world’s premier middle-distance race, in January against a tough field that included four-time Iditarod champion Jeff King. 

Buser moved from Switzerland to Alaska in 1979 to work with sled dogs full time. “All of my adult learning was here in Alaska, and I call this home. And then, of course, eventually I became a naturalized citizen.” Following the 2002 Iditarod, in which he set a new race record of eight days, 23 hours, Buser became an American citizen at the finish line in Nome. “That was probably one of the highlights of my racing career,” he said. 

This year will mark Buser’s 30th Iditarod. He holds the title for most consecutive finishes -- 28 in a row -- and has been in the top 10 some 18 times. But since finishing fifth in 2008, Buser hasn’t recorded a top-12 finish in his last five races. Even so, he continues to race hard from the start. Last year, Buser was the first musher to the Yukon River, arriving in Anvik three hours ahead of John Baker’s record pace from 2011 before his dogs got ill and faded in the second half of the race. 

Watch all of the videos from our musher profile series Voices from The Last Great Race, see slideshows from the trail and more on our Iditarod page. See this video on Vimeo or YouTube, and be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel for more great voices from the Last Frontier. Contact Alaska Dispatch videographer Tara Young at tara(at)alaskadispatch.com.