do you need to get into sled dog sports? Obviously you
need a dog. But what kind, how big and how old are all
questions that newcomers to the sport ask.
Ellis, formerly of Sweden, now of Willow, Alaska with
Mike, a pointer-husky cross. Egil has been
dominant on the sprint trails for several seasons with
credit: Helen Lundberg
The answers may surprise
you. First of all, any dog of medium or larger size, say
35 pounds, or more can be considered a potential sled dog if
they have a desire to pull and please. Many different
breeds and mixed breed dogs are sled dogs in addition to the
common Siberian Husky, Samoyed and Alaskan Malamute.
On many of the top competitive
teams you will find carefully bred hybrids of various
kinds. These days, German shorthair and English pointers
crossed with traditional Alaskan Huskies are tearing up the
tracks and setting new records.
old? It is best to wait until young
dog matures somewhat before trying him (or her) in harness, but
there are no hard and fast rules. As long as it is fun for
the dog and the trainer, you'll be laying a good foundation
for a long working relationship. Having fun with you dog
is the most important thing you can do. If it stops being
fun, then it's time to stop for the day. Don't try to do
too much at once and always end on a positive note. Very
young dogs, 3-4 months can even be taught to pull a little
weight behind them with a proper fitting harness. It gets
the dog used to being in harness and associating the harness
with a good time.
|Tug Hill Challenge, PSDC,
photo by Monica
Don't try to use the harnesses
frequently found in pet supply stores - they are for walking
dogs and are not made right for pulling. There are many
sled dog equipment outfitters who will gladly help you fit your
dog for a proper harness. Check our links for some
Any dog must be
in good health and be feed according to his needs. A
working dog has special needs and should be feed according to
the level of work they are doing. If you have any
questions, consult your veterinarian for basic nutritional
advice as well as advice on housing for your location and, of
course, health maintenance.
you are just working with one dog, you will probably be thinking
about 'skijoring', which is a rapidly growing sport enjoyed by
athletic skiers, mostly using cross-country or Nordic ski
there are numerous outfitters dealing in skijoring equipment and
they can be helpful sources of information.
with dogs will require more than one dog, two is pretty much the
minimum and then only for smaller individuals, let say no more
than 90-100 lbs. You would also be looking for somewhat
larger dogs if possible, probably in the 45 - 55 lb.
range. You could go larger, but that is up to you.
Again, the dog's desire to work for you is more important than
their physical size. Some pretty famous dogs haven't fit
the standards for size, but made up for it with tremendous
desire and athletic ability.
you want to jump into the sport with both feet, the best
approach is to apprentice yourself to an experienced dog
driver. Very often, racing kennels can use some extra help
with the chores and the training. In return, you'll have
the opportunity to watch and learn how things are done.
Driving a team of dogs masterfully is not a skill learned
overnight and many of the best dog drivers of today are second
and third generation (or more) dog drivers. It can be life
style not just a hobby and there is much to be learned.
However, the experiences you will have along the way will give
you a lifetime of memories and teach you many lessons which will
serve you well in other activities.
of the equipment required will vary according to what activities
you pursue. Running 'sprint races' requires different
equipment than 'distance racing' and camping or winter expeditions
via dog team have another set of requirements. Running
dogs with wheeled rigs or 'gigs' is popular where snow is in
short supply and gigs come in all sizes and weights. For
small teams, you naturally want a small light weight cart, for
larger teams, heavy carts or even small cars (for really big
teams) are in order. Whatever the size, the most important
feature are brakes - you must have brakes capable of controlling
your speed, stopping and keeping your team stopped.
Coppinger, L. The
World of Sled Dogs: From Siberia to Sport Racing. Howell
Book House: New York, 1979.
P.O. Box 149, Ester, AK,
99725-0149 USA http://www.mushing.com
Mush with Pride,
P.O. Box 84915, Fairbanks,
AK 99708-4915 USA. http://www.mushwithpride.org
Dog Veterinary Medical Association (ISDVMA).
P.O. Box 543, Sylvania, OH 43560 USA http://www.isdvma.org
Remember, control of your team is always 100% your
responsibility, not the dogs!
always distractions; from moose and deer in remote or rural
areas to dogs, cats, horses, cows, squirrels, humans, bicyclists,
etc. etc. etc. in more urban areas. Being in control of
your team regardless of the circumstances is the responsibility
you assume each and every time you harness a dog.
Naturally, your dogs also are a factor. Some dogs just
seem to be born with a better sense of responsibility towards
their humans and listen no matter what is going on around
them. But in most cases, it's your job to teach them what
is right and and wrong while maintaining their enthusiasm for
With time and
effort, you and your dogs will be a well-tuned team and nothing
beats the experience!
here to view a Video Clip - 2MB .avi file)