Whether you’re a fan of the Iditarod or grew up watching Balto, you are familiar with the sport of mushing. To clarify, mushing includes a team of intelligent, trained dogs working together to pull a unique sled. A person stands on the back of this sled to control the pups through freezing terrain. In fact, the sled dog has an extensive history throughout the world. Today, you may own a pup with sled dog heritage!
To pay homage to these strong, beautiful canines and their importance in history, we want to highlight all things sled dog. From breed information to training tidbits, we’ll take you through the sled dog life.
Sled Dog History
Around the World
Sled dogs have been used for transportation in cold climates around the world. This includes Canada, Lapland, Greenland, Siberia, Chukotka, Norway, Finland, and Alaska. In Antarctica, the first arctic explorers used such dogs in their travels. In 1992, the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty stopped mushing within the region.
North America: On the Whole
North America has an exciting and extensive history with sled dogs. As a matter of fact, references to their use dates back even before European contact! Native Americans sometimes used canines to pull a travois, also called a drag sled. The travois was made from two wooden poles; constructed to help carry loads across land.
In particular, two different kinds of sled dogs formed in North America: those used on the coast and those used inland. Consequently, “These interior dogs formed the basis of the Alaskan Husky” (Wikipedia). In the mid-1800s, Russians obtained sled dogs from such interior regions of North America. With this is mind, it is amazing to know that your pup potentially has such a deep heritage!
North America: Alaska
The Alaskan Gold Rush revived an interest in sled dogs. That is to say, many of their campsites were hard to reach without the aid of mushing. Consequently, the late 1800s to early 1900s was known as the “Era of the Sled Dog” (Wikipedia).
For Alaska in particular, mail was delivered by use of sled dog up until 1963. When the 1940s-1950s hit, highways and trucking came into existence. By the 1950s to 1960s, snowmobiles took over. Yet, recreational mushing has held the tradition alive.
The Modern Sled Dog
Today, breeding sled dogs can be highly rewarding. Due to each breed’s specific nature, owners are keenly aware of which pup is needed for their mushing team. For example, a lead dog must have great intelligence and training ability. Therefore “a good lead dog can sell for as much as $5,000…” (Outside Online). On the other hand, other dogs may require the genes for increased strength.
By and large, pups in the sport of mushing require much more protein in their diet. On average, they can burn 10,000 to 14,000 per day out on the trail! Owners typically include raw meat and kibble mixed with water for further hydration. Furthermore, many mushers rely on their own unique ingredient combinations. For example, Lance Mackey, four-time consecutive winner of the Iditarod, swears by beaver meat (Outside Online).
It is quite obvious that sled dogs need to exercise often, even when snow is not present. In particular, mushers will use ATVs for hook-up when the weather is warmer. This allows their pups to practice runs throughout the year. Outside Online Notes, “Iditarod racers will generally start running their dogs on a strict training routine in September or October…”.
It takes patients and hard work to form a good team of dogs. Altogether, sixteen pups form the team. Training usually begins as early 6 months, but a dog will not be ready to race until two years of age. Some key commands your furbaby will learn include Ready, Alright, Whoa, Gee, Haw, and Straight Ahead.
While we are not mushers, there is an abundant amount of mushing information available. Experienced professionals share their methods and stories for you to follow. Check out the list of resources below:
Each member of the mushing team has a specific duty during the activity. First, the lead dog is one of your strongest assets. They should be intelligent, will listen to commands, and not easily distracted. This pup will lead your entire team on path. Second, stronger pups will be placed towards the back, but not right in front of the sled. They will provide your muscle magic! Finally, smaller dogs will be placed right in front of the sled. Outside Online reasons “…so they do not get rubbed raw by their harness.”
Suggested Product: Ultra Paws Adjustable Pulling Harness
While there exist many professional and premium pulling harnesses, your may not be looking to turn your pup into a full-blown mushing machine. Perhaps you only wish to gift your husky the experience of their heritage (without breaking the bank!). The Ultra Paws Adjustable Pulling Harness is more affordable and will enable your fluffy furbaby great new exercise.
This particular pulling harness is perfect for pulling medium to light objects. This includes bicycles, one-person ski, kid’s sleds, kid’s wagons, and more. Consequently, we do not recommend this product for full-fledged mushing. Additionally, you may use the Ultra Paws Adjustable Pulling Harness during doggie walks and runs for better canine control. An added ring allows you to attach a leash.
The harness comes in three sizes: small, large, and extra-large. Before ordering, we suggest measuring around your pup’s neck, about where their collar sits. Furthermore, if your furbaby’s neck size falls between measurement, use the weight suggestions instead. Size measurements include:
- Small: 8 -14” collar, under 30lbs dogs
- Large: 12-24” collar, 30-75lbs dogs
- Extra-Large: 20-34” collar, 75-120lbs dogs
We find the Ultra Paws Adjustable Pulling Harness perfectly acceptable for its price. Not only does it adjust in multiple places like the neck, chest, girth, and belly; but it comes padded around the neck and chest. To help keep your pooch comfortably in place, it sports a belly strap.
Unfortunately, pulling heavy objects will cause the harness to come apart and may put strain on your pup’s joints. We recommend checking the product, and its plastic clips, before each use.
Sled Dog Breeds
The Alaskan Husky is the most common breed used in sled dog racing, aka mushing. Although the breed is not registered with the American Kennel Club for a standard look, they typically weigh 44-66lbs and are 23-26” in height. Dogster recalls, “They can be solid in color or multicolored, usually gray, black, and white, but sometimes brown, cream, or red.” As a result, the Alaskan Husky often looks like a mixed breed.
Other characteristics include a heavy undercoat and bushy tail. In fact, the breed’s topcoat is heavier than a Siberian Husky. Additionally, you will notice their long legs, leanness, deep chest, and pointed ears. Each feature points directly to their heritage as a sled dog.
Altogether, the Alaskan Husky makes a wonderful companion. In the world of husky breeds, they tend to be calmer than most. You will find them to be great family dogs, especially if you already have other pups! In short, the Alaskan Husky is a pack animal through and through.
While this breed is light on barking, it remains very curious. Consequently, a family cat may not enjoy their inquisitive nature. By and large, this breed is born for the active lifestyle. Be prepared to exercise them regularly and take tons of adventures!
Unlike the Alaskan Husky, the Alaskan Malamute is an American Kennel Club breed; classified in the Working Group. This is not surprising, given their sled dog lineage. You will often find them 75-85lbs in weight and 23-25” in height. Although the Alaskan Malamute comes in various colors, their face sports truly recognizable markings. The American Kennel Club describes their facial appearance, which “…consist of a cap over the head, the face either all white or marked with a bar and/or mask.”
Other characteristics of this breed include a deep chest, strong shoulders, and a hardy weather-proof coat. Like most huskies, their bushy tail curls over the back.
The Alaskan Malamute is playful, friendly, and great with kids. Although their strong athleticism seems intimidating, they will not make a good guard dog. As with the Alaskan Husky, this breed is also a pack animal. As such, you will need firm, affectionate training. Without showing them who the pack leader is, the Alaskan Malamute may lead you.
The Siberian Husky is known for their beautiful, serene almond-shape eyes. Most typically weigh 35-60lbs and are 20-24” in height. Obviously, they are a smaller sled dog breed. In turn, they are lighter on their feet; exerting effortless power.
Once again, the breed’s bushy tail curves over their back. In regards to color, Dog Breed Info relays “…from black to pure white, with or without markings on the head.” Additionally, their coat can come in two varieties. The first is a medium length, double coat. The second is long-haired and often called a “wooly coat.”
Like the Alaskan Malamute, the Siberian Husky will not make a good watch dog. In essence, their nature is docile and lovey, with little barking. On the other hand, you will notice a high amount of energy. Therefore, if this breed becomes lonely or bored, they will become destructive.
To train an Alaskan Malamute, you must be firm. If not, they tend to become mischievous! But, don’t let that deter you. This pup is wonderful with families. Additionally, their high standards of hygiene mean less dog odor!
Dog Breed Info provides further sled dog breeds:
- Cannadian Eskimo Dog
- Greenland Dog
- Kugsha Dog
- Mackenzie River Husky
- Seppala Siberian Sledding Dog