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Everything You Need to Know about Dog Sled Teams

Everything You Need to Know about Dog Sled Teams

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Dog sled racing is a famous sport up north. You have probably watched the action on the famous Iditarod dog races. The whole sled dog thing dates as far back as 3,000 years ago where the first sled dogs were spotted somewhere in Mongolia. Of course, the activity was mainly used for transportation purposes back then but over time, it has been turned into a recreational sport. If you want to know a thing or two about sled dog teams, we’ve got the scoop for you.

What Are Sled Dogs?

These are simply dogs trained to drag sleds across snow or ice. Technically, any dog can pull a sled but there are some that are specifically bred for the job. The most common ones as seen on dog racing events include The Siberian Husky, the Alaskan Husky, and the Alaskan malamute. No matter the speed, the dogs must go through intense endurance and speed training.

What Is A Sled Dog Team Called?

The dog sledding sport is referred to as mushing hence the team is called the mushing team while the person carried on the sled is the musher. The word is coined from the French word ‘marche’ which stands for ‘run’ and ‘go’. The mushers are often heard saying ‘mush’ to the sled dogs to make them move.

What Are The Positions Of A Dog Sled Team?

Like in a basketball or football team, dog sledding has positions of its own. Where a dog is placed has an impact on how the team performs. Essentially, there are four positions namely:

  • Lead Dog: The dog in this position stays in front of the pack and carries the responsibility of listening to the commands from the musher, responding to them, and ensures the team stays on course. The lead dog position can have one or two dogs but it has been shown that the former works best than the latter.
  • Swing Dogs: These run right behind the lead dog. Swing dogs are typically leaders just like the lead dog but with less responsibility. They have to understand commands and understand how the team is moving.
  • Wheel Dogs: As the name suggests, the wheel dogs or wheelers actually turn the sled. They are located right in front of the sled. Some mushers have one wheel dog but most have two or more canines. Often, these are large mutts with massive stamina and strength. They have to get the sled going when it gets stuck in ice or snow.
  • Team Dogs:  These can occupy any given position on the sled. Team dogs provide speed and momentum to the race. Because of this, most mushers place their team dogs behind the swing dogs.

How Many Dogs Are in A Sled Team?

This really depends on the weight of the sled and the distance of the race. On average, you can have anywhere between 4 and 6 dogs if you are doing a solo sleigh. If the dogs are pulling paired or family sleighs, the required number is 8-12 dogs. In Iditarod, you are required to have 16 dogs at the beginning of the race and finish with a minimum of 6.

In sprint races, you can have a team of only three dogs. However, when going on longer races which can go up to 250 miles, more dogs are required to pull the sled. Similarly, a musher weighing 150 kg (330 lbs) certainly requires more dogs to pull the sled compared to the one weighing only 50kg (110 lbs.)

How Long Can A Dog Sled Team Run?

There’s no one umbrella answer for this question. Different dogs can cover different distances based on training, weather conditions, the experience of the musher, and more. Broadly speaking, an average sled dog can travel 20mph if doing sprint races and 10-14mph when going for longer distances. In the latter case, the dog can go up to 90 miles over a period of 24 hours while pulling a weight of up to 85 pounds.

Some of the long races like the Iditarod races last for 8-10 days for fast teams and a whole month for slow teams. The distance covered is approximately 994 miles (1600km) for both. Short races take about 1-2 days and cover 310 miles (500km).

What Is The Basic Sled Dog Racing Equipment?

The sled, dog harnesses, and a gang line (the tool used to connect all the dogs on the sled).

Can A Dog Fall Out Of A Race?

Certainly. Old, sick, and injured dogs are left in checkpoints until the race is done and the musher can go back for them. Checkpoints have vets and other dog volunteers that take care of the dogs.

What Are The Attributes Of A Good Sled Dog?

A good sled dog should have speed, endurance, tough feet, perfect size, appetite, intelligence, a double-coat, and a good overall attitude.

Dog Sled Teams: Final Thoughts

There it is – all the basic information you need before participating in dog sledding. The race is not for the faint-hearted but if you know how to train your dogs well, it can be a great recreational activity for you and them.