Health and Husbandry
Types of "Sled Dogs"
Almost any dog from any breed, purebred or mixed, can participate in sled dog sports in some fashion. Registered Northern Breeds created the foundation for sled dog sports and companionship thousands of years ago. While you might not get your short haired Chihuahua to pull you on a sled, you could run with them in canicross. Similarly, you might not be winning land-speed records with your Great Dane or Bernese Mountain dog you could run with them in dryland or sled sports. As long as your dog is in good health and likes to run and pull, you will fit in somewhere. That is the beauty of this sport; it's all about health and happiness for your dog.
Mushers use housing that best suits their dogs. Most northern breeds with thick double coats actually prefer to sleep… in the snow! Dogs with thinner coats like Eurohounds or Pointers need much warmer houses. There are many ways that sled dogs can live safely and happily outdoors.
Sled dogs need a diet that is higher in protein and fat than the average dog. They are working off a lot of calories. If you were running many miles every day you would be super hungry too! Their bodies need to be well fueled so they can stay in tip-top shape.
Many mushers trust brands like Inukshuk, Red Paw, and Nutrisource. We highly encourage everyone to learn about Inukshuk Professional Dog Food - the premier prize sponsor of our event!
Sled dogs are typically fed a diet of high-quality dry dog food, supplemented with meat and fish. The type of food sled dogs eat depends on their location and the time of year. In the summer, when they are not working as much, sled dogs are fed less protein.
If You're Cold, Put on a Jacket. They're Probably Fine.
Firstly, please do not think that we intend for you to throw your dog who lives inside your climate controlled house for 365 days of the year outside into a blizzard. Let's just be clear on that! For sled dogs who live outdoors, however, they are very much acclimatized to the cold (or heat in the summer!) which helps them to train for sledding throughout the fall and winter. Northern Breed dogs, and many double-coated breeds, have evolved genetically to be masters of the cold. They not only endure the cold and snow, they THRIVE in it. Their double coat and bushy tails that they wrap around their faces keep them insulated from water and chilly temps.
Other mix-breed sled dogs do need insulated housing to be comfortable and safe, but they are just as successful being healthy outside. Their bodies naturally adjust as temperatures fluctuate year round. They are gradually exposed to colder temperatures and longer runs over time, which helps them build up their endurance and resistance to cold weather. Diet also plays an important factor. Like we mentioned above, sled dogs need a diet of fat and protein to add to their ability to keep warm and keep their muscle mass.
Marla's not Cold (Part 1)
Marla's not Cold (Part 2)
Mental and Medical Care
Sled dogs are still dogs. Their health and welfare is very important from their birth to the end of their lifes. All dogs should be seen by their vet regularly for check ups just like us humans going for a checkup with our own doctor. To keep the dogs healthy many mushers go above and beyond. Sled dogs see chiropractors, get laser or hydro therapy, and even regular massages!
Good dog care is not just about going to your annual vet appointment either. Do you get bored on a rainy day inside? Do you get annoyed if your brother or sister is always asking you to do the SAME things all the time? Sled dogs get bored and annoyed too if they aren’t given stimulation and time to play. There are lots of ways to keep sled dogs active when they are not pulling a sled.
When Dogs get Old
Leading from Behind
A musher and their dogs are equals and must have mutual trust. If you don’t truly trust and know your team, you will fail as their leader.
To lead from behind you must learn your dogs’ language. Dogs speak to us in many ways if we learn how to listen. You must get to know your dogs; talk with them, learn them, and find their gifts.
You will not have a strong team or have a fun run if you’re angry and yelling or you’ve been asking the dogs to do things that they don’t want to do. When each dog finds the role that they love to do, like working fast as your leader, or working as your wheel dog and pulling really strong and hard, they trust that they can just do what they want to do because they’re in the right place.
You lead from behind when you know your dogs inside and out. You understand their role on the team and what you are asking of them, and the dogs understand and trust you. it’s very important to understand each and every role that each and every dog plays on the team. Then, you must understand the role that the lines have, the roles that the snow under the runners has, the role your body has on the sled, etc.
YOUR role as leader from behind is to facilitate a safe and smooth run through trust and respect NOT expecting, demanding, and commanding.