Dog sledding, or sometimes called “mushing”, is the act of dogs pulling a sled. It was the main mode of transportation by the people who lived in the Arctic region. Now, it has become primarily a recreational sport. In fact, mushers from different countries travel to Alaska every year to join the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. It takes place every March and is sometimes referred to as the “Last Great Race”. It is 1,049 miles and usually takes about 10 days to finish. Different breeds of dogs are used in sledding, but two common breeds are Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes. Here are some interesting facts about sled dogs.
- They had a key role in the Klondike Gold Rush (1896).
- Since the terrains were inaccessible during winter, people found it difficult to travel by foot. This was the reason why sled dogs came to the rescue. One of the most important trails they traveled during this time was the 1000-plus mile Iditarod Trail. It continued to be a mode of transportation until airplanes were introduced.
2. They helped save Nome, Alaska from an outbreak of diphtheria.
- Back in 1925, many people were diagnosed with diphtheria in Nome, Alaska. This was a contagious disease and the only way to save the village was to get the serum from Anchorage which was several miles away. There was no pilot available at that time which is why the people arranged for dog sled teams instead. The team that successfully brought the serum to Nome was led by a Siberian Husky named Balto.
3. They can travel at speeds up to 20 miles per hour.
- Sled dogs are fast runners. In fact, they can cover short distances of 4 to 100 miles, mid-distance races from 100 to 300 miles, and long-distance races, which range from 300 miles to over 1000 miles like the Iditarod race.
4. They usually weigh 50 to 65 pounds.
- Sled dogs are not picky eaters. They are trained to eat whatever is provided by the musher. In fact, they can consume up to 10,000 calories per day. Dogs that are chosen to be part of a sled team are those with a strong build, excellent stamina, and are fast runners. They can also burn 12,000 up to 20,000 calories a day on the trail.
5. They do not love the extreme cold.
- This is a surprising fact since they are sled dogs, we come to think that they are used to the extreme cold. But Alaskan Huskies are not bred for the coldness of the Arctic. Therefore, they wear protective coats and booties that keep their paws warm from the cold ground.
6. They always crave exercise.
- Since they are used to sledding, they love running around and being active. They have good stamina which is why they don’t get tired easily. Sled dogs get bored easily if they are not kept physically and mentally stimulated.
7. They are smart.
- Alaskan sled dogs are very easy to train because they are intelligent and obedient. This trait makes them the perfect companion in long sledding races because spoken commands are used in sledding instead of reins. There are different positions in a sled team. The smart ones are usually positioned in front. Since they are the ones who are good listeners, they will be able to take the cues on where to turn. The strongest dogs are usually at the back because they are the ones who give power to the team.
8. They have a good sense of direction.
- Sled dogs have an excellent memory. Since they are trained on sledding, they are good at remembering trails which is important to the success of the sled team.
9. They are lovable.
- Just like any other pets, sled dogs are lovable as well. Most of them are loyal, sweet, and sociable.
10. They can remain in top form for many years.
- The training they undergo makes them strong and healthy. It is not uncommon to see 10-year old sled dogs who are still racing.
Alaskan Sled Dogs are truly amazing creatures. Their ability to work hard, brave the cold, and learn how to be part of a sled team is truly amazing.