The History of Dog Sledding
Most historians agree that humans probably started using, training and breeding sled dogs in Asia around 3,000 years ago when communities started to form north of the Article Circle. The first people to use sled dogs were hunting and fishing communities that used sleds to transport their supplies while they traveled or hunted food.
The popularity of dog sledding had its peak in the late 1800s and it lasted until the early 1940s. In North America dog sledding was the most common form of transportation for gold prospectors during the Alaskan Gold Rush where men used the dogs to carry heavy gear.
When highway trucking and snowmobiles became popular, it was no longer cost or time effective to use dog sleds to transport goods. In those days, a strong dog sled team could pull more than 600 lbs of cargo, which was useful for the large quantity of supplies needed to survive in harsh winters. Currently, the people who use dog sleds have dwindled down to purists, hobbyists and serious sled racers.
Most Popular Sled Dog Breeds
Many different breeds of dogs have been used to pull sleds in the snow. There have even been accounts of Poodles and Labradors that were used on sled teams to carry supplies. Most sled dogs are chosen for having a thicker coat that do well in cold climates. It also helps to have a pooch that isn't a picky eater. Sled dogs need to eat high-fat meals to keep their warmth and have enough energy for long pulls.
Siberian Huskies are one of the most common breeds of dogs that are used in dog sled racing.
- Alaskan Husky
- Alaskan Malamute
- Canadian Eskimo Dog
- Greendland Dog
- Siberian Husky
Most of these dogs are still common as household pets even though the popularity of sledding has died down in last 50 years. These breeds are prized companions because of their diligence, loyalty and willingness to obey commands, which were important qualities for a sled dog.
Modern Dog Sledding
Today if you need to ship something, transport cargo or travel, the easiest thing to do would be to go to an airport and drop off your parcels at a post office. The days of using dogs as economical transportation are long gone, but there are still die-hard dog sledders who enjoy mushing through deep snow with a pack full of dogs leading their sleds.
In most dog sled races, a racer will have a pack of dogs (usually between 12 and 16 dogs) that wear individual harnesses that are attached to a central gauge line to pull the sled.
Since the 1920s there has been an interest in dog sled races. Different teams of dogs run a timed race over a distance that can range from four miles all the way up to a grueling 1,000-mile race. Long races can last more than two weeks and are regularly shunned by animal rights activists who claim that the longer, more exhausting races are too demanding of the dogs and push the animals way past their physical capabilities. In most races it is encouraged for dogs to wear special boots to protect their paws from hard packed snow injuries.
In highly competitive races, it is common to see racers warm their dogs up at checkpoints by using electric blankets and special dog furnaces like Hound Heaters to keep their dogs healthy in cold conditions.
Whether or not you ethically agree with dog sled racing, there is still a strong knit community who believes it is a worthwhile tradition to keep racing. Even in the most difficult races it can be impressive to watch how quickly a strong pack of dogs can be across a course.
By Sean Bowes