||Spectators attending their first
sled dog race are often astonished by the variety of dogs used
in racing teams. Most newcomers expect to see only Arctic breeds
(Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, and Samoyeds) pulling
sleds. In reality, many types of dogs can be sled dogs including
Irish Setters, Dalmatians, and
American Coon and Fox Hounds.
The most popular and one of the
fastest dogs in the sport today is the Alaskan Husky,
essentially a mixture of Arctic dogs with some cross-breeding.
The Alaskan Husky is not an AKC breed. This animal was
originally bred in the remote villages of Alaska for speed and
stamina -- two important attributes of a sled dog.
Other special crossbreeds have
been developed for racing purposes. Among them are the
Scandinavian Hound (German short hair and English pointers
crossed with Alaskan Huskies), the Targhee
hound (a cross between a Staghound and Irish Setter), and the
Quebec hounds (a cross between hounds and dogs native to Quebec).
While sled dogs vary considerably
in appearance, they share certain characteristics. Be it hound
or husky, the top performers on today's racing teams will have a
strong, slightly arched back, well-angled shoulders, and a deep
chest denoting good lung capacity. Compact, tough feet and a
protective coat of hair aid team dogs in performing their tasks.
Size is an important factor and contemporary racing dogs are
relatively small, weighing less than 50 pounds and averaging 24
inches at the shoulder
The sled dog's lean appearance
may cause some concern to the uninitiated spectator, but it
should be remembered that these are the long-distance athletes
of the dog world. An overweight dog, like an overweight person,
cannot run marathon distances at a competitive pace. Dog drivers
carefully monitor the weight of each dog on their teams and feed
measured portions of food to keep each animal at its ideal
The popular view of sled dogs as
snarling, lunging, vicious beasts could not be further from the
truth. Drivers prefer and breed for a dog that is even-tempered,
gentle, and able to stand the pressures of a vigorous training
and racing schedule. Dogs that react badly to the noisy
excitement of a race or to other dogs are not found on today's
teams. No driver can waste valuable time breaking up a dog fight
or untangling a dog who is frightened by a crowd of cheering
spectators; so temperament is given great consideration in
Racing sled dogs are among the
best-cared-for animals in the world- Because the sport is based
on athletic performance, the driver must be constantly alert for
anything that might adversely affect one of his team members.
Parasite control is rigid, and drivers, working with
veterinarians, are constantly searching for ways to improve sled
dog nutrition. An infestation of intestinal parasites or a long
bout with disease may mean missing an entire racing season.
Thus, drivers are careful to keep their dogs in the best
The training of sled dogs begins
at an early age, while they are receptive to new experiences and
eager to learn. In addition to being persuaded to run and pull
in the right direction, pups are also taught the manners of a
well-behaved sled dog: no line-chewing, no growling, no
During this period, each dog's
abilities are carefully assessed by the driver. The fast,
intelligent dog may be a potential leader, while other members
of the group may make excellent support dogs in the team. In
training, it is the driver's task to instill teamwork, create a
desire for work, and foster the dog's natural instinct to run --
all necessary ingredients for a winning team.
Dog drivers realize that love,
patience, and understanding will form the strongest bonds
between driver and team. Use of a whip, except as a signaling
device, is prohibited at ISDRA
sanctioned sled dog races.
The welfare of team animals is of
primary concern to all those involved in the sport. The dogs
themselves well trained, physically fit, and eager to run -- are
positive indicators that this sport is as much fun and challenge
for the canine members of the team as it is for the human ones.