People living in Alaska have used sleds pulled by dogs for centuries as their main form of transportation. Out of that came the worldwide sport of dog sled racing for professional competition and recreation. The Alaskan yearly Iditarod is considered “The last great race.”
In 1972 dog mushing was designated as the Alaskan state sport. The Alaskan Malamute and Siberian Husky are the two breeds of dog used in the sport. The word “mush” is too soft a sound so it is not a command word. Husky is a mixed breed selected for their performance and diligence. They are instinctive and have the motivation to pull sleds for long periods of time and through the roughest conditions nature provides. The have quick skilled gaits and outstanding strength. Most husky sled dogs weigh only 55 pounds, but can pull an astounding 800 pound load. Much training must be done for teams to work together. Sled dogs can eat up to 10,000 calories daily compared to a normal dog consuming 1,500 calories a day. Husky sled dogs have sensitive feet that require polar-fleece booties for protection and warmth. While racing, booties can last 100 miles or several hours.
|Photo by Glacier Dog Sled Tours|
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Care of sled dogs
Taking care of sled dogs is a constant job of keeping things from freezing. Dogs need food (soaked in water which helps them get water intake), bedding straw and housing, medicines, nails trimmed, and protection from wild animals like moose, bear, and wolves.
Dog houses are made of plastic barrels or wood with a flat roof because if it’s wet the dogs sometimes sleep on the roof. The accommodations should allow for the dog to turn around inside, but be small enough for the dog’s body heat to keep them warm. The entrance to the dog house can’t be too big as to let the warmth out, but not too small as the dog can hurt their backs trying to squeeze through. Legs on the bottom of the house circulate air keeping it warm or cool, depending on the time of year. Straw is the best choice for bedding unless the dog is allergic. Then white shavings can be used. Stay away from cedar chips as they contain an unhealthy residual acid on them.
There is much to know about the care and training of sled dogs. On the trail dogs eat several times a day compared to twice at home. Depending on the trainer, dogs eat dry dog food, vegetables, beans, cod liver oil, and raw meat.
It is vital to take care of the feet by trimming nails and watching for diseases. Sidebar is an area that never heals, weakening the dog’s system and in need of a veterinarian. Itchy dog paws (licking paws) is more likely a sign of pain in the feet, spine or back. Licking paws can also be an anxiety problem or allergies to food, bedding, etc. Continued licking can result in red spots that don’t heal and need medical attention. Bruised or infected toenails are a hazard to sled dogs too.
Training encompasses individual and team work, harnessing, proper placement of each dog pulling the sled, line out training, choosing the right sled, and behavior training.
2006-2008. alaskan-husky-behavior.com, Kirsten