Dog Mushing Basics

Dog Mushing is dog-powered transportation. Mushing is the general term that is used when one or more dogs pull a rig. The word Mush comes from the French verb Marcher which means to march. A Musher is the person who controls the dogs. The term Dog Sledding can replace Dog Mushing when the rig that is being pulled is a snow sled.

The dogs that pull sleds are called Sled Dogs. Sled Dogs can be a wide range of dog breeds. But, most commonly Alaskan Husky or Siberian Husky breeds are used in the arctic. At SP Kennel, all of our Sled Dogs are Alaskan Huskies. They are not an AKC (American Kennel Club) or UKC (United Kennel Club) recognized breed. These dogs have a mix of breeds in their genetics: including Siberian Husky, Malamute, German Shepherd and some even have German Shorthair Retriever.

The primary traits of an Alaskan Husky are:
  1. an overwhelming urge or desire to pull and run (like a Black Lab has the desire to fetch a ball)
  2. thick fur with guard hairs that can keep a husky warm in the arctic
  3. the ability to maintain incredible fitness and endurance thus being able to run thousands of miles pulling a sled
Sled Dogs are positioned in a Dog Team in order to pull a sled or a rig. A team can be as few as one dog to as many as 20, 30 or even 50 dogs. At SP Kennel, dog team size is often between 8 and 12 dogs. The more dogs, the more power and strength a team will have. Often the dogs are positioned in front of the sled in pairs. Each dog is fitted with a Harness. Attached to this harness is a leash called a Tug Line because they are tugging the sled with it. All tug lines attach to a Main Line that attaches directly to the sled. The Musher is at the rear of the team and rides the cart or sled.

There are no reins to steer a dog team. In order to steer, there is one or more Lead Dog at the front of the team that understands vocal direction commands given by the musher. The dogs behind the Lead Dog are called Team Dogs. The dogs one position in front of the sled are called Wheel Dogs.

Dog mushing can be a Hobby, a Job or a Sport.

Dog mushing is a Hobby for many people around the world. In the United States, there are dog teams all across North American from Boston to Los Angeles. Mushing can be a fun and educational experience for parents, children and the family pet. People who love dogs and exploring the outdoors will find great enjoyment in dog mushing.

Dog mushing can also be a form of Work. Dog teams and mushers work to haul cargo, sleds full of fuel, firewood and supplies. Dog teams are used as a serious mode of transportation in some parts of the arctic.

Dog mushing is also a Sport. In Alaska, dog mushing is the state sport and there are many competitions for various age groups and skill levels during the season. There are also numerous events worldwide; including races in mainland USA, Canada, Scandinavia, Russia, mainland Europe, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile and more.

At SP Kennel we run mid distance and long distance races. Here in Alaska, the season for the sport of dog mushing starts in November and continues into April. At the beginning of the season, the races are shorter. But as the season progresses, the races get longer. By the end of the season there are two races in Alaska over 1,000 miles in length: the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race and the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

In order to be ready for the racing season, sled dogs and mushers must exercise regularly. At SP Kennel, we consider both the sled dogs and the mushers to be elite athletes and they maintain a degree of fitness throughout the entire year. During the racing season, the level of training increases to that of an Olympic caliber athlete.

Racing in long distance dog mushing competitions demands commitment and dedication from mushers and dogs. All of them need to be comfortable and capable in arctic winter conditions, ranging from 25 above to 40 below zero. The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race can take a dog team and musher nearly 2 weeks to complete. During the race, the musher can depend on only himself or herself to care for all needs of the racing team. The 1,000 mile race crosses vast winter wilderness where there is limited civilization. A musher and dog team must be self-contained and only use extra supplies that were sent to checkpoints prior to the start. The race route is a narrow trail that connects villages across the state of Alaska. There are no roads in this part of Alaska and this trail is also used as a transportation route by villagers on dog sleds and snow mobiles. When a musher stops in a village he may be allowed to stay in a hospitality cabin. However, most mushers carry gear that allows them to set up a camp spot anywhere they deem safe. Mushers and sled dogs often sleep outside for the duration of the race. The musher and dogs have a tight bond that makes this race possible.

Long distance racing is just one of the ways that SP Kennel enjoys dog-powered transportation.Our dog teams and mushers go camping and exploring. We groom trails in our neighborhood. Local kids learn mushing skills with us. Sometimes we even mush to our general store to get the newspaper. We have a neighbor who uses dog-powered transportation to go to church on Sunday morning.

If Dog Mushing interests you, then you are not alone! We have loved our dogs and our lifestyle at SP Kennel for many years. We recommend that you learn as much about the sport as you can. But, most of all, we hope that someday you are able to get on a dog sled and be pulled down a snow laden trail by some of the greatest and happiest dogs in the world!