Spectators guide

Sled dog racing can provide your family with unique and exciting entertainment.

To enjoy the sport at its fullest, please take advantage of the following tips.

The welfare of team animals is of primary concern to all those involved in the sport. The dogs themselves are well trained, physically fit, and eager to run — these 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.

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If you bring your pet to the race site please ensure it is kept on a lead at all times and that it is kept back from the trail when the teams are running. Drivers of racing teams cannot be responsible for the safety of your animals. Races can be disrupted by pets bolting onto the course.

General Tips

The Dogs

Spectators attending their first rig or 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 and greenland or eskimo Dogs) pulling rigs, or occasionally rig or sled s (when we get the elusive white stuff!!). In reality, many types of dogs could be rig or sled dogs including Pointers and Trail Hounds. The most popular dog in the sport today is the Siberian Husky. You may also see the Alaskan Husky which is essentially a mixture of Arctic dogs with some crossbreeding and is not a Kennel Club registered breed. This animal was originally bred in the remote villages of Alaska for speed and stamina — two important attributes of a rig or sled dog. Abroad, other special crossbreeds have been developed for racing purposes. Among them are the Targhee hound (a cross between a Staghound and Irish Setter), and the Quebec hound (a cross between hounds and dogs native to Quebec).

While rig or 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 rig or 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 it’s ideal racing weight.

The popular view of rig or 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 breeding programs. Racing rig or 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 rig or 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 possible condition. 

The training of rig or 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 rig or sled dog: no line-chewing, no growling, no fighting. 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 initial teamwork, create a desire for work, and foster the dog’s natural instinct to run — all necessary ingredients for a winning team. Dog drivers realise 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 rig or sled dog races.

Mushing Terminology

Interested in the sport?

Why not come along to an event and see for yourself how exhilarating it is?

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