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Working Like A Dog: Sled Dogs, Teaming Up For Survival (Part I)

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One of the most ancient working dogs are those used for pulling the sled and its driver, the musher, throughout frozen lands. The significance of this type of canids and the job they performed dates back to 2000 BC, playing a major role in the survival and development of civilizations in the hostile, cool winter grounds of northern Europe.

The function of dog sledding changed according to human needs and has developed throughout history, from mere transportation to delivery, communication, exploration, and discovering. See Sled Dog History

Nowadays, because of the replacement of dogsled by modern motorized ways of transportation, mushing is practiced mainly as a sport and a passion for numerous mushers and followers even from the most tropical countries of the globe. 

The word mushing is used to describe any sort of sport or transportation using the power of dogs. Snow dogs and mushers, the persons who drive the sled, are known as a team and need to work together to move down the trail. Teaming is vital to complete the course and sometimes survive extreme conditions and follow trails during snow storms.

When pulling a sled the dogs are connected to the sled by a gangline attached by a hook to the rear of the each dog's harness, they usually run in pairs and have different jobs regarding the their position in the gang line.

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The wheel dogs are the two at the back, placed immediately in front of the sled. They must be strong to balance the sled during abrupt turns and pull the sled out of the snow.

The power to pull and help turn the sled is performed by the team dogs between the wheel and the point or swing dogs. Point dogs are located behind the leader and are optional. Swing dogs are in charge of helping swing the sled around the curves of the trail. They are placed between the point and Lead dogs.

In the front, the are one or a pair of lead dogs who are fast, intelligent, and experienced enough to follow the musher's commands, set the pace of the team, and follow or find the trail.

Whether it is for recreational or racing purposes, a team is carefully selected according to the ability of the dog to perform its assigned function, which is determined by its position in the gang line. Sled dog races can be categorized according to the maximum number of dog allowed by team as well as the distance of the entire trial.


The maximum number of dogs in a team is established in the rules of the race, depending on the type of competition. In the case of an event known as "open", the number of dogs pet team is unlimited, while during limited competitions the categories could vary from four dogs onwards. For example, the Iditarod, which is considered to be the most important long-distance dog sledding race allows teams to comprise between 12 and 16 dogs.

The distance factor divides sled dog races into three major categories: short-distance or sprint races of 4 to 100 miles, mid-distance races ranging from 100 to 300 miles, or long-distance races, which range from 300 to over 1000 miles long.

The most famous sled dog races are:
Finnmarksløpet in Norway,  La Grande Odyssée in French and Swiss Alps,Yukon Quest from Alaska, USA to Yukon, Canada and Iditarod Trail in Alaska.

Competitions can also be organized as mass start races, where the teams compete against one another, or timed start races, during which team starts at different times, one after another, at equal time intervals. 

During the competition animals have a veterinary exam before, after the competition, and in the long-distance ones at every checkpoint along the trail. 

The more widespread dog breeds and categories used to pull the sled are:

Enjoy a ride at La Grande Odyssée





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