If your only knowledge of dogsledding comes from Hollywood you aren’t alone, the majority of our guests are trying dogsledding for the first time. The good news is that dogsledding isn’t a hard sport to learn, if you love dogs, are willing to become part of the team and are in reasonable physical shape you will do fine!!
Every tour starts with one of our guides giving a detailed, thorough instruction of about 20 minutes to teach you everything you will need to know to safely enjoy your tour, however for those of you who like going into a new experience with a bit of knowledge we have included a brief summary of the lesson below:
Go = Hike (sorry only hollywood says mush, but if you are driving a team of dogs you are mushing!)
Stop = Whoa (but you will also need your brake as the dogs hate stopping, you can holler whoa for 5 miles and it won’t make much of a difference!)
Right = Gee
Left = Haw
Only the driver uses these commands and they are only used once. Too many voices all hollering commands confuses the dogs, and repeatedly calling commands like Hike, Hike, Hike frustrates the dogs, no different than your boss saying "work harder, work harder" and has the opposite effect than the one desired.
Layout of the team & sled:
The rope that attaches the sled to the dogs is called the Gangline, the tugs are the individual ropes that tie to the back of each dogs harness, and neck lines connect to their collars. Your front dogs are lead dogs and generally the smartest which follow commands, the middle dogs are the point dogs, the dogs closest to the sled are the wheel dogs.
There are no "reins" on a dogsled you control your team by voice commands and slow/stop them with a brake on your sled. The most important part of the drivers job is to make sure the gangline is tight at all times, meaning the the sled is where it should be and the dogs are all strong out in a tight line so all working in unison.
Quite often people tell us that they have a faster team than anyone else as their dogs are always wanting to pass the team infront. It isn’t necessarily that the dogs are faster it is more that dogs are very competetive. If your team was to pass the team in front than they would slow down to a comfortable pace. No passing is allowed and you should aim to keep your team about 10-20’ feet behind the team in front of you. Keeping your team too far back however will slow the tour down, as than the guide must continually stop to wait for you to be within their sight.
The happiness, health and safety of the dogs is always foremost in our minds and our staff are no different. Our Guides are all amazing people, many of whom have been with us for years (you can learn more about them on the guides page). They love the dogs, the joy of running dogs, the wilderness and sharing all that with anyone interested as much as Hank & I do. While the guides may do something that doesn’t seem to make sense to you, the reason will almost always come back to the dogs. Our senior guides have run hundeds of tours and logged thousands of miles on dogsled so please trust what they do & tell you. As we always say if the dogs are safe, our guests are safe!
- on days that are warm (close to or above freezing) the guides will stop teams from time to time to allow them to cool for a minute and eat snow for hydration if they wish. Huskies with all their hair can overheat easily in these conditions which can be very dangerous for them
- Some conditions (from temperatures to recent snow) can make the trail slower, again the guides will take this into account on how the dogs are run.
- Days when the temperatures are cold and/or trails are very hard and fast guides will slow the lead team down, while some folks would love to go at the top speeds that the dogs would run, it is too dangerous for all. Hard/fast trails can tip sleds easier and dogs are also more likely to get shoulder and elbow/knee injuries running too fast on such conditions.
- Moving dogs around once the tours are running sometimes will happen if the guides notice that a certain team is not working as well as another, it is amazing sometimes how switching one dog between teams can balance things out.
Making the most of your experience
It is important to remember that dogs aren’t machines, they respond differently to trail conditions, weather, people and each other on a moment to moment basis. For mushers this is part of the addiction of dogsledding (and yes it can be an addiction!) the thrill of the dynamics. Even when going on the same trail, no two runs are ever the same!
Dogsledding is most definitely a team sport, and the driver is a part of the team, encouraging the dogs, working with the sled (pushing with one foot or walking behind) when going up hills and steering and braking when coming down hills. By doing this the dogs will gain trust in your abilites, although some may still give you a backward glance with questioning eyes from time to time! While riding as the passenger your job is to enjoy the scenery, the dogs and have fun with a camera!
Every dog in our kennel is friendly and LOVES attention, the more you interact with your dogs before and during the run the better they will run for you. Learn their names, pet them, talk to them. Treating them respect and kindness is vital as is an upbeat attitude, the dogs feed off of people’s and each others energy and excitment. The more excited people are the more excited the dogs get.