If you’re like us, you might have watched the movie Togo and found yourself captivated by the beautiful dogs and the very act of dog sledding. This heart-thumping movie is based on a dog sledding journey across hundreds of miles on dangerous, icy terrain. But luckily, there are safer ways to do dog sledding if that’s something you want to experience once in your life. This article gives you essential tips to help you prepare for a dog sledding adventure experience in the winter.
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What is dog sledding?
Dog sledding is an activity where a group of dogs pulls a sled. This has been a type of winter transport for people worldwide, where the winters are very harsh. Dog sleds help people travel when the roads are entirely buried in many feet of snow and impassable by other modes of transport.
In the past few years, dog sledding has become a competitive sport in places like Alaska and near the Arctic. Many snow-heavy and winter-tourism-driven places also offer dog sledding as a fun activity for tourists to try.
Is dog sledding ethical?
If you’re a dog lover, you may be wondering if dog sledding – especially as a type of tourist attraction – is ethical. Can (and should) we use dogs like how other people might use horses or mules or bullocks?
The truth is, dog sledding itself isn’t the problem. Instead, the issue of animal cruelty starts with the handler/musher/driver and the practices they use when dog sledding. And while there are some instances of cruel dog musher, this is often the exception and not the rule.
When offered by a musher who knows how to care for their dogs properly, dog sledding can be a very safe activity for both pups and adult dogs. Many mushers in the Arctic and other winter communities are born into families that have been sledding with dogs for generations. Others spend their entire lives training with experienced mushers and learning to understand canine cues. They have deep knowledge of keeping their dogs healthy and safe when sledding, ensuring they aren’t ever jeopardized. Their familiarity with the land and the local weather patterns allows them to mindfully plan trips with the most negligible stressful impact on their dogs.
It’s also been found that dog sledding is a very environmentally sustainable way to travel across wintry landscapes. Since the sleds don’t use any fuel, they have zero impact on the land and local wildlife.
Additionally, when it comes to dog sledding as a tourist attraction, this activity can have high earning potential during severe winters, when communities have little to no other means to make a living. In such conditions, dog sledding adventure tours can care for and house hundreds of dogs that would otherwise have to be displaced.
Dog sledding in the winter – how dangerous is it for the uninitiated?
Dog sledding in the winter can be dangerous – just as any other adventure sport–for inexperienced people. This is why many dog sledding mushers don’t allow children, older folk, and anyone with a diagnosed medical condition affecting their mobility and motor skills to control the sled. This ensures you remain safe.
Many mushers often have one of their people on the sled with you, controlling the dog sled. Make sure you communicate with the musher to have a memorable, risk-free experience.
Important Do’s and Don’ts to follow to have a safe and enjoyable dog sledding experience
1. Work on your balance and grip strength
The dog sled can take some time to stand on and sit on. Better balance and grip strength can make your dog sledding more comfortable and enjoyable.
2. Pay attention to the on-spot training and instructions
Most mushers will also give you a short training session on how to control the sled and speak calmly to the dogs when sledding. You will also be shown what body posture to adopt when sledding and how to prevent spooking the dogs. You will also be given safety instructions on what to do should there be a problem. The musher will also share details about where it’s safe to alight to take pictures and where it isn’t. Be sure to follow the musher’s instructions with care.
3. Spend some time with the dogs
While the dogs used to run the sled are trained to be around strangers all the time, it can make for an even better experience if you familiarize yourself with them. Pet the dogs and let them get to know you a bit. This will put them at ease and reduce their pent-up stress. Interacting with the dogs for some time may also help you understand their verbal or behavioral cues. You’ll also be able to see how the dogs and the musher interact with each other. This can be helpful when sledding.
4. Keep your eyes and hands off the phone
Don’t be too focused on taking photos or videos when dog sledding. When you focus on using the phone, you might be distracted and drop the phone in the snow. Not only will this be a monetary loss, but you might end up jerking around on the sled, causing the dogs difficulty when they run. You might even distract the dogs and cause them to veer off track. Be safe and take your phone out only in designated areas when the musher who accompanies you says it’s okay.
5. Don’t goad the dogs into going too fast
Getting caught up in the excitement and rush of dog sledding is easy. But that’s no excuse to yell at the dogs or goad them to get them to run faster than they are. A dog sled that runs too fast can hazard other sleds. The sled can also hurt the dogs when the lines aren’t tightly controlled.
If you are on a sled where there isn’t a musher, but just you, it might be tough to control the vehicle and the dogs when you’re fast, especially so on a descent. In addition, you may not know how to slow down the dogs carefully to prevent trouble.
6. Stay with the rest of your tour group and don’t wander off
If there’s one thing you can learn from sled dogs, there’s strength and safety in the pack. So, don’t stop your sled without your musher’s permission. Don’t wander away from the group if you have stopped at a designated photo spot. And never try to re-direct the dogs to another route. These can be dangerous and get you and the dogs in trouble.
Apart from this, sit/stand back and enjoy the phenomenal dog sledding experience. It’s an unusual activity that will bring you in touch with nature at its fiercest.