Fast, exciting, well trained
sled dogs are the result of careful behind the scenes planning
and hard work. Successful mushers are knowledgeable in such
diverse areas as kennel management, canine behaviour, nutrition,
veterinary care, psychology, physical conditioning, housing and
transportation. Wise mushers soon learn that success or failure
in any of these areas affects performance dramatically.
Considering this fact it is obvious that the welfare of the dogs
is of paramount importance.
Team and driver develop a
close, trusting relationship because of the amount of time they
spend together. To betray that trust by not meeting all of the
dog’s needs runs counter to the goal of having a happy, healthy,
highly motivated team. What you see at a time trail event is the
result of long hours of work and planning to ensure that the
team is prepared to test its abilities against the trail and the
time it takes.
Makes Sled Dogs Run?
Sled dogs run because they
love to run, they are born and raised to it. How they run is a
product of how they are trained. If they are well trained they
will run in perfect harmony. If they don’t it is the failure of
the musher, not the dogs. One of the great mushers of all time
summed it all up when he said "the dogs never make a mistake".
Sled dogs, like all
athletes, spend more time training than competing. By the time
you see a dog running a time trail, the dog will have logged
many kilometres of training.
Training begins when sled
dogs are puppies. Puppy training must be fun. The puppy must be
given tasks he/she can accomplish with ease. The first training
occurs at birth when the puppies are handled and socialized so
they become comfortable with their human companions. When the
puppies are old enough to mix with other dogs, they learn to be
comfortable with other dogs and to come when they are called.
Puppies do not perform like
adults, but they learn to associate the harness and the team
Mushers will often put a
puppy in a harness to pull a very small object. At six to twelve
months, the puppy joins a small team of older dogs. It is
critical that this first effort at running be a positive
experience. The musher's goal is to let the dog enjoy its
instinctive behaviour in a safe environment.
Training begins in earnest
when the dogs are yearlings. Most mushers start training in
early March as it is cool enough for the dogs to run
comfortably. Fall training usually starts with
Caniwalk/Canicross in getting dogs acquainted with the various
commands. Scootering or Bikejoring can then take preference in
teaching the dog, either to run single or as a 2-dog team in
getting the feel to work together as a team with the musher.
Should you be working towards establishing a team, using a
rig/cart (3-wheels up to 4 dogs) and (4-wheels for larger teams)
training. The dogs run on dirt or sand trails to avoid injuries.
The goals of early training
as and before the season starts, are several. Dogs must build up
their aerobic condition and muscle strength and learn to run as
a team. Young dogs learn how to ignore distractions, respond to
commands, and handle different trail conditions.
Pre-season training begins
with short, brief runs. As the dogs build strength and stamina
they can run further. The dogs rest between and within workouts
to ensure fitness.
As the training progresses
and the months turn cooler, the dog become stronger, better
conditioned and able to run further and faster. The experienced
driver shuffles dogs around in different positions on the team
seeking to find the position that best matches the dog's unique
abilities. Sometimes dogs are paired with partners whom they
will run beside, bonding to that dog as much as to the musher.
The musher studies his dogs,
learning each dogs individual traits and habits. Most
importantly, the musher builds each dog’s confidence in their
athletic ability until the whole team of canine competitors is
convinced there is not another dog team in the world that can
run as fast or as far as they can!
That confidence and
excitement explodes when the dogs finally get to run time
trails. The dogs will run faster and further. The softer
surfaces cushions their feet allowing for longer runs and the
colder temperatures are more comfortable for athletes who
exercise in fur coats. In the end, the training pays off when a
strong and healthy team of dogs takes off from the starting
chute, and win, lose or draw, runs the course with ultimate
canine grace, strength and beauty!
3. Feeding Sled
Just like a human athlete, a
sled dog's diet affects the dog’s ability to compete. A sled dog
at rest in the summer needs about 800 calories per day. In the
middle of a cold winter short to middle distance time trails,
the same dog may need up to 5,000 calories per day (5,000 is not
a typo) The quest to provide sled dogs with enough calories and
the right type of calories has resulted in tremendous growth in
our knowledge about the canine diet, and better food for both
the time trail participating dog and house pets.
A canine athlete does not
digest and use food in the same way as humans. The high
carbohydrate diet that helps a human runner perform at his or
her peak will not have the same effect on a sled dog. Studies by
veterinarians and dog food manufacturers have found that a high
carbohydrate diet actually lowers canine performance.
Fats and protein are the
most important sources of energy for a sled dog. The ratio of
fat and protein varies depending on the distance to be run and
the time spent running, however, certain minimum requirements
have been determined. A typical diet consists of 32% protein,
15% carbohydrates and 53% fat.
Fats provide the dog with
quick energy. They are highly digestible and very dense in
calories. Protein helps a dog handle the physical demands of
time trails and is required in greater amounts as physical
Dog mushers rarely rely on
dry dog kibble alone to supply their dogs nutritional needs. A
top quality dry dog food is critical to the diet but it is
usually supplemented by ground chicken, fish, liver or other
Finally, it is not enough to
provide quality food unless the dogs are supplied with clean
water. Water is the most important part of a dog's diet.
Gee, that dog looks thin?
A frequently heard remark at
time trails is that the dogs seem thin. Indeed, compared to a
house dog who may get out for a walk or short run a couple times
a week, sled dogs are well conditioned. Although sled dogs
consume more calories than an average human, they also burn
those calories working out in training. Like human runners, the
intake of calories and exercise result in a slim, athletic
physique. Mushers monitor the weight of their dogs, feeding them
accordingly. If the dogs gain too much weight, they risk
overheating, disease and injury. If they are too thin they lose
stamina. Mushers balance these considerations and maintain their
dogs at a healthy weight for each particular dog.
on the Trail
When you watch a team go out
from the starting area at a time trail it usually looks pretty
simple and goes off without a hitch. How does the transformation
from the chaotic scene in the staging area become a safe race
and how does it stay that way? It all begins with the
International Sled Dog Event Rules,
as applied by SAFDSS.
Event rules which promote
animal welfare are nothing new to sled dog time trails. Since
the first major organized race in 1909, rules have been
implemented to safeguard dogs and mushers alike. For the past 30
years, International Rules has been at the forefront of developing and
maintaining sled dog event rules which promote safety and
fairness. SAFDSS events must comply with the rules
and regulations which dictate everything from trail length and
layout to mandatory safety equipment and canine fitness.
In order to become an SAFDSS event, the dryland course must comply with detailed
trail requirements. The basic premises governing trail design
all concern safety. The trail must not endanger dog teams or
mushers, though some athletic ability on the part of the musher
hazards must be avoided.
must be accurately described.
design rules insure that a musher will know what to expect.
The rules also enable the musher and the dogs to train for
the conditions they will encounter.
· Time Trail Event rules
are designed to safeguard sled dogs on and off the trail.
abuse of dogs is strictly prohibited. Anyone who is
convicted of animal abuse or neglect is barred from the
Race Marshall must disqualify any team which is unfit or
incapable of safely running the time trail. A veterinarian
is on call for all races. To prevent the spread of disease,
the race Veterinarian shall disqualify any team that
includes a dog with a contagious disease.
of any substance (from steroids to aspirin) that may affect
the performance of a dog is strictly prohibited.
International Rules provide for drug testing,
disqualification and banning from the sport.
equipment must comply with event rules. For example- wheeled
equipment must be equipped with brakes, braking system
preventing a rig/cart from moving when standing still with a
team of dogs.
Musher, whose dog or team cannot complete a time trail,
should immediately stop and withdraw from the event, rather
than placing his canine friend in danger by pushing him/her
to the end. This rule ensures that each dog in the team is
collars, muzzles and other equipment that might be dangerous
to the dogs are prohibited.
may not replace a dog on subsequent days of the event with a
new dog. This rule ensures that each dog team is well
treated throughout the event.
the time trail course, teams must stay on the marked trails.
Shortcuts are not only cheating, they pose unknown hazards
to the team. The rules also provide rules of the road
including "Right of way" requirements and passing rules.
In summary, Time Trail
Event Rules and Standards ensure the health, safety and welfare of the
canine athletes wherever they compete in their quest to become
a SAFDSS National Champions.