Training Sled Dogs for the Yukon Quest as well as Iditarod


If you’ve been complying with along, you understand I’ve been on a journey into the world of working dogs. So far, I’ve written about livestock guardian dogs, guide dogs as well as therapy dogs.

Today’s article is a bit more personal. My dad was a huge fan of sled dogs as well as always complied with two major races, the Iditarod as well as the Yukon Quest. A few years ago, he had an chance to go dog sledding, as well as it was a extremely unforgettable experience for him.

When I was believing about dogs with jobs, I understood I wished to include sled dogs in this series. as well as I understood I wished to focus on the Yukon Quest, my Dad’s favourite race. My dad died last summer, so today’s article is a tribute to him.

The Yukon Quest began in 1984 as well as runs every February for about 10-16 days (in fact, it starts this Saturday, Feb. 2). The 1,000-mile path stretches between Whitehorse, Yukon as well as Fairbanks, Alaska, crosses four mountain ranges, as well as complies with historical gold rush as well as mail shipment routes.

Temperatures during the race variety from an typical high of 6ºF to an typical low of -13ºF. Although, temperatures of -40ºF as well as chillier are not unusual. The race attracts a field of as much as 50 worldwide teams, each with one human musher as well as 14 dogs.

One of those teams this year is Matt Hall from Smokin’ Ace Sled dog Kennels in two Rivers, Alaska. Matt put second in last year’s race, very first in 2017 as well as got the Veterinarians’ option award in 2016 (more on this award later in the post). Amanda Brooks from Smokin’ Ace took a long time out from getting ready for the race to speak with me about their dogs.

What should people understand about sled dogs?

Sled dogs are born as well as bred to run! They’re intelligent, high-energy working dogs as well as are at their happiest when they’re challenged. Taking an Alaskan Husky out for a run is like taking your home dog for a walk—it’s fun for them! When conditioned as well as trained properly, the dogs should always feel like they might do more.

The Yukon Quest website explains that while “some kennels still concentrate solely on pure-bred sled dogs—typically Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes or Canadian or American Inuit Dogs—the majority of contemporary sled dogs… are ‘genetic mutts’… most commonly… referred to as ‘Alaskan Huskies.’”

What may surprise people about sled dogs?

Sled dogs are just as cuddly as any type of other dog! They like interest as well as butt scrubs as well as are notorious bed hogs.

How do you train a dog to be a sled dog?

We begin training as soon as they’re old sufficient to eat kibble. very first we teach them ‘No’ as well as ‘Good.’ soon we’ll take them on loose walks as well as teach them a come-all command to get everyone’s attention.

Once they’re a couple months old, we begin training them to find to their names by working with them one-on-one. By the time they’re seven to eight months old we harness train them as well as go on short runs of less than one mile. This is solely to get them acquainted with the harness as well as gangline. then we slowly develop their stamina as well as endurance.

Older dogs are the very best teachers, so we’ll run them together with the younger dogs to teach them exactly how to harness their excitement, patience as well as manners. between the ages of 18 months to two years old, the yearlings are conditioned for longer miles (5-50 miles) at a sluggish as well as steady speed (8 mph).

It’s not up until they are two to three years old that they begin competitively racing. Whether they join the race team at two or three is dependent on both their mental as well as physical maturity.

Race training starts Sept. 1, as well as we train our team precisely exactly how we would train ourselves for a marathon. begin off short as well as slowly develop the miles. By the end of the race season in March, our team is conditioned to run 100-miles in one run!

Lindsay has written before about the topic of when it’s risk-free to begin running with a puppy. Joint, bone as well as muscle mass health and wellness is something that mushers as well as handlers care a excellent offer about. I complied with up with the Yukon Quest head vet, Dr. Cristina Hansen, to discover exactly how puppies’ ages factor into their training.

Dr. Hansen stated that there is no set age at which it’s risk-free to begin difficult training, as well as she feels there are dangers to starting as well early. In her experience, most mushers don’t do much running or training with puppies up until they are six to nine months old.

What high qualities are important in sled dogs?

Intelligence, ahead drive, thick coat, tough paws, great mindset as well as appetite.

What daily care is important for sled dogs?

Morning chores are scooping [poop], watering as well as feeding. afternoon snacks. evening chores of scooping as well as feeding.

We’re always tracking weight, appetite as well as stools to ensure each member of the team is healthy. Every two weeks we trim nails as well as restraw their houses, which is their bed linen as well as insulation. Monthly, they get rounds of de-wormers as well as annual vaccinations keep them updated on their records.

Loose walks for each dog are extremely important as well as making sure they’re getting sufficient exercise to keep them happy as well as conditioned.

Is there anything special mushers do to interact socially sled dogs?

At Smokin’ Ace, we go on loose walks with our dogs to make sure they have time to just be dogs (pee on things, odor things, flirt) as well as interact socially with their peers. We always switch up their running partners as well, so they’re in a perpetual specify of socialization.

How do you care for the dogs during the race?

When you’re contending in a race, the dogs [can each] shed upwards of 14,000 calories everyday, so they eat much more. On typical we’re feeding every two to three hours. Their diet plan consists of 50 per cent raw meat (beef, chicken, liver, salmon, fat) as well as 50 per cent high performance kibble.

Here’s a bit more from the Yukon Quest website about care during the race:

“Generally during the race, mushers run their teams in a 50-50 run-rest schedule. typical patterns are “four on, four off”, meaning a four hour run complied with by a four hour rest for the dogs. longer runs are ending up being more typical as sled dogs are bred for higher endurance as well as training methods improve.”

The race goes around the clock, so the dogs determine their routine rather than the time of day or night. “During a typical rest stop, mushers eliminate their dogs’ booties, feed their dogs, cook their next meal, inspect as well as re-check their dogs’ feet, coat, harnesses as well as attitude,” as well as then feed themselves and, if they are lucky, sleep. taking care of 14 dogs is the concern as well as takes most of the mushers’ time.

The Yukon Quest is understood for its focus on the health and wellness of the dogs. The Veterinary team provides an award to the musher who demonstrates superior care of his or her sled dogs as well as stays competitive during the race.

Race veterinarians inspect every dog before, during as well as after the race. “It’s not unusual for a sled dog to get a check-up at every stop along the method – that’s over ten sees with a veterinarian in a two or three week period.”

With only nine checkpoints along the 1,000-mile trail, the vast distance between stops means that mushers requirement to camp along the path as well as to pack their sleds heavily.

Each musher must leave the checkpoints with a minimum of eight booties per dog as well as sufficient food as well as devices for themselves as well as their team to safely travel to the next checkpoint. When teams reach the halfway point at Dawson City, they have a mandatory 36-hour rest stop. There are three other layovers during the race where mushers must stop for shorter designated lengths of time.

How many dogs does the typical musher have? exactly how do you choose dogs for racing?

We have a medium-sized kennel of 40 dogs. Our race pool is currently 18 as well as our yearling team is comprised of 12.

The rest are retired race or dogs that didn’t make the cut for the race team as well as instead have joined our tour team. The dogs that retire from the race team are usually around seven or eight years old. That’s when they begin slowing down. nevertheless they still have the heart to run!

Some dogs retire from the race team sooner, based on their wish to run. We have one dog who retired at two years old.

She didn’t like to run long distance of racing, however liked shorter tour loops of two-miles (and showing off to guests). It’s completely as much as the dog when they select to retire as well as some dogs you have to force into retirement around 11 years old.

Once they’re prepared for full retirement (we have 5 now), they online the rest of their days wandering around loose as well as lounging on couches. Sometimes, if the right person contacts us, werehome them as a pet dog.

For example we’ve rehomed two siblings to a race veterinarian in Colorado. These two boys are getting tons of interest as well as wonderful care that they deserve.

A Yukon Quest team consists of 14 dogs. Over the program of the race, mushers will “drop” dogs at different checkpoints. Usually, dogs are dropped either as part of a organized race strategy or to prevent a minor injury from escalating into a major one, as well as not since of a major injury, illness, or accident. Mushers must have a minimum of six dogs to stay in the race.

What do sled dogs perform in the off-season?

Our ‘off-season’ is spent on a glacier in Southeast Alaska working for Alaska Icefield Expeditions. Up there, there is snow so we can provide short two-mile tours to cruise ship passengers.

Dogs great down with their paws as well as mouths. The snow enables them to roll around as well as cool-off, even when it’s 70 degrees on the glacier.

If we stayed back house in the interior, the dogs wouldn’t be able to pull in team since temperatures increase as much as 70-80 degrees. Those temperatures are far as well hot for these guys to work in. So for the dogs that do stay behind from the glacier, they go on loose walks as well as group swims in the river.

The Yukon Quest starts this Saturday, Feb. 2 in Whitehorse, Yukon. discover more about the race at as well as comply with all of the action on Facebook. To discover more about Amanda as well as Matt as well as their team at Smokin’ Ace Kennels see

Photos by Whitney McLaren.

Have you ever gone dog sledding–even with your own dog? Does your dog like to run?

Julia Thomson is a blog writer at Home on 129 Acres where she composes about her adventures of country living as well as diy renovating. She as well as her household online on a 129-acre farm in Ontario, Canada. comply with Julia on Instagram here.

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