Spectators Guide

Sled dog racing can provide your family with unique and exciting entertainment. To enjoy the sport at its fullest, please take advantage of the following tips.

If you bring your pet(s) to the race site please ensure it is kept on a lead at all times and that it is kept back from the trail when the teams are running. Drivers of racing teams cannot be responsible for the safety of your animals. Races can be disrupted by pets bolting onto the course.
  • – Bring your camera and take all the pictures you want. However, if you are using a Polaroid, please be aware that the chemicals used in the film are poisonous to dogs. Please do not use flash photography as this can startle some teams.
  • – All photographers should make sure that their activities will not startle the dogs or interfere with a team’s progress.
    Sudden moves toward or away from the trail may cause a team to bolt so pick your position and hold it until all teams in your area have passed your post.
  • – Never offer a dog treats and always ask before petting.
  • – If a dog shows signs of nervousness, this is not the time to form an alliance with him. He has important business at hand and should not be distracted. Many people feel that they ‘have a way with animals’ but a rig or sled dog race is not the place to test that theory.
  • – Keep toddlers in hand. Eager dogs, ready to run, may leap or rear up in anticipation of the race and it would be unfortunate to have an accident that was the fault of neither dog nor child.
  • – Co-operate with race officials.
  • – Stay clear of the trail. Stand well back as anyone too close may distract the dogs and cause them to bolt or balk. It’s also easier for everyone to have a clear view of the teams if the crowd is not jammed together.

The Dogs

Spectators attending their first rig or sled dog race are often astonished by the variety of dogs used in racing teams. Most newcomers expect to see only Arctic breeds (Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, and Samoyeds and greenland or eskimo Dogs) pulling rigs, or occasionally rig or sled s (when we get the elusive white stuff!!). In reality, many types of dogs could be rig or sled dogs including Pointers and Trail Hounds. The most popular dog in the sport today is the Siberian Husky. You may also see the Alaskan Husky which is essentially a mixture of Arctic dogs with some crossbreeding and is not a Kennel Club registered breed. This animal was originally bred in the remote villages of Alaska for speed and stamina — two important attributes of a rig or sled dog. Abroad, other special crossbreeds have been developed for racing purposes. Among them are the Targhee hound (a cross between a Staghound and Irish Setter), and the Quebec hound (a cross between hounds and dogs native to Quebec).

While rig or sled dogs vary considerably in appearance, they share certain characteristics. Be it hound or husky, the top performers on today’s racing teams will have a strong, slightly arched back, well-angled shoulders, and a deep chest denoting good lung capacity. Compact, tough feet and a protective coat of hair aid team dogs in performing their tasks. Size is an important factor and contemporary racing dogs are relatively small, weighing less than 50 pounds and averaging 24 inches at the shoulder The rig or sled dog’s lean appearance may cause some concern to the uninitiated spectator, but it should be remembered that these are the long-distance athletes of the dog world. An overweight dog, like an overweight person, cannot run marathon distances at a competitive pace. Dog drivers carefully monitor the weight of each dog on their teams and feed measured portions of food to keep each animal at its ideal racing weight.

The popular view of rig or sled dogs as snarling, lunging, vicious beasts could not be further from the truth. Drivers prefer and breed for a dog that is even-tempered, gentle, and able to stand the pressures of a vigorous training and racing schedule. Dogs that react badly to the noisy excitement of a race or to other dogs are not found on today’s teams. No driver can waste valuable time breaking up a dog fight or untangling a dog who is frightened by a crowd of cheering spectators; so temperament is given great consideration in breeding programs. Racing rig or sled dogs are among the best-cared-for animals in the world- Because the sport is based on athletic performance, the driver must be constantly alert for anything that might adversely affect one of his team members. Parasite control is rigid, and drivers, working with veterinarians, are constantly searching for ways to improve rig or sled dog nutrition. An infestation of intestinal parasites or a long bout with disease may mean missing an entire racing season. Thus, drivers are careful to keep their dogs in the best possible condition. The training of rig or sled dogs begins at an early age, while they are receptive to new experiences and eager to learn. In addition to being persuaded to run and pull in the right direction, pups are also taught the manners of a well-behaved rig or sled dog: no line-chewing, no growling, no fighting. During this period, each dog’s abilities are carefully assessed by the driver. The fast, intelligent dog may be a potential leader, while other members of the group may make excellent support dogs in the team. In training, it is the driver’s task to initial teamwork, create a desire for work, and foster the dog’s natural instinct to run — all necessary ingredients for a winning team. Dog drivers realise that love, patience, and understanding will form the strongest bonds between driver and team. Use of a whip, except as a signalling device, is prohibited at ISDRA sanctioned rig or sled dog races.

The welfare of team animals is of primary concern to all those involved in the sport. The dogs themselves are well trained, physically fit, and eager to run — these are positive indicators that this sport is as much fun and challenge for the canine members of the team as it is for the human ones.

Mushing Terminology

  • Booties:

    slippers for dogs, worn while working under certain conditions to prevent ice forming between their toes, or for use on stoney trails, depending on the condition of the dogs pads. They are made of a wide range of fabrics, including fleece and Gore-tex

  • Brushbow:

    the curved piece out in front of the main body of a rig or sled, designed to stop brush from damaging the rig or sled.

  • Dog Bag:

    a fabric bag carried on a race rig or sled, used to put a sick or injured dog into in order to carry him to a place where he can be cared for.

  • Dog Box:

    a carrier for several dogs, most often seen as a wooden structure in the bed of a pickup truck or in the back of vans. Styles vary widely, but usually built with individual sections that hold one or two dogs each.

  • Driving Bow:

    the handle that the musher holds on to (on a sled) – also called a Handlebow.

  • Easy!:

    the command for the dogs to slow down.

  • Gangline:

    the main line that the dogs and rig or sled are attached to.

  • Gee:

    the command for the dogs to turn right.

  • Handler:

    a person who assists the musher.

  • Harness:

    a webbing of fabric that fits a dog snugly, to which the Tugline and Neckline are attached.

  • Haw:

    the command for the dogs to turn left.

  • Hike!:

    the command to get the dog team moving.

  • Husky:

    in common usage, any northern breed dog – properly, a Siberian Husky.

  • Lead Dogs:

    the dog or dogs in the front of a team. These dogs are noted for their high level of intelligence and drive, and are often females. May be run as Single lead (1 dog) or Double lead (2 dogs).

  • Mush!:

    many people think this is the term used to get a team going – Hike! is most commonly used.

  • Musher:

    a person who drives a rig or sled dog team – also called a Dog Driver.

  • Neckline:

    a short line (10-12 inches) attached to the Harness and Gangline, that keeps the dog in line.

  • On By!:

    the command to go by another team or other distraction.

  • Pedalling:

    pushing with one foot while keeping the other on the rig or sled (also known as ‘Scooting’).

  • Point Dogs:

    used by some mushers to denote the two dogs right behind the Lead Dogs. Others call them Swing Dogs.

  • Rig:

    a three or four wheeled vehicle without a propulsion device used to run dogs when conditions do not allow for the use of a sled. Also known as a ‘gig’.

  • Rigging:

    all the gear used to attach dogs to a rig or sled.

  • Runners:

    the narrow pieces of wood that a sled rides on. Usually have a replaceable plastic layer to reduce maintenance. The runners extend behind the Basket so the Musher can stand on them.

  • Safety Line:

    an extra line from the Gangline to the rig or sled , in case the main fitting breaks.

  • Snow Hook:

    a large metal hook that can be driven into firm snow to anchor a team for a short period of time without tying them.

  • Snub Line:

    a rope attached to the gangline , which can be tied to a tree to hold the team when the snow (if there is any!) is not firm enough to use a Snow Hook.

  • Stakeout:

    a main chain with separate short chains to attach several dogs to. May be strung between the front and back bumpers of a truck, or between two trees.

  • Stanchions:

    the upright pieces that attach the runners to a rig or sled.

  • Swing Dogs:

    depending on which musher you’re talking to, either the two dogs directly behind the Lead Dogs, or those between the Point Dogs and the Wheel Dogs.

  • Tack:

    harnesses Team Dogs: all dogs other than the Lead Dogs, Point Dogs, Swing Dogs and Wheel Dogs.

  • Toboggan:

    a rig or sled with a flat bottom instead of runners. Used when deep, soft snow is expected instead of a good trail.

  • Tuglines:

    the main line that connects the dog’s harness to the Gangline – the line that the dog tugs on.

  • Wheel Dogs:

    the two dogs right in front of the rig or sled . These will normally be the heaviest dogs in the team.

  • Whoa:

    the command to get the dog team to stop.