I Inherited a Sled Dog Team | INDIE ALASKA
How to Care for Sled Dogs
Caring for sled dogs is an important part of dogsled racing. Ensure you feed your dogs a healthy diet with plenty of water, and house them in a comfortable kennel. Keep an eye out for health problems -- especially joint and leg injuries -- both on and off the trail. And while sled dogs are bred to tolerate intensely cold temperatures, even they have their limits. Take care to protect their feet and skin when temperatures get too cold, and bring them inside if possible when the temperatures drop.
Meeting Basic Needs
Feed your dogs adequately.Your dogs should eat a mix of high-quality dry and wet (canned) food with high levels of fat and protein. The protein and fat content in the food provides your dogs with the energy they need to run long distances. Whatever you feed your dogs, they should be taking in around 10,000 calories each day when they’re on the trail.
- Some mushers mix a cup or two of water into the food to help the dogs digest the food more easily and prevent dehydration. Adding water is also necessary when thawing out frozen food on the trail.
- Many sled dogs also like fish. Be sure to cook it thoroughly and remove bones before feeding it to your dogs.
- Feeding a sled dog can be expensive, with costs totaling up to 0 per year.
Ensure your dogs have enough to drink.Sled dogs need access to water at all times to ensure they don’t become dehydrated. Place water in a pan or bowl that won’t spill. A deep, heavy ceramic water bowl is best since, unlike flimsy metal or plastic bowls, they are less likely to be knocked over.
- Empty the bowl each day and fill it with fresh water.
- Clean the pan or bowl at least once each week to prevent food residue and bacteria from building up.
- Always ensure your dogs have had plenty to drink before going on a run.
Protect your dogs’ skin.Sled dogs are bred for cold temperatures. However, even the hardiest sled dogs have their limits. The temperature a dog can comfortably handle varies depending on its age, coat, and overall health, and there is no absolute temperature at which dogs should be kept from the elements.However, stay attentive to your dogs’ behavior and attitude, and look for changes that might occur in extreme weather. If your dogs are shivering, curled up in the snow and not moving, or engaging in other behavior that indicates they are unable to tolerate the temperature, don’t force them to continue running.
- Dogs can get frostbite, so always use caution if you suspect your dogs are at risk.
- In extreme weather, dress your dogs in special coats and blankets to give them an added layer of protection against the cold.
- Wash your dogs at least once a month. Use a mild soap or shampoo specially designed for dogs that won’t dry out their skin. Special dog shampoos are available at pet stores.
Don’t push your dogs beyond what they can endure.Excessive speed when sledding can lead to injuries, dehydration, and stress. Take care to watch for behavior that indicates your dog is struggling or in pain, including labored breathing, yelping, an inability to keep pace with other dogs, and/or bloody paws or prints.
- Know when to retire your sled dogs.Most dogs can only run until they are 10 years old. No dog should be running beyond the age of 15 years old.
Take your dogs to the vet regularly.Many races require that your dogs are up-to-date on their shots and vaccines.When getting their shots, your vet should also examine the dogs for other illnesses or problems. Sled dogs are more likely to have joint problems then regular dogs, so if you catch the problem early, it could save your dog a lot of pain later and keep your team strong.
- Email the International Sled Dog Veterinary Medical Association at to find a sled dog vet near you.
Caring for Your Dogs’ Feet
Inspect the bottoms of your dog’s feet regularly.If you see any cracked skin, dryness, blisters, or scarring, consult a veterinarian. Check the nails, too. Nails need to be maintained within a narrow “Goldilocks zone” where they are neither too long (which can cause them to snag and break off) nor too short (which will diminish their ability to grip the ice when running). Check the webbing between the toes for any redness, irritation, or swelling.
- Your dog will usually let you know if it has irritated paws by limping, licking, or gnawing its irritated foot. It might also yelp when you pick up its paw to examine it.
- Always be gentle when handling sled dogs’ paws.
Invest in dog booties.There are several situations where it might be necessary for your dogs to don booties. One is extreme cold. The other is when running in deep snow. Finally, you might also want to outfit your dog in booties if it has injured its paw and you cannot change the dog out for another one.
- Sled dogs have thick coats and have evolved to thrive in cold weather environments, and can tolerate temperatures as low as -55 degrees Fahrenheit (-48 degrees Celsius). However, sled dogs have their limits. Check your dog’s paws frequently for cracked, bloody pads and put them in boots if you see any of these conditions.
- Different dogs have different tolerance levels for temperature.The dog’s age and health are the most important factors that determine how cold a dog’s feet can get before the temperature begins to have a negative impact.
- Different booties are recommended for different terrain. For instance, you could get a bootie that works best on ice, or one that works best on snow. Other booties are designed for off-season practice on dirt or gravel tracks.
- The booties also come in different sizes. Be sure to buy one that’s right for you and your dogs.
- Sled dog booties are readily available online, or at certain pet stores.
Use healing ointments on your dogs’ paws.There are a variety of oils, liniments, and lotions available to heal damaged paws.Choose one that is right for your dog’s needs. Most ointments simply require massaging the product gently into the dog’s paw. Always use lotions and ointments as directed.
- Liniments with emu oil are good at limiting inflammation and preventing infection. Emu oil can restore elasticity and nutrients to the skin.
- Ointments with zinc oxide are excellent for healing fissures and cracks on the dog’s pads and between the toes. Be careful, however, not to let your dog lick the zinc oxide ointment.
- Ointments made with lanolin and glycerin are useful for preventing ice balling on your dog’s feet and ankles. These ingredients can help keep your dog’s pads and skin healthy.
Giving Your Dogs Space to Live and Play
Give your dogs time to play.Sled dogs work hard. Show your appreciation by giving them time to relax when they’re not in the harness.
- Provide a large yard for your dogs to play in. This gives the dogs a space where they can be active outside of their sled regimen. Ensure the yard is fenced so they cannot run off.
- Your dogs should be allowed to play with each other, but you should play with them, too. They might like catching a ball, frisbee, or stick and bringing it back to you.
- Clean your yard regularly. Depending on how many dogs you have, you might need to do “poop patrol” two or three times daily.
- Your yard should be level and free of pooling water where bacteria can collect.
Tether your sled dogs outside.When your dogs are not in the yard, put them in their kennel. The kennel should have a semi-open arrangement that allows each dog to get close enough to its neighbor to play and socialize when tethered, but should also give the dog the option of sitting by itself without possibility of interruption from other dogs.
- Experiment with the spacing to figure out how long your tether should be and how far apart each dog should be spaced from its neighborhood.
- Use straw for bedding. Mix some pine shavings into the straw if you’re concerned the kennel is accumulating moisture. Change the bedding every two to three weeks, or when it is visibly dirty.
- The size of the kennel depends on how many sled dogs you have. Each dog should have at least 35 square feet to itself.
- Puppies should be kept in the kennel but not tethered. Provide a separate, smaller pen for them to socialize in together.
Have space inside for your dogs.If your region of the country gets really cold you should bring your dogs inside. Temperatures of -30 degrees Fahrenheit or below usually qualify as a reasonable benchmark for bringing your dogs inside.
- Make a “dog box” -- a series of deep wooden shelves that can accommodate a sled dog’s body -- in your barn or basement. Line the dog boxes with soft blankets or towels when in use.
- You should also bring your dogs inside if it is raining and your kennel is not well-protected from rain and snow.
- Although sled dogs are bred for cold temperatures, when they are not running, they have a harder time staying warm.
Choosing Your Dogs
Think about what you value.There’s no one formula for determining what sled dog is right for your team. A good sled dog will demonstrate a combination of endurance, speed, pulling ability, and perseverance. Sled dogs should also have a certain level of intelligence -- an ability to listen for and obey commands, actively avoid obstacles, and take care of themselves. A thick coat is a must for dogs running long-distance sleds in cold weather. Finally, your dog should be healthy and fit to endure the intense training and distances required of sled dogs.
- Your sled dogs don’t need to be of just one breed, but they all need to be able to work together without conflict. Dogs that cause conflicts with others should be removed from the team.
- If your dog is puling a sled over a shorter distance and time (two hours or less), it does not need to have such a thick coat.
Choose an Alaskan husky.Alaskan huskies (also called Indian dogs) are the most common dogs in dog sled races. This “breed” is actually a mutt -- a cross between Siberian huskies and another breed, which varies. Some Alaskan huskies have wolf ancestry, others have greyhound, German shorthair pointer, hound, or terrier blood.
- Wolf-dog mixes can be unpredictable and difficult to train. Use caution if purchasing or employing a husky with a close wolf ancestor.
Choose a Malamute.Malamutes are excellent sled dogs and are bred for raw power. One popular variety of Malamute, the freight dog, has high endurance and excels at long trips, though it is not very fast. They usually weigh 80-120 pounds.
- Popular depictions of dog sled races usually feature Malamutes or huskies.
Choose a Siberian husky.Huskies are smaller than Malamutes (usually weighing 40-60 pounds) and have lower endurance levels. Over a short period of time, though, huskies can pull more than Malamutes. Purebred Siberian huskies are mostly bred for appearance, not pulling ability, and usually make poor sled dogs.
Choose a Canadian Eskimo dog.Like other sled dogs, the Canadian Eskimo dog is muscular and built for pulling. It can cover 15 to 70 miles per day, and is capable of pulling up to 80 kilograms.
- Don’t confuse the Canadian Eskimo dog with the American Eskimo dog, which has a a short, white, and dense coat.
QuestionWould a Border Collie/German Shepherd cross, by itself, be able to pull one person around 100-110 pounds? She's not full grown yet but when she is, she'll be around the 50-65lbs.wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerFor short periods of time with the proper equipment yes, but not until the dog is full grown and over a year and a half to two years old. You don't want to risk damaging her joints, so you'd have to be on skates or skis and not carrying any extra weight. I'd also advise not to skijor with a dog that size for more than an hour a day. She would not be able to pull an actual sled with a person on it on her own. To give you an idea, your average Husky bred for sledding is between 30-60 lbs. They're medium-sized dogs, but it takes a whole team.Thanks!
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