Dog Sledding: Adventure In Motion

by Sleddoggin Staff on June 13, 2011

Specific Purpose: To inform my audience regarding the sport of Dog sledding.

Central Idea: Dog sledding has played an important part of history, and is now used as a sport.


  1. Imagine for a moment the following scene. Pure darkness. The only hint of light radiating from the moon, dancing on a snowy landscape. Six dogs breathing heavily, trodding lightly – running out in front of you. You’re mushing a dog team.
  2. Dog sledding is seen on the big screen of theaters often, but little is known about this very interesting sport.
  3. Today I’ll be taking you through the history of dog sledding, an introduction to dog sledding, and dog sledding as a sport today.

(Transition: So, let’s hitch up our teams, hop on our sled runners – and head out on a mushing adventure.)


  1. The first area we will explore on our tour is the history of dog sledding.
    1. Sled dogs were first used by many native arctic dwellers.
      1. i.      The Siberian Husky was first bred by the Chuckchi people of Siberia, and used their dogs for herding reindeer and pulling loads.
      2. ii.      The Alaskan Malamute was bred and originated by my Eskimo people called the Mahlemuits. Because of our large size, they were mainly used for pulling very heavy loads.
      3. iii.      Sadly, many of these traditions have been lost and replaced by the snowmobile.
      4. In 1925 dog sledding was thrust into the mainstream during the Great Serum Run.
        1. i.      At this time the town of Nome Alaska was struck with a diphtheria epidemic.
        2. ii.      A score of dog teams and their drivers were able to mush the saving diphtheria serum more than 600 miles in less than six days.
        3. iii.      In The Cruelest Miles by Gay Salisbury we see that although Balto is known as the great lead dog of the serum run, Leonard Seppala and his Siberian huskies actually mushed the most miles in the least amount of time. Togo was his lead dog.
      5. Not long after the serum run, the late 19th century brought about the Klondike Gold Rush.
        1. i.      This was a sad time in history for dog sledding, as thousands upon thousands of sled dogs were stolen from their homes in the lower 48 states, and brought into the harsh arctic climate.
        2. ii.      Many of these dogs were not breeds suitable for hard, mushing work.

(Transition: The history of mushing is rich with adventure, excitement and occasional mistreatment – but dog sledding today is a much different story.)

  1. The next area we’ll explore on our mushing adventure is an introduction to dog sledding.
    1. First, a dog team is comprised of wheel dogs, team dogs, swing dogs and lead dogs.
      1. i.      Wheel dogs are usually the strongest of the team, and are responsible for maneuvering the sled around corners and turns.
      2. ii.      Team dogs comprise the extra “engine” of the team. Because a dog team can range anywhere from 1-20 dogs, there is a variety in the amount of team dogs.
      3. iii.      Swing dogs run directly behind the lead dog, and are responsible for aiding the leaders in directing the team.
      4. iv.      Lead dogs are the dogs which take directional commands from the musher, and guide the team.
        1. According to Mush! By Bella Levorsen, the lead dog isn’t necessarily the smartest dog, but the dog or dogs that is most obedient, and will take your commands well.
        2. The commands include gee for right, haw for left, whoa to stop, and hike to go.
      5. The physics of dog sledding is relatively simple. The dogs provide the force to move the sled, its contents, and the musher whom stands on the sled runners.
        1. i.      Bill Cole of Des-Mar Siberians related to me the fact that sled dogs aren’t actually “pulling” a sled as usually thought, but pushing. They use their strong chests to provide the force against the harness breast strap, and push the sled forward.
      6. Equipment for a dog team includes harnesses, ganglines (which are the ropes between the dogs), snowhooks for use as breaks, sled bags, and much more.
      7. Barb Schaefer, of Qualobo Siberian huskies related that the human individual driving the dog team is the musher, and must act as both a veterinarian at times, a team manager and dog trainer. It’s a multi-faceted position.

(Transition: Dog sledding, with all its bells & whistles, is a very rewarding experience for both musher and dog. Although a lot of work, it’s amazing to see the team-work involved in such a production.)

  1. The third and final area we’ll explore is the sport of dog sledding today.
    1. There are many types of ways to dog sled. Some race purely for recreation while others enjoy racing.
      1. i.      There are long distance races, mid-distance, and sprint racing.
      2. ii.      Unknown to many, there are heavy followings of mushers in warm countries also – as mushers can also use scooters and wheeled carts to run dog teams.
      3. The Iditarod is the most famous of races and covers over 1,000 miles in a two week period. Teams from around the world come to compete, as it’s raced in memory of the lives that were saved by dog teams during the 1925 serum run.
        1. i.      DeeDee Jonrowe, a famous female musher has been quoted in her book Iditarod Dreams in saying that Iditarod sled dogs receive better care then 99.9% of common house dogs. From my studies, I’ve found this to be true.
          1. Along the race there are mandatory checkpoints and rest points, and many veterinarians on staff who give complete physicals of each dog at every stop.
          2. The dogs are also cared with premium high-fat dog food, blankets, straw, booties & massages. They’re trained, professional athletes.

(Transition: Dog sled racing is an incredible sport, and it’s exciting to see that there are many who enjoy the sport recreationally as well. Enjoying the outdoors with your canine companions is a worthwhile adventure in my opinion.)


  1. As our mushing journey concludes we’ve witnessed the history, an introduction & an overview of the sport of dog sledding.
  2. Next time when you’re exploring a winter wilderness, and a dog team passes you by – think of the work and dedication it takes to run on both the musher and dog’s part. They signify leadership, team work & a boundless energy to explore our world.
  3. At this time I’d like to leave you with a quote by an unknown author. “Unless you’re the lead dog, the view never changes.”

Related posts:

  1. Introduction to Dog Sledding
  2. Dog Sledding Q & A
  3. Getting Dogs for Dog Sledding


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