a team of sled dogs on the Herbert Glacier

Is Dog Sledding Still a Thing? A Dying Tradition or Alive and Kicking?

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By

Lara Jill , 21st March 2024

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In today’s world, modern technology has transformed the way we travel. Once an essential mode of transportation, mushing (dog pulling sled) has dwindled, as aircraft and snowmobiles have taken over the sled dogs’ purpose.

Despite the decline of mushing (dog pulling sled), some people are trying their best to keep the flame of this fading heritage alive. They have turned dog sledding into a sport and recreational activity.

In this article, let’s talk about what mushing (dog pulling sled) is like today. Is it still a harmonious partnership between humans and canines forged through trust, loyalty, and shared love for adventure?

Is Dog Sled Racing Still a Thing?

The idea of mushing (dog pulling sled) as a competitive sport was conceived in 1967 to preserve the sled dog culture and commemorate the 1925 Great Mercy Run.

But six years later, the originators devised a more challenging 1000-mile trail stretching from Anchorage to Nome. This trail race solidified its place in history as the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race of Alaska.

Every year since its inception, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race kicks off every first Saturday of March with a ceremonial parade in Anchorage, followed by the official race the next day on Willow Lake.

Inspired by the Iditarod, Norwegian sledders also established the Finnmarkslopet, Europe’s longest dog race. Today, Finnmarkslopet boasts two classes: a 310-mile track designed for teams of up to eight dogs and a 620-mile track with a maximum of 14 dogs.

Dog Sledding in 2024, What Does It Look Like?

Many people have been asking, “Is dog sledding cruel?” Like many sports involving animals, concerns are raised regarding the ethicality of mushing (dog pulling sled).

Activists Want to Stop Dog Sledding

Animal welfare advocates, like PETA, are staunchly against dog sledding and are campaigning to outlaw not only the Iditarod but also recreational dog sledding.

According to PETA, over 150 sled dogs have died since the beginning of the Iditarod. In fact, the Iditarod 2024, which took place just a few days ago, claimed the lives of three dogs: Bog, George, and Oshi.

Sled dogs are expected to cover approximately a thousand miles within two weeks. These dogs only have a total of 40 hours of rest throughout the entire course of the competition, excluding veterinary exams.

Over the recent years, the Iditarod has grown in controversy along with a sharp decline in popularity and sponsorships. The Iditarod is walking on thin ice!

dog sledding in Sweden

Responsible Mushers and Ethical Dog Sledding Excursions Exist

While animal activists are campaigning to abolish mushing (dog pulling sled) due to the controversies surrounding the Iditarod, we must remind ourselves that the activity per se is not inherently ethical or unethical regardless if it’s a competitive sport or recreational activity.

True, there are mushers and kennel owners who subject their canines to abuse, but these bad apples do not represent the entire dog sledding community. That is why the likes of Megan Routley of Kingmik Dog Sled Tours and Tim Tedford, who speaks for the Professional Mushers Association of B.C., were gravely disappointed when a documentary film and TV series came out only to paint the entire industry in a bad light, leaving out the uplifting facts about dog sledding.

Many conscientious mushers show genuine love for their canines and advocate to reform the standard practices within the industry. They have worked tirelessly to revamp the dog sledding community, as seen in the efforts of Ashley Keith, state-licensed animal cruelty investigator and founder of Humane Mushing.

We must recognize the efforts of those who work hard to ensure the ethical treatment of animals in dog sledding and not let the actions of a few bad individuals taint the entire industry.

How to Find an Ethical Dog Sledding Tour

When searching for an ethical dog sledding tour, always check the company website and social media pages. You’ll want to thoroughly research the company standards and practices before booking. 

Look into how they care for their sled dogs, or ask the following:

  • What do sled dogs eat? Does each of these dogs have a well-insulated shelter?
  • How are the sled dogs treated throughout the year? What do these dogs do during the summer?
  • Do the sled dogs have access to basic grooming and veterinary care?
  • Do the sled dogs get enough rest in between runs?

A reputable dog sledding tour will always take pride in how they take care of their dogs. Check the website for reviews—or scour the Internet for any feedback from customers.

Can You Ride a Dog Sled Without Snow?

Of course, not, but you can try carting, formally known as “drafting” and colloquially known as “dry land mushing.”

Carting is a sport hosted by AKC-recognized parent breed clubs. If you have a draft dog, such as a Leonberger or a Bernese Mountain Dog, he may compete at a regional or national level to earn a drafting title.

 a team of sled dogs doing dog carting

As a recreational activity, any healthy pooch is welcome to jump on the bandwagon!

If you like mountain biking and dogs, you may also try bikejoring, another pulling sport for dogs. Just be sure that you get the right gear for your pet before you start.

In the United States, bikejoring is seen as more of a recreational activity or another form of exercise for dog-loving cyclists, unlike in Europe, where it originated, it is a legitimate sport.

Bikejoring offers a great chance for owners to bond with their dogs while burning off some energy and keeping fit. Here at SportyDog.co, we believe it’s only a matter of time before it becomes a popular sport in America!

 

Conclusion

Mushing (dog pulling sled) remains a popular winter tourist activity in some U.S. states, Canadian provinces, and Nordic countries. The art of dog sledding stands as an undying symbol of the unwavering partnership between humans and their canine companions. When done right, mushing (dog pulling sled) is a splendid sport and recreational activity that can be enjoyed by both humans and dogs.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do some people still travel with sled dogs?

Remote communities in Canada, Russia, and Greenland still use sled dogs for transportation.

How long have humans and dogs been sledding?
Based on the DNA sequencing of a dog from Zhokhov archaeological site in Siberia, scientists believe that humans and dogs have been sledding together for nearly 10, 000 years.
Are sled dogs partly wolves?
Sled dogs descended from wolves, as with other dogs, including the Pomeranian.

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