The History of Dog Sledding Dog sledding started out from the Inuits and other native cultures who lived in areas where it snowed during winter months and was a means of travel.
The heritage of the sled dog is a long and proud one, dating back to some 4,000 years ago. The people of the North were dependent on these animals for protection, companionship, hunting, trapping and most of all – transportation. Sled dogs enabled explorers such as Byrd, Peary and Amundsen to travel the frozen wastelands of both Poles and have played a vital role in bringing civilisation to the snowbound areas of the world.
In January 1925 a case of diphtheria was discovered in Nome, Alaska but the supply of antitoxin in that city was inadequate to stave off an epidemic. A relay of 22 native and mail teams and their drivers forged through the rough interior of Alaska and across the Bering Sea ice to bring the serum from Anchorage to the grateful townspeople. A statue of Balto, who led one of the relay teams, stands in New York’s Central Park to commemorate this historical Nome Serum Run event. The Iditarod Trail Dog Sled Race was started in the 1970’s by Joe Redington Senior and other keen team drivers. This event is being held during March of each year in the memory of this Serum Run and it covers 1,049 miles across some of the worst terrain in the world. Every year this race attracts more and more worldwide interest as does the sport of sled dog racing as a whole.
Iditarod Trail Race - Start Line (March 2016)
What is Sled Dog Racing?
In today’s world, sled dog racing is a recreational sport where either one dog or a team pulls a sled (snow), or a rig or scooter on dry land. The person controlling the team is known as the musher. Sled dog racing is done from snow to dry-land and is practiced in various climates all around the world.
Sled Dog Racing started in Australia over 25 years ago and has become a very popular sport where dogs and their musher must work together making their way around the forest on dirt trails.
For the 1 and 2 dog class mushers use scooters, for the 3, 4, 6 and 8 class mushers use 3 or 4 wheeled rigs. The dogs are highly trained, skilled athletes who learn specific commands in order to take left and right turns and make their way safely around the track.
Teams navigate the tracks following coloured markers:
red on the right - turn right
red on the left - turn left
blue to confirm a correct turn and yellow for hazards. At the markers and based upon track circumstances, mushers will call commands to their dogs such as: "gee" turn right; "haw" turn left; "easy" to slow; "trail" to other mushers before passing or "on by" to make a safe pass.
The distance raced depends on the number of dogs in the team. For example, six dogs will race between 7 and 15 kilometres. The more the dogs in a team, the further and faster they can travel. A six-dog team is capable of speeds up to over 40 kilometers per hour! The speed a dog team can maintain is very dependent on the weather conditions, with it ideally being low temperature and low humidity. Teams depart from a start chute at timed intervals, typically 30 seconds apart and are individually timed for the distance using a time trial format or heats. These times are then compared to determine the winner of the race after all heats. Two new disciplines were recently added: Bikejoring, a recreation sport where a harnessed dog is attached to a towline to pull and run ahead of a cyclist and CaniCross for the mushers that like to run!
CaniCross (CaniX) is the sport of cross-country running with dogs. It started in Europe and is also very popular in UK. All you need is a dog, a canicross belt, a bungee line and a harness. The races are usually over a course of a few kilometres. People run with one dog: the runner wears a waist belt, and the dog is connected to the runner by a bungee line, which reduces shock both to the runner and the dog when the dog pulls. Canicross is not only a great way for the runner to keep fit but also great exercise for dogs.
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