Dog sledding is a must-do activity in Alaska no matter what time of year you happen to visit. There are three main types of summer dog sled tours that we covered in our last post Everything You Need To Know About Alaska Dog Sled Tours that you should certainly read over if you are considering a trip to Alaska. Once you decide to go on a dog sled tour, what exactly should you expect and how should you plan ahead?
What To Expect When Visiting A Dog Sled Kennel
Sled dogs are working dogs that live outside year-round. They are a high-energy dog that are bred to endure cold arctic conditions. Today’s racing sled dogs have lean athletic frames and are built for speed and endurance. Because of their high energy demands, mushers generally run their dogs on a consistent schedule. When they are not running, sled dogs are kept at their own individual house with their own private space. These houses are arranged in organized rows. This setup is commonly referred to as a “dog yard.”
Seeing a dog yard for the first time can be quite strange to people who are used to owning one dog that lives inside and goes everywhere with them. Most people are not used to seeing so many dogs tied up. Keeping our dogs on swivel posts and chains allows them to run in their circle and get exercise to their hearts’ content.
It’s important to remember that the main function of a dog yard is to give our dogs time to rest. During the height of training, our sled dogs will run up to 120 miles at a time. Even though our sled dogs live outside, our lives revolve entirely around their well-being so they get plenty of one-on-one attention too. We even bring our sled dogs inside for short supervised visits. If they are inside for too long, sled dogs get hot and anxious — not to mention our cat gets very offended!
Older sled dogs sometimes retire to inside homes. If you are interested in adopting a retired sled dog, you can fill out our adopt a dog questionnaire. We don’t have any retirees available at the moment but we do like to keep a list of interested people. Placing our older dogs in loving homes is extraordinarily important to us.
A common misconception is that sled dog kennels are loud. While at times a kennel can be loud, for the most part, sled dogs should be quiet. Our guests are often amazed at how quiet our dogs are, even once they enter our kennel. Sled dogs who live and work in a tour environment should be used to seeing people come and go.
In general, sled dogs who are well taken care of and have their needs met, should be relatively quiet. Sled dogs need food, water, love, and most importantly, the ability to run and pull, to live fulfilling lives.
Our dogs do get noisy when it’s time to run because they love to share and vocalize their excitement. All the barking is a big chorus of “pick me!” and “I want to run!” If you do not like dogs barking, or have sensitive ears, consider bringing earplugs as they can get loud!
Sled Dog Behavior
Because sled dogs are working dogs, they don’t always react to people the same way a pet dog does. Always make sure you ask the owner or person in charge of your dog sled tour if it is ok for your to approach or pet a dog. It’s important to understand that each dog has its own unique personality. Some dogs are shy and do not like meeting strangers whereas some sled dogs want to meet everyone. Some of our best athletes are shy around guests! Although we do try to work with our shy dogs, we also respect their personalities.
Sled dogs may also jump or be overly excited when meeting new people. If you are uncertain about approaching a certain dog, always ask. Some kennels do not like guests petting or approaching their team; if this is important to you on your dog sled tour make sure you ask at the time of booking.
What To Wear On Your Dog Sled Tour
When visiting a kennel, it’s important to dress appropriately. Because sled dogs are working dogs they behave differently than pet dogs. Many mushers encourage their dogs to jump up and “hug” them. If you want to interact with sled dogs, you should expect some jumping. Wear a jacket that you do not mind getting a little dog hair or dirt on.
Dog yards are working facilities. We strongly encourage guests to wear pants and sneakers or hiking boots. Although we keep our dogs and our facility clean, if you choose to interact with sled dogs then there is a chance you could get some dirt on your clothes. Most people are not bothered by this but a great solution, if you are worried about getting your jeans dirty from the dogs, is to wear rain gear — which you should already be packing for your trip. Invest in rain jackets and rain pants for everyone in your group because when it rains in Alaska, it pours. Rain gear can also provide great protection from mosquitos in the interior part of Alaska.
Check Out These Great Dog Sledding Resources
Dog sledding is a fascinating sport. Although modern-day racing takes the stage at many kennels, the history of dog sledding is extremely interesting. We love writing about sled dogs here on our blog and have started putting together some great resources to increase awareness and understanding of our sport. Check out these great blog posts.
- What Is A Sled Dog
- Sled Dog Care: Part 1
- Sled Dog Care: Part 2
- What Is the Iditarod Sled Dog Race
- Training Sled Dogs In The Fall and Why It’s Important For Success
These are some great blog posts giving an overview of mushing. If you want to delve deeper, we strongly suggest checking out these books: