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Dog Sled: Alaska’s Transportation Tradition

Dog Sled: Alaska’s Transportation Tradition

The Dog Sled is a staple in Alaskan culture. Utilizing highly trained dogs to pull supplies and people has helped to connect distant communities and has even saved lives.

Dog Sled: History

Records indicate that the use of dogs to pull people and cargo through the Arctic dates back to 9000 B.C.E. They were utilized by early settlers as a means of travel and transportation for fur trappers. In Alaska, this was the mainstay for shipping goods from one community to another up until the invention of semi-trucks. Even today, they are still a primary method for getting around.

Dog Sled Function Today

As stated, the use of dog sleds is still a highly effective method for transporting goods, rescue operations and other services. These sleds can go where many other vehicles cannot. Cars and trucks have issues maneuvering through the landscape. Inconsistencies in snowfall mean a truck, even a 4×4, can (and probably will) get stuck. With a sled team, they provide lightweight and high maneuverability through dense forests and lakes.

How A Dog Sled Team Works

The Musher

The musher sits in the back of the sled and relays orders. They are the captain of the sled and ensure that all orders are met. The musher can be any age, race sex or gender. As long as they know what they are doing and have confidence in the team, things will ride smoothly. It is the responsibility of the musher to ensure the dogs are fed, well-rested, or if any issues are to occur with a dog such as an injury, they can work to fix the problem.

The Sled

A dog sled is where the musher stands and controls the team. The front of the sled is used for a multitude of reasons. Many first aid responders utilize dog sleds as they have enough room to carry an injured person.

“Wheel Dogs”

The wheel dogs are immediately in front of the sled. These are the two strongest dogs on the team. Their responsibility is to be the actual “pullers” of the sled.

Team Dogs

Where the Wheel Dogs pull the sled, the Team Dogs add the extra dog power. They are the middle ground and have the widest range of use for the team. The team dogs sit second to the wheel dogs, but before the “swing” dogs. They provide both the extra power and assist in steering the sled. They typically are in pairs of three and sit in the middle of the team.

Swing Dogs

These are the part of the sled team that steers the sled. They act as the steering wheel and help guide the rest of the team. They are typically who the musher gives the orders to.

Lead Dogs

One or two lead dogs are typical of what sled captains use. They are the dogs in charge and respond accordingly with the Musher. They find and follow the trail and set the pace for the team.

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