Musher’s Camp and Dog Sledding

This is one thing that has been on my bucket list for the longest time: Dog Sledding in Alaska

After getting off at the port in Skagway, we took a bus to Dyea, a small gold mining town just outside of Skagway.

All of the dogs that we saw at the Musher’s Camp were race dogs, who have raced in the Iditarod Dog Sled Race. In the summer, they do these tours to keep the dogs in shape and to educate people about dog sledding. In the winter, the dogs go (usually North) home with their musher and train for the upcoming Spring races.

The older dogs (6-7 years old) who have been retired from racing are used to train the new puppies, or are adopted out to good families.

I went into this dog sledding thing thinking that we would see a pack of Alaskan huskies.

Boy, was I in for a pleasant surprise.

There was not a single purebred at the mushers camp. All of the dogs were mutts (my favorite!) These were some of the happiest, healthiest dogs I have ever seen. Lean, mean powerhouses that weighed around 35-45 lbs.

A little history about the Iditarod Race: Siberian huskies were used back in the day to pull sleds because they are built for power, not speed. That was back before the plane and snowmobile came around.

These days, the sled dogs are bred for speed and endurance. Hence, there are mixes of Siberian husky (for the thick double coat of fur) and faster breeds, such as the greyhound.

Before we got going on the sled, most of the dogs would tug at their harnesses and howl & bark from the pure adrenaline of going for a run. As soon as the musher gave the signal, the dogs would all fall into place and work as a team, effortlessly pulling the sled along the path, through the woods.

The two lead dogs knew exactly which turns to make, relying purely on the voice commands of the musher. As soon as we would pause, the dogs would all move to the side of the road for a potty break. Then as soon as the musher gave his command, all the dogs would line up and pull the sled again. It was a wonderful thing to observe, just how intelligent these dogs are.

Then we got some puppy time, which is an important part of these dogs’ training: getting used to interacting and being handled by people.

How sweet was this little guy? His siblings were all named after chess pieces, and this was Rook. I think Paul wanted to take him home… just look at them, what a pair.

A new mama nursing her week old pups:

Meeting and learning about these incredible sled dogs was the highlight of my Alaskan trip. Dogs never cease to amaze me with their loyalty and intelligence. One thing that I was glad about the mushers camp that we visited is that the dogs are all Iditarod race dogs and that is their job, their job is not to be a tourist attraction.

That part of it is sort of a bonus for us, since they need to stay in shape during the summer months, and what better way to do that (and for their mushers to earn a bit of extra money) than to teach visitors about dog sledding?

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