|Back In January 1975, just 25 teams competed in the first dog-sled races at
Todtmoos in Germany’s Black Forest region. The popularity of the sport grew
quickly and the World Championships held here in 2003 drew 321 mushers with
about 2500 dogs from 21 nations. Todtmoos has now become something of a
dog-sled Mecca and you can even enrol for a musher course.
These photographs from the 2005 International Dog-Sled Races show just how
much fun can be had at the “tail end” of a team of very determined dogs.
||The power of dogs to pull sleds for hunting and travel
has been employed for over a thousand years throughout the parts of the
world often under a layer of snow and ice. Even though transportation
has been largely replaced by the snowmobile, many cultures still keep
dogs for travel and as a link to this celebrated part of the northern
Although the breed of dog used throughout the centuries varied, and
often mixes or mongrels would be used, the most common breeds were – and
still are – Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes, because of their
strength and willingness to work. For racing, though, which is a more
recent development in dog sledding, Alaskan Huskies are more popular due
to their speed and endurance.
The photographs here show a variety of different events, requiring
different compositions of dog teams. There are even events where the
musher is on skis. All the photos show a close bond between the human
and the dogs, and it is easy to see why such a pastime is appealing.
|The dogs at rest are a completely different animal to
when they are harnessed up: they can switch from friendly playful puppy
dog to lean, mean running machine in a matter of minutes. The training
they’ve received from the age of 8 weeks means that as soon as they are
harnessed up, they know what is expected of them.
Composing a team of sled dogs is an art and it takes years of experience
to get it just right. At the head of the team, the crucial lead dog
dictates what the rest of the team does – how fast they run, for
example, often pushing the others to their limit – and keeps them in
check. In between are swing dogs, wheel dogs and team dogs. And at the
back, the human – the musher – must be experienced, too, otherwise the
livelihood of the whole team is put at risk.
Being able to handle the dogs is essential. Sled dogs are incredibly
intelligent, meaning they can be very stubborn and rebellious. Physical
punishment is to be avoided at all costs in disciplining these animals;
it will not win you their respect. Rather, reward for good behaviour –
known as positive reinforcement – is a much more effective way to get
them to look up to you as the alpha of the group.
If you are interested in becoming a musher it is highly recommended that
you do your research so that you understand the full life-long
commitment you’ll need to take on to enable you to be responsible for a
team of these beautiful animals.