Frequently Asked Questions
A few questions we have been asked at Peace Pups:
What should I wear for a dog sled tour? Be sure and dress warm, the temperatures here can be zero or colder. You will be covered and inside the sled but you will also be sitting still so that makes it colder. Wear winter boots so your feet stay warm. Hand warmers and foot warmers are a good idea on particularly cold days especially for young children.
How long is a typical sled ride? Our day tour consist of a twenty minute orientation and introduction to the dogs followed by forty five minutes to a hour on the sled. This can vary slightly depending on trail conditions. You are invited to pass out treats to the dogs when we get back from our run. Post run is a great time for petting and dog hugs since they are so calm after a good run. We have complimentary tea and hot chocolate in our heated cabin tent for you to enjoy after your tour. We ask that you allow a total of two hours for your visit.
How much weight can the dogs actually pull? Our daytime tours have a weight limit for our tours of 350# of course I am also on the sled weighing around 180# plus the 70# sled so a maximum weight tour could be up to 600#. Running a team of eight comes out to a mere 75# per dog. They could actually pull much more weight than that for a short distance and the limit is also affected by the size of the hills they need to scale. Alaskan Malamutes have pulled as much as 3300# in weight pulling competitions. Of course this is a different condition than a team pulling a tour and it is only a short distance but it gives a perspective of what a dog is capable of.
Do you really yell mush! Mush!? I do not, generally the sled and dogs are attached to an immovable object such as a tree or our truck by a line called the snub line. This has a quick release on it so that when I am on the sled and ready to go I just pull the quick release and off we go. I will sometimes say “let’s go” or “ok” but it isn't really necessary. They are lunging and screaming to run so all it takes is for them to feel the line release and they will take off. The term “mush” is a derivative of the French term” mar chon” which means to walk or march on.
What does "Purple tug", "Yellow tug", etc. mean? The tug colors are actually the Mountain Ridge equipment company size codes for the harnesses they wear, Small 28-32 lb purple tug, Small/Med 33-37 lb green tug, Medium 38-42 lb red tug, Med/Large 43-47 lb black tug, Large 48-52 lb blue tug, Large/XLarge 53-57 lb yellow tug, XLarge 58-62 lb white tug, XLarge/XXL 65-69 lb purple tug, XXL 70-74 lb green tug, XXL/Jumbo 75-79 red tug, Jumbo 80-84 black tug.
How to you get the dogs in shape for dogsledding and keep them in shape? That's a complex question with which you might get a different answer from every musher you ask. As a person would do when getting in shape we start out slow by doing short runs with out a lot of weight. This starts in the fall once the temperatures are below sixty degrees. We use a German made cart to run on the dirt roads of Lake Elmore. As the dogs become stronger we increase the weight and distance. Once we start using a sled they are able to run farther because the sled is easier to pull than the cart. Keeping them in shape over the winter is a matter of running them regularly and feeding them well. We increase their calories to almost double in the winter adding fresh meats to their diet. They burn a lot more calories when they are running every day and using energy to keep warm. We also need to monitor their health closely, if any dog is not feeling 100% they won’t be able to run well. They do not pull over the summer but we have play time in the dog yard every afternoon. You'll often find me out there attempting to play guitar and just hanging out with the dogs. I feel this is quality time and offers a chance for the dogs to learn to live together as a pack. If we have a cool morning we will sometimes get them out for a short run but mostly summer is a time for relaxing and lounging in the sun.
How do you train the dogs to pull you around? Training a Siberian Husky to pull is an easy thing to do. Typically just put a harness on them, attach a tug line and hold on. Pulling is an instinct for these dogs. We found this out with our first litter of puppies. When they were about four months old we thought we would get them used to a harness by taking them for a hike in harness. We strapped on our skijor harness and hooked ourselves to one puppy each and headed up Camel’s Hump. Well going up was great, the pups stayed in front and pulled like troupers. Coming down was not so great, they stayed in front and pulled like troupers. The problem with that was that we had to pull back all the way down the mountain. My legs have never been as sore as they were the day after that. We will not do that again. The main issue is training the lead dogs to listen to your commands. This involves either a lot of work with the dogs you want to be leaders or buying an experienced leader and having that dog teach your other dogs by example.
How fast can the dogs run? They can run up to around 20 mph. but not up hill, that would be on a flat or down hill early in a run. We tend to average around eight an hour over the course of a run. With a dog team you can only go as fast as the slowest dog in the team. If we are going down a hill I am keeping a close eye on each dog in the team. I can tell by their body language if any one of them begins to be uncomfortable with the speed and if I notice a dog getting nervous I will slow the entire team to a pace that slowest dog is comfortable with.
Is a dogsled ride bumpy? Generally not. We spend a lot of time and energy trying to keep our trails as smooth and firmly packed as possible. This is both for the comfort of our guest as well as for the safety of our dogs. Our tours are appropriate for all ages and we have had children as young as four months old and seniors as old a 94 years old.
What are the commands to drive the dogs? The typical commands used for dogsledding are: Gee, which means turn right, Haw, which means turn left, Let’s go, ok, mush, get up, hike or what have you to take off,On By, which is a command used to have the dogs pass a distraction such as a person on the side of the trail, a loose dog, squirrel, or anything else they might want to stop to investigate. Straight ahead, would be used at a road crossing or trail crossing were there might be a left or right option, and Whoa, to try and get them to stop. This command works much better when the team is tired. I have had little success with the whoa command when starting a run. The team is so excited to go that I have been dragged a long ways before being able to stop them. It’s kind of like a Loony Tune cartoon, “I said whoa mule!” Driver rule #1, never let go of the sled!
How old are your dogs? Most of our dogs are adopted as adults. We have a wide range of ages from puppies up to twelve and thirteen year olds. Our oldest dog currently working is twelve and going strong. With tour runs the dogs are able to run most of their adult life. The dogs do not have to be the fastest in order to run tours so they are able to run much later into life. They generally let us know when it is time for them to retire to the fireside and live out the remainder of their life in the house with us.
How can I learn about dogsledding? The best way is to find a musher that lives near you and see if they are willing to let you work with them. Attend a local race and talk with some mushers. Most are very friendly and enjoy talking dogs. The way a lot of us get into it is by starting off with one dog, seems harmless enough. You can skijor (be pulled on skis by your dog) scooter (same but with scooter) cani cross (run while attached to your dog), bikejor (ride a bike while being pulled by your dog) and pretty much being pulled on anything you can think of. This will give you experience with training a dog and teaching commands, feeding, health and a myriad of other things. When you become comfortable running one dog, often the thought of having two pull you becomes appealing. Once you have two you have learned how to manage multiple dogs. All you need is one or two more and you could try sledding. Running four on a sled is great but if you ever hook up six you will probably find that to be even more fun. Eight is even faster and you can do longer runs and carry more weight for camping and even give rides. Some mushers run fourteen and sixteen dog teams and have kennels of over one hundred dogs!
What is the difference between an Alaskan & Siberian? Alaskan Huskies are not an "official AKC" breed, they are a mixed breed and can be crosses of any number of breeds Some crosses are more popular than others with Hound/Siberian being at the top of the list. They generally have some Siberian in their blood lines somewhere which gives them the pulling instinct. The hound crosses generally have shorter coats, larger muscle mass, higher metabolism, and a faster top end speed. These are generalizations and vary depending on the cross, amount of Hound vs. Siberian, type of Hound etc. The size of Alaskans varies greatly running anywhere from thirty pounds up to seventy five pounds. Their coat colors can be any combination.
Siberian Huskies are a AKC breed that originated in Siberia. There are different lines of Siberians with some variation in their coats, colors and size as well but they generally have thicker double coats, lower metabolism, and lower top end speed. Siberians used to be the main race dogs but have been replaced for the most part in sprint racing by Alaskans and there is a shift toward many more Alaskan teams in distance races as well. You usually don't see Siberian teams doing very well in sprint races but they seem to still be in contention in longer distance races. They do well in distance races in part due to their long coats allowing them to thrive in extremely cold weather. This also makes it harder for them in warmer weather. They are know for having tough feet and their low metabolism means they require less food to keep going.
*Note: Again these are generalizations and this is a contentious topic among many mushers. Any one of the descriptions above will have a percentage of dogs that don't fit the norm. There are mushers that believe the only thing keeping Siberians from competing with Alaskans is the mushers themselves. Time will tell.