The Amazing Dogs of the Iditarod

The Amazing Dogs of the Iditarod

The 2015 Iditarod, “The Last Great Race,” started on Saturday and the restart from Fairbanks, Alaska is today. The Iditarod dog sled race is the ultimate testament to the abilities and strengths of around one thousand canine participants. The amazing working dogs that make the cut are known as some of the toughest canines in existence. Each team can start the race with around 16 dogs but, must finish the race from Anchorage to Nome with at least 6 dogs. Dogs that can’t make it the whole way are dropped using an elaborate system that has been put into place to transport and care for them by hundreds of volunteers.

The bond between a musher and his dogs is unbreakable. The mushers spend plenty of time, even while on the trail, bonding with their dogs. Sled dogs are literally willing to die for their mushers and it’s not out of force but out of loyalty. When one of the dogs has to be dropped from the trail it is painful for not only the musher to see him go but, also the dog. These dogs would rather die on the trail than to be taken out and cared for away from their team. The dedication of the sled dogs to their team and their musher is phenomenal but, totally normal for these dogs.

What exactly makes a good sled dog?

Just like you wouldn’t expect a Siberian Husky to be able to retrieve a duck out in the swamp, you wouldn’t find a Golden Retriever on the Iditarod trail. It’s not only a bad idea, it’s also not even allowed. There have been rules put in place to prevent mushers from entering non-northern breeds into a race that their bodies weren’t built for. Most dogs just don’t have the body features to traverse the Alaskan trail conditions, especially in the winter.

Aside from the breed, such as a Siberian Husky or an Alaskan Malamute, or other approved Northern breeds, a sled dog, especially one expected to endure the fierce conditions on the Iditarod must be a driven athlete. It is pertinent for a sled dog to have a friendly disposition because the musher must create a team of dogs that act as one unit. Any dog who can’t work well with others could be a detriment to the entire team, putting the other dogs and the musher at risk for injury. Sled dogs must have a healthy appetite and be able to travel long distances without running out of energy and slowing down the rest of the team. Obviously, having strong, healthy feet is a must for any dog to even be considered for the race. Though most, if not all of these dogs wear boots and have ointment applied to their feet to keep their feet from freezing or from other injury. Speed is of course at the forefront of qualities that each dog must possess, along with strength and endurance to last as long as possible. Each sled team has a lead dog that must possess a strong desire to lead, usually having shown these leadership qualities from the start of it’s life. You know you have the right dog as a lead dog when the others just sort of naturally take a back seat to him.

How does a trainer prepare his dogs for the Iditarod?

The breeds used in the Iditarod are dogs that perform better under extremely cold conditions. They actually thrive in the cold so preparing them for cold weather isn’t even necessary, it’s in their blood. But, they have to train to run long distances and to keep at it day in and day out for the entire 1100 plus mile trail and to get it done, on average, in a two week time period. They must be properly hydrated, just as all dogs but, especially weeks before the race and of course, during the race. Sled dogs have an exceptionally large tongue that when properly hydrated will turn out an unusual amount of saliva which helps keep them cool during this arduous race.

Happy healthy sled dogs are pushed to their limit in the Iditarod race and they love it, it’s what they live for. Like most working dogs they would be lost without the push to win. The sled dogs competitive drive along with the social aspect of this race is invigorating. Just watching these dogs fight for their team through extreme conditions can get your blood flowing and makes us realize just how much these dogs and their mushers love “The Last Great Race.”

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