Do huskies like pulling sleds? About questions like if sled dogs are happy or mushing is humane. Or is dog sledding cruel? Let us take a look a bit closer…
The gliding happiness
I am gliding through endless white plains, river valleys and snow-covered trees. The huskies run towards a pastel-colored sky on the distant horizon. Since a few days the sun can rise above the horizon and let me take a quick look at its golden ball every now and then. The air is icy and a gentle breeze blows around my nose. I hear nothing except the creaking of the runners on the snow and the breathing of the dogs. I and my sled dogs are happy.
The sled dogs fascinate me as well as more and more dog and nature lovers. And it is the most beautiful thing of all for the corresponding dog breeds. Huskies like pulling sleds.
With anticipation to run
When it comes to tense them up, the sled dogs can hardly be stopped. With high screaming they show their anticipation to finally be able to get started. To run as hard as they can and to show what they can.
The original meaning of huskies
Sled dogs were meant to help hunt, haul loads, and get people from A to B in cold, snow-covered regions. Their resilience is great and their urge to move is even greater. Which shows us that mushing is humane. Read more in this interesting article about the origins of sled dogs
Even today, sled dogs have special characteristics. But the question if huskies like pulling sleds is a controversial ongoing topic.
Body and mind
In fact, physical and mental activities are very important to huskies. But every other dog breed also needs them and benefits from them. This is by no means referring to the physical side.
Why is an activity so important?
A dog that is not given enough exercise runs the risk of becoming depressed. He can lose weight, develop obesity or circulatory disorders. Or any multitude of other diseases and problems. This risk is particularly high with huskies. Because they have anchored their strong will to perform in their genes. This is why huskies like pulling sleds.
The dog’s needs
As a working dog, the husky needs a job and enough activity to be happy. This is why huskies like pulling sleds and mushing are humane. If one can not exercise in front of the sled, husky owners have to get creative and offer alternatives.
The sled dog behaves well, has a low sensitivity to pain and a strong cardiovascular system. Which allows the working dog to develop a metabolism that is enough despite all efforts.
The dog’s mental aspects
The mental abilities consist of the proverbial “desire to go”. The unconditional will to run ensures the performance even under long-lasting physical strain. And under the toughest climatic conditions.
Muscles do not grow if the body is not exercised. As well as without mental challenges and rehearsals is no development of the dog’s mind.
Why is mental work as important?
A lack of exercise can so lead to physical and psychological development disorders. Physical activity and intelligent tasks encourage and contribute to healthy development. While being active sled dogs are happy.
When is dog sledding cruel?
The keeping of sled dogs is subject to legal regulations almost everywhere. The respective state animal welfare authorities control all rules.
But frightening stories can still be found in dog sledding kennels around the world. Mushers can sometimes abuse their sled dogs, and even kill when no longer “paying their way”. For sure, in certain parts of the world, more reforms are a must.
Some words about sled dog racing
Even today dogs are sometimes bred in larger quantities than necessary to run in races. Comparable to other competitions in which animals are drilled to greatest performance. Everywhere people want to win, there are winners and losers.
Yet, there are strict regulations during the dog sled races. Dogs whose health is not in top form will not admit the race or are taken out. Veterinary checks before, during and after the competitions are the norm.
What part is unethical?
But it is important to know that it is not dog sledding itself that is to blame. It is not the activity itself that is unethical, but the behaviour of humans practising it. So, mushing is humane and not unethical if practiced sustainably.
The co-operation human/animal
Sustainable dog sledding is comparable to horse riding. Or to work with animals on a traditional, sustainable farm. It is co-operation. When treated with love and respect, sled dogs are happy and work in harmony with us.
Dog body language is important and easy to read for us who spend time around them. I can see that those huskies like pulling sleds and love to run.
As an example how I read and run my huskies
I am preparing my sled for a training loop. All the dogs run in the large running yard and enjoy playing with each other. To harness the dogs, I sit on the ground and call each individual team member. After this they can play for a short while again. All sled dogs are happy and awaiting their turn to run.
Let´s line up
When everyone is harnessed I walk over to the pull lines on the sled. Without my words, the dogs gather around me. They sit down in their usual place and wait for me to hook them up in the lines.
Not everyone can run
Luna, one of my best female leaders is currently unable to run due to physical problems. Still, she wants to and challenges me with her constant physical closeness to hook her up too. Only after intense asking, I can lock her back in her own kennel.
If for some unknown reason someone doesn’t want to run, he sits down in front of his kennel door during my lining up. I do not force anyone to run, so I let the certain dog crawl back into his hut. A very rare scenario, but a possible one.
The sound level rises
Shortly before we are ready to start, the dogs are pulling in the lines. They want to go now, right now. They also express their urge to run by screaming. Despite this lively fuss, I hear the heartbreaking screams from Luna in the kennel. With an extra lock, I prevent her from opening the door herself and runs with us. What else shows more how much huskies like pulling sleds?
Finally, we run
I pull the starting rope and let them run. Immediate silence in the team, only Luna continues to scream heart-tearing after us. Not before I reach the other side of the lake the snow swallows her voice. Finally, the only sound is the crunching of the snow under the runners .
Sustainable running and caring
During the first few kilometres I slow the dogs down. Like our own muscles, the dog’s muscles need to warm up to prevent injury. Depending on the trail conditions breaking them down can last longer. During short breaks on the trail, the show their joy with wagging tails and rolls in the snow.
Back home, it’s time to play and chat again. A wonderful moment that we all enjoy. Some need a massage and stretching every day, others petting their teammates and me.
So – Is dog sledding cruel or not?
Well, I think: When well cared for, huskies like pulling sleds. Mushing is humane and the sled dogs are happy and enjoy the sledding as much as we do. What do you think? Is dog sledding cruel?
I think dogs just like people need to feel needed. Finding what makes them happy whether it is a small poodle or a huge malamut or huskie is important. If indeed dogs came from wolfs and we have over thousands of years changed their behavior it is our responsibility to help them feel needed, have a job, work for their food, and have fun! When you see the huskies pull a sled – you know you meet all these needs!
Yes Lena, you are so right! This is exactly the point. Make them feel that theirs task is the most important in the world for you and the pack. All living creatures, including plants, need to have their chores and missions. All of us humans, animals and plants feel happy when being able to fullfill them!
No, dog sledding isn’t cruel the way you take care of your dogs! I think your dogs just love their lives 🙂 And I love your pictures. The black one with ice blue eyes is so cool 🙂
Thanks Annika! To live with animals is the art of combining own wishes and their needs. Most of the time an easy task, since it does go almost always hand in hand. Times of differences are existing and a valuable learning process. Learning about the dogs as well as learning about me! yes, they love our home as much as i do! Stay safe!
The problem isn’t “dog sledding is cruel.” The problem is DOG RACING is cruel.