Riding scenic trails at Banff National Park with Kingmik Dog Sled Tours is an opportunity to enjoy exceptional views, while learning from passionate mushers and knowledgeable guides. Megan and her team of Alaskan Huskies offer an authentic experience to understand the human-canine bond and appreciate the beauty of the Rocky Mountains.
1. How and why did you get involved in mushing? Why are you passionate about it?
I have always been surrounded by dogs and had a deep love, respect and appreciation for dogs. This was passed on to me from my mother who felt the same way about these animals. Our suburban home always had at least two dogs as part of the family. Two years later, I was exposed to sled dogs in northern Canada, where I had the life changing opportunity to run dog teams, and past migrating caribou, for a month. It is an addiction, and I was addicted. Having a dog as a true companion is one of the most deeply rewarding experiences one can have. Being part of a team of many dogs enters you into a different realm. On wilderness trails, you depend so completely on your teammates, in often challenging conditions, that you develop a bond that I did not have with my companion dog. It is not better, but it is certainly different as you are working together to accomplish the same goal. Also, the enormous and pure exuberant joy of sled dogs doing what they love to do is pretty infectious!
2. What has mushing taught you about leadership?
As the leader of the pack, I have to recognize the unique dispositions of each dog and apply different approaches and techniques to bring out the best in all of them. One size does not fit all, and they all have to be recognized as individuals. This can also be applied to humans; we all have quirks and respond to different approaches in learning.
Luckily, the Alaskan husky is a dog that is genetically hardwired to run and pull, so they do so as readily as a Border Collie herds sheep. Nevertheless, the youngsters need some more direction, which mostly entails calming their overexuberance!
3. How do you choose your dogs?
My dogs are all Alaskan huskies of distance lines, so they are bred for tremendous endurance, not speed. Thus, they can tick along at 10 mph for 100 miles.
4. What is a “good” sled dog?
A “good” sled dog is an athletic dog who has a smooth gait, tough feet, and really wants to see what is around the next turn in the trail! They are brave and ready to forge ahead into an unknown adventure.
Alaskan huskies are what I run and know. They are considered a mixed breed or “mutt”, because they do not have a typical look.
You can breed for looks or you can breed for performance. The Alaskan husky is bred only on the lines of its exceptional performance. Other breeds, such as the samoyed and Siberian, are recognized as purebreds by the Kennel Clubs and will have a presence in dog shows. You will never find an Alaskan husky at a dog show ring, because they are mutts, meticulously bred mutts!
They are bred by mushers for mushers, and they are the most accomplished athletic breed in the world. While there are sprint lines that can cover 30 miles a day at blistering speeds, these dogs can also cover 100 miles in 10 hours. Thus, they are not just sprint dogs and, perhaps, it could be argued that they are the most talented long distance runners.
5. Can you please explain a little bit about the breeding process?
I breed very carefully and only when I need to fill some vacant spots. When I breed, I keep in mind the dog’s bloodlines, their clean bill of health, their performance, both physical and mental, and their size. I try to breed a female, such that she whelps in the spring. The pups are raised up in the lazy summer days, and the mom is ready to go back to work in the autumn. This enables the pups one winter of growing up and frolicking about, until the following spring when they are started in harness.
6. How important is teamwork in mushing?
Teamwork is everything. The tighter the bond you have with your dogs, the more trust you have in each other and the better you will travel down the trail. A good team is a synergistic team.
7. How do you house and what do you feed your dogs? How do you ensure their overall safety and wellbeing?
My kennel has a combination of pens and tethers. Both methods have their pros and cons; however, over my 30 years of having sled dogs, I believe most of my dogs are happier on tethers and I am able to monitor their health better and keep them safer than if they were penned.
In terms of food, the dogs eat plenty. They get a dried kibble that is very high in protein and fat, and when they are working in harness, they gobble down tons of raw meat as well, such as beef, chicken, turkey, and fish. They consume about ten thousand calories a day per dog in the winter time, and eat practically all day long if they are running in harness. Each dog is an individual, meaning that some eat lots while some need less, and we strive to keep them at their own perfect weight.
8. What do you do with your dogs when they retire?
Dogs retire because they are older, because they have an injury or simply because, once in a blue moon, we have a sled dog that does not want to be a sled dog. We have set up an adoption program where dogs are matched with suitable owners. First, we have a questionnaire that we ask potential adoptees to fill out, so we can get an idea of their lifestyle. Then, we scrutinize potential matches. Dogs that do not get adopted stay with us. Some prefer to stay outside, but in general, at any given time, there are half a dozen retirees milling about inside like fish in a fishbowl. Right now there are 10 retirees in the kennel.
I should mention that sometimes a dog retires simply because their “bestie” has retired and they would be lost without them. We have two pairs of brothers that fit this description. One pair is Hip Hip and his brother Two-Step. Hip Hop has a sore back, so he retired this spring and his brother, Two Step, has retired with him even tho he is still able and keen to go. They’re both 11 years old and up for adoption as a pair if anyone is interested!
9. Are mushers born or made? Can mushing be learned and improved upon?
Anyone can stand on a sled and get down the trail, but to be a really good musher, I believe you have to “speak” dog and have a strong intuitive sense about dogs. If you are racing, you have to be able to access a dog for its suitability.
10. What tips and tricks would you give to someone interested in getting started in mushing?
You cannot simply learn from reading books and watching videos. If you want to be a musher, find an experienced musher noted for their dog care, and “handle” for them for a winter. This is an apprenticeship position where you should learn all that you can from them. Everything they do, they do for a reason, so soak it all up like a sponge. Once you go out on your own, spend money on two good lead dogs that will get you down the trail and pull you out of trouble. The quality of the rest of your team is not as important, but you need two good lead dogs.
However, before you do all this, think long and hard on going out on your own. Once you step over the threshold, it is a commitment; you are now responsible and indebted to the well being of these dogs for their lifetime.
Kingmik Dog Sled Tours
16430 Hwy 1A, Lake Louise, AB, Canada, T0L 1E0
1 (403) 763-7789 or 1 (855) 482-4592 (toll free)