Dog-powered sports are one of the clearest manifestations of the human-canine bond, which can be traced back thousands of years. Since Cosmodoggyland’s inception, our inspiration has been to highlight the selfless contribution that working dogs make to our society. Naturally, sled dogs made it to our list of working dogs worth featuring. While researching the subject, we came across numerous exciting stories which caught the eye of our readers and slowly turned dogsledding into one of our favorite topics to write about.
Mushers and their dogs played a decisive role in the survival of certain civilizations, the exploration of new territories, and the economical development of many communities. Indeed, mushing is an ancient activity practiced by humans and their best friend, as well as one of the oldest examples of interspecies association.
Some of the traits and skills that inspired mushers to challenge themselves to achieve more, thus allowing them to survive in harsh environments and reach new destinations, are currently underutilized in our society. This sport is founded on a legacy of fundamental values and skills that could be considered as vital life lessons.
Below are some of the life lessons that we consider that mushers help keep alive today.
Values And Transferable Skills
As we learned more and more about dogsledding, we discovered that this practice is based on core values and skills necessary for success and transferrable to other situations of daily life.
Teamwork, collaboration, and leadership require a combination of interpersonal, communication, and problem solving skills. They are essential for a group to successfully and constructively work together to achieve a common goal.
Values are the underlying core beliefs that influence the decisions we make and guide our path, whether it is to achieve small projects or long-term goals. In dogsledding, passion, integrity, accountability, loyalty, and respect are crucial for each member of a team, as well as the team as a whole, to be able to deal with problems or challenging situations.
A shared ability to take on risks, strategize, and work together to execute a plan allows a team to deal with uncertainty and lead them to success.
Dogsledding is a perfect example of this, as survival in extreme conditions and the ability to reach remote locations otherwise inaccessible are proof of the spirit of adventure and the high sense of achievement that this activity embodies.
Learning “By Doing” Approach
Whether the musher is born or made, a lot about mushing is learned through experience, i.e. “by doing”, and is passed down from one generation to another.
For this reason, we reached out to breeders and mushers who kindly helped us improve the information presented to you.
Heritage And Legacy
Just like dogs became the safekeepers of the many instincts and values that humans sometimes tend to forget, today’s mushers are the guardians of a legacy that is several centuries old.
Thanks to those who have treasured this ancient knowledge, willfully entrusting it to those able to value it, this activity can be enjoyed today.
Nowadays, this ancestral activity can be experienced and enjoyed through sledding tours or at worldwide sporting competitions.
Competitions like The Iditarod, the Yukon Quest and La Grande Odyssée, represent some of the most extreme sports in current times. They involve long voyages through frozen territories where the spirit of adventure that allowed the advancement of civilization in such areas, is brought back to life.
Given that mushing originated in hostile environments, and due to its ancestral nature, it should not come as a surprise that an adaptation to current norms cannot be immediate.
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Strategies For Success
Mushers build their sledding team by matching dogs mainly in terms of size, speed, and ability to keep up with the team’s pace. They can be both purebred dogs or mutts with sought after attributes, such as strength, endurance, attitude, resistant feet, and speed.
Unlike most of breeders that breed for appearance and to meet Kennel Club standards for a particular breed, mushers breed their dogs for performance, like in ancient times. This resulted in most sled dogs being mixed-breed, which is sometimes considered a breed in itself. Sled dogs are rarely found in dog shows or Kennel Clubs, and their classification varies significantly from one association and Kennel club to another.
If we think about mushing, our mind will surely see the image of a wolf-like dog, pulling a sled majestically across the tundra. This is not surprising, since our memory refers us to the sled dogs that historically populated the frozen north and that we generically refer to as huskies. However, there are many other breeds and types of dogs commonly used in mushing, amongst which we can find 15 best sled dog breeds.
Not Just A Team, But A Family
Mushers and their families understand the special nature of each dog and their strong human-canine bond manifests itself in mushing.
They care about their dogs all throughout their life, even as retired sled dogs. Most mushers even have or work in partnership with facilities that take care of the retired dogs’ adoption process and their transition into their new families and homes.
Even though they adapt well to different environments, dogs who are bred for such sports are always canine athletes. They need daily exercise and adventure to remain physically and emotionally in shape. Retired sled dogs who are still in good shape are the perfect match for outdoorsy people with active lifestyles. They excel as partners for those who practice non competitive activities such as bikejoring, canicross, and other harness canine sports since their pulling nature requires stimulation even after retirement.
Associations that claim to protect animals often reviled mushing, without understanding its true value. Moreover, it makes sense that a dog from a breed that is naturally prepared for an ecosystem of intense cold and wide open spaces will suffer much more in a small apartment, than practicing the activity that it has performed for generations.
To answer some questions for our readers and to learn more about this subject, we asked 10 questions to mushers with different backgrounds and stories.
All of them have much in common: they love what they do, they are dedicated and they highly respect and care for their dogs.
These mushers and their dogs work 365 days a year to keep this legacy alive, as well as to offer visitors the opportunity to enjoy a unique experience and catch a glimpse of the exciting world of dogsledding.
Here are some of the participants of our interview series: