Five Steps to your First Dog Sled Race

Perhaps you were inspired by a photograph of a team of huskies racing through the frozen wastes of Alaska. Perhaps you were inspired by Jack London’s book Call of the Wild. Perhaps you were intrigued by seeing a swarm of mushers in the New Forest without a snowflake in sight.

Whatever the reason, you now have the urge to try dog sled racing. And why not? The intoxicating feeling of the power of a strong team and the thrill of competition appeals to many. The bond between human and canine at its best.

So what steps must be taken before approaching the start line of your first race?

Step 1. What equipment do I need?

First, you need a dog or two. Less is best, at least to start with. Take time to work out what breed suits your lifestyle and find a good breeder. Let your pup have time to develop and grow – and then when they reach the right age, start training slowly. Then you need to stock up with harnesses, gang lines and tug lines, etc. All of which – apart from the dogs – are available from our store.

Step 2. What type of race?

It’s not all about hitching a team of six Siberian Huskies to a sled and racing along the Iditarod trail. It’s best to start with canicross, cross country running with dogs, and attach one dog to a belt around your waist. Or bikejoring, cycling with your dog. Or dog scootering. And then move up to a rig when you feel ready. It might be an idea to join a local club or find a musher who is willing to act as a mentor and take their advice.

Step 3. Learning the commands

You can train your dog while out walking. These are the common commands: gee (go right), haw (go left), hike or pull (go forward), on by (go past a distraction) and whoa (stop). Command training can start at a younger age and is an essential part of the training.

Step 4. Training

Get your dog used to pulling, whether it be you or a bike or whatever takes your fancy. Start with short distances and build up gradually. Avoid hard surfaces like tarmac and avoid the heat of the sun in summer. Be aware that working dogs need extra fuel so splash out on better quality food that is high in fat and protein.

If you plan to use more than one dog, make sure they get along and can work together. A fight on the start line may make you persona non grata at the next event.

Step 5. Race day

Read the rules. How many people forget to do this? What is the etiquette for passing on the trail (check out our article for advice on passing)? Be sure to attend the mushers’ meeting or you may miss an important piece of information. Walking the trail beforehand will make you aware of tricky bends and nasty slopes.

But, above all, don’t forget to enjoy yourself. This is not life and death. You are not going to win your first race against battle-hardened mushers. So sit back, relax and drink in every exhilarating moment. These are the all too short moments of extreme pleasure for which you have prepared for so long.

Ria enjoying her bikejoring class at Yateley