The freezing air that burns your eyes, stings the skin on your face and fills your lungs with fresh air with every breath. This feeling of loneliness in the middle of nature with the jerky breathing of your dogs, the sound of the sled runners sliding on the snow and the distant crackling of branches for only soundtrack. The feeling of being one with your team. Even today, it is our passion for dog sledding that makes us impatiently await the first snowfall.
When we had our dog shelter, we had fun harnessing 4-6 dogs to an old wooden sled we found on a classified ads site just to make them spend their energy all together. It all started in 2008 with a more than heteroclyte team made up of stray dogs of unknown breeds far from sled dogs breeds. However, these stray, unexperienced mutts ran several hundred kilometers with us each winter.
Dog sledding is an activity that, at first glance, may seem inaccessible and straight out of a movie. However, this discipline is more accessible than you might think and is gaining popularity in Canada. With the general craze for dog harness sports in recent years, “micro-mushing” (refers to small kennels of 3 to 6 dogs) is more and more popular. In general, as soon as we harness 3 dogs or more, we can talk about dog sledding because with a team this size, a kicksled would be too light and less safe.
Before harnessing so many dogs in front of a sled, you have to make sure that they have a minimum of experience in harness or that you have at least one good lead dog who will know how to guide them and keep them at a good pace. Harnessing more than 3 dogs who have never pulled a sled can quickly turn your outing into a real headache ;)
What equipment is needed to get started in the wonderful world of dog sledding ? Actually, you don't need a lot of equipment, but there are some essentials that will simplify your life in addition to allowing you to practice this activity safely :
- Dog sled : obviously, otherwise you won't get very far ! There are a lot of models available on the market depending on your budget, the size of your team and the type of outings you want to do (sprint, hike or distance). The materials used are also very diverse and can range from wood to plastic, aluminum or carbon. Our SIGMA dog sled was specifically developed for teams of 2 to 4 dogs. It is entirely made of aluminum which allows it to combine lightness, strength and durability. It is a hybrid model since its low weight (21 lbs) and its handling make it an excellent sled for sprinting, but it has also proven itself on long hikes in powder where the tracks were sometimes absent;
- Bungee : the pulling dynamics in dog sledding are very different from other dog harness sports such as skijoring or bikejoring. Most of the time, you will be standing on the dog sled and letting your dogs pull. The load pulled by the dogs is therefore much more static than in canicross where the runner is dynamic and propels himself forward while running. It is because of these elements that a regular bungee line cannot be used with a dog sled. The bungee must offer very high rigidity so as not to create excessive loss of energy by constantly stretching when the dog pulls, while still absorbing impacts to protect the dog. It is exactly with this in mind that our dog sledding bungee was developed. It will stretch and absorb impact when starting, picking up a slope or suddenly braking, but will not constantly stretch with every stride the dogs take;
- Gangline(s) : it is the gangline that allows you to keep your dogs together as a team. The bigger your team, the more successive ganglines you will have. For example, at 4 dogs, you will only need a gangline and add 2 tuglines to the front (for the 2 lead dogs). If you harness 6 dogs, you will need 2 successive ganglines and 2 additional tuglines at the front (for the 2 lead dogs). The use of a neckline is recommended;
- Tugline(s) as mentioned previously, the tugline is found at the very front of your team and allows you to harness the lead dog(s). If you want to have 1 or 2 dogs at the front of your team, you will need to adjust the number of tuglines accordingly. These lines are always found at the front of your harnessing system no matter the number of ganglines;
- Dog pulling harness when dog sledding, the attachment point of the pulling system is much lower than the dog's back, which causes the pulling force to apply pressure directly on the dog's hips. Therefore, it is essential to have a sled dog harness that is suitable for pulling and offers good back support (strap that forms an “X”) in order to distribute this pressure and free the hips. Dog sledding is a fairly intense dog harness sport, so good padding is essential to provide maximum comfort for your dog - our dog pulling harness uses dense closed-cell foam padding that offers waterproofness and very low abrasion compared to many harnesses available on the market;