Sled dogs are very special. They are fascinating animals and getting a chance to meet them up close and go out on a dog sledding tour is one of the highlights for most people visiting Lapland. It also offers a good chance to gain some insight in these unique dogs. Many people wonder if it is not bad for the dogs to live outside, if it is okay for them to run that much, if they even enjoy the life they are leading. Honestly I’ve seen few dogs so happy as the pack of sled dogs that I helped take care of during the past weeks.
Six years ago, Explore the North was founded as a mushing company offering dog sledding tours. Ever since the company grew and started doing many different things, but the dogs remained its heart and soul. Over 100 of them live here with us. I’m not working with them full time as the husky guides or handlers are, but I got a lot of chances to assist with the dogs and learn a lot about their nature.
All of the dogs we have here are Alaskan huskies. They are technically speaking not an own race, but they are a mix of many different kinds of dogs. Alaskan huskies are not bred on fur or eye colour, but on gentle character and physical strength. They are fast dogs that are able to long for very run distances. They are trained for that purpose and are therefore treated as athletes: much attention is payed to the food they eat, to whether they drink enough water and to possible injuries and recovery time. They are very easy to handle and not one of them is aggressive towards anybody approaching them.
Each and every dog has its own personality and characteristics. This is what I like the most about them. Once you get to know them and share moments with them you appreciate each dog for who he or she is. The fact that they have a strong personality makes that we have to think about which dogs can live together and which dogs can pull in the same team. Males and females usually live apart and not next to each other, to prevent frustration when they go in heat. Females often live two together, or three when it concerns mothers, daughters and sisters. The males often live with three, since they tend to get along more easily. The cage space per dog is regulated and each has a little wooden house to sleep and relax in.
The group works as a pack with a defined hierarchy and rules. Dogs respect the rule of order according to age: the elder dogs are and must be respected by the youngest one. The male and female pack leaders are retired dogs still living in the kennel. There is also a pack leader for the dogs that are still running. When they are around half a year old, the puppies are split up and are put together with grown up dogs so they learn the rules and how to behave.
All of the dogs love to go out and run. Once the harnessing has started, the entire kennel bursts with enthusiasm. It’s amazing to see how excited they get once you approach them with the harness and they realise they are in. Even the shy ones that hide in their house when you want to harness then start howling and pulling when you put them on the line. Before every tour they get a bit of time to run around free before they are put on the line. They have so much adrenaline running through them that they are shaking as if they were cold.
After the tours, they are happy to be home again and automatically go stand in front of their own door and greet the other dogs in their cage. It is very rewarding to work with animals that are taken well care of and that are happy to see you at any occasion.