To begin training, you will need some equipment. You can often save money and buy equipment from sled dog club members. You can advertise in the club newsletter that you want certain items. When you need new items, you can purchase them from the many outfitters and supply companies which specialize in sled dog gear. Think about everything you will need and decide how much money you can spend. Here is a list of some of the things:
REGULAR DOG EQUIPMENT
Of course you will need at least one food and water dish for each dog. You need to have a water container to bring along when training or racing because dogs will need water at the end of their run. Leashes, and a brush or comb and some dog toys should be on your list too.
After you have worked with your dogs on lead, you will want to go for a ride. You can begin to train your dog using a specially made hookup for your bicycle. Look for ads in sled dog club newsletters for a used sled or rig. Consider what size it is compared with your height and the size of your team. A full adult sized freight sled is not what you want.
Modern sleds are usually made from White Ash or sometimes Birch or Oak wood. Sled sizes range from ultralight sprint racing sleds that weigh about 20 pounds to freight sleds that can weigh over a hundred pounds. These sleds are all built along the same lines, all have the same parts, but the larger sleds will usually have heavier and more parts to support the loads they must carry. Besides the parts shown in the picture, sleds will carry a snow hook, sled bag and bridle. The snow hook is used to hold the team while the driver is off the sled. It is a double or triple pronged hook which is tied to the sled bridle and can be “kicked” into the snow to keep the dogs from running away. The sled bag can be used to carry picnic supplies or a tired dog. The bridle is the rope and bungee system that connects the sled to the dog team gangline. The drive bow is like the steering wheel of a car. It is used to steer the sled. Sleds are usually built with drive bow at the correct height for the driver. Some drivers like the drive bow lower while others like their’s real high. The brake is shaped like a claw or hawk’s talon. It is used to slow or stop your team when you push it into the ice or snow with your foot. Older style brakes had two or three small claws close together. The newer style brakes are known as bar brakes and have two bars spaced far apart and close to the runners. These newer bar brakes work better. The footboards are the places where the sled driver puts his feet. These are usually made from a material which will provide traction when covered with snow. People have used artificial turf, pieces of bicycle tire, specially grooved plastic and carpet protectors. Whatever material is used, it is usually slightly wider than the runner to provide extra surface. The sled basket is used to carry things. It can be used to carry a tired dog in a sled bag on a sprint sled, or to carry hundreds of pounds of goods on a freight sled. The basket is usually made of narrow slats with a space between each to reduce weight and allow snow to fall through. The baskets on lightweight sprint sleds aren’t very strong. They will certainly carry a 60 pound dog with ease but many won’t stand much abuse beyond that. The runners are narrow strips of wood that the sled rides on. They are usually 1 1/4 to 2 inches wide and are curved upward at the forward end. This curve allows the sled to ride over bumps and potholes in the trail. Modern sled runners are covered with removable plastic runner shoes which can be changed for different conditions ,or when worn. Runner length varies from 7 to 8 feet on a sprint sled to over 10 feet on some freight sleds. Some high tech dogsleds now use aluminum or composite carbon fiber and wood runners. The brushbow is like the bumper on a car. It protects the sled from crashing into trees and other obstacles on the trail. A brushbow is required on a sled at all races.
There are many styles of collars. Most mushers use heavy nylon circle style collars that slip over the dog’s head and then tighten to fit around the neck. You should never use metal choke type collars for sled dog work. Always have your dog’s identification tags secured on his collar. Usually the license or rabies tag must be on the collar. Put a tag with your telephone number too.
There are several types of sled dog harnesses used for racing. The most important thing is that the harness must fit your dog properly. Ask about buying a harness when you buy your experienced sled dog. Perhaps you can also get the proper size harness for your family’s pet dog sled too.
If you plan to enter the weight pull events, you will need a special type of harness which is different from racing harnesses.
The dogs wear the harnesses and you ride the sled or rig. The lines attach you together. Even with just two dogs, you may want to get a four dog hookup. You can decide whether your dogs run best side by side-in double lead-or in single file with one leader and one wheel dog. Usually lines are made of rope, but they can be made from metal cable.
One snap hooks on the loop at the back of the harness, the other attaches to the collar. Double leaders’ collars are connected by short necklines to keep them running close together.
You will find that your dogs are excited about being hooked up to run. A snub rope holds your sled to a heavy object (a tree or truck, for example). When you are ready to start you release the snub rope and take off. The snub rope can be attached by a quick release knot or a piece of hardware called a panic snap which can be opened with one hand. Many mushers attach the snub line to their sled or rig in case they need to stop and tie up the team during a run.
A snow hook is a metal claw attached to the sled by a rope and secured where the musher can easily reach it. If you need your team to stay stopped, you put the snow hook on the ground by your sled’s runner and step on it to press it into the snow. Snow hooks are heavy and sharp. It is important that the hook does not get loose and hurt a dog or musher.
A sled bag is a bag that attaches to the basket of the sled and can be zipped open enough to put a dog inside. If one of your dogs becomes too tired to finish a run, you can put him in the bag and give him a ride home. It is a good idea to have a spare neckline or short leash in the bag to use to attach the dog to a loop or the bag or directly to the sled. Some dogs do not like to ride and will try to get out on their own.