with your Malamute
think of dog-sledding as an activity that requires snow – not so. As access to
alpine areas is very restricted for dogs, we have got around the problem in
Australia by conducting "sledding" events on dirt tracks with our dogs
pulling scooters or 3-wheeled rigs for larger teams. In fact the sport of sled
dog racing has become so popular that, during the winter months, there is a
sledding event or two being held on most weekends somewhere around the country.
don’t have to participate in an organised event or even have an arctic breed for your dog to enjoy a bit of
sledding, anyone can hook their dog up to a bike or scooter and just go for
a trot around the local trails. Before you set off however, there are a few
things you need to think about regarding the safety and well-being of your dog.
To do sledding
activities with your dog you must have the correct equipment. Do not be tempted
to use a car harness or hook a line up to your dog’s collar or, even worse, a
"Halti". If you dog suddenly lunges forward, or your bike/scooter
stops suddenly while your dog is at full speed you risk doing some serious
damage to your dog (and maybe also yourself). The two pieces of equipment you
will need to get are a sledding harness and an elastic 1-dog "bungee"
"bungee line" is usually made of poly-rope and incorporates and
elastic section which acts as a shock absorber. For a 1-dog team the line is
around 2 metres in length – long enough to prevent you running into your dog
but not so long that your dog is too far away for you to gain control of if
necessary. Never attempt any harness work at speed (ie with your dog running)
unless you have a shock absorber build into your lines.
harness is quite different in structure from the car/walking-type harnesses you
can buy in pet shops. The sledding harness is specifically designed for pulling
at speed, and will give your dog maximum comfort and pulling power, whilst
reducing the risk of injury to the dog should unexpected incidents occur.
harnesses are made from synthetic webbing which is pliable, strong, easy to
clean and hard-wearing, and are padded around the neck and chest areas to
increase the degree of comfort for the dog when pulling. The sledding harness is
specifically designed to transfer the energy and load of the pull through the
webbing to the neck and chest areas of the dog. The two most commonly seen
designs are the X-back harness and the H-back harness – the X-back is
generally more suited to stockily-built breeds such as the Alaskan Malamute,
whereas the H-back is better for smaller framed dogs of lighter build such as
the Huskies and Hounds.
should fit like a glove to provide maximum comfort and minimise risk of rubbing
or injury, so a harness should be fitted for each individual dog. Avoid the
temptation to buy a harness "off the shelf", use a second-hand harness
or borrow one from someone else, chances are that the harness will not be a good
fit and in most cases will be a very poor fit. You’ll find it doesn’t cost
any extra for a made-to-measure harness, so do your dog a favour and make the
effort of measuring him/her for a harness, or better still get the outfitter to
do it for you if possible. A good outfitter will have an exchange policy so you
don’t get stuck with a harness you can’t use if you didn’t measure
you might be able to do harness work with a bike, we strongly recommend that you
invest in a specially built sledding scooter. On a scooter you can easily jump
off or steady yourself if the dog decides to do something unexpected, like
suddenly take off into the bush after a cat or wildlife. You’ll need very good
brakes and we also prefer a scooter with a seat so that we can sit down while
using both feet to steady ourselves in very slippery conditions, or if passing
another team with our dog held in close beside us by the harness. Roller-blading
with a Malamute in harness is exceedingly dangerous and is not to be
We begin light
training with our pups at around the age of 6 months just to get them used to
the feeling of wearing a harness, the idea of pulling and the sound of a scooter
bouncing along behind them. Our golden rule for training is to make it short and
make it fun - our Malamutes have always loved to run in harness - to them it
seems to be a bit of a game and we like to keep it that way. Training them
together or with other dogs also makes it a bit of a competition for them and
gets them used to the fact that other dogs on the trail are to be ignored.
As the pups get
older and develop physically we increase the distance and load, but watch the
pups carefully for signs of stress of injury. If this occurs the training has
progress too rapidly and the training program needs to be altered accordingly.
At the age of 12 months Alaskan Malamutes are permitted to compete in club
sledding events and the 1-dog teams will be covering distances of 3 – 5
kilometres in these events.
We do not
recommend that a pup is trained in team with an experienced sledding dog to
start with. The older dog will be working at a level far in advance of what a
pup could be expected to do. An experienced dog that will obey commands to
proceed slowly can be run as a 1-dog team in front of a young dog in training so
the youngster can learn from the older dog without risk of being pushed too hard
or dragged along.
the pup is older and can perform at the level of the older dog, putting them
together as a team can be attempted. It is not advisable to team together any
dogs that are not well matched in their ability - to do so may well put the
slower dog off sledding activities and frustrate the faster team member.
As with all training, don’t push your dogs beyond what they can reasonably be
expected to perform, and assess and adjust your training program accordingly.
By the age of
12 months the dog is reasonably mature and much of the dog’s structure has
already developed and cannot be so easily damaged. From 12 months of age onwards
a dog can be x-rayed for Hip dysplasia, and we recommend that this be done on
any Malamute that will be participating in strenuous activities or being
considered for breeding purposes.
harness must never be made a chore to the dogs, and they should never be pushed
to the point where they are really exhausted or struggling, particularly when
training a youngster. In order to achieve this of course the dogs must be kept
fit and in excellent health and physical condition. Sledding with an injured dog
is out of the question – it will only serve to make the problem worse and
could also put the dog off harness work for a long time.
self-respecting Alaskan Malamute will enjoy nothing more than to run in harness
and we recommend anyone with a Malamute give it a try, provided their dog is
reasonably fit and healthy. Most Malamutes take to it instinctively - the fact
that they are a freighting breed doesn't stop them from loving the sport of sled
dog racing. Breed clubs and sledding organisations are often good sources
of information and friendly advice and will be able to help with getting your
Anyone with a
Malamute who would like to try, or have a look at, sled dog racing can contact
their State breed club for further information about the sport and the events
they conduct. Some of these clubs have websites that are listed on our
If you are interested in sledding equipment please visit the Windchill
Dog Gear website at www.windchill.com.au