Samoyed Dog Sled Training – What It Takes to Become A Sled Dog
Be it the success of Gold Rush in Alaska or exploration of the North and South Pole, neither would have been possible without sled dogs. One such breed of sled dogs happen to be the Samoyeds.
These white furry canines also have a reputation for being stubborn. If trained with patience and purpose, however, they can transform into competitive sled-pulling dogs. Here is a detailed account of the various aspects that go into sledge training your Sam.
When to Start Samoyed Dog Sled Training?
At eight weeks, Samoyed pups should get acclimatized to wearing collars. By ten weeks, the Sams are ready to be hooked up to a harness and drag light objects like ski poles around them. By the age of 4-6 months, and provided training hasn’t ceased, a Sam’s sled dog characteristics become more pronounced.
Most mushers can tell whether a Sam will be a good sled dog from the manner in which they respond to various training methods and sled dog commands. That said, the time-frames mentioned above are only for reference, as not every Samoyed will have the same learning curve.
How to Train a Samoyed to Pull?
There are two parts of training a Samoyed to pull — harness training which begins at the age of ten weeks followed by exercises that teach him to pull a lightweight object like a snowmobile track or small log. The latter training begins at the age of 4 months. The steps are explained below:
- To get your pup acclimatized to a sled harness, put it on him for a few minutes everyday, and increase that time as you go along.
- Leave the harness on during mealtime and have it tethered to a solid object. Place the bowl of food at such a distance that the puppy has to strain against the tether to reach the bowl. That ways, he not only gets comfortable with harness tension, but also primed for the ‘Line In’ command.
- When you begin pull training for your Sam, make sure to do it on surfaces like dirt, grass or gravel that do not put undue pressure on his young feet and joints.
- Attach a long leash (called a ‘dragline’) to the harness on your puppy with the other end tied to a lightweight object. While stood in front of him, coax him to run pulling on the object. This may require some positive reinforcement from you, depending on the pup’s motivation levels.
- Once he has understood the task, he’ll take off. And when he does, slip in a verbal command like ‘Hike’. Over time, he will start associating the word with that particular behavior, provided you use the same word in that situation every time.
- Limit the exercise to 50-feet runs, so as not to over-exert your puppy. To end a run, plant your feet over the drag line to induce drag. Simultaneously, call out a word (like ‘whoa’) to denote the action and do it consistently each time.
- Over time, and through repetition, your pup will get acclimatized to pulling the weight behind him and maintain tension on the line. You can then modify the exercise by either shifting weights, and/or training him to run ahead of you.
As a future lead dog, he will have to be able to steer your sled in the direction you wish. And how do you steer a dog sled? You do so with sled commands, which are verbal cues that tell the lead dogs to move a certain way, the team then follows suit and thus maneuver the sled as per your desire.
While you are free to choose your own verbal cues, the following sled commands are most commonly used in the mushing circle to signify some very essential directional instructions:
- ‘Hike’ – Start moving
- ‘Whoa’ – Halt!
- ‘Easy’ – Slow down
- ‘Gee’ or ‘Haw’ – Turn Right or Left
- ‘Come Gee’ or ‘Come Haw’ – Make a complete 180-degree turn to the Right or Left
- ‘Line Out’ – Signals the lead dog to move away from the sled
How Many Samoyeds Can Pull a Sled?
Any sled dog team needs to be able to pull the combined weight of the cart (30 to 45 pounds); the sled driver and any extra equipment (40 to 60 pounds) over long distances. Additionally, if one of the dogs from the pack gets sick or injured, then its weight too gets added to the overall load.
So, how many dogs to pull a sled? In sledge racing events for example, each sled dog team consists of 12 to 16 dogs. For recreational purposes, however, you can make do with 4-6 Samoyeds, so long as they are properly trained. Some people even ride skies, being pulled by one or two Sams!
How Much Weight Can a Samoyed Pull?
Samoyeds can pull close to 20 times their own weight without breaking a sweat. In fact, a 5-year old Sam named Philo, successfully pulled a cart weighing 1,800 pounds (816 kg) to win a wight-pull competition in 2015. And he had previously pulled close to 3,500 pounds (1,587 kg) in training!
Modern day sleds sport various material and functional enhancements over their conventional all-wood counterparts. Yet their structural parts remain pretty much unchanged. They include:
- Top Rail: Curved section along the top of the sled that forms the ceiling for the cargo basket
- Stanchions: The vertical sections placed between the top rail and the runners; they form the skeleton on which the rest of the sled is fleshed out.
- Brush Bow: The arched section at the front of the sled; it absorbs the shock during a collision and thus protects the sled from major damage.
- Runners: Two long, detachable strips that run along the bottom of the sled body. Shaped like skis, they help the carriage slide on snow and dirt.
- Handle Bar: Highest section of the sled that mushers hold onto.
- Claw Brake: Attachable spring-action claw made of steel, it is positioned between the musher’s feet. When stepped on, the claw slows down the sled by digging into the snow.
- Cargo Basket: Storage space where the musher stores supplies and includes a sled bag that covers the basket. Mushers use the space as a makeshift bed and the bag as cover during halts. The basket acts as a carriage for dogs that get sick or injured during a trail.
Sled Harness Types
There are various styles of harnesses available for sled dogs, where the H-back, X-back, spreader bar and half harness are some of the more common variants. Since each harness design has it’s advantages, the choice of dog harness for pulling sledges varies wildly among mushers.
While half harnesses are believed to cause fewer injuries to dogs, spreader bar harnesses are said to provide more power. However, the X-back harness is somewhat of a standard among modern-day professionals.
Apart from the sled and harness, other essential sled equipment include:
- The Lines: They connect and fasten the sled to the dogs, and the dogs to each other. Made out of thick cable, the ‘gangline’ is the main line that forms the connection between the sled and the dogs. Whereas the ‘tugline’ runs from the back of the harness to the gangline, the ‘neckline’ connects the dog’s collar to the gangline.
- Snow Hook: Designed like two giant fish hooks, it is employed by the musher to anchor his sled and the dog team at a point of halt along the trail. Theoretically, the more the dogs jerk on the hook, the more it digs in to the ground.
- Dog Booties: They are meant to protect a sled dog’s feet from cuts and prevent the formation ice between the foot pads during a trail.
When is Samoyed Ready for Team Racing?
Samoyed dogs begin appearing for Team Races, usually when they are between 2 and 8 years old. Each dog goes through individual practice sessions and team building sessions before the pack can be called a team. It is generally the older dogs that are at the front of the pack, whereas the younger dogs are closest to the sled.
Train a Samoyed for Team Sled Racing
Training Samoyeds to work as a team can be quite tricky, and needs a systematic approach. Dogs are first trained as a pair, where they are attached to light pulling object. Exercises during this period lay emphasis on making them run and work as a pair.
Then, the training extends to the whole group, where the dogs are attached to a gangline, which in turn is attached to the front of the vehicle. By regulating the speed of the ATV, you can simulate the varying loads for the team.
Q: What do sled dogs eat?
A: Dog nutrition for sledding is derived from a concoction of kibble, chicken, fish, beef and vitamins. Typically, various types of raw meat are chopped and mixed in hot water to form a stew, which is then fed to the dogs. In winter, chicken fat may be added to the mix, to give the dogs more energy and help them keep warm.
Q: What are different roles in a sled dog team?
A: The dogs at the front of the line, called the ‘lead dogs’ obey musher commands and set the pace for the rest. Right behind them are the ‘swing dogs’ who ensure any turns initiated by the leaders are followed by the whole team. Then, come the ‘team dogs’, which maintain the pace and pull. Finally, the wheel dogs positioned right in front of the sled pull much of the weight.