Snow Dogs in a Post-Snow World
January 13, 2008 10:01 AM   Subscribe

"They are happy when they run." So says Kalle Leissner, a Swedish musher, of the Alaskan Husky, a breed of dog best known for pulling sleds over long stretches of unforgiving terrain, as in the world famous Iditarod competition. (Not everyone, it should be noted, agrees with Leissner's assessment.) But with climate change forcing the Iditarod's planners to rework their race, could this sport's days be numbered? Maybe...and then again, maybe not.
posted by kittens for breakfast (16 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Huskies are incredible animals. My friend's father used to run his for 5 miles every morning, but eventually they gave her up because they couldn't give her as much exercise as she wanted.
posted by p3on at 10:47 AM on January 13, 2008

these dogs are very happy when they run. of that, there is no doubt. and there are always vets and vet-checks at these races. however, having seen the conditions these dogs are kept in by many mushers (because how the hell else are you going to keep 10-20 dogs but staked out in a dirt yard or in kennels when they're not hooked to your sled?), i'm pretty sure there's a case for life not being so great for sled-dogs that are used as such.

as pets, though? if you run them every day, they're awesome.
posted by RedEmma at 11:23 AM on January 13, 2008

I have this image of standing somewhere watching them shrink in the distance as their barking grows fainter and fainter, running north chasing the disappearing ice, along with polar bears and arctic foxes and all the other ice dependents, and then running off the planet altogether into outer space as the last of the ice melts. Very sad.
posted by jamjam at 11:30 AM on January 13, 2008

On the other hand, we will always have Idiotarod.
posted by Termite at 11:55 AM on January 13, 2008

Knowing nothing about how the racers treat their dogs, I won't pass judgement, but from my own experience with dogsledding...those sled dogs love to run and pull more than anything, and nothing punishes a sled dog more than not letting him pull. That surprised me. All the dogs I've known like eating, sleeping, and getting their bellies scratched more than anything.
posted by Hildegarde at 12:33 PM on January 13, 2008

i'm pretty sure there's a case for life not being so great for sled-dogs that are used as such.

Yeah. Certainly for those being used for competitive sled pulling. I think there is a fair bit of scope between 'they love to run' and 'we keep them running and running and push them to the limit (which is when they die)'.

It's not exactly two interpretations of the same thing. They are incredible dogs, and do love to run. But too much of a good thing is always a bad thing.
posted by Brockles at 12:35 PM on January 13, 2008

Jamjam, I've got a mic recording of your daydream, here. Via Quiet American (Nov.28,2005.). Wear headphones. For some reason this one makes me tear up a little.
posted by anthill at 12:37 PM on January 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

You aren't going to replace the Iditarod with a dryland race, because if there's no ice and snow, the melt will also mean that the tundra will turn into the world's biggest bog.

Great dogs, though. I grew up with a Samoyed that would sometimes just take off running like a wild animal, disappear for 3 days, and we'd get a call from someone 50 miles away who had found her and read the tags. The distances she would go on her own were astounding. And she was fine living off the land, though if you've ever tried to wash the guts of dead squirrels out of the long white fur of a Samoyed, you know the meaning of frustration.
posted by fourcheesemac at 1:47 PM on January 13, 2008

Although racing dogs have little real husky in them anymore and they do spend a lot of time tied up I think they have pretty good lives. They run for miles every day, they get to be outside with their people and other dogs a lot and they get fed a better diet than most pets (real meat!). I know a few mushers and their dogs are not tied all the time, they let dogs that get along off the chains to play, old favourites live in the house and besides, after running 10 miles in the am, they sleep all day anyway.

The thing that always amazes me about racing dogs (and is apparently not possible with most traditional breeds as they are more aggressive) is the way two or three dogs will smush into a tiny kennel for cold weather or traveling. I mean 20" square and they are perfectly happy in there. My dogs would eat each other.

btw, that anti-site confuses racing and regular old village dogs quite a bit. Many villages require dogs to be tied for safety reasons, and the traditional breeds are quite aggressive so letting them all run free would not work.
posted by fshgrl at 1:59 PM on January 13, 2008

anthill, that's an amazing piece of audio. holy cow. thanks.
posted by fourcheesemac at 2:01 PM on January 13, 2008

My wife and I just rescued a husky! She's only 4.5 months old and I am already impressed by her stamina...
posted by SNACKeR at 4:23 PM on January 13, 2008

I have to echo everything fshgrl says, including that most often race dogs are not Husky.
I would argue that race dogs are, by and large, much more happy then lap dogs. Every-time I've been around them they are excited and social and pretty upbeat.

The Iditarod is a little different then most other races, simply because of the huge differences in distance between mandated stops and checks. That is the only reason I have any amount of ambilvalence about that particular race. Otherwise it all comes down to the particular musher and how they handle and see their dogs. Most are fantastic, some are indifferent, a very few are monsters.
posted by edgeways at 4:36 PM on January 13, 2008

If there was a dachshund iditerod, my dog would be pissed if I didn't sign her up. She actually tried chasing two greyhounds on the beach last week. (And she stayed 2-3 feet behind them the whole time!)

Gotta say, a galloping weiner dog keeping stride with two gracefully loping greyhounds is a sight one rarely sees in life. It was pretty hysterical.
posted by miss lynnster at 6:47 PM on January 13, 2008

Found some sort of sled dog apparently abandoned, some years ago. She was sweet to people, acted like a lap dog at home. Outside, she was pure energy monster. To walk her, you had to wear the chain around your body. Strange dogs would be attacked instantly. Anything she thought edible was prey. Outside, the beast had one focus only: cover territory, seek and eat. There was a time when we could let her off her leash to run, and our other dog could persuade her to come back, but that only lasted a few weeks. Then she ran off for quite awhile (and my golden visibly felt he'd failed), and a neighbor reported she'd killed one of his fancy muscovy ducks (he didn't make trouble for us though). When the temperature rose above 50f, she insisted on getting wet at any opportunity (of which there were plenty, in spring).

She probably wasn't that happy once we could no longer allow her to run free. But we couldn't risk her aggressive ways on the wild life or other people's pets. Tried to find her a home with a sled team, but that didn't pan out.
posted by Goofyy at 10:20 PM on January 13, 2008

Anthill, when I tried the direct link, I got a "Forbidden" message. I found the mp3 file by going to the Quiet American link and scrolling down to November 28, 2005.
posted by faceonmars at 10:33 PM on January 13, 2008

As a resident of Nunavut who owns an orphaned sled dog and has been now trying to domesticate her for a little over a year now, I can attest to their love for running. If our dog does not get her run in for the day she will run circles in the house until she is to tired to continue. We are very fortunate to live where we live as there is alot of open space and alot of opportunity for exercise. We have recently come back to Nunavut after living in Ontario for a few months and I can tell you, the dog almost didn't make it. Not only did she have to adjust to a life of increased confinement, but she also had to deal with the increase in temperature (something that nearly killed her this summer).

SNACKeR, I would recommend making sure you have the means to provide what the dog will demand of you, before you commit totally. On more than one occasion I've picked up the phone book and been ready to give our dog away to a team or a professional racer.

Anyway, having said all that... She is an amazing dog, incredibly loyal to the family and a blessing in our house.
posted by dogbusonline at 6:07 AM on January 14, 2008

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