By now, either by browsing the internet, reading books or chatting with experts, you will have got a good idea of what the sport of sled dog racing is all about.  Most equipment terms like Rig, Sled, Harness, Tug Lines, Gang Lines, Shock Absorbers, Panic Snap, Carabiner, Boots, Bibs are familiar to you.

You may have seen see some of the larger ‘set ups’ of racing sled dog teams on the British Circuit – if you are lucky enough, perhaps abroad too.  Admittedly these do look spectacular, but remember you can have just as much fun starting out with one or two dogs and ‘having a go’ without all the paraphernalia attached to the needs of the larger teams.  Now that many races have classifications for purpose made dog-scooter and bike-joring classes, you can try the sport before you buy a second dog. Bikes and scooters are fine for one, or sometimes two calmer dogs, but any more than that and you will need a rig, as they are obviously much more stable. Don’t go overboard straight away … make life easy for yourself and your dog.  Never be afraid to ask questions.  Most teams are friendly – that is the people as well as the dogs.

The easiest way to get started is to attach yourself to a friendly local musher as a mentor. Your breeder may be able to help with this even if they do not work themselves, otherwise get in touch with the Club, and they may be able to find you someone close. You will be able to pick their brains for all sorts of things, find out where to train, look at different styles of equipment to see what suits you. Dogs also tend to learn better by watching other dogs, and if they aren’t terribly motivated to run at first, they will almost certainly perk up if they have another team to chase.

As you gain experience and improve, add to your equipment and outfit.  First the dogs, then the rig/scooter, etc. And more often than not the next thing is the van … but you’ll soon see what we mean !

Teach your dog the commands for working while you are on your daily walks and they will soon get the hang of them. “Gee” means right, “Haw” means left, “leave it” or “on by” can be useful for any number of hazards on the trail. Your early days of training may be behind you but never forget that the best way to increase the correct muscles on a sled dog is to get them to pull a weight.  Jogging is not sufficient.  Provide your dog with a well-fitting purpose-made running harness, not the type you buy in a pet shop, (there are many suppliers and manufacturers within the Club – see “Links” on this website) and get him to pull an old tyre.  Adding tin cans or something to make a noise will ensure your dog is not frightened when he is first put into a rig.  This way of training is especially useful if you have only one dog and need to get him fit to work separately.

Getting the right equipment is important for the safety of your dog, and indeed yourself! As the sport has become more popular in recent times, there has been a lot of pretty dangerous home-made equipment advertised for sale on the internet. Children’s scooters and rigs designed from a photo and welded together in people’s garages are not going to pass scrutineering at a race! Remember that a snapped collar or tug line can mean a dog sprinting up the trail without you…

When you find somewhere to train, you will need permission from the landowner to run your dogs there. The Forestry Commission operate a permit system, or you may find a private landowner willing to let you use their trails. Both will insist that you have a fairly large amount of Third Party Insurance cover for working your dogs, which can be obtained independently, or as part of the SHCGB membership.

Always remember that a working member of a sled dog team will require extra and better quality food.  There are numerous types of food available including the BARF natural diet, but if selecting a proprietary complete food, then a higher fat/protein content (with meat as the first ingredient)  is preferable.  As in all aspects of working and racing sled dogs, ask around the teams, gain knowledge on feeding by the experience of others.  It is important to remember that your dog will need a good quality diet to work effectively.

Much useful information can be gained from reading books, articles and researching the internet.  Even more valuable help and advice can be acquired by talking to the people involved in the sport and watching them in action.  Training programmes vary from team to team.  Use all the information you obtain to work out your own programme.  Do what suits you and your dog(s) best.  Never overdo it, either yourself or your dogs.  If you only learn one thing from this article, it should be to always make this sport a source of enjoyment…. never a chore for you and especially not for your dogs.

Some teams train right through the summer (very early starts!), others will stop during the warmer months and recommence in the Autumn, but if you take this route, then remember to monitor and adjust diet accordingly, building back up in readiness for training to begin. It is best not to run at all in temperatures of 12 degrees or above, dogs can overheat alarmingly quickly. Humidity is a complicating factor, it can feel quite cold to you, and yet still be too humid for the dogs to cool down by panting if the surrounding air is full of moisture. Always make sure you take plenty of water for them to drink.


Start training over short distances.  Increase trail lengths (when you can) as the Season goes on, always taking note of the distance of the next race.  Some teams add weight when training to lighten the load when competing.  Others train so that the team is always running at a fast pace to maintain momentum.  Again, look about you, learn and adopt the best option for you. Never run on tarmac though – you will damage your dog’s joints, and frequently  the damage will be done by the time this becomes obvious.

If you already have more than one dog, don’t automatically assume they will be able to run as a team. They may have very different constructions, making one very much faster than another, or some may be less enthusiastic about the whole thing. You are only as fast as your slowest dog – use your brakes to keep all the lines tight, and make sure they are all happy about what they are doing. Some dogs don’t like to go down hills fast, for example – being dragged down one by the rest of the team is likely to put that dog off for life. If you have a really mismatched team, but they all want to run, consider splitting them up into smaller teams, or maybe doing the scooter or bike class with whoever is too slow (or too fast!) for the rest of the team.


The second most important lesson whilst you are gaining all this knowledge – DON’T FORGET TO GET OUT AND DO IT !  You can always tell an internet expert who spends more time talking about doing it than DOING IT.  Practical experience is the most important part.


So now you can handle the rig and the team and you’ve read the Rules of the Race you are competing in.  Give particular attention to the correct  trail procedures, especially those which apply to overtaking and trail etiquette.  You never know, you might want to overtake a team on your first rally … or be overtaken ?  Holding up a team or causing an obstruction on the trail will not make you a popular Musher. If you can, train with other teams and practice passing each other calmly.

You’ve entered the race and now you’re there.  Make sure you attend the Mushers’ Meeting.  Useful information on the trail and conditions will be provided by your Rally Organiser and points to remember, etc.  If you have the time and energy, it is always useful to walk or cycle the trail beforehand.

Park your vehicle carefully, with concern for others and the surroundings.  You may want to stake out your team, in which case, look for a spot where they can do least damage and well away from passing teams and vehicles.  Always clear up after you, filling in holes as best you can.  Chances are the Rally Organiser lives close by so don’t let them have to deal with complaints from the locals after events, or even lose their training trails.  Think of others, both at the rally venue and out on the trail.

Now, take a look around you, find some friendly faces.  They’ll all be there gossiping dogs and techniques .. get to know your fellow competitors.  Introduce yourself, offer to help the rally Organiser and you’ll be their friend for life.

It’s nearly time!  Remember to prepare carefully and methodically.  Hydrate your team in good time. Your rig will have been checked by the scrutineer when you arrived – remember to take the required equipment up to the Scrutineers’ Station early – it’s another thing less to think about later.  Check what you need, especially that tiny item called a neck-line.  Take a spare lead with you – you might be grateful of this as well as your snub line.  Competitor’s Bib, a coat in case, gloves and safety glasses and protective headgear, if you are that way inclined.  Check the course surface with the Rally Organiser or other mushers and decide whether to boot or not to boot your dogs.

Be in good time at the Start Point, but don’t arrive there too early.  Your dogs will not be at their best if they have spent the last fifteen minutes howling at each and every other team starting off – keep them well back until your allotted time.  But on the other hand, make sure you are well within hearing distance of proceedings so as not to miss your start time.

Don’t flap – you’ve checked everything previously so all you have to do now is concentrate on where you are going.  Check clips as you put the dogs into the lines to make sure they are correctly connected.  A two-dog team will not need be clipped in until, at the most, one minute to start, better still 30 seconds, though larger teams will take longer.  This may sound an incredibly short time, but it will be enough.  If you feel happier, ask for help from other mushers and supporters to hitch up.  Better too many than not enough.  The least time the dogs are stripping their pads at the Start line the better.

Mentally prepare yourself and make sure you are comfortable.  Remember this is NOT the start of The Iditarod 1,000 mile sled dog race.  Let sense rule the proceedings.  Your dogs are ready, you are ready and all you can do now is to wait for the Time Keeper to get  ready.  Concentrate on the Start Line and listen.  Keep an ear out for the countdown and then you’re off and you will begin to realise what all the fuss is about.  Best of luck !

On the trail, keep your wits about you.  Keep an eye on your surroundings and more especially the trail markers.  The rules outline the various markers – make sure you read them well.  Be aware of other teams around you.  You are a beginner, so look out and learn.  More experienced teams may pass.  Do not hold them up.  Everyone is there to enjoy and compete, be courteous to others and expect the same in return – do not stand for ignorance or rudeness from others. Don’t yell and scream at your team, it won’t make them go any faster!

If you feel it necessary, you may have taken some water and a bowl with you.  Water the dogs if this has been part of your training but this is not usually necessary in the normal length of a competition, though perhaps for a longer event.  Do, however, make sure there is water available for your team when you have finished your run.  Perhaps a treat after they have cooled down.

Just when you are beginning to enjoy yourself, the finish approaches.  People yelling and shouting (it was worth making sure your team were not nervous about crowds and noise when they were puppies) and … it’s over.  Until next time …. no wonder they call it a bug !