Understanding the Basics of Dog Sledding - Dogs and Sleds

The ultimate dog sledding race: The Iditarod

The Sport of Dog Sledding

Dog sledding is not a new sport nor is skijoring or weight pulling. Many breeds were created specifically for these tasks many years ago. Some, like the Canadian Eskimo Dog and Alaskan Malamute, were created thousands of years ago.

Like most sports, dog sledding is based as much on desire as strength and stamina. It has been the overwhelming desire to succeed that has carried many teams to the finish line when all odds were against them, especially in the Iditarod Trail Dog Sled Race.

The Equipment


When you first become involved in any dog pulling sport, you will require a harness.  The harness must fit correctly as an ill fitting harness can damage your dog through chafing and causing unnecessary muscle strain.  A harness that is fitted correctly will lie flat on the dog’s back, go between the dog’s front legs and stretch across the last rib.  The very tip of the harness should end up at the base of the dog’s tail. 

When you first try your new harness on your dog, especially if he is inexperienced, let him get acquainted with the harness before you begin.  Always keep this part of training fun and upbeat.  If your dog is wiggly and excited, stand over him and hold him still between your legs. 

Once your dog is harnessed he is ready to be hooked to either the gangline or skijoring line for a lesson in pulling. 

Before your dog can begin pulling, he must learn the basic terms of direction and control.  All sled dogs need to learn these basics, whether they are racing, skijoring or performing other types of pulling tasks. 

The Commands

These are the basic commands that most mushers teach and use with their sled dogs:

GEE – right turn

HAW – left turn

GEE OVER – move to the right to pass another team or to the right of a trail

HAW OVER – to move left to pass or to the left of a trail

GEE/HAW COME – to have your leader come to you and turn the team around. This is an asset in case you cannot leave the sled or cart

ON-BY – to pass a turn off or distraction and keep going on the present trail

HIKE! – to start the team from a stop

WHOA! – the command to stop the team

Most mushers will use the same commands so that dogs may be borrowed or sold universally and not have to be retrained.

Every dog in your team should know the commands and learn to pull. These commands can be easily taught while simply walking your dog on leash and following the instructions as you give the commands. Basic commands such as sit and stay are also useful in a team and while harnessing or unharnessing. Use lots of praise while you train.

Remember to take everything one step at a time. Most dogs will need to get use to having something dragging behind them. They will also need to learn to ignore distractions and other dogs.

Once your dog is trained, you can use him for skijoring, racing, carting and recreational pulling.


Canadian Eskimo Dog Team on the Rocks
Canadian Eskimo Dog Team on the Rocks

The Pack


A team can consist of one dog if that is all you own.  The team can be made of the traditional husky or it can be made with any other large breed. 

A team consisting of two or more dogs requires a gangline.  The first dog in any team is called a lead-dog or leader.  The dogs behind him are called the “point” or “swing” dogs.  They are called the swing dogs as they are the dogs that help the leader turn a big team. 

After the swing dogs comes the main team – the momentum. 

The last dogs in the team are called wheel dogs.  These dogs have the difficult task of manoeuvring the sled and getting it out of ruts.  They also take all the shocks and jolts of the team in its starts and stops.  Wheel dogs must be strong and steady and are quite often the biggest dogs on the team.

Team Size


Most ganglines are made to be added on to.  This means that you can run different sized teams using the same gang line. 

Before heading out for a long trip, be sure to check all your gear and each individual dog.  Look for wear and tear in the equipment as well as improper fitting in the harnesses.  Look for injuries, cuts or illness in your dogs. 

The team size is dependent on the individual musher and the dogs.  Never take more dogs than you can handle at once.  When you are first starting out in sledding, a general rule is that the smaller the team, the better it is until you gain the experience to handle a larger team.

The Gangline


Ganglines usually run double hitch which means that there are two dogs running side by side.  Sometimes a leader will run at the front alone, but many teams run two leaders at once. 

One of the first steps in putting together a good team is to decide which dogs are best suited for each position.  Size, speed, personality, amiability and a preference for right or left are contributing factors to this decision.  Some individual dogs run better on the right or left.  Determining these factors and positioning the dogs correctly take time. 

Once your dogs have learned the basic commands, the next step is to teach your dogs to stand without tangling their lines.  Practice starting and stopping and have them stand still so as not to tangle the lines.  Some mushers teach their dogs to sit or to lay down when the cart or sled has come to a stop.  Other mushers teach their dogs to stand but will not allow them to fight or move. 

If this is your first time sledding, or you are training a new team, one or two miles for the first few times out are enough.  While you are sledding, check each member of the team to be sure that each dog is pulling his weight.  A hard working dog will have a low tail set, lowered head and a taut line. 

Keep an eye on the lines.  Should you detect a tangle, the cart or sled should be stopped immediately to prevent a dog from being dragged.  Tangles can be inconvenient, but they are very dangerous and must be attended to immediately.  Even good mushers can have a good run ruined by tangled lines. 

Ganglines Illustrated

Important Rules of Sledding


Never let your brush bow (front of sled) hit the wheel dogs.  If you are catching up on them on a steep hill, use your brake to slow down. 

When going uphill “peddle” the sled (push with one foot) to assist your dogs. 

Don’t be afraid to get off your sled to manoeuvre it around corners.  Hairpin turns are easy for the dogs but not always easy for the sled. 

If you topple your sled, try to hang on, and train your dogs to stop if the sled tips.

Ready, Set, HIKE!

With a well trained team and sturdy well cared for gear, you should be able to glide along the trail tangle free and without mush ado.


Copyright 2010

Polar Bears and Dog Sled Team Playing

© 2009 Beth100

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Beth100 profile image

Beth100 4 years ago from Canada Author

Tajana -- I apologize for the delay in my reply but I have not had internet access for several months. Unfortunately, I do not have a video for training sled dogs, but I will look on the internet to see if I can find good quality ones. If I can find them, I will post them on a link at the bottom of my hub. Thank you for visiting and asking a very good question.

Tatjana 4 years ago

Hi I'm Tajana from Finland,i want 2 ask u if you have (training DVD) for sled dog?

Beth100 profile image

Beth100 4 years ago from Canada Author

Rolly A. Chabot -- I hope your walk down memory lane was a pleasant one. Yes, these dogs form strong bonds with their musher as well as with each other. It is amazing how strong of a pack they are. Thank you Rolly! xox

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Rolly A Chabot 4 years ago from Alberta Canada

Hi Beth... great article and brings back many memories of the time in the north. The bond formed between the musher and his dogs is something to watch. They are breed with a heart to work together and a pleasure to watch.

Great hun=b as always and you have nailed it right on...

Hugs from Alberta

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Beth100 5 years ago from Canada Author

Tanja Wanderlust -- yes, it's amazing, isn't it? There is a full movie of how polar bears and the Eskimo dogs love each other's company. They are an example of how we can all get along! Thanks for dropping in!

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Tanja Wanderlust 5 years ago from planet earth

Wow that was amazing. Bolar bears and the dogs cuddlling. :)

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Beth100 5 years ago from Canada Author

Husky1970 - Thank you!!! The leaves have turned color here, and the wind is beginning to have quite a bite! I expect that the snow will begin to fall again soon, and maybe a few friends will begin training again for the race. Maybe your friend could share his experiences? That would be wonderful!

Thank you for your compliments -- you have me blushing and smiling all at the same time!! You are the best!

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Husky1970 5 years ago

Beth, I have been reading many interesting hubs this evening and this one ranks at the top of the list. The topic is very interesting to me as a teacher in my old school district participated in the Iditarod race on a couple of occasions. And being an old Husky, I found the information you have provided to be very thorough and extremely interesting. Great job! Voted up, up, and up and, of course, incredibly interesting (wish that were a category :)

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Beth100 5 years ago from Canada Author

andrebreynolds -- thank you and I hope you learned something that you didn't already know! Thanks for stopping and commenting.

Beth100 profile image

Beth100 5 years ago from Canada Author

Joe Macho -- Thank you for your vote and your feedback is greatly appreciated. Every time I watch that video, I am amazed at how they enjoy each others' company. I'm glad you're smiling. :)

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andrebreynolds 5 years ago

Informative article.

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Joe Macho 5 years ago from Colorado

Wow, you've got a great hub here. Plenty of information and I absolutely love the video at the end. Leaves me with a smile at the end of a well constructed article. Thanks

Voted up

Beth100 profile image

Beth100 6 years ago from Canada Author

Vivian - Thanks for coming by, and please see your inbox for my reply. :)

Vivian Zabel 6 years ago

Would it be possible to use your sketches for the ganglines?


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Beth100 6 years ago from Canada Author

JBeadle -- Huskies are a wonderful breed with strong characteristics between each dog. A skateboard is good. My rottie pulled me on my inline skates. We always did really good together until one day a pizza delivery guy was delivering pizza on his inlines. My rottie caught a whiff of the pepperoni and took off after him. All I could do was hang on tight. I have a great love for polar bears and it amazes me how these huge bears can cuddle and play with delicate dogs and not even put a scratch on them. Thank you, JBeadle for dropping by.

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JBeadle 6 years ago from Midwest

Just stumbled upon these husky hubs. We are on our third husky - the other two had malamute in them. Quin, a brown and white male husky-malamute was 110lbs and would've loved to pull a sled but the closest he came was pulling me on a skateboard now and then! We love this breed of dog. I was amazed by the polar bear video. I've never seen anything like that.

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Beth100 6 years ago from Canada Author

Agvulpes - I've always loved sports that challenges oneself and sports that require to species to work together to suceed. I love the polar bears and Eskimo dogs -- they get along fine! Thank you for sharing your support and love of the sport!

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agvulpes 6 years ago from Australia

Beth this is an amazing sport and I have always wanted to try it! Dog Sledding looks way more complicated than I first thought so thanks for explaining all of the intricacies !

Great Video it just shows that wild animals can co-exist if given the opportunity! Thumbs up!

Beth100 profile image

Beth100 6 years ago from Canada Author

Mythbuster -- Thank you very much -- you've brightened my morning! I'm very glad that you like the video -- I thought it was pretty amazing too. Enjoy it again and again! :)

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mythbuster 6 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

Awesome hub, Beth100 - glad you put up diagrams, too. Amazing video - I'm scrolling up again to watch for a third time.

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Beth100 6 years ago from Canada Author

Katee -- That makes a few of us! :)

Katee 6 years ago

Now I can understand the movies that I watch. Thank you for explaining the commands.

Beth100 profile image

Beth100 7 years ago from Canada Author

Niteriter -- ha ha Some dogs prefer to be spectators, just some people! You should try again, and maybe put little booties on his paws as they keep the paws warm and protect them from ice. The voice of experience is the best -- thank you!

Niteriter profile image

Niteriter 7 years ago from Canada

Hi Beth. I was inspired by this Hub... truly inspired.

I harnessed up my terri-poo with big dreams of having him pull me around the local park on a pair of cross country skis. In response to my firm dog-handling techniques, he trotted out the length of the trace in a confident, husky-like manner. My ballooning pride filled the entire park.

But alas, the moment he felt the pressure of the harness on his chest he trotted right back to where I was standing. And demanded that I pick him up because his paws were cold.

So I carried him back to the house where we spent the rest of the afternoon sipping (and lapping) hot chocolate while watching "Call of the Wild" on TV.

I have one small dog harness for sale if you know anyone who's interested.

Beth100 profile image

Beth100 7 years ago from Canada Author

Theherbivorehippi -- It's never too late -- you can even teach and train during the summer. My daughter hooked our male rotti to a sled when she was 6 and he took her for a run -- down the big hill and up!! He loved pulling her and I bet that yours will too. Let me know when you start! Thank you and steer to avoid the trees! lol

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theherbivorehippi 7 years ago from Holly, MI

What an awesome Hub! I am giving much thought to getting a sled to train my dogs in my backyard (its like a mini forest) but I sort of dropped the ball this winter. They love to work so I think they would love to pull me on a sled (probably right into a tree..haha) Loved the picture of the dogs on the rocks!! Thanks for sharing

Beth100 profile image

Beth100 7 years ago from Canada Author

Froster Meadow -- You can always move up north of the 49th! We can really long winters and a ton of snow! lol During the summer months, I had adapted our sled with wheel for our rotties to pull. They loved it! It wasn't professional looking, but it worked. Your sled team members look beautiful! Have fun and thanks for leaving great feedback!

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Frosty Meadow 7 years ago from Fletcher, OH

Good information Beth, We are learning the in and outs of sledding and skiijoring. Unfortunately, here in SW Ohio, the season is only 3 months. I will continue to look to you for info! Good Hub!

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Beth100 7 years ago from Canada Author

I was amazed when I watched the video for the first time too. I never thought polar bears would play with a dog! Glad you enjoyed the hub!

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PegCole17 7 years ago from Dallas, Texas

Fascinating video with the Polar Bears! Amazing. Loved the hub and the dogs.

Beth100 profile image

Beth100 7 years ago from Canada Author

Oh yeah, Maita! Love the snow!!! Especially powder that's a few feet deep!!! Are you enjoying yours?

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prettydarkhorse 7 years ago from US

hey Beth, thanks for the basics here< enjoy your snow there, Maita

Beth100 profile image

Beth100 7 years ago from Canada Author

Nikki1 - Good to see you again! Thanks for dropping in!

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nikki1 7 years ago

thanx for sharing.. ;D

Beth100 profile image

Beth100 7 years ago from Canada Author

Steven -- :)

Stevennix2001 profile image

Stevennix2001 7 years ago

yeah, i know it would be hard but it would be worth it if i got a kiss from you. besides, i don't think there's a lot i wouldn't do for you. ;)

Beth100 profile image

Beth100 7 years ago from Canada Author

You might change your mind Steven, once you read what the Iditarod is all about! ;)

Stevennix2001 profile image

Stevennix2001 7 years ago

wow, an Eskimo kiss from a pretty lady like you? Now, I'm really excited about getting started. ;)

Beth100 profile image

Beth100 7 years ago from Canada Author

ha ha ha Steven! Okay, it's a deal. I'll give you an Eskimo kiss if you win the Iditarod (I'll explain that one in the next hub). Better start getting your team ready!!

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Stevennix2001 7 years ago

Only if you promise to give me a kiss if i win, then I might consider it. ;) otherwise, i think i'll just settle for watching it on tv or something.

Beth100 profile image

Beth100 7 years ago from Canada Author

Steven -- Thanks Steven! Are you going to try it?

Stevennix2001 profile image

Stevennix2001 7 years ago

wow, this was a great hub. i never knew that much about dog sledding until i read this. however, now that i have, i'll definitely see if i can learn more about the sport, since you got me interested now. thanks beth.

Beth100 profile image

Beth100 7 years ago from Canada Author

Cheeky Girl -- Yeah, I guess I'm dreaming about mushing!! :)

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Cheeky Girl 7 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

Heh! Great hub! I put the typo down to what you were thinking about the dogs too! They call that a Freudian Slip! : )

Beth100 profile image

Beth100 7 years ago from Canada Author

Dohn - Oh, I didn't see that type! lol :) I always enjoy your comments, so thanks!

Sarah -- I'm glad that you do. Now go out and mush!

Sarah 7 years ago

I like this hub too! =D

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dohn121 7 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

This was an absolutely amazing hub. I loved every bit of it, including your gangline diagram (so cool!). You really know your stuff Beth! I especially liked this line:

With a well trained team and sturdy well cared for gear, you should be able to glide along the trail tangle free and without mush ado.

I'm sure that it wasn't a typo ;)

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