Activity of the Week: How to Command a Dog Team

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Dog sledding is the sport Alaska is famous for, and it hasn’t changed much over the last 4,000 years. Alaska Natives first used dog sledding as their main mode of transportation, but it wasn’t until the late 1890’s that it became a sport. The story many of us know already is that of the 1925 outbreak of diphtheria that threatened the small town of Nome. The town needed a transport method for the 20 pounds of serum from Nenana where the train route ended at that time. So they called upon 20 experienced mushers and their dog teams to travel through temperatures as low as 64 degrees below zero, in moose and wolf country, to deliver the serum to Nome. And it took them only one week (normally, traveling the route was anticipated to take at least 20 days). Naturally, they decided to make a race of it, and in 1973, the first Iditarod race to Nome was held. If you’re thinking of trying mushing for yourself, here are some terms you should know:

Mushing Terminology

Mush = In the beginning days of mushing, the dog commands were brought over to America from Siberia and they adopted the strong command of MUSH to tell the dogs to go. Today, the drivers are referred to as mushers, but the term more commonly used for “GO” is HIKE. Or a simple “let’s go!” will usually get the frenzied pups into gear.

Gee = Right

Haw = Left

Whoa = stop

Line out = command to lead dog to pull the team out straight from the sled. Used mostly while hooking dogs into the team or unhooking them.

Trail! = a friendly request for right of way on the trail

*If a moose happens to land in the trail or a lead dog gets distracted and the team is tangled, I’m told various other colorful expressions are used. We won’t list them here.

All of this information will come in handy when you experience the strength and enthusiasm of the dogs for yourself on the Sled Dog Demonstration and Ride. The tour aboard a wheeled cart used by mushers to exercise their dogs in the summer takes off right from the entrance of the Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge. The cart seats four and is a great experience for kids as well as adults. You’ll also learn the ropes of training and caring for the dogs — keeping them in sublime shape in the summer and warm and healthy in the winter.

“Activity of the Week” is a weekly blog series that profiles adventures, destinations and tour operators from across Alaska.