Dogsledding 101

Acorn, Tina, and Tank pull our toboggans across Wood Lake.

Acorn, Tina, and Tank pull our toboggans across Wood Lake.

Dave and I are working with three new teammates. Their names are Acorn, Tina and Tank. They walk on four legs and they are quite furry. If you haven’t guessed it already, they are sled dogs! Our friend, Frank, dogsledded to our campsite recently and dropped off Acorn, Tina and Tank. We have begun traveling with our canine companions. In this week’s Notes from the Trail, I’ll share some of the basics about working with sled dogs.

When have you experienced teamwork? How do you work with your classmates?

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Dog Language

First of all, it is helpful to know dogs communicate with each other. The dogs bark and howl when they are really excited. All three dogs bark happily when we feed them and when we harness them. It is also helpful to pay attention to a dog’s body language. When their ears are up and tails are wagging, they are usually in a good mood. If their ears are down, they might be angry. If their tails are down and tucked between their legs, they are scared. If you see two dogs standing together and one has its tail up and the other has its tail down, the dog with the tail up is more dominant and the dog with its tail down is being submissive.

Acorn and Tina are lead dogs, which means they run at the front of the team.

Acorn and Tina are lead dogs, which means they run at the front of the team.

Positions in the Team

When sled dogs all work together, they can pull a very heavy sled or toboggan. If a dog is mad at his or her partner and starts a fight, we won’t get very far. Then again, if a dog is best friends with his or her partner, they might goof off too much and get distracted. Basically, the dogs on a team need to have a good working relationship. We are really lucky, because Acorn, Tina and Tank all get along well.

Do you play sports or ever work as part of a team? What position do you play and what is your job in that position?

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The dogs that run in the front of the team are called the lead dogs. Acorn and Tina are the lead dogs. Their job is to keep the team spread out, run at a good pace, and follow the directions that Dave or I give. The dogs that are closest to the sled are called the wheel dogs. They pull more weight, because they are so close to the sled. Wheel dogs need to be nice and strong. Tank is our wheel dog. He is very strong.

If we were working with a bigger dog team, there would be some other positions like point, which is the position right behind the lead dogs. One other position is swing or team dogs. They are basically the dogs in the middle.

If you were a sled dog, what position would you run in?

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As you can see, every dog has an important job to do as part of the team. When we all work together, we can pull a lot of weight and move pretty fast!


Commands are the words that we use to tell the sled dogs what we would like them to do. These dogs don’t really know “sit” or “stay” like most pets, but they do know quite a few commands. Would you like to learn them?

I’ll start with how we tell them to go. The command to get the dogs to start pulling is “hike”. Acorn, Tina and Tank also know “let’s go”. When we want the dogs to stop, we say “whoa.” Tone of voice is just as important as the words we use. We say “let’s go” in a high-pitched, excited voice. It is important to say “whoa” with a deep, calm tone. All three dogs know these commands really well. The more advanced commands tell the dogs to turn. We say “gee” when we want them to go right and “haw” when w want them to go left. The lead dogs, Acorn and Tina, know these commands.

Well, that just about covers the basics. Now you know how the dogs communicate and work together.

What are some similarities between how the dogs work together and how you work with your classmates?

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Student Response Worksheets


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