History of Dog Sledding
Throughout history, dogs have been man’s best friend. Besides being a loyal companion, they have been used for hunting, guard dogs, meat and as a means of transportation in subarctic areas. Dog sledding is believed to have first been used by the Inuits to transport food and supplies. They used 1-3 dogs to pull a small sled. In time, with colonization and the Gold Rush in Alaska, there was increased demand for sled dogs. As everything had to be transported by sled, dog sledding had to become more efficient. Sleds got bigger and were pulled by teams of dogs with a lead dog in the front. Dog sledding became known as Mushing.
Sled dogs were specifically bred for their size, strength and stamina. In addition, they had to have thick, insulated fur coats and large webbed paws to act like snowshoes on the icy snow-covered ground. They had to be able to pull heavy loads over long distances in rough conditions. Nowadays, the focus is more on endurance and speed as Mushing has become a popular sport in the subarctic. The most common sled dog is the Alaskan Husky. This is more of a mongrel than a pure-breed and shouldn’t be confused with a Siberian Husky. Although Alaskan Huskies do have Siberian Husky in their pedigree, they also have strains of other breeds, some even say they have wolf in their genetic make-up.
Is it cruel?
Alaskan Huskies are friendly, affectionate and good with other dogs. People might wonder if making these gentle dogs work so hard to pull sleds is cruel. Do they like it? Are they happy?
The first thing that struck me when I saw the dogs was their enthusiasm. Imagine a group of ADHD kids on steroids. The dogs were tied up on long leashes waiting for their turn to pull a sled and they were literally pulling at their leashes to get going. The dogs are rested after each tour and are very unhappy when they are not chosen for the next tour. These dogs love to run. Apparently, they also love to eat and have voracious appetites. Volunteers come from all over the world to work with the dogs and it is obvious that the dogs are loved and well-cared for.
Lillehammer is a town of approximately 30 000 people in Oppland, Norway. It’s about an hour and a half north of Oslo. Lillehammer lies next to Lake Mjøsa and is best known for the 1994 Winter Olympics. If you are going to go on a Husky Tour in Sjusjøen, then you need to head to Lillehammer. Sjusjøen is in the middle of nowhere out in the wop-wops. Lillehammer has heaps of great places to stay. I stayed at the Stasjonen Hotel and Hostel. It’s conveniently located at the railway station and bus terminal and has a really good restaurant attached. To get to Sjusjøen you have three choices. Catch a bus (which isn’t that regular) and walk from the bus stop to the husky tour site, or hire a car or hitch a lift. I managed to hitch a lift there and back.
Sjusjøen Husky Tours
Sjusjøen is about a 30 minute drive from Lillehammer. This was the Dog Sledding Tour I decided to go with. The winter season is from December to May. Summer and Fall they still operate, but the dogs pull carts instead of sleds. You can choose tours of distances ranging from 6-30km and you need to book online on their website.
As the dogs see tourists arrive, they get more and more excited, barking loudly and wagging their tails like mad. It is obvious that they love their job. Those not chosen for a tour are very disappointed. Once the dogs are hooked up to the sleds they are eager to run, and you have to use all your strength to hold them back until the tour starts.
The dogs are so excited that you feed off their energy and when you get going it’s exhilirating. The dogs just want to run and you have to keep stepping on the brake to slow them down otherwise you’ll hurtle across the snow at a formiddable speed. The excitement is palpable. This is not a quiet exercise, the dogs bark constantly. They also fart and poo as they pull the sled and the smell of doggy doo is a little bit of a dampener.
Going dog sledding was high up on my bucket list and I definitely recommend it. I was initially concerned about the dogs, but once I got there and saw how much the dogs love it, my concerns evaporated. My advice would be to check out the dog sledding company first to make sure that they take proper care of their dogs. Sjusjøen Husky Tours are the real deal and I recommend them highly.