Long before snow blankets the ground, mushers will begin training with their dogs, utilizing wheeled carts and ATV’s. Gradually increasing the mileage the dogs run each day, most teams will have nearly 1000 miles of trail under their paws before they leave the starting line.
The welfare of the dogs is the highest priority when it comes to mushing. Far removed from Jack London and the early days of competitive racing, mushers now draw from a fine tuned repertoire of dog care requirements and mushing ethics. From the harnesses the dogs wear to the size and style of the sled, things have changed. Even the dogs themselves exhibit the attributes of animals bred more for speed than for pulling heavily loaded sleds.
To be competitive, mushers today must be informed, capable and dedicated.
Extensive pre-race training is only one element in the overall conditioning of a sled dog. Nutrition is critical, and these days, very technical as well. Studies on working sled dogs indicate that these fantastic athletes will require anywhere from 10,000 to 26,000 calories during a 24-hour period. (Note: Tour de France cyclists, who are considered elite human athletes with the highest metabolic rate, burn 7000 to 8000 kcal. per day.) To keep the dogs in top condition, mushers provide their teams with high quality/high fat commercial dog food and supplement with an array of various meats, fats and vitamins.
Mushers also pay extra attention to their dogs’ feet. In essence those feet are the mushers’ tires” and taking preventative measures will minimize the risk of a “flat” out on the trail. One measure of prevention are the colorful booties the dogs wear on their feet. Held securely in place with hook-and-loop fasteners, and constructed of high-tech materials such as fleece or specialized nylon, booties are worn like socks. Purchased in bulk, booties run about 80 cents each and the average musher will go through as many as 200 plus booties during the race.