My Dog Sledding Experience: Harnessing The Dogs

0 Flares 0 Flares ×

You may remember a few weeks ago how I told you my dog sledding trip took me out of my comfort zone.  It challenged me mentally, physically and one might argue, spiritually.  After unpacking our things in the bunk cabin, we headed over to the main house to get a better understanding of our schedule for the weekend.  That day, some of us would get to take our first sled ride but first we had to learn to harness the dogs.


Vahti – one of the big boys.

Just like people, dogs come in all shapes and sizes.  But unlike our clothing, the size of the harnesses didn’t come in small, medium or large.  Instead sizes were classified by the colors of the tugs on the harness.  Yellow-orange, blue-green and yellow-yellow were phrases that we quickly became familiar with.  Kathleen would write the name of the lead dogs at the top of a white board with the initials YO or BG for the size of harness they would need, followed by the names of wheel dogs. If a dog had a circle around their name, that meant they were a chewer and couldn’t be left alone after their harness was on.  Even the slight compromise in the equipment could be dangerous for the dogs and the musher.  After Chris gave us a brief demonstration on harnessing with the use of a stuffed husky (she named her Tundra), we were all off to attempt it for the first time.

dog sled

When you walk out into the dog yard with harnesses in your hand, whatever sense of calm you had is quickly over.  These are sled dogs and they know when the harnesses come out, someone gets to run and each and every one of them wants to go.  They bark, they howl and they cry for attention.  In the midst of what feels like chaos, the most difficult part at first was finding the dog you needed to harness.  Once you found your dog, depending on their temperament, you harnessed them quickly or you called for help.  I relate it to dressing a toddler.  Sometimes they are very cooperative and getting their clothes on is a breeze.  Other times, they are so wound up, you can’t even chase them down to get their shirt on.  That’s how I felt with my first dog, Mayatuk.  She was strong, she was a chewer and she was definitely wound up.  She spun me in circles because she knew she was going to run and she just couldn’t contain her excitement.

Xena was much easier to harness.

After getting the harnesses on the dogs, the next challenge is getting them to the gang line.  When Kathleen gave us the signal, the lead dogs were take off their ties to be hooked up to the gang lines.  What is unique about this part is instead of walking the dog on all fours, we grabbed the dogs’ collars and pulled them up so they were on their hind legs, bouncing all the way to the sleds.  I know it sounds odd and unnecessary but when you’re walking a dog past dozens of others dogs, you want to have complete control over them and the two-legged method gives you some of that control.  The dogs are so excited, you’re still jogging along with them to keep up and it doesn’t hurt them one bit.

Jax dog sledding

The dogs are ready to run!

Once the lead dogs are hooked up, the wheel dogs follow suit.  By this time everyone is howling and barking, mushers are on the sleds and before you know it, the rope is released and the dogs are off.  Once those dogs take off, it becomes amazingly quiet. All you see is the beauty of the sled marks on the new fallen snow.



0 Flares Twitter 0 Facebook 0 Google+ 0 Pin It Share 0 StumbleUpon 0 0 Flares ×
About Sarah

Mom. Blogger. Runner. Hiker. Insomniac. Not necessarily in that order.


  1. What an amazing opportunity! It’s always good to push your boundaries.

  2. What a fun adventure! Looks so cool!

  3. How fun. I have always wanted to do this. Way to fight your fear and get adventurous!

  4. They are such beautiful wonderful dogs. What a wonderful experience you had too. 🙂

  5. It is so cool that the dogs are excited to participate. This really sounds like a great experience!

  6. I adore dogs. This sounds like coolest experience!

  7. What an amazing experience! I would LOVE to be able to do something like this! It’s neat that the dogs get so excited to go.

  8. That looks like so much fun! I’ve never even seen that, but would love to!!

  9. Om my, that looks like such an amazing experience. Not sure I could do it, but It sure like like it would be fun to try.

  10. Wow! I never would have thought about all the size options and abbreviations to decipher. The two legged walk is a good idea too.

  11. I am enjoying reading your dog sledding experience. I am learning lots – like I’d never think you’d have to lead them out on two legs!

  12. That is so cool – I have never seen so upclose and personal

  13. I have to go check out the rest of this series. I learned a lot from this one article and will be living through you in this experience.

  14. This looks amazing! This is something that I definitely want to experience sometime in my life. Great photos, love the dogs.

  15. This looks like an awesome experience! Love the photos!

  16. Those are such beautiful dogs. That must have truly been an amazing experience for you!

  17. They are so beautiful! I can only imagine how amazing this experience is.

  18. I didn’t realize how much went in to this – like with the color-coding and the dogs’ names on the white board. Keeping all of it straight is something I’d be worried about.

  19. The dogs are so beautiful! You are a brave woman, I’m always trying to get out of the cold as quickly as possible. lool

  20. This is awesome! I used to be very interested in dog sledding but never did it. My uncle trained for the Ididarod (sp?) race once.

  21. I’m glad you enjoyed your dog-sledding experience! It’s such a neat thing to do (though even though I was used to 20 below temps when I was little, you’d be hard-pressed to get me out there again now). Growing up I actually had an Alaskan Husky that came from a sled dog litter. He always wanted to run and pull everything everywhere!

Speak Your Mind