I thought I’d write this article because I’ve heard so many people say ‘I don’t own a ‘sled dog” when they first take up one of the dog powered sports with their pet dog. What many don’t realise however is that the dog powered sports, which include sledding but also encompass dry land mushing, skijor, bikejor, dog scootering and even canicross, all originated from dog sledding. People first harnessed up dogs to utilise their strength and athleticism to help them move loads across some fairly inhospitable, frozen areas of the countries based in the Northern hemisphere.
My personal background is in canicross, so if you’d said to me when I first started running with my dog that I was participating in a sled dog sport, I would have laughed at you, in spite of the fact my first canicross dog was part husky. I just didn’t see how running with my one dog (who shared my bed at night) could be comparable to running teams of dogs attached to sleds. I have since progressed from canicross to bikejoring, dog scootering and have even run my ‘team’ (three collie crosses) on a rig (three wheeled dog-propelled cart type thing, for those who are unfamiliar with the term).
Now I’ve been in the sports for a number of years, this question of how the sports are classified comes up quite frequently but I’ve learned that the majority of people taking part in ‘sled dog’ events are unaware they are actually competing with their own ‘sled dog’ if you use the term as defined by the International Federation of Sleddog Sports (the current main international governing body for the sports established in 1985).
According to the IFSS definition below, any dog can be classified as a ‘Sled Dog’ for the purposes of competitions run under their regulations.
‘SLED DOG: A sled dog is a dog, irrespective of the breed or type, capable of being harnessed and of competing in one of the classes listed in the IFSS Regulations without a potential, beforehand, to be calculated risk, of harming the dog’s well-being’ – Taken from the IFSS Race Rules
I still think that in the UK the wording of events and organisations using ‘sled dog’ in the title will conjure up images of huskies and not the broad spectrum of breeds who currently attend the growing numbers of races. I would actually even argue that it puts some people off joining a club or attending an event, purely on the basis that they feel it might not be for them and their Jack Russell / Labrador / Border Collie.
The reality is that you will find many different breeds and shapes & sizes of dogs at every open event and you will fit right in with whatever dog you have, as long as it has the enthusiasm to run in harness. There are of course still breed specific clubs running rallies and races but they are easily recognisable by the use of the breed in the club title, for example SHCGB (the Siberian Husky Club of Great Britain).
The dog powered sports have grown so much in the time I have been involved in them and I think in the future there will be further classification of events and potentially the dogs too. One term that has already emerged is ‘mono sports’ and this refers to the dog powered sports which can be run with one dog, so specifically canicross, bikejor and dog scootering. The European Canicross Federation which is the main European organisation for these sports, is focused solely on the ‘mono sports’, although the ECF Championship held in Scotland in October 2015 was the first ever to host a scooter class. Prior to this it had only included canicross and bikejor.
I think as the demand for events grow and the word spreads that the ‘sled dog’ sports can be for everyone, the dog powered sports will gain more publicity and acceptance, which can only be good for the sports as a whole.