Most people love dogs. If you don’t, come meet ours and we will change your mind.
More and more people are getting familiar with the dog sledding sport and recreational activity. The oldest known dog sledding dates back to 1000 A.D. and was developed by the Inuit people as a means of transportation.
As both the use of dog in human company and the ancient use of dog sledding, it goes without saying that there will be plenty of interesting twist and turns along the way.
THE FIRST RACE.
It is hard to believe that friendly competition or local rivalry never happened between the natives or after the intrusion of European or Russian conquests happened. But the first known race, proven from writing, happened between two travelers going from Winnipeg, Canada to St. Paul, Minnesota USA in the 1850’s. Later on, that same distance became a part of the annual Red River Derby sponsored by the St. Paul Winter Carnival in Minnesota. The first winner was Albert Campbell in 1917, who after his victory become a local hero of Canada.
2. THE FIRST PROFESSIONAL RACE.
The All Alaskan Sweepstake (Considered the worlds first professional race) founded by the Nome Kennel Club took place in the spring of 1908 and was held annually until 1917. Two legends of dog mushing participated in the race during those years and won several times, the first being Allan “Scotty” Allan and the second being Leonhard Seppala. Another Norwegian, John Hegness, won the first race in 1908 in front of “Scotty”.
The All Alaskan Sweepstake went from Nome to Candle, each team had about 10 or 20 dogs and it was 650km long.
3. INTRODUCING THE SIBIRIAN
The Sweepstake is also credited for having the first musher introducing Siberian Huskies to Alaska. The musher Charles Fox Maule Ramsay (A cousin of the English nobleman with the same name) came to Nome with 60 Siberian Huskies and entered with three teams. One driven by himself, the second of another musher and the third team by John “Ironman” Johnson who won the race in 1910 and 1914.
4. THE WORD MUSH IS ACTUALLY FRENCH.
The word Mush! comes from the French Et marche, or more commonly just marche, meaning “march on”. The French conquers of the Canadian territories are believed to be the first European dog mushers (at least on American continent). As Samuel De Champlain ordered young french men to live together with the natives they learned dog mushing from them after many years of war against the native. These boys were known as Coureurs des bois (runners of the woods) and helped the French expand their territory during the beginning of the 1600’s. As the British overruled the French in 1760’s and many of the Coureurs des bois excepted British rule and continued to do sledding. From these men the English would learn the word Et marche, but they over time pronounced it Mush. Therefrom we have the word Mush.
5. MILITARY DOG SLEDDING.
The American military started using sled dogs as far back as 1901 and all the way up to 1950’s. During the second world war the sledding was used for supply transportation, casualty retrieving and recover of lost equipment. The sled dogs were also organized for combat; the 10th Mountain Division was trained for a proposed invasion of Norway and was the only division with a dog team attached to them. Sled dogs never got sent into combat together with their divisions, even though it came close during the battle of the Bulge.
6. FOUR LEGGED HEROES.
Dog sledding was even a part of the first world war. The Italian army used a form of sled dogs during the war in the Alpine fronts. The French army bought 106 dogs from Alaska, and Allan “Scotty” Allan led them all through Canada and over the Atlantic Ocean. 28 sons of the legendary lead dog Baldy received the honorable medal of “Croix De Guerre” for their heroic service at the front line.
7. THE MODERN DOG SLEDDING IS A CELEBRATION OF HISTORY.
Sledding as we know it today comes from three specific parts of history, the native sledding in Canada and Greenland, the gold rush transport and recreational use with Nome style, and the Scandinavian polar expedition development. They are equally important, no matter the historical age difference, yet some would argue against that as always. Which history is more important or which dog breed is the absolute depends on the owner you ask. A famous quote “A polar dog can be a sled dog, but a sled dog is not necessarily a polar dog” is as true as it can be, and a few people around the world would take offence if you would for example call an Alaskan Husky a polar dog. We will come back to this in the section beneath covering breeding.
8. DOGS HAVE BEEN HUMANS BEST FRIEND FOR A LONG TIME.
Where the domestication of the dog took place is still debated, but the most widely accepted finding of the first domesticated dog remains - dates back to 15.000 years ago. The divergent between dog and wolf is thought to have happened 40.000 – 20.000 years ago.
9. THE IDITAROD IS A PRESERVATION OF HISTORY.
Iditarod came to the light of day in the end of the 60’s, but did not see its full potential until 1973. After that it has been the very soul of modern dog sledding races and is perhaps the soul reason why dog mushing is anything today. The Iditarod changed the long-distance races for the future and has been the race where inventive dog mushers continue to succeed in development of gear and dogs.
Many believe it to be the celebration of the serum race to Nome, but was originally only meant to be a preservation of the cultural importance dog mushing has been throughout the arctic history.
10. ALL CHANGES IS DISLIKED AT FIRST.
The Siberian Husky was bullied at first, called the “Siberian Rats”, but after the astonishing accomplishment during the race, serious mushers adopted the idea of using Siberians in their breeding program. Leonhard Seppala bred his own program, with Siberian Huskies as the foundation, they dominated the racing scene and is now identified as Seppala Siberian Huskies (Seppala Huskies).
Slowly mushers started putting effort into creating the most efficient dog to compete with. Without a serious race like the All Alaskan Sweepstake this would perhaps never have happened. The sleds weight changed to become more light weight than the original mailing sleds. There was put more effort into the dog care, breeding and training than ever before.