What is sledding?
Dryland dog sledding, as it is known here in Australia, is an adaptation of traditional forms of sledding that suit our climate and conditions. It is a great way to exercise your dog in the winter months. That’s right dryland dog sledding is a winter sport, as the temperatures must be under 15 degrees Celcius for the safety of the dogs.
Dogs wear a purpose-made harness and are attached by a special line, to either the human (for canicross) or a scooter, bike or rig. Mushers and dogs begin at a start line, and go out one team at a time, in approximately 30-second intervals. For canicross there is usually a mass start, with all teams at the start line together, and for rig classes, the intervals between teams may be longer, like 1- minute.
Teams race through bush tracks, following a set of markers, and complete the course at the finish line to the happy cheers and calling on, from spectators and other event participants.
Most events have 2 heats and the fastest team over the weekend wins the class. There may be prizes like sashes, ribbons, medals or trophies for place getters and sometimes even last place, which is called ‘Red Lantern.’ The history of the ‘Red Lantern’ stems from Iditarod traditions dating back to 1953.
What breeds of dog can do dryland dog sledding?
The sport isn’t just for Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes. Most medium to larger sized dogs are capable of competing in dryland dog sledding, and if they like to run and pull and have energy for days, perhaps it’s time to consider getting involved. Some of the dogs that have participated in this sport over the years include Huskies, Malamutes, German Shorthaired and Wirehaired Pointers, German Shepherds, English Pointers, Dalmatians (deaf ones at that too), Labradors, English Bull Terriers, Border Collies, Dobermans, Rottweilers, Samoyeds, Eurohounds, Alaskan Huskies and crossbreeds of these and other dogs.
What happens on a race weekend?
A race weekend is held in a bush location and involves camping with your dog/s. Often participants arrive by about noon on a Saturday, set up their campsite and check-in with the race organisers at a set time. There is a race meeting, usually between 3 pm and 5 pm on Saturday, which all entrants must attend. Here you will be introduced to the Race Marshall for the weekend, who will provide you with information about the temperatures and tracks. A start time will also be given for the first heat.
The PEEWEE class is run between the race meeting and the first heat. Afterwards, the classes are run, often starting with canicross first, as the temperatures can be slightly warmer than for the other classes. There is about a 10-minute break between classes, and the last classes of the evening are the rig classes.
On Sunday morning, another race meeting is held, updating participants about temperatures and tracks (as things can happen overnight). The running order is reversed in the morning, with the rig classes going first and PEEWEES being the last event of the weekend.
After all the heats are completed, it’s time to pack away your campsite while race officials finalise timing. When called, a presentation is held, with the winners announced. Afterwards, you may have some more packing to do, before you head back home.
What do I need to get started?
You WILL need some specialised equipment to do any of the ‘sledding’ classes.
Aside from needing a dog and a helmet, the next thing you should do is meet up with people who are already involved with the sport. They can suggest the best harnesses for your dogs, which every dog must wear. Lines and scooters may be borrowed in the early days and it really is best to try a range of scooters that are available to see which you like best. This will save you money in the long run. Then you can think about purchasing your own equipment.
Go for runs with experienced mushers and listen to any advice they might give. Then, look out for training sessions being run and start attending them. If you are near Busselton or Collie, please get in touch with us, and we can help you get started. If you live in Perth, the Western Australian Sleddog Sports Association run ‘Beginner Try Outs’ and a ‘Beginners Course,’ along with weekend training, and may also offer some evening sessions during the week, weather permitting.
Finally, follow the three sleddog clubs in WA on Facebook and stay up-to-date with event information: us – Running West Sleddog Club, Dryland Sleddog Club and WA Sleddog Sports Association (the latter two, race under the Australian Sleddog Sports Association (ASSA) rules and guidelines.
What equipment do I need for sledding?
HELMET: For all classes, except canicross, mushers are required to wear a helmet. A standard bike helmet is suitable.
EYE PROTECTION: Dogs can kick up sand, dirt, mud, rocks and other debris so it is a good idea to wear some sort of glasses to protect your eyes.
DOG HARNESS: All dogs must wear a suitable, purpose built harness for sledding. Any other type of harness can cause injuries to dogs as they are not designed for the kind of work the dogs are doing. A correctly fitted and designed harness can make a big difference to your dog. There are many types, and you should try on a few different styles to see which style suits your dog best.
GANGLINE: This is the line that attaches from the back of your dog’s harness to the front of the scooter, bike, rig or running belt. There are a few different styles and configurations, which will be dependent on the number of dogs that need to be attached.
SCOOTER: As a beginner to the sport, you will need a scooter. There are specifications on what is allowed for racing, so make sure you ask someone in the know, before purchasing something from Kmart or the local bike shop.
BIKE: As you gain experience, you may prefer to move to a bike for racing.
RIG: Experienced mushers who are running more than 2 dogs at one time require a rig. Nowadays, these are purchased from overseas.
NECKLINE: When two dogs are running together, they are required to be attached by a neckline, that is attached to each dog’s collar. This prevents them drifting apart while running and prevents them from ‘splitting apart’ should an obstacle present itself.
CUTTERS: All mushers must have a set of cutters on them/scooter/bike/rig when running dogs, whether it be training or racing. In the event of a tangle these may need to be used to cut lines or collars. There are specifications for these; cutters must not have an open blade, so no knives etc. Ask to see what other mushers are using so you know what to look for.
LIGHTS: When you start racing, it is unlikely you will be running in the dark, however when you arrive at training or at night, you will need some form of lighting. Lights can be attached to helmets and scooters/bikes/rigs for use when running dogs, or a headlight will help you out when the conditions are darker. Camping stores have a range of headlights, and bike shops will stock other lights you can use for your equipment.
What other equipment will I need?
For training, racing and camping, you will need water bowls and water for your dog/s.
For race weekends you will need camping equipment. For sleeping arrangements this can be as basic or as fancy as you like, from swags and tents to caravans to motor homes, you will see a range of setups at race weekends. Think about how much comfort you would like, and also how much time you want to spend setting up and packing away camp. It is best to start small, see other setups and add to your own from there.
You will also need other camping equipment like lights, cooking gear etc – the typical camping gear for a weekend away.
Bring additional clothes, including jumpers, wet weather protection, and shoes as sometimes things will get wet and won’t dry in time for the next heat.