Running of the Dogs

If your image of a dog sled team conjures up pictures of Alaska’s 1,100-mile Iditarod race, think again. Dog teams can be fitted for all kinds of jobs.

My family lives in Warren, N.H., on the edge of White Mountain National Forest. We have a four-dog team that hauls us through miles of northern landscape in every season.

When it’s time to work, we can hook our team to a cargo sled or toboggan and use them to haul freight. A four-dog team can pull a 200-pound person 10 miles at an average speed of 15 mph, so they have no problem pulling a bundle or two of kindling, or several buckets of newly tapped maple syrup. They also can follow a snowmobile trail just about anywhere, and there’s nothing quite like visiting a neighbor’s house on a sled.

Dog sledding may not be for everyone, but on a small scale it is far less complicated than you may imagine. We use four Alaskan sled dogs ? Muppin, Charlie, Willow and Laika ? but most draft dogs will do as well. (Try Siberians or Malamutes if you intend to pull greater weights, because they tend to be larger.)

Nearly every northern state boasts a sled dog club. Watch the classifieds. Check Sled Dog Central or Noonsack Racing Supply. Unless you are considering running the dogs in races, you needn’t acquire first-string dogs.

Wouldn’t a snowmobile be easier? Sure. But when our son stands on the runners of the sled, ready to guide the team over a six-mile trail, I inevitably feel pride. The dogs are part of our day, so ingrained in the fabric of our hours that we could not imagine life without them. They are as distinct in our minds as we are to each other.