The Iditarod just finished up this weekend, and as connoisseurs of winter gear here at BaxterBoo (and no strangers to the cold and snow), we had to take a look at what the dogs are wearing to fight against the bitter cold of Anchorage, AK.
Apparently, not much gear is needed at all for the furry canine competitors, despite the fact that temperatures can reach below freezing during the race. The mushers are bundled up head to toe, of course, but dogs usually do not need anything more than a set of booties and perhaps some protective gear to guard the male dogs', shall we say, more tender body parts. While in the midst of all the action, the dogs are generating enough heat to stay warm.
But it’s always better to be safe than sorry. At checkpoints, mushers often bring out fleece dog coats (like the Climate Changer by RuffWear, for example) to keep the dogs warm as they take a needed breather. During the required 24-hour rest, insulated dog coats (much like the Hurtta winter jacket or the Cloud Chaser by RuffWear) are helpful so dogs can stretch out and rest while still remaining insulated in order to recover more fully before they continue the race.
Most of the sled dogs that race in the Iditarod are a mixed breed, the Alaskan husky, which is not officially recognized by the AKC. There are no special requirements, though, apart from being a “sled dog,” which according to the Iditarod official website is a “northern breed dog” that has natural fur coats to protect them against the elements. Of course, speed and endurance are key, which is why the Alaskan husky is the most common breed to race.
Depending on the individual dog’s skills, build, and intelligence, they are given different roles on the team. The lead dogs are placed at the front of the pack, and they are usually the quickest and most intelligent of the bunch. The swing dogs are in the middle, and they help navigate curves and turns. The wheel dogs are the power behind the sled. The remaining dogs are the known as team dogs.
The brunt of the care during the race falls on the mushers. This includes checking that the dogs’ boots are still intact (often times, they go through several sets) and that the paws are healthy and unharmed, massaging sore and tired muscles, feeding and hydrating their dogs regularly, watching for hypothermia or exhaustion, and issuing medication or first aid as needed. Keeping them well fed is in and of itself a chore, as the average sled dog needs 10,000 to 12,000 calories a day to fuel!
But mushers say it is all worth it. The canine-human bonding that takes place during a race like this, not to mention the amount of time spent training beforehand, is matchless. Many mushers enjoy the solitude spent with their sled team, and they spend the several days of the race working together and caring for one another in ways that no other experience can offer.
That alone almost—ALMOST—makes me want to give it a shot. But my cat and I also have this warm cup of coffee and a fireplace to curl up next to, and the sun sure is shining here in Colorado.
On second thought, maybe we’ll just watch from afar.