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Dog sledding facts and history

''The practice of using dogs to pull sleds dates back to at least 2000 BC. It originated in Siberia or North America, where many American Indian cultures used dogs to pull loads.

In 1534, Jacques Cartier discovered the Gaspé Peninsula and claimed the land in the name of Francis I of France. For the better part of a century the Iroquois and French clashed in a series of attacks and reprisals. That's why Samuel de Champlain arranged to have young French men live with the natives, to learn their language and customs and help the French adapt to life in North America. These men, known as coureurs des bois (runners of the woods), were the first European mushers in North America, extended French influence south and west and in 1609, New France controlled all the Canadian Shield. In 1680, the intendant Duchesneau estimated that there was not one family in New France who did not have a “son, brother, uncle or nephew” among the Coureurs des Bois. During the winter, sled became the ordinary transportation in the north of New France.

In 1759, the British army defeated the French at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham and control the Canadian Shield. Many coureurs des bois accepted the British rule and continued to use the sled dog. The French term Marche! becomes Mush! in English.

During the Klondike Gold Rush, many prospectors came in the Yukon with sled dogs. This “Last Great Gold Rush” has been immortalized by American author Jack London in The Call of the Wild. Sled-dog became the common mode of transportation in Yukon and in the new US territory of Alaska.

In 1911, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen used sled dogs in a race to become the first person to reach the South Pole. He succeeded, while his competitor Robert Falcon Scott, who had instead used Siberian ponies, tragically perished.

By the time of the first World War, mushing had spread to European countries such as Norway, where dog sleds were used for nature tours, as ambulances in the woodlands and mountains, and to bring supplies to soldiers in the field.

During the 1925 serum run to Nome, 20 mushers and about 150 sled dogs relayed diphtheria antitoxin 674 miles (1,085 km) by dog sled across the U.S. territory of Alaska in five and a half days, saving the small city of Nome and the surrounding communities from an incipient epidemic.''



''Dog team members are given titles according to their position in the team relative to the sled. These include leaders or lead dogs, swing dogs, team dogs, and wheelers or wheel dogs.

Lead dogs steer the rest of the team and set the pace. Leaders may be single or double; the latter is more common now, though single leaders used to be more common during the mid-20th century. Sometimes a leader may be unhitched (a loose or free leader) to find the trail for the rest of the team, but the practice is uncommon and is not allowed at races. Qualities for a good lead dog are intelligence, initiative, common sense, and the ability to find a trail in bad conditions.

Swing dogs or point dogs are directly behind the leader (one dog if the team is in single hitch). They swing the rest of the team behind them in turns or curves on the trail. (Some mushers use the term swing dog to denote a team dog.)

Team dogs are those between the wheelers and the swing dogs, and add power to the team. A small team may not have dogs in this position. Alternatively, the term may be used to describe any dog in a dog team.

Wheel dogs are those nearest the sled and musher, and a good wheeler must have a relatively calm temperament so as not to be startled by the sled moving just behind it. Strength, steadiness, and ability to help guide the sled around tight curves are qualities valued in "wheelers.".''



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