What is a Dog Sled?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A dog sled is a type of sled which is designed to harness to dogs. Dog sleds have been utilized by humans in northern climates for thousands of years, and they continue to be very popular in many regions of the world. They can be ordered through specialty suppliers who make custom sleds for specific purposes, and through outdoor stores and companies which specialize in dog sledding equipment. It is also possible to make a dog sled by hand, for people who are handy with tools.

Huskies are often used in dog sledding.
Huskies are often used in dog sledding.

Dog sleds can be hitched to a single dog, or to a team of dogs. They may be used for human recreation and transport, along with packing and racing. Many Arctic and Antarctic expeditions historically utilized dog sleds to transport people and goods across the ice, and dog teams are still used for this purpose in some rural areas. Racing has been popularized by Alaska's famous Iditarod sledding race, with numerous smaller races and matches occurring in the icy months in many regions of the world.

It is possible to use a toboggan as a dog sled, especially for racing.
It is possible to use a toboggan as a dog sled, especially for racing.

The sled design includes a cargo basket, where people or supplies can be loaded, and runners, long skis which are mounted under the cargo basket. Users stand on footboards which are mounted on the section of the runners which protrudes behind the sled, holding a handlebar to stay on. The dog sled can be slowed or stopped with a brake, and the movement of the sled is controlled by giving orders to the dog team. Most dog sleds also have a brushbow, a sort of front bumper which protects the sled from damage and helps it run smoothly over rough territory.

Two basic designs of dog sled are in use, although there are a number of variations. The traditional version is the basket sled, which is mounted high above the runners, creating a great deal of clearance under the sled. It is also possible to see toboggan sleds which hug the ground much more. Toboggan sleds are often used in racing, and they may be referred to as racing sleds for this reason.

Several breeds of dog are used for sledding. Dog sledders tend to prefer heavy breeds with a lot of strength and endurance, and the animals tend to be large so that they can pull the weight of the dog sled easily. Huskies, Malamutes, Samoyeds, Greenland Dogs, Utonagans, and Tamaskan Dogs are all used for sledding, with some breeders crossing for hybrid vigor with breeds like German Pointers and Poodles. In all cases, the dogs are trained from a very young age to work with other dogs and humans so that sledders have coordinated, focused teams of animals for their work.

The Iditarod pairs humans, or mushers, with their sled dogs as they make their way across over 1100 miles of terrain.
The Iditarod pairs humans, or mushers, with their sled dogs as they make their way across over 1100 miles of terrain.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


Does anyone here use a dog sled or has trained dogs for this purpose?

Can you tell us a little about how the process works? For example, how many dogs are required and how much weight can they pull?Does it take a long time to train the dogs, etc?

I've always wondered if dog sledding is harmful to the dogs. That is, if their health is poorly affected by it or if they have a very hard time pulling the sled? I bet it can't be easily, especially with a heavy person on the sled.


@Laotionne-- I agree with you. Dog sledding was an important form of transportation in northern countries where nothing else could get through the snow. I'm glad that it's still utilized, but I'm kind of against the idea of using it as a tourist attraction.


@Laotionne-- I think dog sledding will be fun and fascinating too. So far, I have only seen it on TV and I would love to experience it in real life. I'm most intrigued by how the dogs coordinate their movements and how they were trained. It must be fairly difficult and I'd like to learn more about that.

I agree that it's not necessary to spend hours or days on a dog sled. Just learning more about how the sleds are made and how the dogs are trained will be enough. I'd be happy if I get the ride on a sled for even half an hour. I'm sure it's a lot of fun to ride on the snow and ice that way.


@Animandel - Here's an idea. Plan your vacation so that it is the same time as the Iditarod. That is the biggest event held in Alaska each year. Tourists flock to the sites near the race route. Talk about long dog sled tours, I think the race is over 1000 miles in distance, and dangerous.


@Animandel - If I were you I would start with a short tour. After a couple hours of being pulled around in the cod by a pack of dogs you might decide there are better ways to spend your vacation. Dog sledding sounds like something I might do simply so I could say I had done it. I can't see this being a really fun activity. Maybe you should consider a cozy cabin with a big fireplace and some skiing.


I am planning a vacation with my family. At this point, the leading destination is Alaska. The scenery and wilderness alone should be enough to keep us entertained for a week. However, I have been reading up on the tourist attractions and the activities we can do when/if we go there.

There seem to be several places that give dog sled tours to visitors. They have tours that last from a couple hours to several days. That might be a good way to get up and close with nature.

Post your comments
Forgot password?