My Life as a Dog Sledding Guide

In the winter season 2021/2022, I lived my life as a Dog Sledding Guide in Swedish Lapland. I had never worked with animals before nor in the tourism sector. I learnt everything on the job and through the training of my very helpful employers.

Selfie dog sledding in swedish lapland
My daily life!

Here I share my experiences of my life as a Dog Sledding Guide. This is the perfect advice if you are considering being a guide or even if you just want to learn more about dog sledding before taking a trip.

How to find a job Dog Sledding

I found the role on the website workaway.info. Workaway offers work in exchange for food and accommodation. There are also roles that offer payment, these will be stated on the description. I had a video call to talk with my future boss and then I booked flights and the rest is history! My top advice would be to ask as many questions as possible so you know what you will be getting in for. How many hours a day? What time of work do they want you to do? Try to find out all the things important to you and that your expectations are met. If you expect to be sledding all day but actually they want to clean poo all day you might be disappointed.

The dog team waiting to go running

Many kennels will prefer you to work the entire season and it’s normally arranged quite far in advance. It just happened that I was available last minute and because of the uncertainty that covid brought it was the right time right place for me.

Types of Dog Sledding Kennels

There are 2 main type of dog sledding kennels: for racing or for tourists. As well as this, there are also people that have sled dogs as more of a hobby. The type of kennel of course dictates the type of work you will be doing.

Sledding at sunset is my favourite

Did I have experience before I started?

None at all! The kennel where I was usually preferred guides that had experience with either animals or tourism. I had neither of these things but as the kennel was finding it a lot harder to find staff than usual this was ok as our personalities seemed to match when we had phoned each other.

Types of Sled dogs

The stars of the show! There are many breeds of sled dog. Often when people think of a husky, they think of a Siberian Husky which has a beautiful white and grey coat. Siberian huskies are used for sledding but other breeds are too. The kennel where I was at had Alaskan huskies which are not a pure breed so have a huge variation in the way they look.

Hugs with my lead dogs Seb and Dash

What is the daily routine of a Dog Sledding Guide?

My life as a Dog Sledding Guide had a lot of busy days! I worked in a kennel that ran tours for tourists. As well as this, the owners of the kennel competed in races although I was not involved in that at all.

My morning as a Dog Sledding Guide

The day started as it should with dogs – picking up the poo poo! Dogs do lots of poo and it need to be cleaned each day (minimum). As it was in the winter, the poo was frozen so was (mostly!) not smelly. Although the balance to this, each time I cleaned the dogs poo I gave the dogs love and affection to increase the bond.

There’s a lot of face licks working with dogs

After morning poo cleaning, I set up the dogs in the team for the morning tour. The morning tour would normally be me driving the sled while guests sat on my sled. Depending on the amount of the guests, this would be with up to 12 dogs for 1 sled.

After the morning tour, I would do some of the clear up of both the sleds and dogs and then time for a quick lunch break. Before…

My afternoon as a Dog Sledding Guide

Setting up for the afternoon tour! The afternoon tour was usually a tour in which guests could drive themselves. Each sled would have 5 or 6 guests so depending on the amount of guests this could be setting up over 30 dogs ready to run.

After the final tour of the day, I would clean up the sleds and also the areas that the guests have used such as the changing room or coffee area.

Cuddling puppies is a great break from work

Other responsibilities of a Dog Sledding Guide

The dog yard that I was working at organised the work so that each guide did a similar number of tours each day. This meant I didn’t do both tours, if I was back at the dog yard during the tours I was usually cleaning poo poo or shovelling snow. The sledding part is obviously loads of fun but there is a lot that happens behind the scenes for that to be possible.

The work in general was quite physical, I am a lot stronger at the end of the season! Things like carrying large buckets of food, lifting sleds and shovelling snow

The dogs put their face in the snow to cool down

How to drive a dog sled

Driving a dog sled is not that complex but you need to focus to protect the safety of the dogs and yourself. The main thing is to never let go of your sled. The dog team is like an automatic car, they will go and keep going if you don’t stop them!

There are 3 main components of the sled you need to know; the anchor, the metallic brake and the rubber mat brake.

The anchor is used to attached your sled while no one is driving, it can be attached to a pole, tree or even put into the snow to hold your team. Whenever the anchor is not attached you need to keep on the metallic brake to make sure the team doesn’t start too early.

The metallic brake is used as the ‘stop’ brake. This is used for whenever you want to stay still and the anchor is not attached. If needed 2 feet and your whole body weight on the stop brake might be required.

The mat brake is used to control the speed of the sled. It works by putting more pressure, the slower you go. The dogs will want to go at maximum speed especially at the beginning of the run, use the mat to control the speed to be an even pace.

The dogs will go poo poo and pee pee while they are running. They don’t need to stop but slowing down means they can do their business in peace.

Sledding

How do Sled Dogs Know Where to go?

On your first time on a dog sled, you will just need to follow the team in front of you. You don’t know where you are going and don’t need to! Just follow the guide at the distance they tell you and the dogs will automatically follow.

The dogs can also be told to go left and right. Ha: left, gee: right. Although use this at your own risk, if you mix up the directions and tell the dogs the wrong way they will follow your command.

Marshall: he is a true gentleman

How to set up a dog sled team

How the team is set up is actually quite important, the order matters. The leaders are at the front of team. The leaders are the cleverest of the team, they follow the instructions of the musher or the team in front. The positions of the dogs behind them is dependant on the strength of the dog as well as how close they are to the sled.

The dogs each have a harness that is the correct size for them. They are connected to the sled by their collars and the back of the harness. They pull the weight of the sled through the harness and the attachment at the collar keeps them aligned with the other dogs.

Ellie (on the right) was named after me!

How are Sled Dogs trained?

Training the dogs to run is the easy part, they are bred to run and they love it! The hardest  part is training the dogs to be calm and quiet before the run because they get so excited by it. Apart from the commands whilst running (simply: go, stop, left, right) the dogs are trained behaviours in the dog yard. They are trained not to leave their pens unless invited and also to lift their feet to be able to put the sled harness on easily.

My learnings about dog training

When I first arrived, when the dogs didn’t know or trust me, I found it difficult to work with a small number of the dogs. This would be because they would try and be cheeky or not listen to my commands. At first, I thought it was just because these dogs were cheeky. But then I saw them behave perfectly with the owners. I realised it was a me problem not the dog problem.

Changing my tone of voice when I was talking to the dogs made a huge difference. I found the calmer and lower tone that I spoke with meant the dogs matched that energy. If you shout at a dog, they assume you have lost control so then will just be more energy. If you are calm, the dog is calm.  As I developed the relationship and trust with the dogs it was so much easier as time went on.

Piper, one of the retired dogs enjoying cuddles

Is dog sledding abusive?

This is a very big and of course important question. Many tourists are very nervous about participating in dog sledding as they are unsure of the treatment of the animals. To be honest, I was nervous about this too as I didn’t want to participate in any form of animal mistreatment. The kennel that I worked for treated their dogs extremely well and the safety and wellbeing of the dogs was their number 1 priority.

I once had a guest that asked my boss if each of the dogs had names, his response was ‘do your children have names?’.  This is how he sees his dogs, he loves and cares for them as they were his children. As well as this, the dogs are bred to be sled dogs. Running is in their blood and they thrive on it.

I never saw animal mistreatment during my work and the kennel owners made sure to train me to notice any issues with the dogs such as injury or sickness to make sure the dogs were healthy. There are a small minority of people that do not treat their dogs with the respect they deserve, this could also be said about domestic pets. If this is something you are nervous about, make sure to search online about the place you are visiting. If they have had many tourists that have visited and said their dogs look happy and healthy this is normally a good indicator that the dogs are being treated well.

Would I do it again?

Oh yes. This role is possibly the hardest I have ever worked with respect to both the hours and physical movement. It is also one of the funnest and most rewarding positions I have had. Of course the dog sledding is really enjoyable, but when you make big steps in the relationship you have with a dog it just makes you so happy.

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