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Things Travel Writers Don’t Tell You About Dog Sledding

January 22, 2014 at 2:48 PM | by | ()

Doesn't it look so innocent, so fresh, so beautiful? Man's best friend frolicking through the fresh snow? It's a postcard, for sure, but hardly the reality of what you experience on a dog sledding adventure.

When we first went dog sledding last year, it was the history, importance, and necessity of it to past cultures that interested us. The novelty of being pulled through the woods by a pack of dogs was what we had read about from other writers before signing up for the outing, and a taste of this was what we expected to get for our money.

Boy, were we surprised what else we tasted. It didn't take long to realize that there are many things about dog sledding that typically get left out of most accounts, and to say that they are glorified would be an understatement. For those who are considering trying it out on their next trip, you might be interested to hear what it's really like.

Because it wouldn't be fair to generalize our experience to every outfitter in the world, and because there are differences in opinion about whether the dogs live good lives or not, we are not going to debate ethics here -- it's simply a different discussion altogether. But, you can feel free to draw your own conclusions from the bottom two photos. Regardless of whether the dogs are "happy," we quickly realized that this was no heartfelt family operation. This was mass tourism, the dogs tied to 6-foot chains and sharing wooden box shelters.

Walking through the "kennel" area, your nose takes over, delivering the smell of dozens of dogs who are being kept in a small, albeit open-aired, area. It's littered with poop and pee, the dogs standing and rolling in it, so watch your step. You can walk up and pet them, but we wouldn't recommend lowering your head for a kiss -- we saw a few gobbling up their own feces.

The anticipation and process of getting on the sled is probably the best part, because that's where you can hear the creaking of the wood and appreciate the skill that it takes to operate and steer. You would think that would continue throughout the duration of the ride, but once you actually sit down on the sled, it starts to get weird again.

The dogs are by no means patient. From the moment they are attached to the sled, the barking begins. Obnoxious barking. Howling. Growling and bickering at one another. More barking. This is true not only at the point of departure, but also whenever the sled stops out in the field. Once the sled gets moving, everything is finally peaceful. "The dogs are happy now," my guide said as we took off into the field. "They are happy now."

This is another brief moment you can really take in, the dogs working together to pull the sled, following the verbal comments of the driver. But that soon fades, too, as the dogs begin to poop and pee while running. We didn't think this to be possible, and it was impressive at first in a humorous way, but your downwind position allows them to get the last laugh. Here you are zipping through this beautiful wilderness, and all you can taste are the farts being squeezed out of the back end of a dozen dogs.

Now, perhaps you are a person who can overlook these aspects and enjoy the bigger picture. If that's the case, more power to you -- go for it. But we couldn't get off the sled fast enough. There was too much in the air that didn't sit well with us, both literally and figuratively. Dog sledding is an old, great tradition, but... we think some things are better left in the past.

[Photos: Will McGough]

Archived Comments:

Dog Sledding

I agree with you that this kind of sled is a tradition from the past. However, Dog sledding is something you should try if you like the idea of being pulled through Iceland's incredible scenery by a cute pack of huskies.

Things Travel Writers Don't Tell You About Dog Sle

Sled dogs are born to run, much like many horses are born to ride or pull carts. The dogs love to run and are in fact the most elite endurance and long distance athletes on the planet, bar-non. They have little problem running over 100 Km in a day. And that is why they bark so much when being hooked up or when you stop a dog team from running on the trail. They are extremely excited and want to run so they are saying to you "hey, why are we standing around? we came out to run, let's go! let's go!" And the smell? Have you ever walked through a horse stable? What did that smell like? You have a very naive idea of what it is like to be with animals. Perhaps on your next vacation you should consider Disney Land.

Re: Things Travel Writers Don't Tell You About Dog

Never said other animals don't smell, nor did I say the dogs didn't like to run. You're being a little defensive, I think. I described the reality of my experience and my reaction to it -- something I think people who are going to spend their money on it will appreciate knowing going into it. Just because I didn't enjoy myself doesn't make me naive. And closing your comment with a backhanded insult does not make your point any stronger. Relax. A mass tourism operation, such as the dog sledding outfitter in the last two pictures, might as well be Disneyland. It's completely designed for tour buses and is in no way an authentic experience. I am not telling anyone not to do it. I say in the final paragraph that if the things I describe above don't bother you, then go for it. The point of the article is to make them known, because I never see anyone talk about them, and they surprised me because I was picturing a pristine experience. Since they don't bother you, have fun and enjoy. It's okay to disagree with me, and you can do so in a non-hostile way.