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How Much Weight Can Sled Dogs Pull? Canine Facts & FAQs

Brooke Bundy

By Brooke Bundy

Dogs pulling a sled in the snow

A team of sled dogs seems to glide effortlessly across the tundra floor of snow and ice, pulling their driver and sled as if they weigh nothing . Back in the days when sledding was more commonly a necessity to arctic life, rather than a hobby or sport, as it is often used today, teams often carried deliveries weighing up to 5,000 pounds (around 2,200 kg). Since the teams generally averaged eight dogs that weighed about 50 pounds each, these working dogs pulled over 100 times their weight.

In modern times, trained dogs can usually pull up to three times their bodyweight, with extensive training needed if they are to pull more. The history of dog sledding reveals that the practice relied more on building strength and undergoing rigorous obedience training than finding a particular breed to do the job.

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The History of Dog Sledding

Before the days of Amazon and air-drop mail delivery, frozen settlements in places like North America, Siberia and other Arctic regions, relied on the strength of the sled dog to deliver essential supplies to remote places. During the Alaskan Gold Rush, sled dogs became popular in literature, for example, as the main characters in Jack London’s classic book The Call of the Wild. Tales of their heroism reached the continental United States after Balto and his team delivered the antidote for diphtheria to Nome, Alaska. Once snowmobiles, airplanes, and trains became more common during the 1960s, dog sledding has largely transitioned from a necessity of life to a sport that many enjoy watching or participating in.

How Much Weight Can an Individual Sled Dog Pull?

A lone sled dog with harnesses
Image Credit: Michelle_Raponi, Pixabay

Before you hook your dog up to the front of your skateboard,, you should know that sled dogs undergo intense conditioning to reach their esteemed status. In general, a healthy active dog can pull up to three times its weight. The average Husky weight is around 50 pounds, which means that a single sled dog can pull up to 150 pounds of weight, and conditioned sled dogs have been known to carry 30 times their weight!

However, a Husky’s paws were created for pulling carts across snow, not grating against coarse suburban sidewalks. In these types of environments, they really shouldn’t pull more than their own weight in order to prevent injury.

How Much Weight Can a Sled Dog Team Pull?

The average dog sledding team has eight members. But depending on the total weight of the sled and the length of the course, anywhere from 2 to 24 dogs may be part of the team. That being said, if the average 50-pound sled dog can carry up to 150 pounds, and the average sled dog team has eight members, that means the team can potentially carry up to 1,200 pounds.

However, most sled dog teams today don’t carry that much weight. In the Iditarod, the total weight of the sled, the musher and the supplies can weigh up to 500 pounds. But many sled dog excursions limit the weight of the sled and supplies to no more than 350 pounds. Modern sleds only weigh about 30 pounds, since dog sledding races focus more on mileage than weight, but will often be up to 100 pounds when laden with supplies.. For example, the Iditarod race takes place over 1,000 miles of frozen land. Teams must have no fewer than 12 dogs in the competition, and usually no more than 14 or 16.

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Roles of Sled Dogs

A group of sled dogs
Image Credit By: jackmac34, Pixabay

Different dogs serve specific roles on a sled team. The leader or trail runner takes their position in the very front of the team. It’s important that this alpha dog is respected by the other members of the pack, and imperative that they carefully obey the musher’s voice. Occasionally, two leaders are used. The two dogs in a pair behind the leader are known as the swing dogs. They literally guide the team to swing left (haw) or to the right (gee) at the musher’s command. The dogs in the middle of the pack provide most of the pulling strength and are simply known as team dogs. Finally, the last dog or two in the line by the sled are known as the wheel dogs. These are always the strongest canines in the pack.

Which Breeds Are Considered Sled Dogs?

Did you know there are no breed restrictions for dog sledding? While the fluffy Siberian Husky or Belgian Malamute may come to mind when we imagine a sled team, any healthy, strong dog who can pull a sled is welcome to compete. Usually, though, these dogs weigh at least 35 pounds but less than 90 pounds.

Some popular sledding breeds include:

The “Alaskan Husky” actually isn’t a particular breed, but rather a type of dog that’s been selectively bred from a wide gene pool for sledding. These dogs might have any number of dog breeds, from Irish Setters to Siberian Huskies, in their blood.

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Conclusion

The sport of dog sledding has its roots in a mode of transport that, until the mid-20th century, was essential to life in the arctic. The breed of dog used is not so important when selecting a sled team; performance, strength and obedience are of much greater consequence than pedigree.

Although historically, sled dog teams have been known to pull cargo of 100 times their own bodyweight, in modern times, loads of three times their weight are fairly standard. These dogs undergo rigorous training before they are strapped into a harness, so it’s not a good idea to ask your family pooch to start pulling you around the neighborhood!


Featured Image Credit: Top graphic, Pixabay

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