How to train a sled dog

Sled dogs are beautiful, from pup age onward, and are becoming increasingly popular thanks to Disney films and the like. As such, I now receive calls fairly frequently from slightly panicked owners asking me how to train a sled dog, as someone else has just told them that they are impossible to train! So I’m going to use this article to address what’s important to them, why they are different and how to train a sled dog in one fell swoop (hopefully!)


What’s important to a sled dog

Sled dogs are canines ultimately. They are very close to their original form (the wolf), and just like for wolves and other canines the most important thing to them is survival, and survival boils down to a few small things:

  • Keeping safe from danger
  • Finding food/being fed
  • Staying together as a pack
  • The pack having proper leadership in place

The leader of the pack is looked upon to keep the pack together, fed and safe from danger. They would also make any major decisions required for the pack (including things like who should breed).  So the most important thing to your sled dog is for him or her to know who is the leader of your pack, and that it isn’t them!

Why are sled dogs different?

I answer that question with a question or two – are they?  Different to what?  One lady I helped a little while ago had taken on a husky puppy and said that she never would have done if she’d known how different they were.  Her belief that they were different had only come from hearsay – and in reality, the popular opinion is all a myth anyway.

As mentioned above, the most important thing to a sled dog is leadership. This is also the most important thing to a poodle, a chihuahua, a staffie, a labrador and so on.  The breed affects the physical size and look of the dog, but ultimately they are all the same species, and operate on the same instincts.

There is a degree of thought that because they were bred to pull, that they will pull and pull when you try to walk them.  All this breeding means is that when they pull (which I have known every breed of dog I’ve ever met to try to do), they are very strong with it.  You can still train them not to (and I’d strongly recommend that you do).

The sled dogs who are still used today do not pull relentless at all times, they pull when they understand that is what is required of them at that moment.  When it is no longer required, they stop!

How to train a sled dog

If you want to train a sled dog, you need to get into a leadership role, in a way that your dog understands. This means learning to speak their language, rather than trying to train them using ours. It’s really quite simple once you know how. You have to be committed and determined to get things right, as these big strong dogs will let you know if you aren’t.

Huskies, Malamutes, Samoyeds and all their similar breeds can all be wonderful pets. Just don’t get one if you aren’t prepared to put in some effort. But then I say that to anyone who is considering getting any kind of dog!

You might be interested to know that multiple non-sled dog breeds have been used to pull sleds in the past, including Newfoundlands, St Bernards, Labradors, Poodles and Pointers. Any breed has the potential to be taught to pull, and every sled dog has the potential to be a delightful family pet, as long as you get the leadership right. A good place to start is with the Dog Listener by Jan Fennell.


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