Sled Dog Sledding As A Community
Joint running in a team is a social process, a kind of community system. The success of the functioning of this system depends not only and not so much on the individual qualities of its members, but to a large extent on how they combine with each other. Dragging a sleigh with a person at high speed is beyond the power of one or more dogs. To accomplish such a task you need at least ten, and usually twelve or sixteen medium-sized dogs.
The workload is shared among all team members. The contribution of an individual dog to the general work depends not only and not so much on its ability and desire to run in a harness, but also on its position in the system, i.e., how well the place allotted to the dog in the harness corresponds to its physical capabilities and psychological compatibility with neighboring team members. Each individual dog may be able to run fast, but this is not enough: in the team it must act synchronously with other dogs as part of a single team. With regard to sled dogs, we can speak, on the one hand, of giftedness, talent, that is, the possession of physical qualities (physique, size), which ensure fast running, strength and endurance. On the other hand, in a harness such talent can unfold only under the condition that the rest of the team members possess it equally, not necessarily outstanding.
My description of the social system of sled dog teams is very different from how often it is described. It is widely believed that the dog team looks like a pack of wolves with a leader – the dominant individual. This analogy suggests that the driver plays the role of the pack leader (alpha), dictating the rest of his will, forcing the dogs to work under the threat of physical violence; he achieves the obedience of subordinate animals with a whip, which he clicks in the air, forcing the dogs to run faster. This mythical picture is complemented by stories about the cross between bitches and wolves, which supposedly gives endurance to sled dogs. All this is very far from the truth.
Perhaps someone from the owners of sled dogs and crossed them with wolves, and beat in the harness. As for beating, sometimes harnessed dogs, especially if they are clumsily picked up, begin to bicker and then they have to be hurt so that they do not cripple each other. Crossing with wolves, whose weight reaches 45 kg, may not worsen the qualities of the sled’s offspring, although the endurance of the hybrids is probably less. A cross between a wolf and a dog will have elements of social hierarchical behavior with its dominance, and coordination of efforts in a team will be under threat. The synchronism of running will be difficult to achieve, because wolves are very independent animals, for which individual space is more important than dogs. Wolves usually respond to commands with a posture of submission or unpredictable, and then close themselves. I can not name any features of the wolves, which I would like to see in the dogs of my team. According to Ken Makruri, who studied the northern dogs for a long time and ran a team of Inuit dogs, the Eskimos with whom he spoke simply laughed when it was proposed to cross the dogs with wolves. They also do not believe in the stories mentioned above. Some drivers in Alaska attempted to introduce wolves into the team, but mostly without success. The fictional character of Jack London, the leader of the team of sled dogs Buck, dreamed of being a real wolf and eventually left the world of people, returned to the wild, where he led a pack of wolves.
From my point of view, such stories are a harmful invention. Nevertheless, artistic fiction should be based on reality, and what London has invented does not spare dogs or wolves.
Does anyone in their right mind, having paid five thousand dollars for a leading dog, would let her fight other dogs to see if they would take her for the leader and leader of the team? No driver will condone the conflict between their dogs. After all, it will not only harm the valuable animals, but also unleash aggression between team members, which will negatively affect the quality of the team as a whole. And when a dog is dissatisfied with its position in the team or constantly tries to assert itself, conflicts are inevitable. Dogs should not feel subservient to the driver and demonstrate this.
In a team of twelve or sixteen dogs, the foremost are usually a pair made up of the same sex, male or female. And then how to deal with the idea of a leading figure as a pack leader? Two female leaders? Explicit nonsense! There are several potential leaders in the good team, which allows the driver to replace the leading dogs if they are too tired.
Dogs do not run in packs like wolves. Wolf Pack is a community for joint hunting. A running pack usually pursues prey. And the sled dog runs because the other team dogs run. They are motivated by a factor called social mutual aid. In the joint running of the dog team, there is a certain rhythm that they feel and obey. Sensitive driver also feels his attracting power.
Each dog is a personality, both physical and mental; some animals are cheerful and happy, while others are sullen and forever unhappy with something. Once Charlie Belford gave me a middle-aged dog named Red Reyno, who hated training, but loved racing. Once at the annual competition in Rangli (pc. Maine), I was forced to change the team leader and chose it. And I would have won the race, but 8 km before the finish, she suddenly took the team to the side, and I was not able to return to the track. When I reported this to Belford, he told me that they had traveled with her earlier on that road.
My pets asked me not to leave any dogs in the house when I left for the races, because the dogs left were howling all the time, barking and whining. One day I had to leave Ren at home, whose foot was injured. When I returned a day later, I found her hoarse. Expressing stormy joy at the sight of me, instead of ringing barking, she published a hoarse squeal.
Outwardly, the structure and behavior of the dog may resemble a wolf, but in reality the pursuit of this similarity will be a disservice to dogs. Sled dogs are evolutionarily advanced compared to wolves and are very close to perfection, being able to perform their task better than anyone else. Why spoil them by crossing with wolves?
Breed standard value
A well-trained dog or a carefully crafted dog sled is somewhat similar to a salable ship. Outwardly, maybe not very beautiful, with their appearance they will say a lot to an understanding observer who, the more experienced, the better will appreciate their capabilities.
Running is a form of behavior. Running in a team is a complex behavior. The dog team has a certain organization, and each team member has specific physical qualities that ensure the performance of the task. Sled dogs are neither an ancient breed nor direct descendants of any breed. Running dogs in harness is a relatively young art, not a copy of some ancient skill. The work of dogs and drivers is now more complex and perfect than ever.
I recall a charcoal dog named Tony, whom I purchased from Charlie Belford. By the end of the race, dogs are usually very tired. After the finish, some lie down, buried their noses in the cold snow, others lick their paw, that is, each one does what corresponds to its individual needs. Tony had a habit of burrowing into the snow, and then getting up, shoving himself with his whole body and turning to me with a haughty look, as if asking: “Well, is this what you wanted?” Perhaps my relationship with Tony cannot be called a true symbiosis, but we was a common language that is well understood by people who know dogs closely.