What came as quite a surprise during the trip was just how many different looking huskies Per Thore Hansen had in his 72 dogs we used. Take my two lead dogs here, Costella (white) and Clara (black) looked anything but true huskies as I would have known them, but what a team!
The traditional view we arrived with was as that of a huge Siberian husky but they are apparently no good at running or for endurance. As a result we had a real heinz mixture of crossbreeds but they all had a few traits in common:
1. They are quite happy to fight each other!
2. They will run forever
3. They are very hardy animals
4. They will do whatever you tell them unless Per Thore tells them otherwise
5. Oh yes, they can howl for Norway!!
But just like a box of broken biscuits, although they may be less than perfect in some regards, the outside packaging belies what truly lies beneath, and you often find the nicest contents. That was truly the case on this trip.
These are not the fireside loving pets you have at home though. They are bred for a purpose – to work – and that is where they are in their true element. The two lead dogs set the pace of the team, and the two dogs at the rear (in a four dog setup) are known as the ‘wheel dogs’ and they are the main pulling power.
Here’s Toq and Nanuk who were the engine room of my team.
Here’s a few facts we learned on the trip:.
- The dog’s capillaries (I think that’s blood vessels to you and me) stop about half an inch from the skin, so they don’t lose heat.
- The dogs don’t drink water. They put their face down in the snow when running for a refreshing mouth wash. We have to prepare a ‘soup’ of reindeer meat, biscuit, and melted water for the dogs to get fluid inside them at the end of a run.
- Each dog has its own harness and its own position in the team. The lead dog always has to be harnessed and placed on the main sled gangline first, otherwise apparently the other dogs will fret as they have no leader.
When we stop for the day a chain is slung on the ground and tethered down. The dogs are secured by shorter chains to it for the night. The instructions are that the team come off the main harness in reverse order, which means the lead dog comes off last.
The chains are just short enough to stop them fighting with each other during the night, although as the bitches on heat found it wasn’t so short to stop the advances of an amorous male!
The needs of the dogs always come first. They are fed before the mushers eat, and they are bedded down before we got to collapse at the end of a hard day. They are always fed first in the morning to be able to digest their food before a run (while our breakfast digests on the trail). This soon became accepted as without them we were going nowhere.
The huskies we had all became friends and fellow team members very quickly, and competition was fierce over who had the better dog team. Over dinner each person on our trek would continually rave about how well (or otherwise) their dogs had done that day, and we spent many hours extolling the virtues, or in some cases the flaws, of our own team.
Oh yes, they can read as well…! See the gallery page for some other photo’s of the dogs.