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«Introduction to the 2nd Edition This book is based on a consensus of dozens of the world’s most experienced dog mushers. Here they describe what ...»

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3rd Edition, 2009

Introduction to the 3rd Edition


It has been just over a decade since the 2 Edition of the Mush with P.R.I.D.E. Sled Dog Care

Guidelines were published. During that time, scientists have made great strides in their

understanding of dog physiology, psychology and behavior. Researchers have studied working

sled dogs, with the support of their mushers, some of whom are also Mush with P.R.I.D.E.

members. Many of these research projects have validated sled dog care methods that have been practiced for more than a century. Others have challenged traditional ideas that have persisted among mushers for many generations. This research, in addition to the experience of dog mushers from around the world, has contributed to a better understanding of sled dogs’ needs, and will lead to an increased level of care not only for our sled dogs, but also for companion dogs everywhere.

In this edition of the Guidelines we are following the lead established by Mush with P.R.I.D.E.’s founders and describing sled dog care practices that are humane, practical, relevant and that reflect the best available current information.

Introduction to the 2nd Edition This book is based on a consensus of dozens of the world’s most experienced dog mushers.

Here they describe what they consider to be responsible, humane, and practical sled dog care and training methods. Since it was first published in 1993, this book has become one of the world’s most respected and widely distributed basic resources on good sled dog care.

What is Mush with P.R.I.D.E?

P.R.I.D.E. stands for Providing Responsible Information on a Dog’s Environment. The relationship between sled dogs and humans is one of the oldest bonds of its kind. Modern sled dog owners are proud of their dogs as canine athletes that are bred and trained to do what they love – run as part of a team. Mush with P.R.I.D.E. supports the responsible care and humane treatment of all dogs and is dedicated to enhancing the care and treatment of sled dogs in their traditional and modern uses.



• Table of Contents……………………………………………………………..……. 3

• The Dog Yard and Housing…………………………………………………..….... 4

• Feeding and Watering…………………………………………………….…….… 13

• Training and Conditioning…………………………………………….…….…….. 16

• Basic Health Care …………………………………………………..……….……. 22

• Keeping Your Kennel the Right Size …………………………………….......…. 25

• Whelping and Puppy Raising …………………………………………….…….... 29

• Geriatric Dogs and End of Life Issues …………………………….……………. 33

• Additional Dog Care Resources Recommended by Mush with P.R.I.D.E…... 36

• Appendix: Canine Body Condition Chart ………………..……………………… 38

–  –  –

Space and Location Beginner mushers are sometimes surprised by the amount of space needed for a kennel. A dog yard for 10 dogs will require at least 1,000 square feet of pens, or 1,450 square feet for tethers.

These figures do not include space needed for walkways, out buildings or other facilities. (Note 1) A dry, well-drained area makes life pleasant for both dogs and musher. These conditions are also best for the dogs’ feet and for disease control. A location both visible and audible from a house window allows you to enjoy the company of your animals and alerts you to problems or emergencies.

Locating the kennel on a slight slope or on a high spot will greatly improve springtime drainage.

A low-lying flat area may seem perfectly dry in the summer or winter but a few weeks of standing water during spring thaw will make life miserable for both you and your dogs.

In summer, shade helps keep the dogs cool, and a breezy location helps keep bugs away.

During winter, a sunny area that is protected from wind helps conserve the dogs’ energy. It is best to lay out the dog yard so the ground is exposed to full sunlight for at least part of the day.

Direct sun (ultraviolet light) is one of the best natural means of controlling disease organisms.

However, you should try to provide at least one shady spot for each dog to retreat from the sun’s heat. Ideally, your kennel should be located on a southern aspect adjacent to hardwood (deciduous) trees. The trees will provide summer shade, and after leaf fall the winter sun will improve the microclimate of the kennel.

Planning your dog yard in a way that allows you to do your chores efficiently also allows for more time to care for and interact with your dogs. If you are able to run dogs directly from the yard, it’s well-worth planning a safe takeoff area for runs. Some kennels are set up to allow the musher to leave from the middle of the dog yard to facilitate harnessing. Other considerations include access by vehicles for loading up dogs and for maintenance.


The ideal dog yard surface depends upon its location and the method of confinement. Soil is fine in areas with good drainage. However, keep in mind that soil can harbor disease organisms and therefore requires more diligent feces pick-up. Soil is relatively easy to work with and is easily manipulated to meet your needs. Excessive silts and clays in the surface will produce a rock-hard surface when dry but will slow drainage and become slick and sticky when wet. Adding sand to soil improves its ability to absorb water and also reduces dust.

For wetter locations, sand, wood chips, coarse wood shavings, wooden platforms, or fine, smooth gravel less than ¾ inch in diameter are good surfacing alternatives. Excessive amounts of decaying bedding material increases water retention and can increase the amount of fungi, mites and other organisms that may be harmful to your dogs. Beware of large gravel and stones in the dog yard. If your dogs are rock-eaters, remove rocks larger than 1 inch from the soil. Although many dogs swallow rocks without incident, there have been cases of dogs that have died from rock ingestion.

4 Typical sled dogs love to dig in dirt. Because digging is an instinctive “species typical” behavior many mushers accept the extra work of filling in holes rather than trying to thwart the action.

Other mushers prefer to prevent digging; there are several methods of doing so. One popular method to prevent digging is to cover the ground with sturdy fencing or concrete reinforcing mesh before adding the surface material. Another method is to house dogs on a concrete or plywood surface. This not only precludes digging, it also (and most importantly) prevents your dogs from eating rocks. Plywood floors work well in dry climates and are softer to stand on than concrete. They are also easy to clean and repair, but eventually breakdown and need replacement.

–  –  –


Prevents digging and rock eating.

Easily cleaned with high-pressure water hose and disinfectants.

Less likely to cause chronic joint injuries than paved surfaces.


Can harbor infectious bacteria and fungi within its pores.

Can be difficult to keep dry.

Deteriorates over time, and must be periodically replaced.

–  –  –

Precludes digging and prevents rock eating.

Easily cleaned with high pressure water hosing and disinfectants.

Cons Can be difficult to keep dry Can harbor infectious bacteria and fungi within its pores.

Hard surface can cause chronic injuries to dog’s joints Is abrasive and can cause excessive wear to dogs’ feet and coats.

Is caustic and can cause excessive drying.

The Mush with P.R.I.D.E. Guidelines Committee firmly stresses that dogs should NOT be continuously housed on concrete surfaces. Dogs housed on concrete should be allowed to exercise on other surfaces several hours each day.

–  –  –

Cleaning up dog waste at least once every day makes the dogs’ environment pleasant and helps control diseases such as parvovirus and intestinal parasites. Waste management or “scooping poop” is one of the daily chores all mushers must undertake.

Locate permanent waste disposal or temporary waste storage sites away from water drainages and from any location that may cause ground water contamination, such as wellheads and areas uphill from natural springs. Methods of disposing of dog feces include composting, burial, or removal to a landfill.

Landscaping around your kennel can be both attractive and practical. Begin by removing brush that is an attractant to moose, which have little fear and often have animosity toward dogs.

Remove foxtails and other grasses with barbed or brush-shaped heads that are prone to getting lodged in the soft flesh of dogs’ ears, eyes, throat and respiratory system. Identify other noxious plants found in your area and remove them from your dog yard.

–  –  –

General Considerations:

Even mushers who primarily house their dogs in their own homes need some sort of outdoor confinement system. Mushers with larger teams usually confine some or all of their sled dogs in an outdoor “dog yard”. Whether confining members of a two-dog skijoring team or a 100+ dog racing kennel, the general considerations and methods of confining the dogs remain the same.

The confinement system you choose must provide a reliable and safe means of preventing the dog from escaping. It must allow enough room for the dog to move around freely and engage in “species typical” behaviors such as running or jumping. Materials and hardware used in your confinement system should be durable, reliable and maintained in good condition. Chains or cables used in tethering systems should contain at least one swivel to prevent tangles that can potentially choke your dog.

It is recommended that kennels include a sturdy fence around the perimeter to contain any dogs that may get loose from their primary confinement and to keep unwanted people, wildlife and stray domestic animals away from your dogs. All dog yards should also include fenced pens or runs to confine females in heat, dogs that display dog-directed aggressiveness, sick dogs, or puppies too small to collar and tether. Many mushers incorporate a fenced “play yard” into their kennels where compatible dogs can run and play together.

When planning a dog yard, consider including one or two “extra” spaces that can be used to house dogs while making repairs or modifications to the dog’s normal housing area.


Post and Swivel Tethering Systems:

Tethering is a common, traditional and economical means of confining multiple sled dogs. The only controlled scientific study comparing sled dogs confined by tethers to those confined in pens found no evidence that tethering is either unsafe or inhumane (Houpt K). The most common tethering systems used by mushers allow dogs to interact more directly with their surroundings, musher and handlers, and with teammates.

The tethering method preferred by most mushers involves attaching a chain to a rotation device at the top of a post or pipe, thus allowing the chain to travel in a full circle around the post. One simple rotation device uses a piece of rebar with a 90-degree angle bend and an eye for the chain welded on the end. A hollow iron or steel pipe is driven into the ground to serve as the post. In use, the long arm of the rebar slips inside the pipe allowing the rebar to swing in a complete circle. With this system the post can be easily lengthened in deep snow by slipping a taller pipe of larger diameter over the shorter summer post. Another method to allow for rotation is to bolt the end ring of a chain to the top of a beveled solid wooden post.

Using a top-mounted post and swivel chain system, each dog needs a strong chain of 5 to 7 ft (1.5 to 2 m) in length rotating on a post of about 3 to 4 ft (0.9 to 1.2 m) in height, with at least another 3 ft (1 m), preferably more, buried in the ground. A pole of this height will hold the chain above most snow accumulations. If snow is deeper, provide taller poles and longer chains.

Never use cable to tether dogs to their posts. Cable is much too likely to tangle around legs (in an armpit or hock) and can cinch up like a snare. Cables also have a tendency to fray and break.

The optimal length of the chain is somewhat longer than the height of the pole or post. If the chain is too short the dog will not have enough space to lie down or move around comfortably. If the chain is too long it will drag on the ground too much, increasing the chances for a tangle and spreading and breaking up feces before they can be cleaned up. For soil-based kennels that use tethers, it is best to use elevated tethers to minimize the amount of time that the chain drags on the ground.

The simplest method of tethering sled dogs is the post and loop, or post and chain method. This involves looping a chain around a solidly buried post or pole. The chain should have a large loop, or preferably a large welded steel ring securely built into one end with an S-hook or quick link. The loop or ring should be at least twice the diameter of the post to minimize binding. The post may be either wood or steel, but it must be smooth to allow the chain to rotate freely. The post must also be tall enough so that the chain loop or ring cannot fly up and over the top, especially when the dog jumps up on top of its house. A 5 ft (1.5 m) post is generally adequate.

Where posts cannot be reliably buried, a 100-lb (45.5 kg) concrete block with an eyebolt cast in the center and a swivel attached will adequately secure a 5 ft chain.

Although the post and chain method is easy to set up, it has a few major drawbacks. The chain drags entirely on the ground, stirring up a dust cloud, spreading feces around, and making cleanup much more difficult. Also, the chain often freezes to the ice and snow when the dog urinates on its post. The chain is also more prone to binding around the post than in other methods, so it must be checked several times each day.

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