Dog sledding has been around since the 1920s, and it’s fascinating to see a pack of dogs working as a team to finish a grueling race. But how much do we really know about sled dogs? Do sled dogs wear boots? What kind of boots do sled dogs wear? Like humans, can sled dogs get frostbite without boots on?
Do sled dogs wear boots? Yes, sled dogs wear boots for paw protection. Wearing boots protects every part of their paws, and prevents injuries and discomfort. Dogs also wear boots sometimes while training for races.
In this article, we will discuss the importance of boots on sled dogs, and sled dog races. What makes an excellent pair of dog booties? How to care for sled dog boots, and proper canine foot care before, during, and after a race.
The Importance Of Boots On Sled Dogs
Most people find it delightful to see a dog in boots or shoes, but these are more than just for looks or aesthetics. Boots actually serve a useful purpose for sled dogs, especially during races. Let’s dive deeper into how dog sledding began, why sled dogs need to wear boots, and when they need to wear them.
A brief history of dog sledding
Back in the 1920s, sled dogs were primarily used as a mode of transportation in the Arctic Regions. They were fast, reliable, and strong. They love running, have thick fur and incredible stamina designed for cold climates.
In the past, it was typical to see only one dog pulling a light cargo, usually firewood and other supplies. Eventually, more dogs were added to the line, forming a dog sled team. Dog sledding became an official sport in 1908 and then attracted more participants.
The common breeds groomed to race include Siberian Husky, Alaskan Malamute, and Samoyed. Although Huskies and Malamutes are more popular. They have their individual strengths and weaknesses, but can all pull a great weight and navigate well as a pack.
Did you know Huskies can pull you on a bike? It’s called bikejoring.
Alaskan Malamutes make great outside dogs. You can read more about this breed here.
A team of sled dogs can travel fast up to 20mph. One team of sled dogs consists of the lead dog, the swing dogs, the team dogs, and the wheel dogs.
Why do sled dogs need to wear boots?
Essentially, sled dogs need to wear boots for paw protection. You wouldn’t go out in the snow barefoot! The same concept applies to dogs.
Although they have thicker soles and stronger endurance in cold temperatures, boots keep their paws in tiptop shape.
For more extreme usage, boots help dogs running in sled races and prevent injuries. Wearing boots prevents abrasions and protects the bottom of their paws and toes.
When do sled dogs wear boots?
Sled dogs, or any dog for that matter, should wear boots whenever it gets too cold to be on their paws. In essence, boots protect their paws and limits exposure to extreme temperatures.
There is no specific breed that should wear boots. Any dog exposed to too much heat or too much cold should wear shoes or boots for health and safety precautions. Dogs can even wear boots when hiking or camping in the desert.
Dogs have different temperature thresholds. In general, dogs should wear shoes in the following circumstances.
Exposure to snow or ice for long hours
This is most applicable during sled dog races since household dogs don’t usually stay out in the snow for too long.
Extreme heat or cold
Extreme heat can burn dog paws while extreme cold can cause frostbite. Either way, wearing booties provides comfort and prevents injuries.
Protection from chemicals during winter
Salted roads can be extremely dangerous to dogs. They can lick their paws and ingest too much salt, which is detrimental to their health.
Playing outside during wintertime
Even in your backyard, your dogs paws need protection from rough surfaces, broken glass, splinters and more.
Famous Dog Sled Races
There are two famous races in dog sledding, namely the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Yukon Quest 1,000 Mile Race
Yukon Quest is an international dog sled race that has been held annually since 1984. It follows a thousand-mile trail that runs between Whitehorse, Yukon, and Fairbanks, Alaska.
The race lasts between nine to 14 days, depending on the weather and trail condition, and team speed. Although regardless of the weather, it starts at the exact time and day announced. It can have up to 50 teams of participants competing at the start of the race. Each team must have at least six dogs and not more than 14.
The trail has 9 to 11 checkpoints where teams check-in for gear evaluation and dog health inspections. Mushers then have access to their food drops, dog straw bedding, food, water, and their allocated spot to rest. They can also take this time to look up weather conditions and prepare for the next phases of the trail.
The First Yukon Quest champion was 1984 winner Sonny Lindner. He completed the race in just over 12 days. The fastest Quest team was led by Allen Moore with a record of 8 days, 14 hours, and 21 minutes in 2014 with his lead dog Quito.
To see the Yukon Quest in action, view the video below.
Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race
The Iditarod Race was organized to keep the Alaskan dog sledding culture alive and recognize the Iditarod Trail. It is a celebration of Alaskan Huskies which were almost phased out in the 1970s after the introduction of snowmobiles.
The trail runs for 1,150 miles (1,850 km) from Anchorage to Nome. The race occurs between 9 to 19 days, with 60 to 100 teams participating. There are two routes. The northern route has 26 checkpoints and the southern route 27 checkpoints.
The Iditarod Race is grueling, with harsh terrain and brutal weather conditions. Waist-deep snow, wind, blizzards, and bright sunny skies could all happen in the same day.
The mushers are allowed up to 16 dogs with no less than six dogs at the end of the race. The fastest Iditarod finisher was Mitch Seavey, with a record of 8 days, 3 hours, and 40 minutes.
For coverage of a recent Iditarod Trail Sled Race, view the video below.
The Importance of Boots for Sled Dog Races
It’s one thing to have dogs wear boots when in your backyard, and another thing to have your dogs compete in a thousand-mile race.
For an ordinary dog owner, boots are not really necessary when it’s not wintertime. So how crucial are dog boots exactly when it comes to sled dog races? What boots do sled dogs wear?
Imagine running on snow with nothing but socks on. It can get extremely cold real quick, and with a strong tendency for ice balls formation.
Overall, this feels very uncomfortable. The same happens with dogs and their paws.
Dogs may occasionally need boots for outdoor activities. But when it comes to dog sledding or official dog sledding races, sled dogs are required to wear boots.
Sled dog races are physically taxing, thus it’s crucial that their paws have the proper protection.
Having durable and weather-resistant boots prevent ice balls from forming between dog’s toes. These also allow them to run better on rough terrain, considering that they can run 100 miles non-stop.
Frostbite can be prevented with the use of an excellent pair of dog boots, enabling the dogs to run at their peak.
Boot requirements for sled dog races
In both the Iditarod Race and Yukon Quest racing rules, sled dogs must have a minimum of 8 boots (2 sets of boots) per dog for the duration of the race.
Sled dogs should wear winter dog boots that provide protection for their paws and meet the race standards.
Each dog also needs to change boots at every checkpoint. Thus a single musher prepares 1,000 to 3,000 individual booties for a single race each time.
Features of Excellent Boots for Sled Dogs
Walking or running on snow can be fun, but it requires proper clothing, much more if you’re racing. An excellent pair of sled dog boots are always durable and long-lasting. But what specific features should you look for when shopping for dog boots?
You want a pair that’s water-resistant, durable and reliable for long trails. A great pair shouldn’t have the dog boots worn out and soaked in the first phase of the race.
If it’s a shorter trail in a lesser race, it’s better to invest in water-resistant boots. Even better if they’re weather-resistant, which you can use day in and day out.
Waterproof boots are even better than water resistant boots.
Textured and rugged
Another feature to look out for quality dog boots is its sole durability. You want them slip-resistant for that no-fail traction. You don’t want your dogs tumbling on their toes during the race because the boots are doing more harm than good. A pair of dog boots with great rubber soles helps with balance, performance, and safety.
Like with human boots, a good pair of dog boots should fit snug on your dog’s paws. You don’t want your dogs’ slipping and and risking injury due to ill-fitting boots.
It should go on and off easily, have adjustable straps to secure the ankles, and feel comfortable.
A reflective Velcro helps detect the boots easily, although this is entirely optional. This is especially useful when training or sledding at night.
How Do Sled Dogs Keep Their Boots On?
If dogs train day in and out and run for miles at races, you might be wondering how exactly they keep their boots on?
Like human boots, dog boots go past or just right on the ankles for a secure fit.
You can tell you got a great pair of boots when you can fully zip them and securely fasten the straps around the ankle. This gives an excellent, tight hold that allows the pack to run for miles without hurting their paws or having footwear malfunction.
Right boots size
The right pair of boots is neither too loose nor too tight. It should fit perfectly on your dog’s paws, providing both safety and the best level of comfort.
If you’re not sure what boot size to get, you can always measure your dogs’ paws by hand for more accuracy. Place the dog’s paw on a paper flat to get the paw marks, and measure with a ruler. You can then compare it with the boot sizes available in the brand you prefer and get the best size for each of your dogs.
How Long Do Boots Last During Training and Racing?
There is no specific answer to how long boots last, whether during training or at the race proper.
It ultimately depends on the terrain and the type of boots.
Ideally, a dog can enjoy over a dozen wearings of the same pair of winter boots during dog walks. Though, much less on gravel or if playing and running in the park. On average, a single musher prepares 1,000 to 3,000 booties per race for a pack of 16 dogs.
High-quality dog booties can either last long training sessions or multiple times of wear during daily walks. A great pair of dog booties can last longer since each checkpoint requires dog boot replacement before you proceed. High-quality booties are tough, water-resistant, and have great Velcro hold, for all-weather use.
On the other hand, some inferior boots don’t guarantee much power and performance. This type of boot is not recommended for races, as long-trail dog sledding standards are not met.
Trail Boots for Sled Dogs: Pros and Cons
With the influx of dog boots, with different materials, and design, it could be quite overwhelming to decide which one is best for your pack. On top of that, some people like to encourage DIY projects if you have a knack for improvised crafts.
For this article’s benefit, we will focus on three different trail boots for sled dogs, and discuss each one’s pros and cons.
Cordura 330 Denier Dog Boots
330 denier fabrics are known to be lightweight and flexible, which is why these Cordura dog booties are preferred for everyday wear. These are great for beginner sled dogs since it feels like just wearing socks. They’re flexible and comfortable and provide the right amount of protection and mobility. Their sock-like material also makes them breathable booties.
On the downside, Cordura 330 dog boots are not recommended for use in extreme weather as they are not as weather-resistant as other dog boots. It’s also only suitable for dry snow. Melted ice can seep through the boots, which can be uncomfortable for your dogs.
Kipmik Dog Boots
Kipmik Dog Boots are a great choice if you’re looking for low-budget booties for training. They cost as low as $1.50 per bootie and provide excellent traction. They stay on great and feel comfortable for casual everyday wear.
As for the cons, they’re not very durable for long-time wear, they don’t have waterproof fabric, and do not protect against wet salt. These also don’t have a reflective design, so it’s not suitable for nighttime use.
Iditarod Race Dog Booties
Sled dog races require dogs to wear boots for their safety and protection against terrain, weather conditions, and the race itself. The Iditarod Race doesn’t require any specific dog booties. Dog boots vary in design, size, and durability.
The best pairs of Iditarod race dog booties are made of lightweight Cordura material and reliable non-skid soles. They also feature water-resistant fabric, Velcro adjustments, durable build, and overall comfort. You can quickly tell when booties correctly fit the paws: the dogs can walk and run, as usual.
How To Care For Sled Dog Boots
Dog boots can be easily worn out from excessive use alone, so it’s best to avoid washing them in a washing machine.
At best, carefully wash them with your hands and only if needed. Dog boots are reusable by nature, so you can use them multiple times until they wear down.
Proper canine foot care
Aside from their diet, sleep, playtime, and training, it’s essential to pay close attention to your dogs’ paws.
Examine every part to ensure their paws are clean and healthy.
Dogs’ nails contribute to a dog’s performance or lack thereof. Long unkempt nails can make holes in their boots or give an uneasy feeling when walking or running a race.
File their nails regularly and trim them once a month. Invest in booties to cushion their pads and make sure they get enough downtime. Even short accumulated walks can still wear them down and prevent their paws from being in the best condition.
Pad callous’ can easily be fixed with Kerasal ointment. You may also wrap a bandage around the paws to ensure they don’t lick off the ointment. Do this with the ointment freshly applied to keep the paws moisturized longer. This method is most applicable during the dry seasons.
Paw care during and after racing
During training or race proper, change the booties regularly to ensure their paws stay in tip-top shape. You should also examine their toes, pads, and nails during breaks.
Sledding is a strenuous sport for the pack and the musher, so it’s best to remove the dogs’ booties once the race is finished. By then, you can massage an ointment on their paws and let them take a break from all the running.
What equipment is needed for dog sledding?
For dog sledding, the essential equipment includes the sled, the harness, the lines, and the corresponding snow hooks.
Mushers must be in complete and proper sledding attire. They could also have a safety kit and ski poles in their sled. On the other hand, the dogs should be in their booties, jackets, and harness.
For your dog, you should prepare protection against the cold like dog boots and dog jackets.
Do Iditarod mushers carry guns?
Iditarod mushers can carry guns to protect their dogs against moose that display aggressive behavior. This is because, in the past, many pet owners have seen moose stomp on their dogs.
Mushers are allowed to carry guns for safety as per Alaska state law. Should an animal be killed in defense of life or property, the musher must gut the animal and report it to the race official at the next checkpoint.
What are the best dog boots for sled dogs?
- My Busy Dog provides water-resistant boots with anti-slip soles, easy on/off design, and reflective Velcro strips.
- If you’re looking for great comfort and traction, then you’re looking for Muttluks Fleece-Lined Dog Boots. These are breathable boots with water-resistant built and reflective strips for added safety.
- For all-purpose boots, you can bet on Ultra Paws Durable Dog Boots to be an excellent choice for all types of weather. These are great for indoor and outdoor use, they’re easy to take on and off, and even have adjustable Velcro for a better fit.
- Ruffwear Grip Trex All-Terrain Boots are durable in all terrains. Is has simple closure, non-marking sole, breathable mesh, and excellent traction. These also come in several sizes and colors, with reflective trim to boot.