How Long Can Sled Dogs Run?

Sled dogs running in the snow

Sled dogs can cover distances up to 100 miles during long-distance races, running about 10-12 hours without significant rest. However, frequent breaks are taken throughout the race to check on the dogs and to feed them smaller snacks to keep their energy up.

Sled dogs are athletes. They are the ultramarathoners of the dog world. Unlike most of our dogs at home, who would be more than happy to lie around all day with us on the couch watching Netflix and eating treats, these dogs are trained to run. And they LOVE it. But how much do most of us actually know about sled dogs?

The first thing that probably comes to mind is the Iditarod in Alaska. The annual sled dog race where mushers (that’s the human) and their team of dogs race from Anchorage to Nome. They cover over 900 miles of snowy terrain in about one to two weeks. 

So, how far can the average sled dog run, and how long can they go without taking a break? How fast do they run, and how do they maintain their energy? We set out to answer these questions for you.

How Far and For How Long Can Sled Dogs Run?

Sled dogs are trained to run. Not only that, they are trained to run long distances at fast speeds while pulling a substantial amount of weight behind them.

Distance

If we take the Iditarod race as a benchmark for the top sled dogs, they run 938 miles in roughly 8–15 days. 

That’s anywhere between 63 miles to 117 miles per day. Of course, the distance they’re able to cover depends on the weather. Many times, these teams are battling blizzards and white-out conditions which can slow them down significantly.

For commercial dog sledders or mushers who practice dog sledding as a fun recreational sport, their daily distance will obviously be lower than that of the top athletes.

Many commercial mushers now offer sled dog rides as a tourist activity, so the primary purpose is for a fun, safe experience for everyone involved. 

There is no need to push the dogs to their limit in these scenarios. Most of those teams of sled dogs could probably do about 50 miles per day, but since they want the dogs ready to run again the next day without exhausting them, they might keep the dogs to something as low as 25 miles per day.

The time of season will affect the dogs’ distance as well. Like with any athletes, the dogs have to train each season to prepare for the races or upcoming trail runs they will do.

Although 30 miles in a day might seem easy for them at the end of the season, it can be really tiring at the start of training in fresh snow.

Duration

A good rule of thumb that mushers use during long-distance races is to rest the dogs for about equal time they run. So, if a team runs for about 4 hours during a race, they will rest for another 4 hours before the sled dogs run again.

Sled dogs can cover up to 100 miles or more during long-distance races, running for about 10-12 hours, without a major rest. But they will take frequent short breaks throughout that time to check on the dogs and feed them smaller snacks to keep their energy up.

How Fast Do Sled Dogs Run?

The answer to this question again depends on the weather and terrain conditions. It’s very different for the dogs to be running on a clear day, through well-packed snow, compared to running in a blizzard, with fresh snow underfoot and below-freezing temperatures.

For a long-distance race, sled dogs will average speeds of about 10–14 miles per hour. In poor conditions, this drops to about 6–7 miles per hour.

What About The Diet of a Sled Dog?

A healthy diet is an essential part of the sled dog’s daily routine. You can imagine that at the level these dogs are performing, it takes a lot of food to replenish the calories they consume each day. 

It’s important that they not only get the right amount of food each day to keep up their strength and maintain a healthy weight, but they also need to be getting a well-balanced diet to ensure they get all the necessary nutrients.

A sled dog that weighs about 50-60 lbs might need as much as 10,000–12,000 calories each day. Compare that to an average pet dog in the same weight range who might only need about 1,200–1,300 calories. That’s almost 10 times the amount of food! 

That’s why sled dogs need to eat either a meal or a snack every few hours. The mushers need to build in short breaks into their runs, even if the dogs aren’t tired, just to make sure their dogs are getting enough food throughout the day.

What Are The Most Common Sled Dog Breeds?

The most common sled dog breeds are Siberian Huskies or Alaskan Malamutes, but some other mixed breeds are frequently found on sled dog teams as well. 

These dogs are typically brilliant and easily trained. They need to follow verbal commands from the musher and follow the scent of the trail through a blizzard.

These breeds have a natural ability to run and pull. Speed and endurance are two key characteristics that sled dogs need to have. 

They have a thick coat to keep them warm in the cold winter weather, and they are inherently strong and athletic. Mushers also look for sled dogs with tough feet since the snow and ice can easily tear up the pads of their paws.

Is Sledding Safe For The Dogs?

Yes, it can be very safe for the dogs if they are well cared for. Most mushers care about their sled dogs as if they were family, so they want to do everything they can to keep their dogs in top shape and optimal health.

Historically, it was fairly common to see injured dogs or even deaths in the course of a dog sledding race. 

However, the sport is much more regulated and scrutinized than it once was. Veterinarians examine each dog before a race for any signs of abnormalities. If a dog doesn’t pass the health tests, they will keep that dog from running in the race. 

During the race, dogs can even be left at checkpoints if the musher doesn’t think they can safely finish the race with the team.

The most common injuries that sled dogs experience during the race are to their paws. The consistent contact with the snow and ice while running can cause cuts between the toes or cracks in the pads of the paws. 

Sled dogs wear booties to help prevent the worst of the damage that snow can cause to their paws.

By the very nature of dog sled races, the dogs are around a lot of other dogs. If one dog is sick, it can easily be passed on to others since they are all moving through the same area. 

Sled dogs may pick up a virus from another team and exhibit an upset stomach or a lack of appetite. If this happens, and the dog is not in top-performing shape, they will not continue to run with the rest of the team.

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