The use of dogs for transporting goods in winter was developed by northern First Nations peoples many generations before Europeans arrived in North America. European explorers and traders quickly recognized the efficiency of using dogs and adopted the technique, making some significant improvements to sled design. In the Yukon, most pre-European contact sleds were a basic flat-bottomed toboggan dragged by dogs through the heavy snow. This design was modified by the Europeans through the addition of two narrow wooden runners that raised a rectangular-shaped basket up off the snow.
French-speaking dog-sled operators tended to yell “Marche!” as a command for their dog teams to set off. This was misinterpreted by English explorers as “mush.” Out of this confusion developed the tradition of referring to dog-sled drivers as mushers. Today, few, if any, mushers call out “mush” as the order for the dogs to proceed.
Dog-sled teams usually number 2 to 12 animals. They are commonly hitched in pairs to a single towline, called a gangline. In deeper snow, the dogs might be reconfigured into a single file so the first animal breaks a path for the rest of the team and the going becomes increasingly easier. The lead animal is generally replaced after a short time of breaking trail and allowed to rest in the easier rear position. When snow becomes too deep, mushers sometimes have to don snowshoes and break the snow themselves, leading the dogs behind them.
Continue this northern tradition and book a trip with one of our local outfitters!