Dog Sledding Etiquette

We all hear about dog sled etiquette on the racing trails and during events. But dog sledding etiquette starts on the first day you bring your first sled dog home.

Webster’s Dictionary describe etiquette as “the conduct or procedure required by good breeding or prescribed by authority to be observed in social or official life”.

Dog sled etiquette starts back in your kennel when you are establishing your layout. Refer to the “Kennel Standards” produced by the Ontario Federation of SledDog Sports (2016 edition). This document covers housing, pens, tethering, water, feeding, kennel drainage, ground materials, kennel layout and other topics.

Your kennel should be designed to comply with all municipal by-laws, provincial and federal regulations and acts. If you are required to have a kennel license, make sure your property is in compliance with municipal by-laws so you don’t have problems down the road. Check to make sure the trails you plan on using are “all access use” or you have permission from the property owners to use their trails.

This document is created to help you avoid problems as you grow your career in sled dog sports. This document applies to everyone in sleddog sports from the person with one dog to kennels that have 100’s of dogs. The same things applies as each one of you are representing the sport of sled dog racing, and what you put out there affects every other sled dog enthusiast.

Trails

Are your trails user friendly? Some trails are designated for single use only. They could be walking trails, cross country ski trails, motorized trails or other specific designation. If you need to use these trails or cross these trails you better find out what is required to get them changed or get permission to also use the trails. Some trails are designated by a municipality and some are designated by the province or federal governments. Either way you are going to need permission sooner or later if you stay in the sport for long.

Are you able to safely negotiate your team through the trails? Can you drive your team down the trails without being knocked off by stumps, branches, logs, around tight corners and other debris? If you came upon another person, vehicle or team is there enough room to safely pass each other?

When traveling along public trails make sure people hear and see you when approaching. If you feel like it, take time to let the public meet the dogs, be an ambassador for the sport.

Public Trail Etiquette

If you are using public trails that are used by motorized vehicles (ATVs, UTVs, Snowmoblies, Automoblies) there is some trail etiquette that should be used.

Even though sled dogs always like to cut corners on trails. It is a good practise to teach your dogs to travel on the right hand side of the trail. Especially on blind corners or up hills. The public on motorized vehicles can’t hear you coming and you always surprise them, especially when you are on the left side of the trail. If your dogs are not trained to run on the right hand side, then it is your responsibility to stop and hold your team on the right hand side of the trail till the vehicle passes.

If you are traveling in a group of sled dog teams, then it is your responsibility to signal to oncoming traffic how many teams remain directly behind you. Run on the right hand side of the trail and use your left hand and signal the amount of teams following by pointing one finger downwards towards the ground for each team that is following. If you are the last team in your group, you would signal no more teams by making a fist pointing towards the ground.

If you are stopping on a public usage trail, make sure you stop in a place where you can be seen by people using this trail. Be highly visible and stay to the right hand side of the trail.

Traveling by night you should have a bling red light on your dog’s collar and a bright enough headlamp that you can see pass the lead dogs and up the trail. As you approach a corner or hill shine your light ahead of your team so approaching vehicles can see it.

If you enter and exit a trail system from your property, you may want to post signs instructing people that sled dog teams also use these trails.

You should have visible reflective clothing on yourself and your sled or rig. This includes front and back on yourself and your rig/sled. Your dogs should have reflective material on their harnesses and blinding lights on the lead dogs if you are running at night. You may also consider mounting a bling red light on the back of your headlamp headband and/or sled.

Determine the most convenient time of day to train your team. Look at your trail system and determine when it is at the least time of usage. During week days between 0900 hrs to 1100 hrs and 1400 hrs. to 1600 hrs. seems to be a down time for the public. Running week nights after 2100 hrs. also seems to be a down time. On weekends try to time your runs so you are done and off the trails before the public gets out or later when everyone is in for the night. This will avoid trouble and conflicts with the multi users of your trail systems.

If you stop along the trail and your dog’s decide to have a bowel movement. Make all attempts to remove the feces from the trail before carrying on. If you feed or snack along the trail, make all possible attempts to remove the leftover food from the trail as not to distract another team or to attract other animals out on to the trail.

If you are hooking up and leaving from a public area try to remember the following:

  • Park your vehicle in a location where you have a straight shot at getting on to the trail.
  • Do not free drop your dogs and let them urinate on everybody else tires and equipment.
  • If there are other people there preparing to use the trails, give them notice of the approximate time you will be leaving the parking lot and entering the trail system. That way they can be out of your way when you leave with a screaming team of sled dogs.
  • Pick up everything before you leave and take it with you. (ie: garbage, straw, feces, split food, etc.).
  • Before you leave your vehicle, look for something to hook down on when you return. Remember things in the parking lot may change while you are away and you may not be able to hook down to your vehicle or in front of your vehicle upon return.

Traveling Etiquette

Traveling with sled dogs takes planning. Accommodations, drop locations, refueling locations and other things need to be researched and planned before you leave your kennel. Try and figure out the approximate distance that you can travel on fuel in your vehicle. Figure in that sled dogs should be dropped to relieve themselves at least every 6 hours depending on when you feed and water. Now try and find a happy medium where you can do both at the same location. You’re looking for a location to eat, refuel and be able to drop dogs and not disturb the public.

Places to consider for a drop location:

  • Truck stops that have food, fuel and an area away from any sleeping drivers.
  • Fuel stations with food and a mall nearby.
  • Truck stops that are near road side rest areas.

Things to consider when choosing a drop location:

  • Overhead lights. Does the location have big shopping mall overhead lights? You won’t need to use your headlamps when you drop your dogs.
  • The overhead light standards are good to tie your stakeout line to if you need to attach one end to something.
  • Does the location have washroom facilities for you and your handlers?
  • Does the location have access to warm water for feeding and watering, which will save your onboard water for another location?
  • Is the location away from residential areas? Dogs bark when they are dropped and people sleep at all times of the day.
  • Is the location plowed and sanded? A lite skim of snow on the ground makes for easy clean-up. But if the location is freshly plowed and sanded then it might cause problems. Sand usually includes road salt. Road salt can get on your dogs feet. The dogs will lick the salt off their paws, which in turn will make them thirsty and uncomfortable in the boxes.
  • Are you allowed to drop dogs in this location? Some town in remote areas do not want dogs from outside the area dropped within the town limits.

Ok, so you have chosen a location and dropped your dogs. You fed and water and the dogs have stretched and had a rub down. Once the dogs are back in the truck, make sure you clean up everything. That includes feces, straw, food, bowls, treats and personal garbage. Make sure it gets loaded back on the truck to go with you. It doesn’t go in the waste receptacles at the location. You take it with you and deposit it at an appropriate receiving station. You don’t throw it in the garbage container located at the back of the location. That is paid for by the owner of the location. Unless you are going to leave a tip for the owner, take it with you. Oh yes, don’t think the owner won’t know. You were probably on closed circuit television as soon as you entered the location. Everyone in the vehicle walks around the vehicle once to make sure you haven’t forgot or left something behind.

If you free drop your dogs, please don’t let them wonder around the parking lot peeing on everyone else tires and cars. No one likes to have to step in urine or feces just before getting in their cars. Frozen or not!

When traveling be aware of the vehicles around you. People will wave, show there amazement at your vehicle carrying sled dogs with equipment on top. But they can also be a warning device if something is happening in your dog boxes or outside of your truck. ie: dog trying to escape, equipment falling off, door left open, your dragging a drop chain, etc.

Accommodations

So you need a place to stay? Things to consider when booking accommodations.

  • Does the location allow dogs in the room? Something to consider even if you don’t plan to bring a dog in the room. What happens if you have an injured dog that needs medical attention before you go to bed and it is storming outside?
  • Does the location have a door to rooms that access directly out of the room to parking areas? This makes for easy loading and unloading of personal and dog equipment.
  • Does the location have laundry facilities? Clothes dryers are great for drying harnesses, dog boots, ganglines and personal clothing if you have a wet weekend.
  • Does the location have a restaurant, room service or a close by food establishment? Once you are back to your accommodations, you don’t want to have to move the truck unless you have too.
  • Does the location have outside electrical outlets to plug your vehicles in at night?
  • Does the location have a big enough parking lot to park your vehicle far enough away from the rooms to drop dogs without moving?
  • Does the parking lot have overhead lights?
  • Park where you have drainage if the weather is to be warm or raining. You don’t want to drop dogs in water as they won’t urinate and you will have to put wet dogs back in dry vehicles.
  • Can you get to the room through another door close to your room instead of walking your dogs through the lobby?

You’ve booked your accommodations and you’re at the location. You’ve checked in and have your room. Remember you are representing every other dog sled person when you are at this location. Be considerate of other people and their needs also. Most dog vehicles need more than the allotted space. You shouldn’t be parking outside your room if your vehicle is bigger than a normal car. Park somewhere that you can see your vehicle and still drop dogs without having to move, if possible. Where you think the same spot would be available if you are staying multiple nights. Park under an overhead light so you can see your vehicle at all times. If you have a small vehicle and only a couple of dogs. Make sure you can unload the dogs without damaging other people’s vehicle. If you are feeding and watering near other people vehicle and your dog spills their water bowl. Clean it up, don’t let it freeze and cause a slipping hazard for someone else getting into their vehicle.

So you have completed your stay and are ready to leave.

Have you?

  • Cleaned up the room of all sled dog accidents? Spilt food, water, feces off the dogs paws that got on the carpet/ bed spreads.
  • Cleaned up the washroom from washing the dog bowls, filling up the meat cooler, washing harnesses and ganglines.
  • If you had an accident own up to it and pay the costs, you may want to return to this location again.
  • If you use the laundry facilities, make sure you leave it the way you found it. If you broke something own up to it and pay the cost.
  • Cleaned up around your dog truck. If you have some garbage to leave behind (poop bag) then ask if you can put it in the garbage container that is picked up for the establishment. Don’t put it in a small garbage can outside in the lot. Someone has to unload that can and take to the bigger container. Would you want to have to pull that bag of dog poop out of the can and carry it to the container?
  • One last look around the room and everyone walks around the vehicle to make sure everything is loaded and locked to go.

You’ve arrived at the race site, now where to park. You are looking for a location on site where you can park your vehicle and never have to move it all weekend. Doesn’t happen to often but this is the ultimate spot. If you are that lucky then great. If not then this is what you are looking for in the dog yard.

  • Clean location that no one else has used.
  • It has snow coverage (except at dryland races).
  • It is close to the starting line. Remember that bigger teams have bigger problems getting to the starting line so maybe leave the really close locations for them.
  • If you are a single or two dog competitor, do you really need to be right at the starting line?
  • Is there something to tie off too if you need too. (drop chains, ganglines, sled)
  • Is there drainage away from my vehicle? No one likes standing in water if it is a wet or warm weekend.
  • Do I have a straight shot to get to the starting line? No obstacles, other vehicles, buildings, teams that I have to get around.
  • Can I see what is happening at the starting line so I don’t miss my start time?
  • Will I be able to get out of here after my event is over or will I be boxed in for the whole day?

When you are done for the day of racing and you are returning to your accommodations make sure you park in the same location as you did the night before. Easier to clean up one spot than two or more.

When you return to the race site for the next day. You park in the same location. If someone has taken your spot, then see the parking attendant, race marshal or race organizers. You should be able to park in the same spot unless something has happened overnight. Don’t get upset about it. Locate someone and find out why. There is probably a go explanation why you can’t park there. If not then insist on your right to park in the same location. Parking in the same location each day is an unwritten rule in dog sports.

At the end of the races, try to stay around for the presentations. Everyone wants to get on the road as soon as possible. And I understand that some people have great distances to travel or time commitments. But if you are leaving early there are a couple of things you should do before leaving the race site.

  • Clean up and take your garbage with you unless and disposal site is provided.
  • Let someone that is staying for the presentations know you are leaving and what to do with your winnings.
  • Let the Race Marshal know you are leaving in case he needs to speak to you about a race matter.
  • Thank the race organizers and volunteers that you have met this weekend.

Presentations

Most dog sled people are shy and train by themselves in their own little world. (ie not public speakers.) This is your time to shine and come out of your shell.

The race organizers have been working for the pass 360 days to put this event together. You are there to enjoy this event for 2-3 days. Saying thank you, great job, really appreciate the effort to the race organizer after the presentations is appreciated. Saying it in front of the sponsors sitting in the crowd during the presentations is greatly appreciated. Its 1-2 minutes out of your whole day. If you can’t take the time to say thank you to the organizers and sponsors, then you shouldn’t have come to the race.

Everyone loves a story. Doesn’t have to be a novel, just something that you appreciated over the weekend, happened to you during the race, something you seen over the weekend. Just take the time to let the other mushers, sponsors, organizers know how much you appreciate the effort they have put in for the weekend.

And finally, you have made it home and the race season is over. You are sitting there admiring your trophies, ribbons and prizes won over the pass season. How hard is it to send a thank you email or note to that sponsor that donated the harnesses, dog collars, dog food, gas money, personalize prize or anything else you received. By sending a note of thank you or appreciation, I would bet you that the race will get that sponsor back the following year.

The Internet

The internet and social media are some of the best ways to get information out there for mushers. Keep an eye on different websites for information. Each race should have a website to gather information from. Some races even have Facebook or Twitter page to gain instant information or ask questions. It’s a great forum to gain information from.

It can also be a forum for posted miss information, disgruntled views and opinions. If you are going to use the internet to discredit a musher or any event please consider this before.

  • The event has put a lot of work into presenting the best possible event. They have spent a lot of time and personnel work to present the event. All it takes is one comment to be posted and the event can be ruined. If you have a problem with the event, discuss it with the event organizers not in a public forum. Events are getting few and further apart. That is because organizers have to deal with everyone personnel comments. Before you go running to the organizers right after you cross the finish line. Take time and think about what just happened. Maybe there was a reason for the sharp turn in the trail (unforeseen slushy water that appeared overnight). Think about it, ask other mushers if they had the same problem. If you are the only one in twenty mushers that had a problem with that corner, maybe it wasn’t the corner??? If after a certain amount of time you have settled down, then approach the RGO (Race Giving Organizers). Don’t hop on the internet and start complaining to someone in TIMBUKTO that can’t do anything about it.
  • If you have seen something or overheard something that does not sit proper with you. Than approach the person and discuss it. If you need a mediator, then find one before you approach the musher. Find someone who can be impartial to both sides. Don’t go on social media and start a world war about what you preserve is a problem. Remember not only are your friends going to see this but it is now available to everyone around the world. Including people that do not appreciate the sport of sled dog racing. Think before you post “will this affect the sport I love”.

Remember, everything you do now a day has the possibility of being recorded without your knowledge. You are representing all sled dog people when you are doing something with your dogs. One slip up no matter how small can be on social media within minutes and around the world. This is a great sport, please don’t ruin it for everybody else.

One final note

I see this at least once a year at races. You have been in the sport of sled dog racing for many years. You have risen through the ranks and are one of the elite racers in the sport. Take time to remember where you started and some of the problems that you went through to get where you are. If you see someone having a problem with something, maybe you could lend a hand of experience to that musher. If you have a problem with a musher on the trail. Go over after the race ask what the problem was and maybe you could help them out so it does happen again. So the musher in front of you had a problem and cause you to have a bad run. It happens!!!!

Before you go over there and rip a stripe off the musher consider this:

  • maybe it was their first race and there team has never seen another dog team.
  • maybe the problem has never happened before and they were trying to figure it out while on the trail.
  • maybe the rookie didn’t know they could run at the back of the pack for their first race. I am sure they didn’t plan on ruining your race, or blocking the trail.
  • maybe they had a medical emergency with they’re self or a dog and you didn’t notice it in your haste to get around them.
  • maybe they couldn’t handle the race course and went off the trail. While they were getting back on trail they had a tangle.
  • There are so many things that could happen and I am sure upon reflection you will say I could of handled this better.

Take a deep breath and relax. Yelling and screaming at someone in a dog yard full of racers and public is not going to help the sport.
Even the best of us have a bad run or a bad day. Be supportive and considerate of the person or the event.

“What you put out there today, may come back and bite you in the ass tomorrow”

Written on behalf of the Ontario Federation of Sleddog Sports.
August 2016

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