Sled Dogs
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Sled Dogs

Sled Dogs




      

Sled Dogs


SLEDGE DOGS By F. W. Howard.

I HERE are said to be no better dogs found anywhere in the far North than the husky dogs of Labrador. Wonderful tales are told of long distances covered by them in a single day, the record trip being 112 miles. However, this was in the spring when the days were long and the snow hard and firm. When the snow is loose and days short, 20 to 30 miles are a day's work. From five to twelve dogs are usually driven in one team, sometimes only two and occasionally 16 or 18 are harnessed to a sledge, but these very large teams are apt to be unwieldy.

Eskimo sledges in the Ungava district vary from 10 to 18 feet in length. The runners are about two and one-half inches thick at the bottom, tapering slightly toward the top to reduce the friction where they sink into the snow. They are usually placed 16 inches apart and crossbars extending about an inch over the outer runner on either side are lashed across the runners by means of sealskin or heavy twine, which is passed through holes bored into the crossbars and runners. If nails or screws were used they would be pulled out or snapped off by the frost while the loaded sled was passing over rough and uneven trail. On either side of each end of the overlapping crossbars notches are cut around which cords or throngs are passed in lashing on the load.

The bottom of the runners are "mudded." During the summer turf or clay is selected that contains no grit. When cold weather comes on it is mixed with warm water into the consistency of mud. Then with the hands it is molded over the bottom of the runners. The mud quickly freezes, after which it is carefully planed smooth and round. Then it is iced by applying warm water with a brush or piece of deer hide with hair on. These mudded runners slip very smoothly over the soft snow, but are liable to chip off when they strike rocks; further south whalebone or hoopiron is used for runner shoeing.

In this district the dogs are hitched to the sled by a raw hide thong called a bridle of a varying length of 20 to 40 feet. To the end of this the dog's individual traces are fastened; these vary in length from eight to 30 feet, depending on the size of the team, and so arranged that not more than two dogs are abreast, the "leader" having of course the longest trace. This long bridle and the long traces are used by reason of the rough country. They permit the animals to swerve well to one side, clear of the sled, when coasting down a hill side. The length of bridle and trace vary, those used in the South being made shorter than those of the North. A whip with a lash 25 to 35 feet in length is used. An expert with this whip running after the dogs can hit any dog he chooses at will and some of the drivers are cruel to excess.

The manner of harnessing the dogs among the Koraks of Siberia is to hitch the dogs in pairs. The harness consists of a breast collar and a belly band. Leading back from the collar and held in place on the sides by the belly band are two thongs, which are attached to a ring directly behind the dog. From this ring a single thong three feet in length attaches the dog to the central tug, which draws the sledge. Each thong is fastened to a ring on the tug by means of a wooden pin three inches long.

The dogs are always fastened to the tug in pairs. The central tug leads forward from the sledge to a point between the leading pair of dogs. Between the several pairs is a clear space of about 18 inches. Six or seven pairs of dogs are used as a team.

The sledge itself, which is called a "varta," is a remarkable vehicle. It is made of light bass wood without nails or screws. The parts are bound together with walrus thongs. It is well adapted to survive the hard knocks it is bound to receive.

The runners are from 10 to 14 feet in length and two feet apart. They are three or four inches wide and unshod. The bed of the sledge is raised 10 inches above the runners by means of posts at frequent intervals. On each side is a railing six inches high, with a thong mesh to keep the load from falling off. At about one third of the distance from the back of the sledge is placed an upright bow of stout wood, which rises some four and one-half feet from the ground. The driver sits behind this and whenever an obstruction is met with, he steps off quickly at the side and pulls the sledge one way or the other by means of this bow, which he grasps with his right hand.

The driver holds a stout, steel-shod stick five feet in length, with a cord fastened to the end. He can use this "polka" as a brake by putting it between the' runners and digging it into the ground, or he can anchor the sledge with it by driving it into the snow immediately in front of the sledge and then tying the cord to the bow which has been described.

When this is done the sledge cannot possibly move forward. Before starting on a journey in freezing weather the bottom of the runners are first carefully scraped, then brushed over with a piece of deer fur that has been dipped in warm water, thus forming a film of ice on the runners. The driver usually carries a small bottle of water hung around his neck and inside his clothes for this purpose.

The dogs are big, wolf-like fellows, with shaggy coats and erect, pointed ears, some white, some gray, some red, and some a bluish color. They are fierce looking, but better natured and more easily approached by strangers than the male mutes and husky dogs of Alaska and Labrador.

Every team has its bully and sometimes its outcast. The bully is master of them all. He 6gtiu his way to supremacy and holds it by punishing upon the slightest provocation, real or fancied any encroachment upon his prerogatives. Likewise, he disciplines the pack when he think they need it, or when he feels like it and he:; always the ringleader in mischief. When there is an outcast, he is a doomed dog. The other harass and fight him at every opportunity. They are pitiless. They do not associate me him and sooner or later a morning will come when they are noticed licking their chops contentedly, as dogs do when they have had a gw4 meal—and after that no more is seen of the outcast. The bully is not always or, in fact, often the leader in harness. The dog that the driver finds most intelligence in following 1 trail and in answering his commands is chosen for this important position, regardless of his fighting powers.

Some of these lead dogs have shown so mad intelligence and courage that their fame extends over great districts in the north land. While dog trains are travelling over the frozen surface; of large cakes sometimes out of sight of any land, they are occasionally overtaken by a blizzard. In such a case the lead dog is given b head, when he always invariably leads them shelter and safety. Good leaders are very highly valued; they become very proud of their position and instances have been recorded when another was put in front of an old leader he would try in every way possibly to regain his position. such as cutting off the traces of the dog ahead with his teeth, and when all means failed to give up and die, apparently of a broken heart.

The husky dogs are apt to be sullen and resent being petted. It is said to be laughable to watch a bunch of these dogs when a driver appears carrying the harness preparatory to hitching up a team. Suddenly they become crippled in an alarming manner, one crawling around dragging his hindquarters along the ground x if paralyzed; another trying to limp along on one front foot and one hind leg; the others j* as amusing in their efforts to convince the driver that it would be the height of folly to think of harnessing up such poor, helpless worn out dogs as they are. However, the driver has seen such tricks before and so now he pays no heed to this acting. All he wants is a train of tour good dogs. Only one driver, only one train and the minute that train is called and each dog's head is in the collar, behold again the transformation among the other dogs. The one whose hind parts were paralyzed is suddenly as lively on all four as a cricket, and thus it is with the rest of the cripples.

The weight of the husky dogs in working trim ranges from 60 to 120 pounds. It is often found that the smaller dogs will do fully as much work as the larger ones.

The sled that is undoubtedly best adapted for timbered sections is made on the same plan as the toboggan, two boards of oak or ash, eight to 10 inches wide and 10 to 12 feet long, placed side by side and secured with strong crossbars. One end of the boards are planed down to one half inch in thickness, thoroughly steamed, then bent in a form for the head of the sled. Strong rawhide thongs, or cord, holds every part in position. Two loops are fastened at the front to which the traces of the dogs are attached. Longer loops are firmly secured along each side of the sled for the purpose of fastening on the loads. The dogs are hitched to these sleds. Four dogs are capable of hauling a loaded sled carrying up around 1,000 pounds.

During the winter season the dogs are fed once a day on dried or frozen fish, as a rule. The custom is to feed at night after the day's work is finished. The dogs then usually dig a hole in the snow, where sheltered from the wind these hardy animals are able to endure the cold. In the summer when they are not needed, travel then being by boat, the dogs are left to shift for themselves and many of them disappear and are not again seen until winter is at hand. They seem to prefer to toil on the sledge trail with a square meal a day than to take chances with their kindred of the wilds. During the summer they wander along the shores of lakes and streams and are very skillful catching fish in the shallows.

The Korak sledge dogs of Siberia subsist in summer largely by digging out a small rodent called tundra rats. By the time summer is over the dogs are so fat that they have to be tied up and systematically starved till brought into condition for the sledge again.

The instinct by which these animals foresee the coming of a blizzard is truly wonderful. The unfailing sign of a coming storm is the pawing of the snow.

Fur, News. Fur News, January 1916.

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