Respect Not Neglect
In hopes to help our readers spot questionable dog care and kennel husbandry we have provided the following information. Consider this…
We encourage you to question everything you read or what you are told by any tour operator/mushers as our Canadian agency governing advertising advises, “dressing it up doesn’t make it more true or real”.
- Does the company allow you into their kennel facility and do they have a lot of photos of their facility on their website or promoting materials such as Facebook and brochures? Chances are if they aren’t proud to show how well maintained and clean it is move on. Professional mushers understand how important a clean and well maintained kennel is and also how imperative it is to be transparent so their guests can feel comfortable knowing they are supporting an ethical kennel.
- How many dogs does the operator have and how many people look after them – summer and winter? Many kennels who house more than 100 sled dogs will only have 1-2 care takers looking after their dogs; how can it be possible for each dog to receive the personal, top notch care they need and deserve? The truth is…it isn’t possible. Many people may think kennel of 180 is large however, there are some kennels that have upwards to 400+ dogs! If there are only 3-4 attendants caring for those dogs in the off season (summer) move on. Realistically there is no way each dog is given enough love, attention and exercise.
- What is their standard in cleaning their kennel? Consider this…
For example, a sled dog kennel with over 200 sled dogs needs to be cleaned 6 times or more in a day, some clean a section of only 50 dogs every 4 days and that’s only if they can find it after it is ground into the snow and the dogs fur! Will you then pet these dogs? Is the area around their house dark brown and hard packed as it may not be the ground at all but packed fecal matter from lack of cleaning. Some operators will tell people its actual ground dirt and you might even see the dogs bowls on the ground covered in it as well. All serving bowls should be free of excrement, urine, algae or any dirt whatsoever! In fact dogs should not be fed on the ground but either on top of their house or in bowl holders mounted on the house where they can stay cleaner in general even when their area is cleaned more than five times
- Do they provide their sled dogs with annual vaccinations, de-worming and physical examinations by a certified vet who cares or one who can’t be trusted and compromises ethics?
- How often do their kennels receive a visit in their living or working environment from a qualified, un-compromising vet?
- What does their sled dog’s feeding program consist of? How do they ensure each sled dog is being well looked after? Do their claims match what you see? Consider this…
Information given by certain companies either may not be truthful or perhaps you will even see a “run down”, littered, un-kept state of establishments online, while their print material states that they are the best and most reputable company in their industry. When words and actions don’t match, you should go another direction. Reputable kennels should always offer detailed information on the care of their sled dogs and whatever they claim should show in what they actually do. This should be transparent. This is very important material and should be easily accessible to the public whether online through their website or in print and promotional materials. If the operator won’t share detailed information on how they care for their dogs and are evasive or curt in their answers, or threaten you, you should be cautious. Better yet, what do you really honestly see when you arrive at their kennel or tour site? It is also important to remember that the photos presented by these companies may not even be of their dogs or site therefore, a visit to the kennel facility to ensure that the dogs are well cared for is always best. Even within hotel brochures and web sites, you will see only what they want you to see. High standards in dog care are absolutely crucial and unfortunately, though many operators claim they care for their sled dogs, in reality, what goes on behind the scenes is exactly the opposite. What is their definition of care and is it the same as yours?
Our very reasonable tour prices reflect the bare minimum in supporting our four legged team year round. This is one of the main reasons we are very careful when offering discounts as discounts definitely have the potential to compromise the high standards you can enjoy within your experience with us.
- Will they allow 4 or more adults on one sled to create more tour availability just to make more money while at the same time compromising the comfort and safety for both you and the dogs?
- Do they offer discounts that sound advantageous? Consider this…
Some companies offer discounts as their only means to gain customer volume when actually they have lost their customers due to a lack of dog care or general quality of the tour offered in the first place. Discounted tours often result in discounted experiences. Some operators will even charge full rate for an experience that can’t even give you a simple campfire and snack on tour or added value of any type whatsoever. They claim to be capable of giving you seemingly appealing experiences but do you really know what you’re getting? These companies even claim to offer the same or better service than others so beware of attempted simulations and false advertisers.
What kind of information should I look for and ask about when choosing a tour company?
“I was unaware that sled dogs can be neglected – what should I look out for?”
- Does the company allow you into their kennel? Consider this…
Professional sled dogs’ living quarters should be clean, well-managed by industry professionals, well organized and safe. Housing, cleaning, feeding, watering, playing, grooming, exercising, socialization, medical care and love should be provided to the sled dogs at all times. Did you know that some kennel facilities who house over 200 sled dogs are only cleaned in small sections daily, if at all? This means that with multiple sections, those dog’s sections not cleaned that day will not see one for another 3-4 days! This is not the normal standard in reputable operations; even if they try to convince you it is, don’t believe them! It simply means they don’t care and are too lazy or cheap to hire anyone else to do it on behalf of their dogs. In addition to these dirty living conditions, in some facilities, the dogs are only fed once a day and all the same amount no matter what their specific needs may be! Kennel managers are non-existent in these establishments, therefore the dogs who may not be running on any given day receive zero care or attention, cleaning or socialization. Regrettably, the so called “caretakers” of some kennels facilities change so often that there is no consistent core group of people who really know each dog and it’s needs. This means that the dogs in these environments are not known on an individual basis and are only looked at on general terms by people who are simply looking for a “cool job” that simply feeds their ego. Imagine all the important care missed by individuals and the owners of these companies who haven’t taken the time to get to know each dog as an individual. Would you want to contribute to these conditions and enable these companies to conduct business accordingly, continuing to misinform you and others? Who do you think suffers?.
- Are the dogs receiving enough food and water throughout the day? Sled dog’s burn anywhere from 1000 to 7000 calories per day sometimes even more! Each dog is different as are humans.
- What is the general appearance of their dogs, are they clean or covered in filth? Are they well groomed? Is their fur soft and healthy looking? Are they too skinny? – and be watchful for those who blame their skinniness on the breed. Do they provide their sled dogs with individual diets specific to them? Like people, dogs cannot all eat the same portions and maintain a healthy weight. Some need to eat more than others. We also suggest to research what a healthy in shape dogs is suppose to look at. Remember, a sled dog’s appearance compared to the average house pet is very different- that would be like comparing the physic of a person who runs a triathlon to your average joe. The reason they can perform so well has a lot to do with the fact that they are no overweight and out of shape – the same applies to a sled dog. However, that is not to say that it is ok for sled dogs to be skinny. Even for house pets vet’s often recommend that you should be able to feel the last 2 ribs and hip bones but not see them.
- What type of housing is provided for the huskies and is it clean and dry or in shambles and filth?
- How can I be sure that their breeding program is managed safely and responsible? See our breeding program. Sled dogs are supposed to be fit, not skinny or looking like walking skeletons. Consider this…
Remember, sled dogs are athletes and it is common for them to appear sleeker then the average house pet however. For example, in the sprint racing industry of the sled dog sport, the sled dogs are mixed with a high percentage of German Short Haired Pointer and Greyhound to increase the speed of the dog. Generally, dogs that are full time racers are kept lighter framed to ensure they can maintain their speed, not appropriate for freighting or weight lifting however! For example, can you imagine the slight muscular stature of a marathon runner going to the gym to compete against a champion weight lifter or vice versa? It’s almost laughable what some operators will try to convince you to believe, yet some are masters at selling falsities. In a race, these dogs pull only one person on a light sled for a short distance. Touring sled dogs travel mid to long distances while pulling much more weight therefore they must be very well trained, muscularly fit and weighted to guarantee their and your safety on the trails. This is also why the pure bred sled dogs are unmatched in their benefits within the touring industry! If the general appearance of the sled dogs is skinny or boney, it is cause for concern and should be questioned and mentioned to the proper authorities and tour companies. Be mindful for those who blame the fact that their dogs are skinny because of the breed; maybe their breed should not be used in the case of touring for example as it is more suited to racing and not carrying weight. Just a consideration.
- Is their kennel safely divided and secured to ensure there is no unplanned breeding or inbreeding occurs? Unknown to most, the risk of overpopulation is a huge issue in many sled dog kennels. The main reason for this is that rarely will a substandard kennel be divided into sections where the intact males are actually housed separately. This is terribly irresponsible. In this kind of environment, it is highly likely breeding will occur without the owners even knowing. Consider this…
The worst consequences of this is that preserving breed lineages, as one can imagine, becomes impossible as no one knows who the sire is of the puppies born. Inbreeding is also common in mismanaged operations as the dogs are not discretionary with a family relation, for example father/daughter breeding. Unplanned litters increases the kennel population unwillingly which results in higher kennel operation costs if you are to maintain the high quality of care for the dogs. Yikes! The sad reality behind this is that some kennels may not be able to afford this so they either sell the puppies overpriced (the bloodlines are unknown), euthanize them often inhumanely or they keep the pups which in turn lowers the quality of care to all the sled dogs. Planning for puppies is crucial to ensure that overpopulation does not occur and proper care can be given to the dam during her pregnancy. Some operators will even abandon their kennels and simply dump their responsibility making it the problem of someone else! We’re not sure why agencies can’t seem to do anything to prevent these issues but we see time and time again situations where people will just complain about what they see and experience with unethical operations and then do nothing to either stop it from happening or educating the operator and policing where necessary. In fact our company is often asked to assist with rescue agencies when certain touring companies abandon their dogs, even locally. If the operator cannot take responsibility and provide for their dogs, they just shouldn’t have them in the first place! Really it’s just common sense.
- Are the breeds of sled dog appropriate for pulling weighted sleds? Consider this…
Sled dogs mixed with greyhounds are not suitable for pulling weighted cargo of the human type! Even Iditarod competitors and speed racers know this and will regulate the weight their dogs carry accordingly! All sled dogs and especially touring huskies should be very well-trained. Some operators teach their guides and employees that they should never trust their dogs! Can you imagine? So, if they don’t trust their dogs how will they be able to provide you with a safe tour when the very animals pulling you on the trail are not even trusted? For example, if some owners allow only treadmill training in the summer months how will the sled dogs fair when they are confronted with real outdoor trail situation such as wildlife or directional commands? Also, many kennel facilities house their sled dogs in a manner which restricts them from visiting with other dogs – so they literally have no socialization, but then they are expected to behave and work together in a dog team! In situations like this, often times the dogs become aggressive and are more preoccupied with fighting. Not only is this dangerous for the dogs wellbeing, it can also be dangerous to people and frighten guests. We understand that they are dogs and sometimes their wolf like behaviour can take over, however, proper training and socialization can minimize this tendency with great success and ensure a fun, safe and enjoyable experience for both guests and dogs!
- What type of training is involved in trustworthy, well trained sled dogs? Are the dogs allowed to socialize? Consider this…
For example, some kennels restrict their sled dogs from bonding at their houses which creates serious tension and aggression; you will see it on the trail! Sled dogs are social animals and require time to visit with the rest of their family! -Do they use low grade training methods such as treadmills or large “hamster like wheels” that will not allow the dogs to learn anything more than mindless running, running, running!? What would happen if they needed to stop running for any reason on a tread mill, like to relieve themselves for example? Do they get to spend time with other dogs and work through real trail situations withlove and respect?