Dogs in many commercial dog sled companies are continually tethered to a pole, forced to live outside in all temperatures (year round). Sled dogs can't engage in natural behaviours such as playing, exploring, or even choosing where they eat, sleep, and eliminate. They are known to engage in rock-eating, indicative of frustration.
The most famous of dog races is the Iditarod which is about 1,600 km. Dogs run for approximately 160 km per day or more while pulling sleds weighing hundreds of pounds through harsh weather conditions. Another popular dog race (with routes in Canada) is the international Yukon Quest of similar distance. Temperatures can dip to −40 °C and colder with strong winds.
Sportswriter Jon Saraceno wrote about the possible injuries for sled dogs including fluid in the lungs, bleeding stomach ulcers occur, general cramping, dislocations, fractures, muscle and tendon tears, tendonitis, dehydration, hypothermia, raw paws, penile frostbite, and viruses. In addition, dogs can die from running themselves to death.
There is a misconception that sled dogs are 'super athletes', however, their welfare needs are the same as any other dog. They need shade and protection from the cold. They require companionship and have behavioural and emotional needs just the same as any pet dog does.
The film Sled Dogs by Canadian Director Fern Levitt explores both sides of the dog sledding industry.
W5, Canada's current affairs and documentary program, uncovered the shocking treatment of sled dogs in Canada which you can watch here.
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