Dog sleds for mid and long distance treks are normally pulled by two or more dogs. Whilst it is possible for a lone dog to haul this type of sled it will quickly tire if the total weight being pulled is more than twice its body weight, or the sled is travelling across challenging terrain such as soft snow or steep gradients.
If only one dog is available to pull a sled, it might be more practical to consider a lightweight racing sled, a kick-sled or a pulk depending on what you wish it to transport.
Kick sleds, assisted by the kicking action of the musher, will be best to transport a person whilst a pulk is perfect for a dog to pull if goods and supplies are the primary cargo.
In this article, we’ll look into:
- Whether a lone dog is capable of pulling a sled
- The types of sled that one dog could potentially pull
- Tips for training a dog to mush on its own.
If you want to learn the maximum weights each sled dog breed is capable of pulling check out our full guide here.
How much weight can one dog pull on a sled?
Presuming that the aim of asking Google ‘does a lone dog have enough power to pull a sled’ relates to either introducing the family pet to a new sport or to help haul some kit during a weekend to the great outdoors, then you’ll be keen to learn just how much weight a dog can reasonably be expected to pull.
After all, stacking on too much weight will mean no one is going anywhere fast!
For reference, incredibly fit working sled dogs that form part of large arctic expeditions are asked to pull approximately 110lbs each as their share of the total sled weight. This is around twice the body weight of an adult Alaskan husky.
The weight of dog sleds, which come in many styles, will of course be a factor in whether a lone dog will be able to pull one.
Traditional racing sleds for example are made from a birch wood frame and generally weigh between 20lbs-30lbs (9 – 13.6kg), whilst kicksleds made from birch and powder coated spring steel tip the scales in the same weight bracket. Pulk sleds on the other hand are far simpler in design and made from lightweight durable plastic, so weigh less than half of any sled that carries a musher.
The sled itself therefore shouldn’t be an issue when it comes to whether a lone dog can pull one. Rather, the contents of the sled will be the main limiting factor.
Hopefully a picture is beginning to be painted that a lone dog, even a strong and fit one, will struggle to pull the combined weight of a packed sled plus musher for any great distance.
What type of sled is a lone dog capable of pulling?
A lone dog is best matched to a lightweight racing sled, a kicksled, or a pulk (a sledge without runners) when carrying only equipment.
Lightweight racing sled : Made for the purpose of competing in fast paced mushing races, these sleds are designed to accommodate pairs of dogs positioned shoulder to shoulder. During races mushers also contribute to the forward propulsion of the sled by kicking thus lightening the load for the dogs, even if only for a second or two at a time.
Kicksled: Essentially a chair that has been fashioned into a toboggan, kicksleds weigh between 12 – 20lbs and usually rely on the kicking motion of the musher to propel it forwards. They are not outright designed with a dog in mind but can be easily retrofitted to take the towlines of one or two dogs. Kicksleds don’t have a large basket area so there’s less temptation to pack additional weighty supplies.
Pulk: A flat lightweight racing pulk can weigh a featherlight 3.5lbs. Normally strapped to the waist of a skier these are perfect sleds for a lone dog to pull as the total weight load doesn’t need to account for a musher.
Can a lone dog pull a sled plus a musher?
A lone sled dog is capable of pulling a lightweight sled that is driven by a musher provided the ground conditions are right (glare ice or hard pack snow), the sled isn’t carrying excessive supplies and the musher contributes to the forward motion by propelling the sled via kicking.
It’s also likely that, even under these conditions there will be limitations in how far the dog will be able to pull before tiring.
A dog who is familiar with mushing or sled dog racing has enough power to pull a sled on their own.
You’ll simply have to remain mindful that the combined weight of the sled and musher will place limitations on how far you can travel and how much kit you’ll be able to carry.
How do you begin to train a lone dog to pull a sled?
You must start by training your dog to wear a sled harness. Dogs that have never worn a harness need time to get used to it.
You can start putting the harness on for walks or just playing in the yard. The more comfortable a dog gets with the harness on, the easier it will be for you to train them when in position with the sled.
The harness needs to fit properly for safety and comfort. Measure the neck, length, chest, and girth to find the right fit.
When you think it’s time to try the sled, you’ll also need a tow line and a sled. You can start by rigging up a plastic snow sled or some other lightweight object until your dog’s more comfortable having a presence immediately behind it at all times.
Add weight to the sled slowly once you see progress. Be patient and give a lot of encouragement throughout the process.
What you’re really trying to teach your dog is to pull on command. The word you use to cue a dog to move forward is entirely up to you. The most common choices for this action are “mush” and “hike.” however once you’ve chosen a word, you should stick with it.
Next, you must work on a command for stopping. The typical word for this command is “whoa.”
Starting and stopping are the two most important commands to teach your dog. Once those are recognized consistently you can start to move on to these others.
- Gee – turn right
- Haw – turn left
- Easy – slow down
- On by – also known as leave it
- Line out – before you set off, it takes the dog from a relaxed position on the tow rope to a leaned forward position that pulls the rope taut in a ready position
The more consistent, patient, and positive you are with your dog, the faster he will learn how to pull the sled with all the commands. You and your lone dog can have a blast together sledding as you please.