Last weekend, I was lucky enough to experience dog-sledding through the snowy Canadian forest.
As part of my ‘Make the Most of Winter’ pledge, I knew that this outdoor activity had to be on my to-do list… and I was not disappointed!
There was something unforgettably magical about gliding through thick trees as snow gently floated down on us. The only sounds in the air were the soft jingle of dog collars and the pitter-patter of dozens of paws. My friend and I laughed as we worked together to yell our orders to our beautiful Siberian husky team and steer the rickety wooden sled around icy corners.
We learnt our dogs’ names: Kelloggs, Fly, Oops, Dakota, Nutella & Kingston. We had the best behaved class. Whilst the other 2 groups of dogs were play-fighting and having to be separated like naughty school children, our dogs sat patiently chatting and howling at one another until it was time to silently sprint forward again.
….This is Oops!
It was an action-packed 2 hours and I left the experience full of exhilaration. The cold had marked my face red like well-deserved war paint. I absolutely loved sharing my day with these powerful animals, showering them with love and then hurtling with them along the snowy pathways.
So if you are planning on booking a dog-sledding adventure, here are my top tips and what to expect from your day!
- DO YOUR RESEARCH
We learnt the hard way how important it is to make sure you choose a reputable company. After initially booking with another local kennel, I spotted horrifying videos plastered all over social media showing their dogs being kept in unacceptable conditions. Safe to say, we cancelled straight away and started to research into an alternative… We could not have been more satisfied with the organisation we chose: Haliburton Forest & Nature Reserve (Ontario).
The dogs are clearly healthy, loved and happy in their home in the forest and the staff reassured us that the Ontario Society for the Protection of Animals (OSPCA) regularly inspect their organisation and even send dogs there to be temporarily re-homed. Not only this, after our sledding we were invited to a full tour of the kennels to see where the dogs live each day and it was worlds away from the videos.
So if you’re looking for peace of mind that the dogs are well treated before embarking on this experience, please make sure to read reviews, research and compare potential companies and don’t be afraid to call them and ask questions about how they keep their dogs and how often they’re inspected. It’s also a bonus if they offer a kennel tour after the experience as it shows they have nothing to hide. It’s so important.
- LAYER UP
Our day for sledding was pretty warm for Canada (and by that I mean above 0…) However, I knew better than to get cocky and made sure I layered up. This is really important because if you get too cold it will ruin the experience so bring more layers than you think you will need!
I was surprised that my toes were completely numb by the end of the trip despite having 2 pairs of socks and my winter boots on, so beware! You spend a lot of time with the cold wind in your face, hands out of pockets and feet buried in piles of snow, so bring your best winter gear with you (and don’t wear Uggs and a hoodie like one of the girls on another team…)
- LEARN THE LINGO AND SAFETY CHECKS
When we arrived, we were lead to the opening of the forest trees where our sleds and ropes were being laid out and the most gorgeous group of huskies were already itching to run.
A staff member introduced herself and explained that our dog teams should naturally follow as she leads us through the trees, however just in case, it is important to know the language!
The directions for the dogs quickly became addictive:
HIKE or HIKE UP = Go
WOAH or EASY = Slow Down
HAW = Left
GEE = Right
Each dog has a front rope and a back rope attached to them and it is important to make sure that these are ALWAYS pulled tight whenever the sled is moving. As soon as the ropes start to become slack, it means that your sled is going too fast and you could end up crashing into or injuring the dogs. We made sure to use the ‘brakes’ (metal spikes that you put your foot weight on to dig into the snow) whenever the sled started going downhill to avoid this – and of course yell ‘EASY’ to let the dogs know you’re going to be slowing them down.
It may be overwhelming when you first clamber on to the sleds and are given all the safety guidelines but we caught on extremely quickly and the techniques are very easy to follow.
- BE PREPARED TO WORK OUT
My mind was completely wrong when it came to imagining what dog sledding would be like! This is not an easy activity. You will not be sipping on hot chocolate while the dogs do all the work…
As soon as the trail starts to slope uphill, you have to either kick your feet off one of the sides like a scooter or jump off completely and run-push the sled up the whole way so the dogs don’t struggle.
What did I learn? I need to work on my cardio.
- DON’T EXPECT MACHINES – ENJOY THE FULL EXPERIENCE
The best advice I can give is to expect absolutely anything during your experience.
This is not a machine-powered sled with an accelerator and a steering wheel. Your dog team is made up of unpredictable, beautiful, live animals and they may stop to fight, play, poop, roll over – Anything goes!
At the beginning, I found myself getting a little frustrated with the amount of times we were stopping and accommodating these types of behaviours and waiting for other teams to catch up behind us…. Then I realised that this is all part of dog-sledding!
If you embrace the nature that surrounds you and appreciate your fluffy, playful and hard-working team, you will leave feeling empowered by this ultimate winter experience (and an urge to adopt 50 huskies…)