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Canadian Study Examines Behaviour in Sled Dogs

Sled dogs are some of the most hard working canines in the dog world. They expel a tremendous amount of energy and display much different behaviour patterns than the typical house pet. The Department of Animal Biosciences from the University of Guelph recently published a study to help answer some of the questions about behaviour in sled dogs.

Background

Sled dogs partake in a rigorous training regime and are maintained in pique physical condition for their work to pull sleds that contain humans and/or cargo. In normal dogs, a large amount of exercise tires dogs out and reduces boredom. However, with the constant training that sled dogs do, it may actually be physiologically harmful long term, especially without proper rest and recovery. Since the theory has never been explored before, the researchers from the University of Guelph took it upon themselves to examine the changes in behaviour and activity of sled dogs throughout strenuous activity and intermittent rest days.

Pack of huskies exploring woods with sun beaming through trees


What they did

The researchers began by obtaining 14 adult Siberian huskies from a single owner, which then underwent a scheduled training and exercise regime. The distance the huskies ran was increased incrementally throughout 10 weeks and pre-/post-exercise behavior was monitored accordingly. Behaviour recordings included agonistic behaviours, chewing on the gangline,

digging, jumping, lunging, posture changing, sitting, standing and lying. Lastly, activity was monitored and recorded by attaching accelerometers to the collars of the dogs, in order to collect an estimate for voluntary physical activity pre-/post-exercise.

What they found

Interestingly, as the dogs progressed through their 10 week regime, they began to decrease time changing posture prior to exercise. This suggests that dogs may voluntarily choose to be less active with increasing exercise. Furthermore, the scientists found that the dogs were more active on their second day of rest, suggesting the need for short recovery periods for sled dogs.

Alaskan Malamute laying in snow field


Take home message

Overall, this study showed that sled dogs work hard but just like humans, they need their rest. In order to maintain a sled dog's health, they need a regime with strict rest days for recovery.

Pack of huskies pulling a sled with man riding on the back
Pack of huskies pulling a sled with man riding on the back

View Sources

Robinson, Eve; Thornton, Emma; Templeman, James R.; Croney, Candace C.; Niel, Lee; Shoveller, Anna K. 2021. "Changes in Behaviour and Voluntary Physical Activity Exhibited by Sled Dogs throughout Incremental Exercise Conditioning and Intermittent Rest Days" Animals 11, no. 1: 118.

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