Many children around the world grow up with dogs in their lives. Whether pets or working members of the family business, dogs and kids go together like peanut butter and jelly, with laughs and licks and a sense of companionship that lasts for years.
Here in Alaska, where dog sledding is the state sport, sled dogs are a musher’s finest copilot, helping to navigate snowy trails and keeping human partners from harm. Alaska kids grow up living with and loving on their dog teams, learning about the skills and responsibility necessary to create a team to be proud of.
Visiting youngsters can get in on the action as well, experiencing the joy and hard work necessary to manage day-to-day operations of a sled dog kennel and the canine cohorts that live there. Options range from a few hours to several days mushing into the heart of Alaska’s wilderness, each step of the trail fostering a greater sense of knowledge and a love for dogsledding’s rich history (and adrenaline-pumping fun).
Considering a trip to a sled dog kennel with the kids? Here are a few points to ponder before booking:
- Consider ages and stages. Kids under the age of five are less likely to enjoy a full day of dogsledding. Start slowly with smaller children; take a short kennel tour and ride through the forest, and build from there. Older kids, particularly tweens and teens, may enjoy driving their own sled on a longer trip. Have a multi-gen family? Meet in the middle with a kennel tour, a few hours of mushing, and post-tour visit with puppies.
- Read about sled dogs before you visit. Most kids know the story of Balto and the Nome Serum Run of 1925, but there are so many more dog and mushing stories to discover and learn from before heading to a sled dog kennel.
- Pack appropriately. Make sure kids are dressed for a variety of weather and terrain conditions, including mud, snow, and puppy paws. If mushing in the summer, add bug spray to your pack of items; in the winter, a hat covering ears, mittens, chemical hand-warmers, warm boots and socks, and waterproof clothing. Warm and dry kids are happy kids.
- Discuss what you’ll see at a kennel. Sled dog kennels are loud, smelly, and busy places. Each dog will have his or her own personality and way of interacting with fellow teammates; puppies are usually in a larger fenced-in area for socialization as they grow. Kids should never approach dogs without an adult, and should remember to always watch out for teams coming and doing.
- Encourage questions. What do sled dogs eat? How long does it take to train a sled dog? Why is dogsledding fun? Mushers enjoy interested kids, and many young visitors have returned to Alaska as adults to work in kennels themselves. You never know; a short visit today could lead to a lifetime of dogsledding in the future!