If you have ever watched a sled dog pack at work, the chances are that you are equally awed and mystified at how dedicated and happy these dogs are. You may also have wondered just how long these dogs can run. Of course, the answer varies, but for dogs in the Iditarod sled dog race, it can be close to 100-miles a day!
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Perhaps the best-known (and most intensive) event for sled dogs is the Iditarod. An endurance race, the Iditarod covers a distance of around 975 to 998 miles. A sled dog team must run this distance with three mandatory breaks – one 24-hour stop and two 8-hour stops.
The average sled dog team for the Iditarod is sixteen dogs and each of the dogs runs a relay of 31 miles. Each dog travels at an average speed of 8-13 miles per hour. When sprinting, the dogs run at an average speed of 15mph. No dog is permitted to run for longer than 100 miles.
When a dog gets too exhausted or becomes injured, they ride in the “basket” of the sled and get dropped off at the next “dog drop” point. From here volunteer Iditarod Air Force transport the dogs to the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center at Eagle River. Inmates here care for the dogs until they are picked up or flown home.
The sled dog teams that take part in the Iditarod are extreme elite athletes and they spend the majority of the year training for the race. Many of the teams taking part in the race run up to 2,000 miles before taking part in the Iditarod.
But How Long Can Sled Dogs Run?
We know that the average sled dog in the Iditarod runs a 31-mile relay, but is this the maximum time that a dog can run?
Dogs running in the Iditarod are conditioned such that they can run for up to eleven hours a day for ten days at up to a hundred miles a day.
Just because a sled dog could run this distance, though, does not mean that they do or that they should which is why Iditarod dogs run relays.
Why Don’t Sled Dogs Run At Maximum Capacity?
An Iditarod team relies upon their dogs and it’s the responsibility of the humans on that team to care for the sled dogs. Part of this care means not running the dogs to the point of exhaustion.
Picture a marathon runner. The runner trains for months before the marathon and while they are conditioned and capable of running 26.2 miles, by the end of that run, they are exhausted. Their legs wobble, they are sweating buckets, and they’re still gasping for breath.
What happens to the marathon runner after their marathon? They generally aren’t up for running in the days that follow their marathon. (Usually, marathoners will swim or take part in another form of activity to help with recovery.)
What does this have to do with sled dog teams? Sled dog teams train for their “marathon,” but because the distance is so significant, they run that marathon in a relay.
If the dogs did not run the race in a relay, they would be pushed to their maximum capacity for days. Each day they would begin as the marathoner does after their marathon.
Do you suppose a sled dog would give their all in a race if they feel like a marathoner after a marathon? Would it be beneficial for the physical wellbeing of the dog? Not at all!
Even though sled dogs don’t fatigue as human marathoners do, pushing dogs to their max day after day will cause many problems even in the best trained and best-conditioned dogs. Problems that include
- Loss of motivation
- Slowing in speed
Each of the problems above has a significant impact on the dog in question in addition to the rest of the dogs and the humans on the team too!
But How Long Is A Sled Dog Able To Run???
It may seem as though we are avoiding answering the question, but in truth, the distance that a sled dog can run is dependent on a lot of factors including, human interference, the need to refuel, attitude between dogs, and injuries.
Now, were a sled dog to run without any interference, how far could that dog run?
Sled dog racing team “Seeing Double Sled Dog Racing” approximates one hundred miles without a significant stop. Why not longer? Sled dogs burn so many calories during a run (during the Iditarod, a dog will burn as many as 10,000 to 26,000 calories/day) they have to stop to “refuel.”