The sled dogs at Tomahawk Scout Reservation in Wisconsin aren’t like your average house dogs.
While your dog at home might jump up and lick your face, or get easily distracted when you take him for a walk, these sled dogs are fine-tuned, sled-pulling machines.
Nothing can stop these Siberian and Alaskan huskies from doing their jobs.
“One time our dogs chased after a deer that ran across the trail in front of us, and they pulled the entire sled with them,” says 15-year-old Dan Allson from Troop 9 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Well, almost nothing.
“Our dogs got distracted a lot,” says Carson Cannon, 13, also from Troop 9. “By a squirrel … a bush …”
Well, maybe sometimes they get distracted. But these aren’t the tail-wagging, friendly kind of dogs that you’re used to. These dogs are serious athletes. They don’t crave human attention like house dogs.
“Every time you walk near them, they loved to jump around, lick you and interact with you,” Carson says.
OK, never mind.
Turns out, the dogs at Tomahawk love to have fun. Just like the rest of us.
The Snow Base program at Tomahawk offers a dog-sledding experience that teaches Scouts the ins and outs of the sport. During a short orientation session, the Scouts learned not only how to command the dogs on the sled, but also how to feed and care for the animals before and after.
In the morning, the dogs were hungry, so the Scouts mixed in some dog food with water, and the canines gobbled it up. In the evening, the dogs were hungry, so the Scouts mixed in some dog food with water, and the canines gobbled it up.
In between was when the real fun happened.
“It’s exciting because you’re controlling the dogs and going through the trees,” says 16-year-old Chris Shalosky, “but it’s calming too because it’s so quiet.”
Each sled requires five or six dogs to pull. The Scouts were responsible for taking the dogs from their kennel area to the sleds, then tying them to the sleds in the proper formation.
Every sled has one or two lead dogs that are supposed to lead the way for the others.
At least, that’s the idea.
“They told me my lead dog doesn’t always listen well,” says 15-year-old Eagle Scout Nathaniel Hawkins from Troop 305 in Sterling, Illinois. “There were a couple of times when he would run off the side of the trail and dig his head into the snow. I’m not exactly sure why.”
Each sled also has room for two Scouts. One is the driver, and it’s his job to call out commands and lean the sled in the right direction on a sharp turn.
The other Scout mostly just sits and watches the world go by, unless one of the dogs misbehaves.
“It feels like you’re going really fast,” says 16-year-old Drew Allson from Troop 9. “You’re standing on the back of the sled and the wind’s blowing and you have the chance to just look around.”
When they weren’t operating the sleds and taking care of dogs, the Scouts were building snow shelters called quinzees and spending the night in them, even though the temperature outside got down to 16 below zero.
“It was a lot warmer (in the quinzee) than I thought it would be,” says Thomas Shalosky, 13, from Troop 9. “We figured it was around 40 degrees warmer in the shelter than outside.”
That means it was a cozy 24 degrees inside the quinzee.
Just the right temperature for a Scout. And a sled dog that likes to have fun.
“Everyone should do it if you can,” says Chris. “It was a lot of fun.”