Into the Wild Adventures, dog sledding tours and winter adventures in the Yukon Territory, Canada - Our philosophy: ethical mushing

Our philosophy: Ethical mushing

Have you ever witnessed a sled dog team waiting to go? The dogs barking, growling, digging, jumping, chewing on their lines to express their irrepressible need to go, lift the sled, move forward and run.

As if they were possessed by some madness, those guys who a few minutes earlier wanted nothing but cuddles and attention are now wild beasts driven by an instinct honed over generations. All eager to hit the trail and run as a pack like their ancestors have done for centuries.

Truly, it is one of the most incredible things to be seen. A moment of pure beauty and perfection. Even if I’ve witnessed it hundreds of times, it still amazes me every time.

I remember when I was a kid, sometimes there would be a television broadcast featuring sled dogs and I would get goosebumps all over my body and tears would spring to my eyes.

I don’t know if it was the pureness, the plainness of the scene or the bond that you could feel between the musher and his dogs. I just knew that I would have to go North and become a musher if I wanted to find the meaning of my life. As the polar explorer Knud Rasmussen once said : “Give me snow, give me dogs; you can keep the rest”.

I finally got to start my own kennel in 2011, when I adopted my first two pups. Since then, quite a few more dogs have joined the crew, but one thing has remained the same : their well-being has always been our main concern.

I’ve had the opportunity of working with many different tourism or racing sled dog kennels before, and I’ve come up with a precise idea of what would work for my dogs and me.

They mean so much to me, I’ve always tried to offer them the best life I could. I never forget what a privilege it is to be able to spend all that time with them and I thank them for their trust.

I made the choice to keep them in pens instead of having them chained up. They live together in groups of 3 to 6 dogs, depending on affinities.

Males and females are mixed up, I just make sure there are no intact male and female in the same pen. Each pen is 700 square feet .

Every day I open the gates and all the dogs can play, interact with the dogs from the other pens and free run in the big play pen. That’s also what we do before any training session, and the dogs can stretch out while we harness them up.

When it’s time to hook them up to the sleds or atv we just have to call them by name and they happily come to be hooked up. After the training, we let them loose again and let the other dogs who did not train loose as well.

I think it is important for the dogs to be able to move freely, and as social animals to interact with each other. We do not spend 24 hours a day at the kennel with them, so I want them to have an interesting life even when we are not here, which means being able to play, run, chase each other, jump, dig holes and do whatever they want.

They also love to sleep two or three together in the same dog house and cuddling. This method is not 100 % safe and we do have a few dogs with small pieces of ear missing or scars on the face. But I think it’s worth taking the risk and fights are very rare.

It does take a lot of time observing them and anticipating anything that could go wrong but it is fascinating to watch them interact with each other.

I think I enjoy it almost as much as I enjoy running them. And as nothing is good enough for them, we plan on building a bigger pen in the woods behind the kennel, so they would have a second play pen with trees and rocks and a hill to climb.

Our dogs are not our kids but they are truly part of the family. We do not sell them nor get rid of them. Our retirees are as much respected as the racing dogs.

They get a well-earned retirement, either on our couch or in a retirement pen, and get plenty of walks and attention. And of course there is no culling here. Yes they are working dogs but for us it doesn’t mean neglected dogs.

Most of our dogs are spayed or neutered. Contrary to some beliefs, spaying/neutering does not alter the dogs physical abilities, stamina or motivation. Some of our best racing dogs are fixed. We only keep intact the dogs that might be used for breeding purposes later. We select them on performance first of course, but also behaviour.

We do not have more than one litter per year, and some years no puppies at all. Our goal is not to get bigger and bigger. Thanks to our politics and controlled breeding, we rarely have accidental breeding happening. We occasionally get dogs from other kennels too, dogs that did not make the team, puppies from accidental breeding or unwanted shy dogs.

Our dogs are checked by a vet, vaccinated and dewormed.

They are fed a mix of fish, meat and high energy kibbles.