Just One Lead Dog or Two?
By Robert Forto, PhD
Most people think that every dog team has one dominate “alpha” dog that is the Lead Dog. Jack London writes about this in his books; White Fang and Call of the Wild. History is replete with famous lead dogs such as Leonhard Seppala’s famous Balto and the lesser known Togo who ran in the now famous serum run that is commemorated in today’s Iditarod. Many movies have been made about sled dogs and the lead dog seems to be the central character. However most dog teams are a little more democratic. The lead dog is always the two legged member of the team–the musher or what some people still call the dog driver and the leasers in the team are the dogs that are willing to run in front, find and follow the trail, set the pace, and listen to the musher’s commands.
Today a lot of mushers run two dogs in the lead position. This is done for myriad reasons. Some lead dogs work better in tandem (together), others like to pull to one side or the other, etc. Some mushers use leaders to train other dogs in the lead position. Many mushers say that any dog can be trained in lead but the best are born for it. There is a great article on the Team Ineka blog about it. Read it here: Lead Dogs and their Role in a Winning Team.
In the coming weeks on the Dog Sledding Examiner we will discuss the other positions on a dog team, the equipment, the commands and other examples of how to build a winning team in the worlds greatest sport.