Skip to main content

Dog Mushing

Alaska State Sport

Family dog sledding; photo © David Eppstein (used by permission).

Official State Sport of Alaska

Dog mushing was designated the official state sport of Alaska in 1972. All State Sports

Northern people have used dogs to pull sleds for centuries; once a primary form of transportation in many parts of Alaska (in 2010, Alaska recognized the Alaskan malamute as the official state dog). From this tradition came sled dog racing. Today it is a worldwide sport for both professional competition and family recreation. People come from around the world to participate in Alaska's yearly Iditarod; "The Last Great Race."

Heroic mushers and sled dogs: Balto and The Serum Run of 1925

In January of 1925 mushing captured headlines around the nation when twenty mushers and their dog teams relayed life-saving diphtheria serum to the children of Nome.  Balto, the lead dog on the final leg of the "Great Race of Mercy" was celebrated as a hero.  In December of 1925 a statue of Balto was erected in New York City's Central Park.  Balto has also been the subject of children's books and an animated film. 

Dog Mushing Terms

From "About Sled Dogs and Sled Dog Racing" by Stephen R. Lee: "Contrary to common belief, the word mush is not used to drive sled dogs. Mush comes from the French word marche which is from the verb marcher which means to walk. Undoubtedly, the French used this during gold rush days. The word mush is felt to be too soft a sound to be used as a command. Below is a short list of common commands and terms associated with dog driving sports."

Hike: Get the dogs moving
Gee: Turn right
Haw: Turn left
Easy: Slow down
Musher: One that drives sled dogs
Mushing: The act of driving sled dogs
Lead Dog: Dog that steers the sled dog team and regulates speed
Wheel Dog: Dogs closest to the sled
Sled: Wooden rig the dogs pull in the snow and on which you stand
Snowless Rigs: Also called training carts. Take the place of the sled when there is no snow.