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Sled dogs that run long distances are hiding a very important secret that we humans would like to know more about.

During the harsh conditions of a race, the amount of energy that long distance dogs use up, is 10,000 calories per day. The muscles of a sled dog take up fat directly from their blood, and this fat somehow penetrates the cell membrane, where it is used as energy. This is a very interesting shortcut in energy consumption. More knowledge about this internal process, in future might become the key in solving diabetes or obesity in humans. When you recalculate the sled dog`s menu to that of people, it would be comparable to 60 BigMacs of McDonald’s per day for one adult. Keeping in mind that sled dogs are doing that for 10 days in a row, one has to admire sled dogs for the ability to consume so much.

The famous musher Jujiro Wada always took intensive care of feeding his dogs. On the trail he often hunted for food, but when no meat could be scored, he treated his dogs expensive canned foods. 

For more details on Wada`s travel see Life History

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Jujiro Wada improved, explored and expanded the the Iditarod trail, as commissioned by the Seward Chamber of Commerce, together with Frank Cotter. Nowadays the trail opened by Wada and Cotter is still in use for racer, where musher and breeders can compete to show their expertise. Sled dog racing is far more than just navigating and steering. One has to understand the psychology of the dogs, and their physical strength. 

 

Only a few dogs can run in front as leader. For dogs running in front of the others is quite stressful. Therefore running in front is not for all. For that reason, it is best to take as many leaders as there are, and have them take turns running in front position, so to reduce their mental burden. It is the same with baseball, the team that can put up the largest number of skilled pitchers, is best suited to win. The other dogs just have to follow the dog ahead of them, so they endure much less mental stress. So in order to get as many puppies with leader blood, the leader dogs are bred with other leaders. They have both an extraordinary desire to run. For more details on Wada`s travels see Life History

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Jujiro Wada improved, explored and expanded the the Iditarod trail, as commissioned by the Seward Chamber of Commerce, together with Frank Cotter. This was in 1909, conditions were harsh that year. In the midst of this exploration, his lead dog suffered from a frozen paw near Rainy Pass, where temperatures dropped to -62C. Wounded he could barely move forward. Frank Cotter wrote about about this episode in his memories about Wada in the Nikkei Weekly titled Ju Wada as I know him. For more details on Wada`s travel see Life History

The snow was especially hard and hurtful at this point of their journey. To reduce the pain at their feet, Wada made socks for his dogs out of his own spare cloths, made of deer hide. Nowadays dog socks are standard item called booties.

Successful mushing depends on the dog’s foot soles

The pioneers of of the Iditarod trail, Wada and Cotter, run into problems with the foot soles of their lead dogs, due to the long distance over hard frozen ice.   

The soles of the feet of sled dogs are robust and snow doesn’t stick to them. The soles of their feet might seem trivial, however this is the part of their feet that constantly comes in contact with the snow. When temperatures are below -30C, ice crystals become like shattered glass, and dogs can get wounded on their feet. It’s at such moments that there are differences in the degree dogs get wounded on their feet, depending on whether they have strong or weak foot soles.

Furthermore, dogs sweat at the soles of their feet, and depending on the quality of the fur on their feet, snow sticks to the fur and forms large snow balls, and that can become ice balls. Such ice balls cause injuries to the dogs’ feet. If wounded at the sole of their feet, it can form pus, or otherwise the pain can make their appetite go away, making it necessary to retire them in the midst of the race. To avoid such a scenario, dogs with weak foot soles need to always wear a kind of socks -called booties.

As it is a lot of work for the musher to make them wear these booties, the best is to use dogs with strong foot soles as sled dogs, thus avoiding all of this trouble. To breed excellent dogs suitable for racing, one has to think of all these details.

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Jujiro Wada traveled from Seattle to Dawson in 1902 and along the route he passed through Skagway. In July he made it all the way from Dawson to Nome aboard the Yukon river steamer Rough Rider, where he took employment as a cook. The scenery he probably saw during his breaks is described below. For more details on Wada`s travel see Life History

With its source in British Columbia, Canada, the Yukon River is a mighty river that flows through Yukon Territory, cuts horizontally through Alaska, and then discharges into the Bering Sea. Its total length spans some 3,700 km. Right at half -length of the Alaskan part, mountains of a modest height close in on the river beds, with the river at some parts measuring a mere 200 meter in width. Locals call this part Rapid Canyon.

Every year June to August this becomes a perfect spot for the king salmon and chum salmon, that come all the way up from Bering Sea. During the short summer season, fishing camps are set up at various places along the Yukon River, and along this Rapid Canyon in particular. The fishing camps are places where Athabaskan Indians and others who rely on salmon for their food in winter, come after leaving their villages, set up camps on the river beds, and sustain their lives by catching salmon. They set up camp each with their family, and live together with their family on the river bed.

Quite a few of these kind of camps are scattered along the Yukon. Each camp holds a number of facilities, for example a simple hut, which becomes the center of life, a place that serves as sort of a drying rack for drying the gutted salmon and a shack where the salmon is smoked. The hut that becomes the living quarters of course is the place to hide from rain, but also doubles as the bedroom, kitchen and dining room.

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A Malamute, a dog breed well-suited to arctic conditions that Wada found very useful for mushing.

Wada proposed to Seward Chamber of Commerce to mush the Iditarod trail and proof that it was a very practical route from Seward to the mining town of Iditarod for the period when river navigation is hindered by ice. The prospect of increased traffic through Seward made Wada win their support and he mushed the trail, spotted locations suited to set up roadhouses, and improved the trail removing obstacles. His assistant in all this was Frank J. Cotter, who went on to write poems, published in 1918 as Rhymes of a Roughneck. In the poem The Malamute, Wada is mentioned once, and the lines thereafter likely reflect the mamories of their joint effort opening the Iditarod trail. Following “He” references to Wada, and possibly next “He” and “his” can be read as pointing to Wada, although some liberty of interpretation remains. Here an excerpt:

‘Twas a malamute first scaled the Chilkoot
  At the time of the great Klondike charge;
‘Twas a malamute first saw Lake Bennett
  And left his footprints at La Barge;
They hauled the first mail into Dawson,
  That Land of the Old Timer’s dream,
And when Wada first drove in from Fairbanks
  He was driving a malamute team.

They broke the first trail into Bettles
  With no guide save the lone Northern Star;
They freighted next year to Kantishna
  And from there to the famed Chandelar.
They know the long trail to Innoko,
  Tacotna and Iditarod too,
For there’s never a Camp in the Northland
  But what these same malamutes knew.

They brought the first sport to the Nome Beach
  Where they showed up in action and deed
That the North dog is game as they make them
  And besides that has plenty of speed.
He came home with the bacon from Candle
  Like a bat out of Hell, thru the snow,
And the plunger that cashed in his “out tab”
  Was his pardner, the Old Sourdough. …

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