Sled dogs: at home in the snow

Updated

August 31, 2016 3:33:27 PM

Photo:
A husky with eyes of different colors. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)

After being thrown into Australian animal shelters, many of these alpine dogs have been given a second chance to thrive where they belong.

Madness is the best word to describe the scene at the start line of the sled dog race.

Howls echo from Mount Buller as eager huskies struggle to contain their excitement.

That’s what they were born to do.

After a demonstration last year, this is the first official race on the mountain in Victoria’s alpine region, and its competitors come from all over Australia. A couple comes from abroad.

Huskies tend not to bark, but many have learned to make noise from other dogs in their household.

Karly Cunningham with her dog Loki.

Photo:
Karly Cunningham with her dog Loki. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)

Sled dog race competitors have a meeting

Photo:
Sled dog racers meet at the starting line. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)

Husky owner David Wyatt and Banzai

Photo:
Husky owner David Wyatt and Banzai. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)

Before the race, there is a lot of chatter.

“They’re probably all excited to go for a run and think how much they’d like to go now rather than wait 50 minutes,” said Markus Israng of Western Australia.

The entrance to the Mount Buller Snowfields.

Photo:
The entrance to the Mount Buller Snowfields. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)

The dogs wait excitedly in the trailer

Photo:
The dogs wait excitedly in the trailer as event organizers set up the course. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)

Water bowls for sled dogs fill up

Photo:
A dog handler fills dog water bowls before the race. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)

A husky sled dog howls before the start of the race.

Photo:
A husky sled dog howls before the start of the race. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)

Alpine dogs participate in a sled race at Mount Buller.

Photo:
Alpine dogs participate in a sled race at Mount Buller. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)

Rescue dogs turned athletes

Sled dog racer Markus Israng

Photo:
Markus Israng from WA with one of his rescue dogs. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)

Markus and his wife Ursi traveled from the hills of Perth with six of their pets.

All are rescue dogs.

“We know some of them are very submissive so they must have been abused, we know one of them was tossed because she had a particular disease and people didn’t want to take care of it,” says Markus.

“The main reason they end up in the pound is because they look really fluffy and like a teddy bear when they’re little and then they become great sporting dogs. If you don’t train them and don’t don’t stimulate them mentally, they’ll start to be very destructive.”

Sled dog racer Markus Israng

Photo:
Markus Israng came from WA to participate in the Victorian Sled Dog Tour. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)

Sled dog racer Markus Israng

Photo:
Markus and Ursi Israng massage one of their rescue huskies. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)

Markus Israng races his huskies at Mount Buller

Photo:
Markus Israng races his huskies at Mount Buller. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)

These fervent dog lovers who left Switzerland to escape the cold are currently on the snow circuit of sled dogs.

Mount Buller is followed by Dinner Plain and Falls Creek.

The environment is very different from the red dirt roads they train on around their WA property.

A contestant came from Toowoomba in Queensland.

But like ducks to water, when dogs hit the snow, they’re home.

“As soon as they see the snow, they jump for joy, they jump in the snow, they dig”

“It’s really nice to see them in their natural environment and how they react to snow fields.”

A wide shot of a snow capped Mount Buller.

Photo:
A snow capped Mount Buller. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)

A not-so-hairy contestant wears a winter coat.

Photo:
A not-so-hairy contestant wears a winter coat. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)

Snow Dog Booties

Photo:
Some non-Alpine breed dogs need extra help to deal with icy conditions. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)

Nicki with her kelpie Laska

Photo:
Nicki, a woman from Sydney, also has rescue dogs of other breeds in her pack. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)

A rescue dog

Photo:
A rescue dog who loves snow racing. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)

Among these alpine natives are four-legged rescue animals that were not born with natural snow coats.

But dressed in jackets and slippers, some of them want to run on the ice just as much.

A husky sled dog howls before the start of the race.

Photo:
A husky sled dog howls before the start of the race. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)

Alpine dogs participate in a sled race at Mount Buller.

Photo:
Alpine dogs participate in a sled race at Mount Buller. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)

A husky looks closer at the camera lens.

Photo:
A husky looks closer at the camera lens. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)

The sled dog team runs towards the finish line

Photo:
A team of sled dogs races towards the finish line. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)

In this sport, having the right team dynamics is crucial.

The peloton follows the lead dog, and the lead dog is trained to follow the commands of the sled driver, known as the musher.

Brett Hadden and Neisha Gschwend have a herd of 37 Siberian huskies at their property in Cobungra near Mount Hotham.

They run teams of up to 16 dogs, which means carefully matched personalities both on and off the track.

“Liabilities run together and assets run together.

“You have to figure out who’s faster and slower, and who’s going to get along with who in the ranks of the gang line.

“They all have different personalities. Some get along well with others and some don’t, just like human beings.”

Husky puppies in the snow

Photo:
Brett Hadden and his puppies walk in the snow. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)

Husky puppy in the snow

Photo:
Brett Hadden is already looking for leadership qualities in his seven four-month-old puppies. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)

Brett doesn’t have much to do to convince his huskies to run.

When they’re not running, they organize dog sledding tours in the Alpine National Park.

In the off season, he says they hang out and hunt rabbits on the property.

When it’s time to run, no amount of massage or whispered words can calm them down.

These dogs have been around for thousands of years and were bred by nomadic tribes to pull sleds.

Brett and his team spend countless hours training unwanted alpine dogs into skilled athletes. “As a musher you have to have experience to be able to control the team, you can’t let them dictate you as a rider,” says Brett.

“You want to give them stamina and train them to stay in their position and look for young leaders to come up through the ranks.”

And with a four-month-old litter joining the pack, there are seven potential candidates.

Alpine dogs participate in a nighttime sled race on Mount Buller.

Photo:
Alpine dogs participate in a nighttime sled race on Mount Buller. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)

More than a sport

Sled dog racing here may not be as advanced as places like Alaska or Austria.

But it continues to grow in the Australian Alps.

Competitor Courtney Persson, who is in the country on a work visa from Canada, brought her dogs on a cargo ship.

Canadian sled dog racer Courtney Persson

Photo:
Canadian sled dog racer Courtney Persson with her dogs. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)

Although there is still a long way to go before the popularity and prize money matches that of her home country, she says the sled dog circuit here has crucial winter sport elements. global.

“Winning dogs at home are nothing like that – they’re speed demons, they’re amazing athletes,” she says.

“The sportsmanship is great here, people love their dogs as much as we do back home.

“That’s really what sport is about – dogs and people.”

And for many of these dogs, this sport has been a lifeline.

Topics:

animals, winter-sports, mont-buller-3723

First publication

04 August 2016 16:45:12

Bette C. Alvarado