The Powerful Pull of Sled Dogs!
This week I’m blogging about the true heroes and athletes of the Iditarod, sled dogs. I’ll share an Adopt-a-Dog Journal, an idea sent in by an Alaska teacher, and explain the Idita-harness, a kinesthetic experience you'll want to share with your students.
Read on to find out more . . .
The pull of the dogs is a powerful way to get students engaged and excited about the Iditarod. There’s so much to learn about the dogs, their breeding, health, diet, and training. Finding out about sled dogs involves students in online research, offline library book exploration, and lots of writing.
Photo: A statue of the famous sled dog, Balto, in Central Park.
It’s common for a musher, or sled dog racer, to own 60–80 dogs and to have doghouses neatly lined up in his front yard. A musher will select 16 of his most promising dogs for the Iditarod. Most Iditarod dogs are Alaskan huskies, a crossbreed characterized by intelligence, endurance, and speed. There are smaller numbers of purebred Siberian huskies and Samoyeds in the race.
Taking Care of Dogs
Caring for sled dogs during the Iditarod is a top priority. At every checkpoint there’s a veterinarian who examines each dog for signs of fatigue, illness, or injury. Dogs that are judged unfit to continue remain at the checkpoint and are later flown to Nome to be reunited with their team at the finish line. Dogs can be subtracted from a team, but no dogs can be added during the race. The maximum number of dogs is 16, and at least six dogs must remain when a team crosses the finish line. Since the number of dogs affects a musher’s speed, dropped dogs can affect the outcome of a race.
Photo: My students wrote cinquains about their sled dogs.
Each Dog Has a Role
Each dog in a team has a special role to play. Lead dogs are especially important since they blaze the trail, set the pace, and respond to commands. Behind lead dogs are swing dogs and team dogs, and immediately in front of the sled are powerful wheel dogs.
Last week I received a comment from Jen Lium, a teacher at Riverbend Elementary in Juneau, Alaska. Jen offered to share her lesson ideas with Top Teaching Blog readers. Thanks so much, Jen! Read Jen's Adopt-a-Dog Journal lesson plan. Jen also included lyrics for Hobo Jim's "Iditarod Trail Song." To listen to the zydeco-like music and sing along, watch the video. Jen's class even made dog biscuits and donated them to an animal shelter! Download her Togo Treats recipe to do the same. You can also download bookmarks, which make good gifts for IditaRead participants (see last week's post).
A few years ago I purchased four Idita-harnesses (see photo). Each harness is made of a maze of nylon rope. A musher sits on a carpet square while five classmates pull her around the gym. Our gym teacher, Arlene, set up a trail or obstacle course and students had fun while getting lots of exercise. No one complained of being tired though pulling a sled is work!
Recently I looked for Idita-harnesses online and was unable to find them, but you can make your own.
Next week: Read more about the Iditarod as the race approaches!