Interview with a Musher – guiding dogsled tours and running a husky kennel in Sweden

With our range of dog sledding holidays in Sweden becoming ever more popular with each winter season, we regularly receive questions about life as a musher and what to expect during a dogsled tour.

Below, Viki from Nature Travels interviews Urban, head guide for our dogsled tours in the beautiful mountain region of Jämtland in north-west Sweden. Urban manages his own kennels and normally runs all his own dogs on the tours. Group sizes are very small, normally max. just 4 persons, creating a very personal atmosphere for all participants.

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Urban’s speciality is husky tours combining the adventure and excitement of dog sledding with the added challenge of winter camping, but whichever tour you choose, you will have a warm and comfortable night in cabin at the Husky Lodge at the start and end!

Urban currently runs four dogsled tours for Nature Travels:

Q. How many Huskies do you have?
A. Quite a lot – I currently have 33 dogs in total, 30 adults and 3 puppies.
[See the Nature Travels Facebook page for pictures of husky puppies recently born at the kennels!]

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Q. How many puppies do the dogs have on average?
A. It really depends, on average I would say about 6 – although a friend of mine had a bitch who once had 11 – so it’s quite difficult to give an estimate.

Q. Are Siberian Huskies very friendly?
A. They are very friendly, sociable dogs – they love to be around people.

Q. Do you have a favourite Husky?
A. Yes I do, his name is White. He’s 12 now and he’s my lead dog. I will probably run him for about another year and then retire him.

Q. Is there a hierarchy within the Huskies?
A. Yes, there’s a natural hierarchy, but it’s not always as you would think. For example a small female may come higher in the ranks than a large, strong male.  It’s decided within the group, as they go from puppies to adulthood they naturally rise within the ranks. 

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Q. How do you train the dogs to pull a sled?
A. To be honest, I can’t actually remember how I trained them the first time! The puppies actually train themselves when you put them in with the other dogs.  It’s a very natural progression for them.

Q. How many years do the dogs normally work for?
A. My dogs normally work for about 10–12 years.

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Q. What do the Huskies eat?
A. I feed mine meat and pellets.

Q. Where do the Huskies sleep at night whilst on a dog sled tour?
A. They sleep outside in the snow. If the weather’s bad we build snow shelters to protect them from the mountain winds.

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Q. Would a Siberian Husky make a good pet?
A. They do make good pets. However, it really depends on their blood line to distinguish how good a pet the dog would make. For instance, if they have a showing blood line then, yes, they would make good pets. If they have a working blood line then they would not be as suitable.

Q. Do the dogs moult in the Summer?
A. Yes they do – an awful lot in fact!

Q. The dogs look very much like wolves, do they howl like one?
A. They do howl like wolves – especially after they have eaten. It’s a very bewitching sound but one that you quickly get used to.

Q. Do the dogs like to swim in the Summer?
A. They would probably love it, but I’ve never taken my dogs swimming so I don’t have any experience of this!

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Q. Do you only have Siberian Huskies or other breeds of Husky as well?
A. I mostly have Siberian Huskies but at the moment I have 3 Alaskan Huskies as well.

Q. Do you ever sell any of the puppies?
A. Yes, I usually sell about half of my puppies.

Q. Do you breed all your own dogs?
A. I breed most of them but not all, I do buy some as well.

Q. Is dog sled racing a sport – can you take part in races anywhere?
A. Yes, dog sled racing is very much a sport. I have been racing for over 10 years and love it.

Q. How many kilometres a day could the dogs pull a sled?
A. It’s normally around 30 kilometres although it does depend very much on weather conditions.

Q. Typically, how long would you spend sledding on a dog sled tour per day?
A. Usually about 6 hours in total, 3 hours in the morning and 3 in the afternoon, again depending on weather conditions.

Q. How do you know where you are going, do you use maps or a compass?
A. I always know where I’m going! I’ve travelled the trails loads and loads so I know them like the back of my hand. It’s really important to know where the best places to stop are, especially if the weather gets bad. It’s also important for security that I know where the nearest roads are.

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Q. When you are dog sledding, what happens if the weather is really bad?
A. If we were to wake up and it’s really bad, we’d stay put until it improves. We’d probably do some ice fishing or something else instead. If we were actually out on the trail we’d make our way back to the last cabin or tipi if it was closer, if not we’d put our tents up and see the weather out.

Q. What’s the lowest temperature you have known in your area of Sweden?
A. I’ve known it go as low as -42 degrees C, I’ve actually slept outside in -32!

Q. What’s the accommodation like on a dog sled tour?
A. It depends which tour you go on but typically for my tours it’s either in simple but cosy mountain cabins, traditional Sami tipis which offer a comfortable and welcoming base or it’s wild camping in tents.

Q. How do you steer the sled?
A. You actually steer it with your body weight. You lean from side to side to change direction.

Q. Does the sled have a brake?
A. Yes, they have two, one is a foot plate for slowing down gradually, ie if you were going downhill you would slow the sled down so as not to overtake the dogs. There is also another brake to stop completely.

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Q. Do you have to be fit to participate in a dog sled tour?
A. Yes, you do, especially on wild camping tours up in the mountains. It’s not quite as physical on a tour in the lowlands but you still do need to be quite fit.

Q. Can children come on one of your dog sled tours?
A. No, they can’t I’m afraid. I would take strong, fit teenagers, but definitely not children, it’s too demanding.

See the Nature Travels website for more information on our husky holidays in Sweden.

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