The basic dogsled is made of wood, metal, and plastic. Drivers stand on the back of the sled and direct the dogs with voice commands. The most common are gee for right, haw for left, hike to go, and whoa to stop. Drivers make the sled run smoothly by shifting their body weight around turns, pedaling with one leg, and getting off to push or pull the sled. A musher’s most important responsibility, however, is to the dogs: feeding and watering them, checking their health, and tending to injuries.
The type and number of dogs used on a team depend on climate and workload. Alaskan Malamutes, American Eskimo dogs, and Siberian huskies are the most common sled dogs. These breeds have compact feet and double coats of fur, and are comfortable running at temperatures from 5° to -40° C (40° to -40° F). In warmer climates drivers use a greater variety of breeds, especially short-haired pointers and husky-hound mixes.
For short trips with little cargo, drivers use teams of 6 to 12 dogs. If heavy cargo, long distances, or deep snow are factors, a driver may use 16 or more dogs. As additional dogs are added to the team, the musher must spend more time training the dogs individually in order to retain control and help the dogs work as a team. Consequently, drivers must seek a balance between power and manageability when they form a team.