Sled dogs are raised to enjoy running. Once they are old enough, they are placed on a team and tested in different positions. Each dog then assumes a specific role within the team. At the front of each team are lead dogs, which, alone or in pairs, set the pace. Leaders are usually the most intelligent dogs and are trained individually. It is essential that they learn commands and automatically obey the musher. The lead dog is followed by swing dogs, or point dogs, who help guide the sled. Swing dogs must also be intelligent. In the event another lead dog is needed, a swing dog serves as the replacement. The middle dogs, or team dogs, provide the main pulling power of the team. The two dogs closest to the sled are called the wheel dogs. They must be agile and able to pull the sled around tight turns.
Mushers must know basic veterinary skills to care for the teamís health. While traveling, mushers closely monitor their dogs for fatigue and injuries. Most vulnerable are the paws, which suffer cuts and abrasions from the snow and ice. Mushers treat sore feet with balms and protect them with fabric booties.