How Long Do Sled Dogs Work and How do They Retire? by Michelle Keil

March 8


EVERY INDIVIDUAL DOG'S "CAREER" AT BUSH ALASKA SLED DOG EXPEDITIONS IS DIFFERENT. Just like people, the amount of time that each dog might spend in their "career" - i.e. as a working member of the dog teams - depends on the individual. The "average" career of a sled dog at Bush Alaska is probably 8-10 years - sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less - and most of them live to ripe old ages after they retire. They often live 14-16 years...quite old for big dogs!

NO DOG IS EVER FORCED TO WORK...beyond their desire or capabilities, and the dogs themselves basically decide when they are ready to retire from being a working sled dog. REMEMBER BACK WHEN I SAID RELATIONSHIP IS KEY??? The dogs "tell" you when it's time  :) If you remember Sir Jake from my tent camping post, he is semi-retired, meaning he only goes on shorter day trips or easy over-nighters like the tent camping trip. And he decides when/if he wants to go at all. On the morning we were preparing to leave, Jake let us know he wanted to go. So we made a space for him and he got to go!

BUSH ALASKA BASICALLY RAISES THEIR DOGS FROM PUPPYHOOD TO BE "WORKING PETS". Of course each has a name, a distinct personality and their own individual strengths, talents, likes and dislikes. Each one is trained to come when their name is called, they enjoy off-leash freedom around the homestead, they go on off-leash fun runs in the summer, and they take turns getting to spend time in the house. So their transition to the life of a retired "pet" is a pretty easy one. Many of their dogs already know ALL ABOUT THE COUCH 😁 and the retirees get to choose whether they sleep inside or out. If they choose outside, they have a nice comfy bed (a futon?) under the shelter of the arctic entry where they stay warm and dry and out of the wind.

MANY OF BUSH ALASKA'S RETIRED HUSKIES ARE former clients (like me!), or by other friends across the country and around the world. One of their retirees (Black Bear) even has a book written about her - Black Bear Goes To Washington! It is about her and her adventures in her new home, and a portion of the proceeds of the book are used to support the adoption and rehoming of retired Alaskan sled dogs!

OTHER RETIRED Sir Jake, will spend his golden years at the homestead, perhaps helping to teach the younger generations the basics and going for short runs with light sleds as part of that education. So being a retired sled dog is a pretty good gig 👍

THIS WAY OF REARING AND CARING FOR SLED DOGS DURING THEIR WORKING YEARS AND INTO common among mushers. Many mushers who keep quite a number of dogs in their kennels either retire them to their own couches or to the couches of other responsible pet owners who love to have the chance to care for a true Alaskan Husky of their own 💕