Create Your Own Iditarod Team

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BSSD Standards Addressed

Science Level 3

Create Your Own Dog Team'
Prepare to Race

Objective: This project is designed to provide thoughtful insight into the makeup of a sled team. The actual composition, selection, maintenance and management of the team including temperaments of the animals, behavior management, team cooperation, planning of feedings, waterings, pooping schedules and kennel design. The student will become mindful of the strategy involved in harnessing, kenneling and care-taking of a sled team. It can be modified as an individual, team or class project.

Materials Needed: clay, white paper, colored paper, glue, toothpicks, measuring tape or yardstick, compass, scissors, yarn, collected supplies (outside), tissue paper, poster board/butcher paper

  1. Building your team
  2. Naming your team
  3. Characteristics of your team
  4. Modeling your team
  5. Selecting a dog-lot site
  6. Surveying your selected site
  7. Modeling your selected site
  8. Modeling your dog houses
  9. Modeling your dog-lot layout

Building your team:

Your sled team will consist of 16 dogs and you, their leader, their friend and their caretaker. They will depend on you to feed them, shelter them and lead them down every trail. However, the makeup of your team is highly important.

There are many ways to hitch a team, however most races require the tandem hitch as shown in diagram 1. This is commonly accepted as the safest. Notice that there are many different positions for your dogs to be in. What are they?

Every dog in the team plays a very important role in your team. The lead dogs are important because he or she is always excited to run in front and likes to break trail even when it is difficult to find. This dog is especially important because he or she sets the pace for the entire team and is able to listen to your commands at all times. What characteristics will you look for in your lead dogs?

The swing dogs run right behind the lead dogs. Swing dogs act as the lead dogs' helper in setting the team's pace. They also help turn the team left and right. Swing dogs have to follow your commands as well and will often be your future lead dogs in training. What characteristics will you look for in your swing dogs?

The team dogs are very important because they provide the majority of your power. These dogs like to run and follow the dog in front of them. They are strong and pull hard. What characteristics will you look for in the team dogs?

Right in front of you are the wheel dogs. The swing dogs help turn the team and are especially important in keeping the sled safe and upright. They also need to be especially aware of your commands of when to go and when to stop. What characteristics will you look for in the wheel dogs?

Dogteam diagram.gif

Now that you know a little bit about the makeup of your team, it is time to think about the breed and age of your dogs. Many mushers breed their dogs specifically for the type of race they are running, either a sprint or distance race. Being that the Iditarod is a distance race in extreme temperatures, what physical characteristics will you want to look for in a breed of dog?

Research a breed of dog that you would like to have on your sled team. Possible breeds include Alaskan malamute, Husky, Siberian Husky.

Why did you choose the breed that you did? Make a list of the characteristics of the dog breed that will be most beneficial to your sled team and to your overall chances of winning the race.

It's time to name your team members and select your lead dogs, swing dogs, team dogs and wheels dogs. First, name your 16 dogs. A lot of mushers like to go with a theme when they name their dogs. An example is mountain ranges, rivers and streams of Alaska, village names, it's up to you!

Name your dogs!

















Now that you've named your individual team members, it is time to describe them and give them each an individual personality. Remember to go back to the characteristics you thought were important for each team position. Complete the chart below for all of your dogs. The more creative you are, the more realistic your team will become. Look at the example and imagine each dog in real life. You take care of them every day, for hours and hours! You know everything that makes them unique. Use your imagination!

Take a look at this example. Ulu is a 4 year-old, black husky with a white-mask. She likes to pull to the right and fights with Ulaak anytime they get the chance. She chews on the gang-line if she is next to Saw, a swing dog. She tends to growl at strange dogs and she doesn't have the best eyesight, so she spooks easily. She is in the lead dog position. Is Ulu placed correctly? Why or why not? If not, what would be a better team position for her?

Ex. Ulu Team Husky Black

White Mask

4 yrs. Pulls to the right, doesn't like Ulaak. Chews on gangline if next to Saw. Tends to growl at other dogs. Spooks easily. Good eater.

Now is the fun part. Build a model of your sled team! Don't forget that this includes you! Follow this link to a great website for clay Iditarod teams. Keep in mind that you will be building a kennel for your team in a limited space, so don't go crazy! Keep it simple and fun. Remember to look back at your team chart. This would be a good time to add characteristics and personality quirks to your dogs.

After you've created your sled team, line them up and take a look at all of the personalities you have. Do you need to change positions with anyone? Do you have any strong personalities next to each other who fight a lot?

In a sled team, every dog is a winner, every dog thinks he or she is the alpha, but you are the leader. Your command has to be obeyed for every dog to be happy and for your sled to stay upright and safe. You are the only true alpha dog. Take a look at alpha dog behavior and how to exert yourself. (This is only a suggested site. Spend some time researching other dog behavior sites.)

What behaviors will you choose exhibit to your dogs to show that you are the alpha dog? What will you do if your dogs show aggression towards you and/or each other. Why is it important to know what to do before it happens?

Your team will need a place to sleep and feel at home. Be it a dog-lot or a full-fledged kennel, this should be a clean, safe place for your dogs to rest and be doggy. Brainstorm the necessary items required to build a dog-lot with the materials readily available in your village/area. Keep in mind that it is expensive to ship materials into a village and that dogs are likely to chew and repairs will be a necessary and constant concern. Try to think of things that are inexpensive and easy to obtain.

Now that you have your necessary items, it is time to design a kennel. What are your dogs' needs? Brainstorm a list of your dogs' needs regarding housing, security, cleanliness, hygiene, warmth, chain length and safety. Make a chart listing each topic and brainstorm each.

Think about the geography around you. What kind of soil do you have? Do you have trees that are likely to fall? Is the area likely to flood? It it a known game trail where moose or caribou frequent? Is there potable water available nearby? Is the trail easily accessible to nearby trails for training?

Prioritize in order of greatest importance, #1 being most important, the ideal qualities you will look for in a location for your kennel.











Locate 3 possible kennel site locations in your village/area that fit the requirements that you have prioritized.

Create a positive/negative list for each location.

Choose one location for the site of your dog-lot.

Prepare to survey your site to build a scale model of your dog-lot. Decide on an appropriate size of your dog-lot, unless already pre-determined by natural limitations (i.e. mountains, rivers, oceans, etc.) Mark the area with wooden stakes that are easily visible.

Measure the length and width of the lot and create sketches to take back to the classroom. Note any natural impediments such as trees, large rocks, elevation change,etc. that will limit your lot's use. Be sure and include these items on your sketch.

What unit of measurement did you use? Why did you use this measurement? What other measurements could you have used? Convert your measurement into at least two other units and decide which is most appropriate and easy for you to use on a scale model basis. Explain why you chose this form of measurement and give 2 reasons for your choice.

Calculate the perimeter and area of your dog-lot.

Complete a clean sketch of your dog lot with accurate measurements in your final unit. Look at your completed dog team. Find the average length of your model dog. Go back to the research that you completed on the various breeds and find the average length of the breed that you chose. Use the following equation to calculate your scale factor to complete your dog-lot model.

average length of model dog / average length of breed = scale factor

Perform the necessary calculations to determine the scale of your model dog-lot.

length of dog-lot x scale factor = model length of dog lot
width of dog-lot x scale factor = model width of dog lot

Calculate the perimeter, circumference and area of your model dog-lot.

Now it is time to create a model of your scaled dog-lot. With your calculations of the new dimensions, carefully measure the exact measurements of your dog-lot onto butcher paper, construction paper, cardboard, etc. Be sure and mark any natural objects that you noted on your sketch.

When you have cut out your model dog-lot and secured it to a sturdy base, introduce your team to their new home. Think back to their different personalities, their role in the sled team and their individual temperaments. What kind of housing arrangement best suits them?

Here is a website to look at for more ideas as you consider the design of your housing arrangement.

How long of a chain do your dogs need? How much room do they need to run and play? How far away from each other do they need to be for their safety and happiness? If they're too close they can fight or get their chains tied together and strangle themselves. If they're too far away, they suffer from loneliness. Remember, that dogs are pack animals and want to be close.

Think about these questions and arrange your dogs within your kennel appropriately. Keep in mind that you need enough room to move easily through the lot with food, water and poop-scooping materials without the potential for the dogs tipping food, water and poop in their excitement.

Why is this arrangement the best? Give 2 reasons to support your answer.

Think about the best type of dog house for your village/area, using the materials you brainstormed about earlier. Brainstorm qualities that are important in a dog house. Look back at your list and remember cleanliness and warmth are key to keeping a dog healthy and happy during extreme temperatures. Look at the following website for ideas.

Draw a sketch of your dog house. Decide on measurements that work well with your dogs and build 16, model dog houses. You might want to personalize your dog houses according to each dog. Be creative!!!

Decide on the length of chain you want for each of your dogs. Keep in mind that it has to be long enough to allow them full access to their dog houses as well the ability to jump on top of and over their dog house. Once you've determined an appropriate length, look at the following websites to see different opinions about chain lengths.

What length of chain did you decide to use? Will this allow your dog adequate room to run and get in and out of his house safely? Can he/she jump on top of his house?

Why did you chose the length of chain that you did? Site 2 reasons for your choice.

The length of your chain will be the radius of your dogs running circle.

radius = chain length x scale factor

Using a compass, draw 16 circles with the radius that you have chosen on blank white paper.

What is the diameter, circumference and area of your circles?

Think about a necessary safe distance between the dogs. Remember that even though their heads are restrained, they are agile animals with a desire to play. They can especially become determined when a food or water bowl, or favorite stick or bone falls out of reach into another dog's area. Carefully place your circle on your model dog lot. Imagine your dogs bodies running, playing and circling around their house.

Once you have decided on the exact distance necessary between your dogs' running circles, calculate the new radius of the distance between the dog houses. This should equal the length of each dog's chain plus the safety distance for their body.

2nd circle radius = 1st circle radius + (safety distance x scale factor)

Using a compass and different colored paper, cut out 16 circles with the radius you calculated. What is the diameter and area of your new circles?

Affix the 1st circle to to the exact middle of the 2nd circle. Affix them permanently in your dog-lot. Now you know that your dogs are safe and can run around without fear of entanglement or injury!

How did you determine the exact center of your circle? Looking at the final layout of your model dog-lot, are you pleased? What did you do well? What could you have done differently? Take a look at other dog-lot arrangements of your classmates. How is yours different, the same?

Now it is time to stake your chains. Remember that they will have to securely staked at the center of your inner circle, to have the movement about the entire inner circle. Using a toothpick and clay, glue the toothpick in the middle of the inner circle.

Did you put a collar on your dogs? A good choice is yarn. Using your inner circle's measurement, cut 16 chain lengths with a little to spare to tie onto the collar. Tether your dogs to their new dog-lot!

Finally, move their new home in! Decide where to put their home so that they can enter it easily and have room to turn around in it. Fill it with shredded tissue paper for warmth!

Welcome home, sled team....Get ready to train!!!!!

Walk around your dog-lot and greet all of your dogs, your friends! Watch the sun go down and listen to their happy howls as they prepare to sleep, happily fed and watered.

You did a great job!!!
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