Choosing the Team

Paws Along the Trail with Team Captains

How do mushers who use dogs from the same kennel choose their Iditarod dog teams? Matthew Failor says they divide up the dogs “like a school yard game.” In 2017, he and Michael Baker chose teams from the same kennel, 17th Dog.

“We choose certain dogs to balance the teams,” said Failor. Balancing the team includes:

  1. A mix of males and females
  2. Adult dogs and younger 15-16 month old dogs
  3. Dogs that get along
  4. Dogs that can be interchanged for positions on the team

Using magnetic name strips on an old cookie sheet helps these mushers sort their dogs as the Iditarod approaches.

Magnetic teams can be rearranged on the cookie sheet

When it is time to harness the dogs onto the gangline (the center line that keeps the team hooked together), Iditarod veteran Ed Stielstra looks for the following characteristics as to which dogs will be paired together:

  1. Gait – do they trot or lope when they run?
  2. Size
  3. Eating speed – a fast eater will reach over and eat his slower partner’s food if a musher isn’t careful

Mushers may bring 24 dogs to Vet Check, held within two weeks of the race start.  The dogs are examined by veterinarians for good health.  From those 24 screened dogs, the musher may choose a maximum of 16 to begin the race.  As mentioned above, many logical factors go into the decision making.  

Some kennels select A, B, and C teams based on the dogs’ abilities.  The C team might be younger dogs that need experience on the Iditarod and could later move up to be A team members. Stories abound of dogs that weren’t considered worthy to race, but another musher found untapped talent in them, just like we teachers find in students!  

Jeff King’s team in 2017

Running the Iditarod is definitely a logical, strategic sport; choosing the dogs that will best work as a team is a thinking exercise for the mushers.

Training students to think logically is one of our tasks as teachers.  Here are some Iditarod logic puzzles for students and a lesson plan to train students to build their own.

Logic Puzzle 1

Mushers Logic Puzzle

Using Logic Lesson Plan