Dog Team Hitches and Math

Paws Along the Trail with Hitches and Math

These dogs are harnessed onto a gangline

Most of us picture a dog sled team harnessed in tandem along a gangline, pulling a sled.  For the Iditarod teams, this formation keeps the dogs closer together which is good for narrow, wooded trails.  Pulling power is  concentrated.  Dog teams can also be hitched into a fan formation where the dogs “fan out” to spread out the weight, especially over rough ice or areas without trees. Inuit and Greenland hunters often use the fan hitch for their teams.  Dogs are able to choose their own paths in this formation.

Fan formation – “Shadow Fan” photo credit Paul Martin, Pacific Crest Samoyeds


I have included a hands-on math lesson in number sense, usually one of the first math units of the school year.  It allows intermediate students to explore the concept of prime and composite numbers.  

Students receive bags of squares which represent dogs.  They must arrange the dogs to have at least one or more partners for a gangline hitch.  If there cannot be equal rows, a fan formation must be used.  Any fan formations will end up being a prime number of dogs.  Gangline rows of dogs will be composite numbers.  

For primary students, the concept of odd and even numbers can be explored as they create a gangline hitch for even numbers of dogs, and a fan hitch for odd numbers.

View this lesson plan for specific ways to incorporate the two hitches into a number sense math lesson!  

 Math Hitches Lesson Plan

Recording Sheet for Math with Dog Harnesses

Other Iditarod Teacher News!

Need a boost to begin using the Iditarod or to get fresh ideas?  There will be an Iditarod teachers’ conference in Virginia offered October 14, 15, 2017. Hear speakers give standards-based teaching ideas for incorporating the Iditarod, participate in Skype sessions with mushers, and network with other teachers who love the race and see the motivation it brings to the classroom!  Contact the ITC EDU Director, Diane Johnson, at for additional details.