Primary Source of the Month: November

“How do they keep track of all of those dogs?” This is a common question asked by students. The answer depends, of course, on who is doing the tracking! Mushers inevitably know every dog in their kennel better then most people know their families. But during the race, something more is needed. The dogs are tracked in two ways: microchips and collar tags. The collar tags are labeled with a roman numeral on one side representing the race year. The other side features a letter and number. The number is the starting position of the team, while the letter a letter used to designate each dog. The tag letter corresponds to the vet book which must be presented at each checkpoint. In this manner, the vets are able to share information about individual dogs in a team with each other. See the source photo in the online museum.

Using the Source With Students

  • Share the source with your students and allow them time to investigate it on their own. Students could be asked to complete a See, Think, Wonder chart.
  • Have the students share with a partner or small group their observations, thoughts, and questions
  • Discuss as a group: This is an Iditarod dog collar tag turned into a piece of wearable art by musher Monica Zappa. The tag is from one of her Iditarod races and was sold as a fundraiser for subsequent races. Discuss why tags like this may become collectors’ items.
  • No dogs on the team are assigned letters I or O. Why? (They look like numbers, so it gets too confusing.)
  • Dogs are also tracked by microchip. Do any students have pets that are microchipped? Why might people choose to do microchip their pets?
  • As a follow up, students could design a new collar tag for the race. What design would they like to see that is both attractive and functional?

Associated Resources:

  • DeeDee Jonrowe’s Dog Tag at the Smithsonian: Here
  • How Does Iditarod Keep Track of the Dogs: Here


Extension Activities:

  • Recreate a set of team dog tags on paper tags for younger kids to practice putting in numeric or alphabetical order.
  • Create a set of dog tags on paper tags for older students to practice ordering Roman Numerals.