Training Sled Dogs to Accept Booties

Dear Friends,

Winter is here and we sled dogs are loving our training runs with the mushers!  Many of you know that we wear cloth booties on our feet when we run the Iditarod.  These fit over our four paws and a Velcro strip keeps each snug on our ankles.   The reason we wear them is because snow can pack between our toes when we run on wet snow. 

Have you ever tried to put a bootie on your pet dog’s paw?  Often, they don’t like it and won’t even step down when it covers their feet.  That makes kids wonder how the sled dogs of the Iditarod are so willing to allow booties after each stop along the trail.

Martin Buser puts a bootie on his dog in White Mountain checkpoint.

Two mushers shared their training tips.  They both said that the main way to ensure that dogs allow booties is to touch their feet often when they are puppies.  This is from musher Kristy Berington of Seeing Double Kennels:

“We start fussing with our dogs’ feet when they are puppies.  They are used to us handling them in all sorts of ways.  Our dogs also hold a foot in the air at first when a bootie is fitted, being confused about what is on their foot; with repetition, they learn to accept the foreign object.  Rewarding the dog with play time, treats, or a walk can help associate a dog bootie with something fun.  In our case, it’s a run out on the trails!”

One bootie off, three to go while resting at Unalakleet.

Shaynee Traska shared about training sled dogs to accept booties:

“I would say part of it starts when they are very little pups.  We play with their feet a lot to get them used to all the handling they will get when they are big.  This helps greatly with clipping toenails, checking the inside of their feet, and putting booties on.  The younger you can put boots on them to get an idea of what it will be like, the better.”

Since our handlers start us early, we usually don’t mind wearing booties for runs through the snow.  Once the team stops, however, we are ready to take them off,  just like you like to take off your shoes.  Hope this answers some questions for you about why sled dogs willingly accept booties on our feet!

Until next time,