Dog sleds (or sledges) are important to Arctic peoples’ culture and lifestyle. Utilizing dogs to pull sleds is thought to have begun in Siberia around 7000 years ago. Up until recent times, travel by dog team was the main method of transportation during the winter.
Dog sleds allowed people to move or travel to hunting grounds. Although it is now common to have eight to ten dogs, previously people could maintain only two or three dogs and sleds were used to haul gear while people usually walked.
For at least 4000 years the Inuit bred dogs or qim-miq for sleds.
The Alaskan malamute, originally completely native to Alaska, is a large dog developed by the Inuit of Alaska to haul heavy loads at steady speeds over long distances.
It is related to the Finnish spitz and the Samoyed.
The slightly smaller Canadian Inuit dog, also known as American husky, or the Esquimaux dog is endemic to Canada while the Greenland dog is the same breed, that is, an Inuit dog originating from Greenland.
The Alaskan husky is a crossbreed from the Siberian husky.
There is a large amount of traditional knowledge related to the utilization of dog sleds, and almost every technical aspect is subject to variation, contributing to a large and often diverse body of traditional knowledge.
There have been great changes to the equipment needed for dog sleds as the available materials changed. The sled, whips, lines, harnesses, and connectors were constructed from a variety of different materials. In areas north of the treeline, wood was a precious commodity for building sleds and was acquired mainly by collecting driftwood along the shores.
Consequently, people fashioned sleds from other available materials. Frozen fish wrapped in skins were used to make runners with antler or bone to form the crosspieces.
Sleds have also been constructed from whalebones and antlers. Sled runners were often shod with bone, ivory, or ice; more recent materials include steel or plastic.
Sleds with soil or sod runners need a layer of ice, which is made by lightly spraying water from the mouth and then smoothing over the area with fur. The water freezes, forming a glasslike layer over the soil. Currently, wood is readily available and most sleds are constructed from wood with a variety of different runners.
The optimum runner for a sled changes with environmental conditions and the type of snow. Flexibility is the key element in construction and sleds are lashed together without nails to allow for elasticity of movement when crossing rough terrain.