Sled dog retirement; rehoming stories from sofas across the world.
Contributions from; Sonia Cave, Debbie Knuvers, Ragni Olssøn, Karina Øvre, and Katie Gyltnes
When you join us on a husky dog sledding trip many of our guests are amazed at how much energy, drive and passion an alaskan husky has. These dogs are built to run. The alaskan huskies pulling your sled vary in age from just under 2 years old up to around 11 years old. We balance out the strength of our teams to keep the whole tour running at the same pace. This means making sure the very young and very old dogs also have some fit adults in the team to add a power boost.
Just like with our youngsters, the oldies don’t run every trip, or even necessarily every day. We observe them carefully on the trail and around the kennel. On days when they look a little stiff, they take a break and on days when they are indignant that they WILL join the team, then they join. Older experienced dogs are the perfect teachers for the puppies. Puppy training always involves our exceptionally patient and steady senior dogs. They teach the puppies to be calm in harness, hold a regular pace when running and begin to show them how to respond to directional commands from the guide. This is the best training our husky pups can receive.
As the season carries on, sometimes the days that our oldies ask to join the trip become fewer and fewer. Instead of an excited greeting in the mornings, you maybe get a little tail wag from inside their cosy dog house. Why leave your warm bed of straw when you can relax and sleep just a little more? This is the time that we wonder if they are ready to begin a new chapter in their lives. It is always decided on an individual basis.
When we place a sled dog into retirement and up for rehoming we like to be as open and honest as we can. This is a time to manage the expectations of the dog’s new family carefully. Our dogs have not been ‘pets’, so a huge amount of patience and a very big sense of humour is needed in the start.
These stories from the proud owners of our beautiful huskies paint a great picture of what it is like to live with a retired sled dog. Enjoy!
As a busy family of five, when we lost our beloved border collie four years ago, he left a hole that we all felt deeply. Fast forward a few years, and we relocated to Sweden from the UK. Within a few months I had well and truly fallen in love with the magical winter wonderland of the arctic. As this fascination developed I decided to join a weeklong dog sledding expedition and spent one week enveloped in the simplicity and beauty of this snowy paradise. During this expedition, we were all responsible for the care of our dog teams. I fell in love with their sweet faces and kind temperaments, as well as their incredible strength and endurance during the expedition. It was without a doubt one of the best experiences of my life.
A short eighteen months later and I saw on Arctic Adventure Tours instagram account that they had one or two huskies looking for retirement homes. I was nervous and yet excited. Could we consider adopting a dog that we had potentially never met? Would a sled dog adapt to our busy family life? I discussed it with my partner and we composed a short email explaining our living situation and what we were looking for in a dog. I knew from my experience on the weeklong dog sledding trip that all of the dogs in the kennel were great with people and absolutely loved human interaction. Of course I still had questions, and lots of them! But Sophia, the kennel manager handled them all expertly and suggested we consider Baileys. And a few weeks later here she was!
Baileys slotted into our lives without a hitch. She mastered house training very quickly, and although many people think huskies need a massive amount of exercise, they are also very good at resting when the opportunity arises. Our usual daily routine is a short toilet break in the morning, a longer afternoon walk or run beside the bike and then finally a short evening leg stretch around the block. Then when the day is done she is delighted to curl up in her ‘husky tuck’, nose tucked under her fluffy tail, and dream about the next adventure.
Life with Baileys is just amazing and she brings a lot of happy vibes into our home and we all adore her. We hope to provide the best retirement possible for Baileys, and are delighted that we have been given the gift of one of these amazing dogs.
Baileys in her own words describes ‘pet life’: My name is Baileys (as in the drink!). The theme for naming my litter was drinks, you will recognise the names of my brothers and sister below who have also found new homes! I am eight years old and I am very laid back about life. I have only barked once since arriving in my new home (I was having a really good dream!) I love hiking trips, and digging little holes to sleep in when we stop to take a break. I have my humans very well trained now, that when I give them my paw, they tickle my chest and give me lots of affection. I don’t like dog beds (why use those when I can have a comfy sofa!) and I’m still learning about stairs and the vacuum cleaner. Retirement life is good and full of fun. They have three small people so there are a lot of cuddles, treats, and outdoor adventures. I’ve also become very good at navigating Lego on the lounge floor! (Read more via Sonia’s own blog).
You can’t help but fall in love with the dogs when you go to Arctic Adventure Tours – whether you are a guest or staff! These little fluff ball puppies transform and grow into incredible athletes. As a Dog Handler and Guide for three years, there was one particular ‘ladies man’ who melted my heart and who I will always remember; Pjokken!
Pjokken was one of the first dogs you would meet in the kennel always ready and waiting for attention and affection as you set foot into the dog yard.
He was already an older gent when I met him at age 11, and was a bit of a legend. One of the best lead dogs in the kennel, father to several litters of puppies (including the ‘drinks’ litter – that you will also read about) and a main man in the racing team competing in several long distance dog sledding races.
When the decision was made that Pjokken was no longer fit to run dog sledding tours, there was no hesitation that he would come and live with us at the staff house (also known as the ‘White House’).
It is always so interesting to watch dogs adapt from dog yard life with their ‘family’ of 90 neighbours and the daily routines they have known their whole lives, into ‘pet life’. This was no issue for Pjokken, who thrived in this change. He happily made himself at home and our rule of no dogs in the bed quickly and without discussion got overthrown by this sneaky old man!
Pjokken had many roles in my life: he was the greeter of every guest – with the best welcome you could ask for, our head chef – always making sure we were cooking our meals right and keeping the kitchen clean, our snuggler – nothing like cuddles with him next to the fire with the snow falling outside, and our alarm clock. Although he was retired, Pjokken came with me to the kennel every day. He knew to the minute exactly what time we needed to head to work in the morning and would make sure we were ready to go.
Our staff house was just a short 10 minute walk to and from the kennel, which Pjokken loved. Although he looked like an old guy he was still a sled dog through and through and would take us to work each morning with the same commitment as he gave leading the tours. He would then spend the day with all of his husky mates and getting cuddles from guests joining the tours. He also joined the groups in the lavvu after the tour for a coffee next to the fire. At the end of the day he would jump and bark and demand that I didn’t forget him! Sofa time at the end of a long day was bliss for us both!
As time went by these walks got harder for our man, his eyesight was deteriorating and he wasn’t so good at hearing his name when you called him – or so we thought! In the summer we decided to get some chickens and those birds gave him life! From an old limpy man we would catch him sprinting up the hill full of energy, no limp in sight to ‘play’ with the chickens who definitely did not want to play with him! Somehow his hearing convinently imporved at the slight rustle of a treat bag!
All of the staff enjoyed many adventures with Pjokken, hikes, sunsets and coffees with friends as well as working life were all had with him by our sides. I worked for AAT for three years and he was there for all of it. At the ripe old age of 14 the tough decision was made to let him go. Now he is running with his brothers in the sky but I know his last few years living with us were some of his best as they were for me. He was a girl’s best friend and left a huge imprint on so many peoples hearts and is missed every day.
In the late winter of 2020, after COVID had abruptly put an end to all winter tourism, I found myself able to take on a dog for a while. I reached out to Hege at Arctic Adventure tours asking if they needed any foster homes and explained that I was looking for a friendly and calm dog who could join me on walks so I could build my stamina after a long period of sick leave. She immediately suggested some dogs, proving how well she knows all dogs in their care. The day after we picked up Mojito, a lovely girl with white fur and amazing blue eyes for a trial period.
She was very calm and quiet the first couple of days, preferring the hallway as it was the coolest place in the house. Although when we were outside she would run to the front door at every chance, eager to be let in! It didn’t take many days before she spent more and more time with us in the living room, and eventually on the sofa where she is now queen. She even prefers a pillow under her head!
She quickly changed from sled dog mode – running forward – to taking her time to sniff around when on walks, and becoming an indoor family dog. Housetraining was never an issue and we haven’t had any accidents at all. If possible she prefers to do her business some distance away from the house and keep her property clean!
While I grew up with and have had several dogs previously, this has been my first experience with huskies and I have to say it has been a very positive one. I expected them to be quite demanding exercise-wise, but I quickly discovered alaskan huskies simply switch to stand-by mode when nothing is happening. Mojito gets walked between 1-2 hours a day, usually one longer and two-three shorter walks, and is very happy with that. She will let us know when she is bored though! Chew toys have been a great way to keep her occupied, and she loves raw bones.
She very quickly adapted to our schedule, and will now ‘commute’ upstairs to the home office after breakfast, where she mostly sleeps while I work. She has also been home alone for full work days, although not yet full work weeks. On the weekends she will come into the bedroom around 9 am if I’m not up yet, and bop my hand for cuddles and breakfast -super sweet!
If we hang out on the sofa in the evenings there is no end to the cuddles and belly rubs she will insist on, and she is very good at making us keep up the scratching! She rarely makes a sound although she communicates a lot in other ways.
We have also taken an obedience class together and worked on basic pet dog commands she didn’t know, and she has proved that old dogs can indeed learn new tricks. The directional commands she knows from dog sledding have been very useful. She already had a pretty good recall, but her prey drive for birds especially means that she is never off-leash.
The biggest negative has been that she is not fond of car rides, but she accepts it although longer rides will stress her out. She does of course also pull, especially if she is in her harness – she is a sled dog after all! She is mostly good at not pulling when only attached in her collar, and we are working regularly on that.
Overall I have to say Mojito is an incredibly sweet and easy going dog to live with, so when we were offered to take her on for good I didn’t think long about it. She charms everyone she meets with her sweet personality and it is a joy having her around. Hoping for many more good years with Mojito!
For a long time we had talked about getting a third family member, and with the corona pandemic, we suddenly had extra time on our hands. With a lot of sled dogs in our region in need of a home, it was the perfect opportunity for us to open our home for a good cause and also get a furry friend out of it.
In April 2020 we got in contact with Artic Adventures Tours on Facebook and to our luck they had a 8 year old lady named Zelda that was ready for retirement.
Zelda was the first husky to come home with us. Life inside the house was a bit weird to get used to, she would often go downstairs and lay in front of the door, but this stopped about a month after we got her. Then she decided that inside life wasn’t so boring after all! There were lots of good sleeping spots and some really good food being served! The trust and love between us grew quickly. Zelda had no problems adapting to her new urban life, a couple of toilet accidents in the beginning, but we didn’t expect any less after a lifetime living outside. And she got the memo pretty quick, with no more accidents since. Also walking on a leash and being home alone have been no problem. All in all she’s a quick learner and eager to please.
After about 6 months everything was going well above our expectations. We wondered if Zelda would appreciate a little friend. We contacted the kennel manager and were introduced to Delta (6), and took her home with us. Delta (now called Bella) had lost her passion for dog sledding, so was looking for an active home as she is still fairly young.
Bringing a second husky into our home, we noticed how different their personalities are. They soon became very good friends. Bella adapted even faster than Zelda in embracing ‘life on the inside’. We noticed she was more sensitive to the noises of the city, but with her best friend Zelda by her side she found her feet pretty quickly. Bella is a real couch dog, and loves sleeping on top of us at night! While Zelda keeps to the bottom of the bed, Bella pushes her way to be as close as possible. And we love her for that.
What surprised us the most is how eager these dogs are to learn new things and adapt to their new environments. They have a lot of personality and so much love to give. They are very calm and focused dogs, easy to train and excellent family dogs. Our girls get 3-4 moderate walks a day, and we go on trips off leash now and then, and they seem perfectly happy with this arrangement.
We have not regretted our choice in any way about rehoming retired huskies, and would probably get more of them if we could. Our lives have been richer ever since we made the decision to bring them into our home. And they deserve a good retirement after a good working life.
Having joined Arctic Adventure Tours back in 2012 as a volunteer my first experience of the dog yard was a particularly busy summer/autumn with four new litters of puppies all being born within a few weeks of each other. My time was spent out in the dog yard keeping an eye on these cute mischievous youngsters. The ‘drinks’ litter, fathered by Pjokken and Ceri, were amongst this group. As was the ‘Z’ litter, from which Zelda came from.
Now eight years and many adventures later, I am still here working at Arctic Adventure Tours. I have loved watching these pups go from silly babies, into prime adults and then now into gentle seniors. I knew that when the time came, we would certainly make space for a husky or two on our sofa.
With a busy family life Hangover and Cognac split their time between their cosy dog houses outside in our garden, and lazing on the rug by the fire in the afternoons and evenings. We take long hikes somedays, and other days we just relax and take in the beautiful views from the warmth of the living room!
Both boys have adapted very well at being inside, and greatly enjoy ‘helping’ to clean up the highchair after our daughter, as well as maximum cuddle time if the opportunity arises. They are a very calm presence in our home, and have gelled very well with our two other dogs. Of course Hangover has inherited his father Pjokken’s ‘happy dance’ shaking his head and ‘woo-ing’ whenever we get home from work. They are also both experts at navigating through the trees and bushes on hikes following our mushing directional commands.
We are slowly working on some basic training which will help them adapt to ‘family life’ with us, such as loose lead walking and recall. You can follow our progress via the Arctic Adventure Tours Instagram in the coming months and see how we are getting on! For now, welcoming these two guys into our family has been very easy and exactly as I expected it to be.
If you are interested in potentially rehoming a retired alaskan husky, see our Rehoming page.