7 fun facts about sled dogs in Greenland


1. There are only sled dogs north of the Arctic Circle (Sort of)

7 fun facts about sled dogs in Greenland

The reason for this is the desire to keep the Greenlandic sled dog race pure, and the reason the line is drawn so far north is generally due to the lack of sea ice south of the Arctic Circle and a wish to have other dogs, such as the border collie for the sheep farmers in South Greenland. The only exceptions to this rule are the sled dogs in Kangerlussuaq which is just south of the Arctic Circle, as well as a settlement on the east coast just south of the Arctic Circle.


2. How many sled dogs are there in Greenland?

7 fun facts about sled dogs in GreenlandThere are about 15.000 sleddogs in Greenland. This might sound like a lot when Greenland has less than 56.000 people living there. But the fact of the matter is, the number of sleddogs has halved in the span of 20 years. This is due to the warming climate, forcing fishermen and hunters to use boats instead of sleds. This, combined with higher costs of keeping dogs, compared to a boat or snowmobile, means an uncertain future for this unique race.

3. Why are sled dogs so good at running?

Humans have established themselves as some of the best hunters due to our extreme persistence, and even though we’re not nearly as fast as many other mammals we can simply outrun any species on land over long distances, except, for the amazing sled dogs! Now, why is that? Watch this short video for a great explanation.


4. Can you go on a dog sled tour in the summer?

7 fun facts about sled dogs in Greenland

Yes! But, there is only one place in Greenland where you can do this. On Disko island. To go on a dogsled tour you first have to get to the village of Qeqertarsuaq, once you’ve arrived you must climb a 900 meter tall mountain to get to a glacier called Lyngmarksbræen. It’s a pretty tough hike and will usually take anywhere between 2 and 4 hours just to reach the top. Lyngmarksbræen is what we call a dead glacier, its a large piece of ice and snow, which no longer moves and calves, but makes for an excellent place to find snow any time of the year. Once you get there you can finally go on a tour, and being so high up you can see deep into the island valleys and far out over the Disko bay that’s filled with icebergs, it’s an incredible experience, but one which demands some effort to experience.

5. How to tell the sled dogs to go left and right.

7 fun facts about sled dogs in Greenland

In Greenland, the mushers generally use the words ‘IJU’ for left and ‘ILI’ for getting them to go right. But this isn’t a universal thing, in fact, it depends entirely on the musher and what he teaches his dogs. There’s a fun little story about a renowned dogsled racer who taught his dogs the reverse and was able to convince other dogsled teams he was racing against, to go the wrong way. The whip comes in handy, not as punishment but as a guiding tool. The musher doesn’t hit the dogs but uses the whip crack to make the dogs run to the side away from the sound, which is much more effective than using voice commands.

6. The national competition in dog sled racing

7 fun facts about sled dogs in Greenland

Every year there is a national competition for dog sled racing, which is held in different cities every year. Since the distances are so great between towns, teams of sled dogs are often flown in with a big Sikorsky helicopter. The Greenlandic sled dog was never bred for racing, instead, it was bread to hunt polar bears and pull heavy sleds from a long hunt. A clear example of this is when a Norwegian, this year, competed in the renowned Finnmarksløpet with Greenlandic sled dogs and came in last.

7. The uncertain future for sled dogs.

7 fun facts about sled dogs in Greenland

Fewer and fewer hunters see having sleddogs as a viable means of hunting, meaning less and less are taught this age-old tradition. This is forcing some prominent hunters and mushers to call out the government to establish an education that could teach the young this cornerstone of Greenlandic culture. As the tourism industry is growing and more and more would like to go on this authentic experience into the backcountry, tourists might indeed become a savior for the Greenlandic sleddog.

Would you like to go dogsledding in Greenland? Click right here and see our variety of dogsledding tours!