Mushing Bulletin # 98 – Siberian Huskies and the Matter of Food

Every Siberian Husky owner has as story about the eating proclivities of the breed. In light of the fact that they are the closest domesticated animal to the wolf, it may not come as a surprise that their diet may be…well…somewhat varied, particularly if you don’t keep a close eye on them.

My favorite story involves a musher who left a Siberian in the cab of her mushing truck and returned a few hours later to find that the dog had eaten the knob off the gear shift lever, including the small button that allows the gears to be shifted.

I’ve lost one thumb drive, part of the head-cover to my hybrid 5-iron, and the visor to one of my golf hats. Perhaps the most famous eating episode involved a large part of a towel that Fenway and Kodiak ate while riding quietly in the back of the Honda CRV. Some of you may remember this as the subject matter of a mushing bulletin written three years ago entitled “The Nuclear Option”.

The Head Musher also lost a $20 bill and a $10 bill that Fenway pulled out of her wallet in an amazing display of dexterity. My theory is that a trip through the local Burger King cash register was in the immediate past of both bills and, a dog’s nose being what it is, the bills had the appeal of a Whopper avec Fromage, as they say in St. Jacques.

Anyway, she spotted Fenway in flagrante delicto just as both Andrew Jackson and Alexander Hamilton disappeared into his mouth. She managed to save the right half of the $10 dollar bill (the part from Hamilton’s ear to the end of the phrase “We the People”) but the bank told her it was worthless without the other half. That other half was never seen again, if you get my drift.

Most of this random eating occurs during the “puppy stage” which may last anywhere from one to six years. The key to controlling this kind of foraging is the proper dog food, exercise, and constant vigilance. You have to develop a certain sixth sense composed of two parts which I call the “oh-my-god-it’s-too-quiet” sense and the closely-related “what’s-that-weird-noise?” sense.

The former is the same sense that people who have small kids develop after one of the kids has wandered off into the dining room and decorated a wall with a permanent magic marker, all the while remaining perfectly quiet.

From that time on, a parent realizes that no good comes from excessive quiet. If kids are making noise, it doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t setting the house on fire, but if they aren’t making any, you can bet they are at some advanced stage of pyrotechnics. Similarly, if a Siberian is out of sight and perfectly quiet, rest assured that he is under your desk converting a nine iron into a pitching wedge by altering the loft with his incisors.

The “what’s-that-weird-noise” sense is more subtle because, while you’re preoccupied doing “A”, you are often impervious to “B” which in this case is a weird noise of the type that a Siberian makes while munching on an item like a thumb drive. Deep in the recesses of your consciousness you hear a weird crunching sound but nothing registers. Five minutes later it dawns on you. You let out a scream and dash in the direction of the sound only to find four gigabytes of memory in powdered form.

So, one of your best defenses is to keep the dogs fed. I was going to say “well fed” but that’s a slippery concept. Once you’ve seen a Siberian with his head buried in a 40-lb bag of kibble because you’ve neglected to close the closet door, you appreciate that there is a gap between his idea of “well fed” and yours. Run a Siberian 15 miles a day during training season and the gap widens.

So here’s what happens in the feeding department on your average training day.

Morning Meal

The morning meal consists of one heaping cup of Annamaet Ultra High Protein (32%)/High Fat (20%) Kibble. If you saw it, you’d say “Looks like dog food and I think I’ll pass!”

This is mixed with the Head Musher’s concoction consisting of a broth laden with fatty hamburger or chicken. Now we’re getting into my area of expertise i.e., protein and fat that looks like protein and fat.

The broth is brewed on the stove late at night and there’s some bizarre chanting that goes on that I’ve never been able to figure out. It sounds like an old Hank Williams tune. This mixture is topped off with two ounces of Impact, a Powered… High Energy…Fortified…Nutritional Supplement.

The actual feeding process occurs as follows: all the dogs are side by side in the “down” position in the kitchen. The Head Musher then places their food bowls directly in front of them. They start eating when she says “OK”. You don’t want to be between them and their food bowls when the “OK” is given. Imagine four Indy-500 cars when the starting flag is dropped, except with large teeth.

When the eating is done, roughly ten seconds after it starts, only a slight exaggeration, Chinook patrols the area to make sure all the food is gone. Fenway follows closely behind. On the trail, you can’t afford to have any finicky eaters.

Pre-Run hydration

About two hours before a scheduled run, the dogs are “hydrated”. They each get a quart of soup broth baited with small bits of chicken or hamburger. Aura and Kodiak are sometimes reluctant to drink plain broth or water so the bits of meat encourage them to hydrate.

Dogs that aren’t hydrated properly will dip for snow (i.e., try to scoop it with their mouth) during a run and slow the team down. You can’t dip for snow, run, and breathe at the same time. So, you don’t want dippers.

On the other hand, if they are hydrated too closely to the beginning of the run, they will spend all their time pee-ing instead of running. Imagine a six-dog team (let alone an eighteen dog team) where every dog is stopping to pee during a run. It’s a prescription for disaster in the form of tangles and injuries.

Pooping on the run is a slightly different matter. Unlike Mozart, I’ll not expand on that theme and exceed the number of notes you are disposed to hearing.

Hydration & Snack on the Trail

The head Musher carries glycocharge-enhanced water and four bowls on her sled and, on a long run, will sometimes stop at the halfway point to hydrate the dogs, especially if it is warm. I think of glycocharge as Gatorade for a dog. It’s an electrolyte restorer. The dogs might also be given a small piece of sausage or a piece of cheese stick as a treat. This is also a good time to dispense enthusiastic praise to each of the dogs. Nothing perks up a Siberian, or any dog for that matter, like hearing his name followed by the words “Good boy!” accompanied by a scratch under the chin.

End of the Run

At the end of the run, the dogs are hydrated again and given a treat. It always surprises me how quickly the dogs recover from a long run and are ready to go for the next one. Lance Mackey, four-time Iditarod Champ, covers approximately 1,100 miles in about nine days. That’s 120 miles a day!

Evening Meal

As five-o’clock approaches, Chinook wanders over in the direction of the Head Musher and lets out a low snoar. A snoar is a cross between and snarl and a roar. It’s not angry like a snarl and it’s not as loud as a roar. And Chinook is the only one of the dogs that makes the sound. It is simply an informational bulletin put out by the lead dog notifying all concerned that it is time for dinner. If you don’t respond to the first snoar, he repositions himself directly in front of you and lets loose with a second one while looking directly at you. This will continue until someone makes a move toward the dog food.

The evening meal duplicates the morning meal (i.e., kibble and meat flavored broth) except there is an OPC Pet Health Supplement added to the bowls.

All this talk about kibble and beef makes me hungry. But, then again, just about anything makes me hungry, particularly the thought of a lonely bag of Wavy Lays Potato Chips sitting in the kitchen cabinet crying out to be combined with onion dip sitting in the refrigerator. Luckily the dogs don’t know what they’re missing.


The One-Man Pit Crew

Healthy Recipes


Mushing in Ocean City MD