Sled Dogs as Therapy Dogs

Dogs as Therapy

Nursing home staff will tell you what a positive effect dogs can have on residents when they are brought in to visit.

Kodiak visiting the nursing home.

Kodiak visiting the nursing home.

I got to see that first hand when I brought two of my dogs to see my mother in the nursing home while I’m staying in Maine. Kodiak was the first to visit and the minute he walked through those doors the attitude of both patients and staff changed. He was greeted with smiles and requests to pet him and my mother took great pride in taking him around and introducing him to some of her friends. “He’s a sled dog” she would say, and his name is “Cadillac”. =)

Aura had much the same effect. She’s a bit more shy than Kodiak but that didn’t prevent her from putting smiles on several people’s faces just by going up to them and sniffing.

A visit from Aura makes people smile

A visit from Aura makes people smile

A Special Bond

Many a dog owner will confess to the special bond he or she may have with a particular dog. A bond that just helps them deal with “stuff”.

Mushers and their sled dogs are no exception. As a matter of fact it might even be safe to say that the strength of such a bond is multiplied for a musher because each and every dog seems to make that link even stronger. Many books have been written by mushers who describe a very special relationship with the canine members of their team. That relationship not only includes the connection that comes from caring for an animal, but it goes beyond to another level. When there is a working relationship with your canine, the depths of that bond can be quite special.

Like other working dogs, sled dogs love to work and they love to work with and for their musher. Many a long distance musher has glorious tales to tell about that special link that comes from working with dogs over miles and miles of trail. Sometimes those runs are an amazing journey exploring the beauty of the wilderness while at other times they can turn into challenging, often life threatening, situations.

As I’ve been working with the Sibersong dogs I’ve been able to observe some of the characteristics that I think help make sled dogs wagging tails of therapy.

Although there are as many personality traits in dogs as there are dogs, I wanted to highlight 3 of those traits.

The Hugger

While many people find sled dogs to be huggable creatures there are some who have a need TO hug! This is a dog who continually jumps up on you and wraps her paws around you in a big hug. In Jaye’s kennel the Hugger is Rosie.

A lot of people think Siberians smile. Rosie not only smiles but she makes you feel like you’re the most important person in the world. She greets you with gusto and jumps up on you to give you a big hug. She does it with Jaye regularly but she even does it with me. Rosie’s desire to hug knows no bounds. It’s as if she considers her mission in life to bring happiness to the world by hugging everyone she comes in contact with.

Rosie giving Jaye one of her many patented hugs

Rosie giving Jaye one of her many patented hugs

Here is a picture of Rosie after a run giving Jaye a huge hug. This probably happens several times a day. Rosie just sows happiness wherever she goes. Her tail is wagging, she is smiling, and she hugs with gusto. There’s really nothing quite like it. After dinner Rosie again dispenses with hugs as if to thank us for feeding her or just because…

Jaye in the kennel with Rosie

Jaye in the kennel with Rosie

The “I Just Want To Be With You” Dog

Another trait I want to mention is one I first became aware of when I lived in Alaska back in the early 70’s. I was a volunteer teacher in a mission school with a student population of Alaskan Natives which included Native Americans and Native Alaskans such as Aleuts and Inuits. At our orientation we were told that it is quite common for an Alaskan Native to come and visit with a person and to sit and not say a word. While silence often creates discomfort for people from the lower 48, in Alaska when a native comes to visit and just wants to spend time with you in silence it is a reflection that he or she likes you and just wants to be with you. I quickly found this trait to be true since, as a prefect in the girls dormitory, I always left the door to my room open in case any of the girls needed anything. It was not uncommon for some of the students to just come into my room and sit with me while I worked. Sometimes they chatted with me but often they would just come and sit and be with me for a spell and then they would leave. It didn’t take long for me to learn to appreciate the value of this trait. It’s peaceful, caring, and makes you feel good.

When I got to Jaye’s I quickly discovered a dog with this very quality.

Hank is a Siberian with house privileges who never utters a sound when he’s in the house. His ears do all the talking. He is particularly devoted to Jaye and he will go sit by her, pull his ears back and give her his special “look” that says “I just want to be with you.” And Jaye can’t resist it. Here is Hank who moseyed into Jaye’s office and sat next to her. He didn’t budge but just kept staring at her until she finally acknowledged his presence. That acknowledgment generally means a smile, a pat on the head, or some snuggling. But I can guarantee it makes Jaye feel good. Hank does that all day. When you least expect it, there he is, just sitting there next to you with his “look”. No one can resist smiling and patting him on the head. The dog is a “Good Vibe Catalyst”. He’s absolutely lovable.

Hank giving Jaye his "I just want to be with you" Look.

Hank giving Jaye his “I just want to be with you” Look.


If you read any of the books written about the Iditarod or the Yukon Quest, the 1,000+ mile sled dog races held yearly, you will no doubt come across some story of a special dog who ran “with heart”. Every musher seems to have that one dog. Sometimes it’s not the fastest or strongest dog but the one that just won’t quit. They would go to the ends of the earth for their musher. They are truly “bravehearts” and inspirational. They are the dogs who motivate us, inspire us, and who get us to get back up when we fall.

Jaye has one such dog in her kennel who at first glance seems an unlikely choice for this description.

Her name is Kadee. Now 11 years old and retired, Kadee had cancer last year and was operated to remove tumors and now she walks with a limp. But there’s no stopping her. She may be a cancer survivor but in her mind she’s a sled dog! Her determination knows no bounds. When we were putting the dogs in the truck for the second run of the season, Kadee was so persistent she slipped out of the yard and into the loading area insisting on going with us. She wanted to run in team. She had no intention of being left behind! Jaye looked at her, shaking her head, thinking of her limp, but she said, “If you really want to go that bad, then let’s see how you do.” And off we went with Kadee in her box with nothing but determination on her little face. Here is Kadee after our run, so very proud of herself with a smile on her face.

Proud Kadee after her first run this season

Proud Kadee after her first run this season

While Kadee inspires me to keep on keeping on, Hank reminds me that as you journey through life it’s the people who are there for you who make the journey worth while even if they are silent in their support. And Rosie reminds me that no matter how tough things get, there isn’t anything that a good hug can’t fix.

So there you have it. Therapy in the form of a wagging tail, ultra soft fur, or a cold nose. No matter how you look at it as the saying goes, “Dogs leave paw prints forever on your heart.”

  1. Love it, Lin – Loved seeing the photos of your Mom, with Kodiak and Aura. I hope that things are going okay in this department.

    I’ve loved your posts from Maine….


    • Marty, I didn’t realize how much I missed Maine in the Fall. I’m loving watching the foliage change with the new season. =)

  2. So true Linda. They each have their own personalities and ways to get into your heart.

    • You are an expert in that department Joan with all your wonderful dogs. Looking forward to seeing you soon.

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