Up until 2019, we offered dog sledding itineraries as part of our series of Mongolia winter experiences. However, even though often the dog sledding was often the highlight of their trip for our guests, in early 2019 we decided to stop offering dog sledding options. The main reason is cultural – we describe our winter experiences as being a celebration of Mongolian culture and tradition but dog sledding is not historically part of Mongolian culture or the way of life.
The dog sledding experiences we offered provided us with a stable income in what is a very limited time of year financially but still, we decided to stop them. Although we stopped them initially because they were not traditionally part of Mongolia culture, I had also noticed that dog sledding experiences were becoming extremely popular with locals and international visitors alike and more and more companies were offering the experience. Although there are only two established kennels in Mongolia (we worked with two companies – one working with each kennel respectively) I realised we had only ever been to one of the kennels. So although we were arranging for our guests to enjoy the freedom and exhilaration of a dog sled, we hadn’t actually checked the welfare of the dogs themselves. We were also concerned about the environmental impact as trails are limited (due to the terrain) but becoming more frequently used.
This is not about being on our moral high-horse. This is not a criticism. This is not an emotional overreaction. This is just about checking the welfare of the animals we were using. To go dog sledding is a personal choice. We’re not saying not to do it. Instead, we’re taking time out from it whilst we do our own research into the standard of the kennels and the quality of the way of life of the dogs (especially in the off-season). If we were going to make a profit from an experience that we were advertising and therefore claimed to agree with, I wanted to check we did agree with it. This is why I will be creating our own guidelines to dog sledding in Mongolia so that if we do offer it in the future, we can prove we have carried out our research (although I appreciate it might seem ironic as we work with a network of herders most of which own their own dogs and we are not checking up on their welfare).
As an example of what we’re focusing on, a majority of sled dogs are one of a varying breed of husky-type dog – working animals that have developed a powerful body with a natural capacity for load pulling and endurance in harsh environments. For most of their history, their sole purpose was to work for people in harsh climates, so the lifestyle is ingrained in them. They typically love to run and get excited when going on sled trips. Although it’s good for dogs to do a mix of shorter and longer trips so they get adequate rest time, in general, longer trips (three hours or more) are generally better. We’re looking at smaller group sizes, longer sledding trips and no short one-hour experiences which tend to make the dogs bored – just going up and down the same run. With this in mind we will make sure our dog sledding experiences are of an adequate length.
Other questions we are asking are:
- What happens when the dogs are put back in their kennels after their trips?
- What happens to the dogs out of season? Dog sledding season is generally from December to April. But we want to check what happens to the dogs in the longer summer months. They still need stimulation, feeding and care. There are options of hiking with the dogs or sledding in the summer but only in temperatures that are naturally suited to the breed of dog.
- How do farms manage their puppy populations?
- And what happens when the dogs get too old to run?
These questions will help us to explore and identify the areas in which dog sledding in Mongolia is not responsible and determine what we can do to make the dog sledding trips we decide to offer in the future more sustainable. Until then, we have opted to say no to dog sledding in Mongolia.