The amount of rest in the race is a question of judgment with the driver, who must decide how much he can afford to take himself, and give his dogs without the unnecessary loss of a moment; but as he must return with every clog - dead or alive - with which he started, it is to his greatest advantage to keep them in the very best of condition. At every road-house and relay camp where they stop for food and sleep, it is "Dogs First," no driver thinking of himself till his team is fed, rubbed, and bedded. When they are tired or foot-sore, they ride in turn upon the sled, recuperating quickly in this way. Little moccasins of canton flannel are carried to be used on hard trails, and veils of black or green mosquito netting are placed over the dogs' eyes if the glare of the sun is too dazzling.
In the Sweepstakes of 1910, John Johnson, a Russian Finn, driving a team of Siberians entered by Colonel Charles Ramsay of London, came in first. The weather had been ideal, the trail perfect, and they had broken all records - covering the 408 miles in but little more than seventy-four hours. Closely following them was Charles Fox-Maule Ramsay, nephew of Colonel Ramsay, and younger brother of the Earl of Dal-housie, driving his own team of Siberians; and it certainly seemed that the day of the Siberians had come. But in 1911 and 1912, through terrible blizzards and over miserable trails, the Allan and Darling team of Alaskans, driven by "Scotty" Allan, were the winners; and in 1913, Fay Dalzene, with the Bowen-Dalzene dogs, was first, also using the Alaskan type. So that out of the seven great races that have been held under the auspices of the Nome Kennel Club since it was organized in 1908, five victories have fallen to the Alaskans, and the breaking of the record to the Siberians.
In short distances some of the dogs are remarkably fast, travelling at the rate of fifteen or sixteen miles an hour. Irish, one of the Allan and Darling team, a beautiful setter with some huskie blood, can pace a mile in three minutes; and Spot, a cross-bred pointer and huskie, after leading the team thirty miles over a heavy trail, covered four miles in thirteen minutes and twenty-five seconds without breaking.
The starting of John Johnson's team of Siberians in one of the All Alaska Sweepstakes Races in Nome, Alaska.
As dog teams are not driven with reins, but by word of mouth, there must be in every team a particularly intelligent dog who is the leader. He must understand not only the simple orders "Mush" (go on), "Gee" (to the right), "Haw" (to the left), and "Stop," but he must have exceptionally quick instincts, a definite acknowledged mastery over the other dogs, and a sort of canine good judgment which tells him the right thing to do in difficulties and emergencies.
The stories of the marvellous sagacity of certain leaders are easy of belief to "the men that know the North" as Service calls them, but they would appear to be gross exaggerations or absolute untruths to those who have never seen dogs work in harness on the trail.
A leader has certain privileges, such as getting into the sled when the driver is not at the handle bars, and reposing in comfort and dignity on the furs while the rest of the dogs lie in the snow; and other perquisites which may occasion bitter jealousy and make necessary the utmost precaution in guarding him from the attacks of his envious team-mates. Sometimes an old leader, discarded or pensioned, will craftily wait for a chance to kill his successor - this chance generally occurring when the new aspirant for honors is tied and at a disadvantage. Some leaders, however, through wonderful strength and other superior qualities, become more or less exempt from this ill feeling, and their leadership is freely and pleasantly accepted both in and out of "business hours." Of these, Dubby, a magnificent specimen of the McKenzie River huskie, brought down from Dawson by "Scotty" Allan, was one of the most prominent. Dubby lived to be twelve years old, but was pensioned on his ninth birthday, while still in perfect condition and well able to enjoy the rewards of his faithful service. He had a record of over thirty thousand miles, in harness, to his credit, and the anecdotes of his intelligence are legion. He was often driven "loose," running ahead of the team instead of being hooked up with them; and he was so efficient as a "general manager" that the loss of his pulling power was of small moment compared to his ability to find and keep an obliterated trail, and his capacity for doing the many clever and helpful things that his active mind found to do. A mere hint that some dog was not working was enough, and Dubby would rush back to critically examine them all till the shirker was located by a slack tow line or traces not held taut. The culprit received a warning nip on the ear or flank, which was a threat of worse punishment if he did not mend his laggard habits; then Dub would dash off to give some other evidence of his real generalship. Perhaps it would be to decide that the ice on the river was not thick enough to bear the weight of the heavily loaded sled - for some strange instinct enabled him to know that fact, when an experienced Musher could be readily deceived; or he would choose the correct trail where many met and crossed, in spite of the efforts of an exasperated driver to convince him of the error of his ways. "You stubborn old Siwash (an insult indeed to apply the name of the most shiftless of Indians to a self-respecting huskie), I'll wager you're wrong; but do as you please, keep us all out here in thirty below weather, tired and hungry, and then maybe next time you'll listen to reason." But Dubby never did make the predicted mistake, and many a comfortable night's rest in shelter and warmth was the result of his unerring confidence in his own ability which no argument could disturb. He would politely wag his stump of a tail while he listened tolerantly to your opinion, but he ignored it with the same amiable disregard one would show toward the foolish suggestions of a babbling child.