Commentary on A life with sled dogs by Gisela Pätzold

Living with sled dogs

With autumn comes winter, my absolute favorite season! The winter time in someone's life Musherlike me, is the most intense and beautiful that I can imagine. Give me snow, give me dogs and you can keep the rest. (Knud Rasmussen / polar explorer)


In Lapland, 1000 km north of Stockholm, lies the small village of Miekojärvi. Kathi and Johanna live here with their 31 huskies. The two German emigrants have fulfilled their lifelong dream on a peninsula in Lake Mieko. A simple life in harmony with nature and the rhythm of their sled dogs. You can find out more about 8SeasonsHuskies and why they need your support at the end of this article.

Training with my sled dogs starts in the fall

But before we get on the sleigh, we start training on four wheels in the fall. At the end of August / beginning of September, when the temperatures drop, you can finally get started. Training requires cool temperatures and low humidity. I'm very careful not to start too early. The big danger is that dogs overheat.

Every dog ​​team is different. The training plan must be adjusted if necessary. This season I have 24 dogs in training. 16 of them are 2 years old. Most of them do not tolerate high temperatures well. Especially at the start of fall training when they are more or less untrained. That's why I stick to the rule of thumb from Dr. Lee (veterinary medicine specialist and CEO of VetGirl):

If the sum of temperature (in Fahrenheit) and humidity is higher than 150, it is too warm for the dogs.

In our region, for me and my current team it means only training when it is 8 degrees Celsius or colder.

8seasonshuskies sled dogs8seasonshuskies sled dogs

The autumn training initially consists of short tours, which I then gradually increase. Here it depends a lot on the weather, but above all on how the dogs “get in”. Since I don't leave my sled dogs without exercise in the summer, they already have good basic fitness and a high urge to move when they start training. I promote this with short fitness sessions and strength training. By the time we can switch to sledding, ideally in November, but sometimes not until December, my team has run a few hundred kilometers.

Apart from the kilometers, it is even more important that the training includes versatility, joy and community. I go on a lot of tours where I plan longer breaks in the forest or overnight tours. We practice routines (getting in and out, putting on and taking off booties, taking breaks, eating snacks, putting on and taking off blankets, …), sometimes we go out overnight and I like to stay in the forest with the dogs, build a campfire and we practice sleeping in a variety of places. Over the years I have designed a network of paths in which we travel on gravel paths, forest paths and bumpy paths. I can connect the paths as I wish and make the training exciting. The versatility is also an advantage for training potential lead dogs.

Sleigh rides in winter through beautiful landscapes

Sled dogs winter landscapeSled dogs winter landscape

As soon as enough snow has fallen and my snow anchors are firmly in the ground, I switch to the sled. Running on snow, especially in deep snow, obviously uses completely different muscle groups than running on trails. That's why I'm taking it slow at the beginning. This allows the dogs to adjust and adapt their movement patterns without becoming too exhausted or getting too sore muscles. I particularly keep an eye on the paws. During fall training I used special booties (dog socks) that prevented the paws and nails from being abrasion caused by running on stony and frozen ground. However, I need different booties for running on snow, because snow snowballs quickly when my feet are warm and wet. That's why I have thinner booties made of Cordura for the snow season, which primarily protect the spaces between the toes, where lumps of ice would otherwise form.

In northern Sweden, where I live, we have great snow conditions well into April. It's fantastic to be able to go on sleigh tours for months. Since I train for long-distance races, I calmly prepare my team for these long distances. From initial units of 20 kilometers, we progress to tours of up to 70 kilometers three times in a row. Of course with relaxing breaks in the wilderness, during which the dogs are adequately fed and watered. Massages, care and cuddles are also part of a successful tour. There is nothing better than spending several days driving through the snowy landscape alone with your team. Setting up camp here and there and just focusing on the dogs. It certainly sounds romantic to you as a reader – but I would describe it more as an adventure. Because you never know what situations you will get into! Be it 30 cm of fresh snow, a snowstorm and disappearing paths or a group of reindeer suddenly on the trail. My team and I – together we can master everything!

Summer is coming and the breaks are getting longer

8seasonshuskies summer8seasonshuskies summer

When the winter slowly melts away in April, it's time to slowly prepare my high-performance athletes for the summer break. The detraining is a time in which I shorten the tours again and take more and more rest days.

On break days, the dogs are allowed to spend longer in our large outdoor run in small groups. There they can run around, play and get the exercise they need. I change the group composition every now and then. It's important to me that they find a nice and positive way to play with each other and not get too wild. I allow a maximum of 6 dogs unsupervised at the same time at 3500 m2. If I stick with it, there are often more! When I think about who is allowed to go outdoors with whom, I always have in the back of my mind the bitches' heat cycles, the puberty characteristics of young dogs, the wisdom of age and youthful exuberance.

As soon as the temperatures get above zero, the sled dogs feel naturally comfortable. They enjoy lounging in the sun and become lethargic. When we finish the running and pulling training in May, the dogs are already shedding their fur and are happily shedding their thick, warm fur.

Then it's summer. Time for individual training, social training, care, offspring and lots of time for daily playing and digging in the outdoors. During this time I pay particular attention to seeing each dog individually. I want to develop and support each dog individually so that they can become self-confident and as balanced as possible. And I want to find out the individual needs and the appropriate communication to meet all of these incredible personalities.

With this goal in mind, I spend every possible minute with my sled dogs, especially during the summer break. And when autumn slowly comes back, I have been able to further deepen the bond with my animals and together we look forward to the adventures of the coming season.

8Seasonshuskies hopes for support during the Corona crisis

Over the years, Kathi and Johanna have carefully built their own little kennel, piece by piece. The focus from the start was on care, medical care and, above all, prevention through massages, homeopathy, laser therapy, sophisticated training and plenty of free running opportunities. The Huskies were always the center, the family around which everything revolved. Kathi and Johanna financed their livelihood and, above all, the immense costs of caring for and caring for the dogs through their small tourism company for sustainable travel in northern Scandinavia.

In March 2020 everything was suddenly over due to Corona. From one day to the next, no more guests came, all tours were canceled and canceled until further notice. Liabilities quickly became overwhelming and invoices for the last dog food deliveries could no longer be paid. Although initial donations secured food for the first few months, in May the company's insolvency could no longer be averted despite great efforts. The only thing the two had left was their house and their dogs. For Katharina and Johanna, everything that counts.

The situation in tourism, triggered by Corona, has brought them to their knees. But no one can take away their dream of living with sled dogs in the far north. They are slowly rebuilding their existence. As a career changer, Katharina is now working with forest maintenance and Johanna is trying to make her contribution with sewing work. But Kathi and Johanna's fight continues until they can care for their sled dogs independently again.

They continue to collect donations, offer sponsorships for their dogs and continue to provide the growing circle of friends of the 8SeasonsHuskies with stories, pictures, videos and background information about life in Lapland and life in harmony with nature and 31 wonderful dogs.

➡ You can find out more about them, their sled dogs and support options at