Sled Dog Commands: Learn What The Mushing Terminology Really Means

Dog sports are becoming increasingly popular with pet owners looking to further strengthen their bond with their canine best friend. 

Mushing, or dog sled racing, is a sport that utilizes dog power to pull loads across snow or dry land. It is typically working breed dogs with high energy that participate, and they utilize special harnesses and equipment to make them more comfortable and efficient.

Sled dog commands are the verbal cues you need to give your dog when mushing. It is important to know these commands and specific mushing terminology to get the most out of this dog sport activity. They will also keep yourself and the dog safe and help prevent sled accidents from occurring.

What is Mushing?

Mushing is racing with a sled dog team consisting of a lead dog, and a swing dog or wheel dog. The sled team normally consists of 4-10 dogs, and the musher stands at the back of the sled controlling the dog team using dog sledding commands.

Traditional mushing was created thousands of years ago as a way to transport loads using dog power. The Native Americans and Inuits were known to use mushing as their predominant method of traveling across snowy glades. 

As time has passed, mushing is now a recreational activity as opposed to a necessary transportation method. This is showcased in many different races worldwide, with the annual Iditarod Trail Dog Sled Race in Alaska being the most famous. The race encompasses a 1000-mile journey for qualifying sled teams. It definitely is not for the faint-hearted! 

Which Dog Breeds Are Best for Mushing?

The best dog breeds to involve in mushing include the Alaskan Malamute, the Chinook, and the Siberian Husky. These dog breeds are strong, quick, and powerful. Their fur coats also provide necessary coverage and warmth against the harsh chill of the snow-filled environment.

Each member of the dog team has their own special role in the sled dog race. A lead dog is placed at the front of the team, with swing dogs, point dogs, or wheel dogs elsewhere. The driver should attach dogs using the best equipment available, enhancing the speed of the sled dog team. 

Sometimes people question whether or not mushing is cruel to the dogs. The vast majority of mushers treat their dogs like family, don’t overwork them, and use the best equipment possible. These dogs were born to run and work hard, and they love it! 

Try New Dog Sports With Your Pet

There are so many different dog sports and activities that you could try with your furry friend. If you don’t live in a snowy area, don’t worry -  there is dry-land mushing as well, along with other fun sports like canicross, bikejoring, scootering, carting, sulky, or even skijoring! Neewa has a vast array of harnesses for your pet to meet the demands of each dog sport and to ensure their safety and comfort.

If you want to try dog sledding, you must learn the correct sled dog commands and key terms. Common sled dog commands help your dog sledding team to understand what you want them to do, which prevents accidents and injuries.

Here is an extensive glossary of all sled dog commands and mushing key terms.


Sled Dog Commands - Neewa

63 Sled dog commands and mushing terms that you need to know

There are 11 sled dog commands and 52 mushing key terms that you should learn before trying the sport.

11 Sled Dog Commands 

Being aware of the musher's voice commands allows you to train your dogs effectively and efficiently. Your dogs know what you want them to do and you know how to ask them to do it!

Here are the 11 important sled dog commands for you to learn before learning to mush:

1. Hike! 

This is the command to use to ask the dogs to start their race.

2. Gee! 

Use this command if you want your dogs to take a right turn.

3. Haw! 

Use this command if you want your dogs to take a left turn.

4. Easy! 

This is the command to use if you want the dogs to slow down.

5. Straight ahead! 

This is the command to use to tell your dogs to move forward if you arrive at a trail intersection.

6. Ready and Alright 

Using this command lets your dogs know that you are ready to move straight away.

7. Whoa! 

The halt or stop command. The musher must use a great deal of pressure at the same time that this command is used.

8. On By! 

If you are coming up to a distraction, use this command to pass by.

9. Line Out! 

Use this command to ask the lead dog to pull the team slowly in a line when hooking or unhooking the dogs.

10. Mush! 

Shout this when you want your team to start moving.

11. Trail! 

A command for other mushers to ask for trail right of way.

Learn how to pronounce these verbal cues effectively by listening to mushing commands.


Sled Dog Commands - Neewa

52 Mushing Key Terms 

Mushing is a technical sporting activity and so there are many different key terms that you should learn. Understanding what these key terms mean will help acclimate you into the mushing world.

Here are the mushing key terms that you should be aware of. 

1. ATV 

This is the name given to an All-Terrain Vehicle

2. Basket 

The sled’s body is often called a basket or a sled dog box.

3. Bed or Cargo Bed 

The floor of the basket is called the bed, or the cargo bed. A dog box may be stored here to carry several dogs.

4. Big Su

Big Susitna River

5. Booties 

Socks are worn to protect the feet of your dog, preventing sores from forming.

6. Burled Arch 

The name given to Nome’s finish line.

7. By-Pass Mail

A US Mail System is available in Alaska for shipping goods.

8. Brake 

The brake of the sled. It is a metal claw that the musher stands on at the back of the sled, digging it into the snowy terrain.

9. Bridle 

A special harness that is attached to various sled points.

10. Brush Bow

Used like a car’s bumper, the brush bow protects damage at the front of the sled.

11. Crabbing 

The name was given to the bowed angle of the dog’s legs, indicating that the dog is uncomfortable or tired.

12. Double Lead

This phrase is given to two dogs who lead the whole team. They are positioned close to each other.

13. Dropped Dog 

A musher may leave one of their dogs at the checkpoint if the dog is injured. One of the musher’s team will care for the dog.

14. Dog Bag 

A special bag carried on the sled to carry a sick or injured dog.

15. Dog Barn

 A housing structure for sled dogs to rest in.

16. Dog Yard 

A yard where the sled dogs usually hang out when not working.

17. Drag Mat 

Used to control sled speed, a drag mat is placed between the runners at the back of the sled.

18. Driving Bow

A handlebar that the musher holds on to. 

19. Footboards

Located on top of the runners, the footboards are a non-slip area for the musher to stand on.

20. Gee Pole

Attached to the sled front, is a gee pole that is four-foot-long. The musher holds onto the gee pole to help direct the sled.

21. Gangline 

Rope to attach the dogs to the sled, enabling necklines and taglines to be securely attached.

22. Handler 

Someone who helps the musher in a race as well as in the dog yard.

23. Handlebar 

Also called a Handle Bow or Driving Bow, this is the handlebar of the sled.

24. Harness

The harness is secured to a dog’s body and then attached to the tug line.

25. Lead Dogs or Leaders 

The dog is positioned at the front of the team.

26. Musher 

The dog driver of the sled. The musher will also take care of the dogs at the dog yard.

27. Neckline 

Lines connecting from the tow line to the collar. If using a double lead, the line will connect the two collars in use.

28. Ouija Boards

The musher stands on an ouija board so they have a steady balance to direct the sled with a gee pole.

29. Pacing 

A vehicle sets the pace at the required speed.

30. Pedaling 

The musher will push the sled using one foot on the ground whilst the other foot stays on the runner.

31. Picket line 

Can be used to stake out a team. The line features a long chain and smaller chain pieces attached.

32. Point Dogs

 You will find point dogs behind the lead dogs to help turn corners. They are also called swing dogs.

33. Rigging 

The name was given to all of the lines which are attached to the dogs, e.g. tow line, neckline, tug line.

34. Rough Locks 

When traveling down steep hills, rough locks are attached. They are chains that are placed on the runners.

35. Rookie 

A new or inexperienced musher.

36. Runners

Runners are the pieces of sled making contact with the terrain. They are located at the bottom of the sled and stretch to the back section for the musher to stand on.

37. Safety Line

A second line running from the sled to the gangline. If the mainline snaps, the safety line acts as a backup.

38. Side Rails

Side sections of the sled that offer support across the sled bed. 

39. Slats 

The base of the wooden sled basket is made from slats.

40. Stake 

A post in the ground to tie the dogs onto.

41. Snow hook

Found on a line and stuck into the snow, a snow hook stops the sled from moving when a stop is necessary.

42. Snub line 

A rope is used to secure the sled to a tree or post.

43. Stakeout

The main chain is placed between truck bumpers, with short chains attached to it.

44. Stanchions 

The section that attaches the runners to the body of the sled.

45. Swing Dogs 

The two dogs behind the lead dogs.

46. Team Dogs 

Other dogs make up the rest of the sled team.

47. Termination Dust

The first layer of snow covers the Alaskan mountains.

48. Tether Line 

Used in place of a stake, the tether line is a long chain with several short chains attached.

49. Toboggan 

A type of sled with a flat bottom and no runners.

50. Toggles

Secures a harness to a tug line, traditionally made from ivory. 

51. Taglines

One of the lines is used in mushing.

52. Wheel Dogs 

The name given to the dogs were placed in front of the sled. Typically, their job is to pull the sled around corners.


Dog sledding is a rewarding pastime, allowing you and your dog team the chance to bond and train for mushing events. When in a team, dogs naturally feel part of a pack. 

Dog mushers have a unique opportunity to direct the pack straight from the sled when using correct dog sledding commands. Learn all sled dog commands and key terms to get the most out of your adventure into mushing!

To ensure that your canine best friends are fully equipped with the highest quality harnesses and collars, visit Neewa. Remember, our passion is to provide the best equipment so you can enjoy all activities with your dog and strengthen the bond between you.