DOG TRAILERS: ARE THEY THE BEST WAY TO TRAVEL WITH YOUR SLED DOGS?

While driving on a four-lane highway in Canada on their way to the Iditarod last February, Tom and Brenda Roig of Valley Road Outfitters hit a patch of black ice outside of Winnepeg, momentarily losing control of the Dodge pick up that hauled the 16 foot trailer behind it.The dual axle trailer spun wildly out of control, doing a one-hundred-and-eighty degree turn and landing between the divided highway, sending the 16 dogs inside of it reeling. Two tires blew from either side of the trailer in the accident, which is why Roig believes the trailer didn’t roll. Roig and his wife were stranded for more than two hours in minus 17 degree temperatures before help arrived. Luckily, no one was hurt. But it’s just this kind of scenario that has many mushers debating the safest way to transport dogs. Opinions about whether to trailer or transport dogs in dog boxes on the truck vary almost as widely as the methods of transporting dogs. But, of the many people interviewed for this story, the biggest concern with trailering seems to be the dogs’ safety in just the sort of accident experienced by the Roigs. Many mushers say a trailer system helps avoid hoisting dogs up onto dog boxes mounted on a truck. Stephanie Little Wolf of Fairbanks, who uses her team for therapy work with children, says when working with children “trailers are great because the kids can reach stuff and you can help them easier. Kids cannot lift dogs up into a dog box.”Kim Wells of Anchorage, who’s been mushing for about eight years, concurs. “Save your back!” she says. She added that she likes having the trailer because it’s “nice and low;” and having dogs on a lower trailer can not only save a musher’s back, it can save the dogs’ wrists when they try to jump from high dog boxes on the truck. And Kathleen Frederick of Juneau says, as a petite woman under 5’4,” hoisting dogs into boxes on top of her Dodge Dakota was such a difficulty, she had to give a dog to a new home because it was more than 70 pounds and she couldn’t lift him into the box. “One needs to be fairly tall to get the sled up over the lip of the roof and onto the truck,” she says. “It was impossible for a person under 5’5” to do. I actually had to put a step ladder against the tailgate to climb up and tie the sled down, so that is one reason I just bought a trailer,” she says. There are other benefits to trailering: not having dog boxes on the truck all the time allows for truck use throughout the off season for other purposes. Roig admits this was a selling point on trailers for him: “One of the biggest reasons I opted for the trailer is because I need my work truck during the rest of the year.”Trailering offers many conveniences. Having a trailer allows extra storage space for organizing pickets, ganglines, harnesses and other equipment inside. With an enclosed trailer, dogs are safer from external noises and from the curious hands of onlookers, allowing them to rest better. Utilizing a trailer gives a musher the freedom to drop the trailer and drive the truck around to follow races, get supplies or other activities done easier without towing a trailer. Mounting a sled onto a trailer is an easier task than climbing up on top of dog boxes mounted to a truck.There are aesthetic reasons why trailering makes sense: dogs picketed to a trailer can’t scratch the truck – and some mushers do care about this!Finally, some feel trailers are lighter and, therefore, more fuel efficient. But the number one argument for trailering dogs; however, is that the trailer can be dropped in case the truck breaks down. John Faskell of Canine Cargo Carriers in New London, Wisconsin makes good arguments for trailering dogs. And he should: after hauling dogs for more than 20 years for hunting expeditions, he’s learned through trial and error what works and what doesn’t. Once, while driving with his dogs through an 80-degree Rapid City, S. D. summer, his clutch went out on his truck. Luckily, a service station was nearby and he was able to drop his trailer, come back with a different vehicle and trailer the dogs to a shady place where he could drop them and give them ample water. Faskell says, “If you have a serious breakdown, it can be a disaster with a dog box. With a trailer, you can hook up and still go get your dogs to safety.”There are benefits to using dog boxes on trucks; especially for a smaller kennel. Some think maneuverability is easier without a trailer; there’s more shock absorption with dog boxes on the truck, and the dogs receive a smoother ride. When using a dog box, the trailer is then available for hauling other things, such as an ATV or snow machine; and there’s less chance for dropped dogs to eat trailer wires without the trailer. Lindsey Owens and T.J. Shrader of Cold Canyon Kennels in Colorado are fans of their boxes built on their flatbed. “T.J. hates pulling trailers in the snow, and I do feel safer having them on the truck when we are driving in bad weather conditions, which is at least once a week after January,” says Owens. This sentiment is echoed by many mushers. Jan Shaw of Newberry, MI: “I hate putting dogs in trailers – I always felt so much safer with them on the truck,” she says, even though she uses a trailer. Other mushers also feel that carrying dogs on the truck is a much safer ride than carrying them in a trailer. When asked about safety concerns, Kim Wells, a trailer proponent, says, “That crosses my mind and it certainly worries me, so I obviously drive more carefully when the dogs are on the trailer. I make sure all the safety chains and everything are hooked. But I do believe dogs in the box in the back of the trailer are equally as safe as they would be in boxes in the back of the truck. It’s almost an equal situation, as long as you have your appropriate safety equipment. I really do like the trailer system because I feel like I have more options.” Though Roig’s trailer mishap could have had a horrible outcome, luckily everyone, including the dogs, was safe. He says the first thing he and his wife did after the accident was check on the dogs. “They were troopers,” he says, adding that there wasn’t even a whimper or a hint of fear from the dogs. Despite his harrowing experience, Roig is still an advocate for trailering dogs. “I think the conditions of the black ice and the extreme windy conditions is what ended up taking us around,” he admits. Stephanie Little Wolf is currently designing a dog trailer for her kennel. “The better a trailer you start with, the better off you’ll be,” she offers. “Whatever you can do to make it easier to haul dogs, that’s what you should do.” She also says a dual axle trailer is a must, as well as a little forethought. “Think ahead about what your needs are,” she says. “Make a list of your needs so you have a place for everything. The more organized you are, the easier it is to run dogs.”

Share:

More Posts