Iceland: Dog Sledding
Among many other socially unacceptable qualities I possessed as a child old was my unnatural obsession with canines. I practised “playing vets” daily on my array of stuffed pooches, wasted birthday wishes on turning into a labrador and spent all my pocket money on Dogs Life magazine. One would then assume that gliding through the snow on a sleigh pulled by a pack of fleecy huskies would be the perfect manifestation of my childhood dreams.
It was the middle of winter, and for the first time in my life I leapt out of bed without snoozing my alarm despite my pounding hangover from a hottub sesh featuring Patron XO Café. Both the website and Tripadvisor page of Dogsledding Iceland claim to offer a once-in-a-lifetime experience: complete silence and freedom under a starry sky in the land of fire and ice. After ringing up the company and making various inquiries about the health of the dogs, we were assured that they were lovingly kept in tiptop accommodation, and also that there would be an abundance of puppies to play with. Understandably, I was frothing like a rabid hound.
As we neared the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, where the kennels were located at the time, we pretended not to notice the fluffy white snow waning to reveal scorched grass and slimy black mud. When we pulled into the driveway, our eyes were met with a cacophony of howling Greenland dogs and Alaskan malamutes chained up outside in small, bare cages. After reluctantly handing over €80 each for the Adventure Tour, my six friends and I zipped ourselves into our unflattering blue snowsuits and boarded the metal trailers with wheels euphemistically referred to as “sleighs”.
For the next 45 minutes or so, we were dragged through the dry grass and sludge by the dogs as they howled, got tangled in their harnesses and tried to eat each other. But the further away we got from the kennel, the prettier the Icelandic landscape got, and we eventually stopped for a break at a river to watch the sunrise, shower the dogs with affection and ask our musher where we could buy weed. The pooches were adorable, friendly and seemed extremely well-looked after according to Dogs Life’s ‘Seven Signs of a Healthy Hound’, but we still felt fairly sorry for them.
The mushers were bursting with enthusiasm, had ample experience and obviously had great working relationships with the dogs, knowing each of them by name and personality. They did admit, however, that they weren’t happy with the owners of the kennel or their employment conditions. Maybe it’s just coming from an urban environment where pets are dyed pink, ordered meals at restaurants and even left inheritance in wills that left me shocked at the conditions in which the working dogs lived, but something just didn’t feel quite right. As far as I could see, Disney’s representation of dog sledding in Balto seems to be about as accurate as its representation of romance.
If you’re still keen to try dog sledding, I’d definitely recommend ringing ahead to see if there’s snow at the kennel. The business we went through has since moved to the Húsafell area, which is further north, so you may get lucky. Apparently when the conditions are better, you get taken around on legitimate sleighs rather than those things you attach to the back of your car, and hopefully when there is snow the dogs are housed in actual kennels with roofs. All other reviews I’ve read cite the experience as fantastic and a must-do; but if it’s going to be muddy, it’s just not worth the collective price of €560. You’re better off taking a pack of neighbourhood dogs down to the beach for a walk: you won’t get anywhere near as dirty, you’ll get dragged around just as much and it’s free.