Archive for July, 2010

Famous Sled Dog Movies

Famous Sled Dog Movies

What is your favorite sled dog movie. There are many that portray dog sledding in the north, particularly about the gold rush but few made it to the mainstream as ‘big time’ movies.

Here is a list of my favorites. What are yours?

  1. Iron Will
  2. Eight Below
  3. Call of the Wild
  4. Balto
  5. Snow Dogs
  6. Born to Run
  7. See You In Nome! An Iditarod Rookie Journey
  8. White Fang
  9. Iditarod: Toughest Race on Earth
  10. Iditarod

We would love to hear form you. Comment below or send an email to


Dr. Robert Forto is the Dog Sledding Examiner, a musher training for his first Iditarod under the Team Ineka banner and the host of the popular, Mush! You Huskies Radio Show.


Quest for the South Pole

Quest For the South Pole

Discovered in 1840, Antarctica lies almost concentrically about the South Pole.  Fittingly enough its name means “opposite to the arctic”, and this fifth largest continent would be essentially circular except for the Antarctica Peninsula. It was here, in this unforgiving environment that two different men chose two different paths, and two different aides in their quests to reach the South Pole.  Both made it to their destinations, only one however made it back.  There is not any doubt that the difference was the dogs, or lack thereof.

Robert F. Scott (1868-1912) was a British explorer who made several attempts to reach the South Pole.  From their base camp on Ross Island, Scott, accompanied by Earnest Henry Shackleton (1874-1922), and E.A. Wilson penetrated as close as 82º 17’ S. to the pole at the Ross Ice Shelf on December 30, 1902.  Scott believed that the use of sled dogs was somehow disreputable.  “No journey made with dogs,” Captain Scott wrote, “can approach the height of that fine conception which is realized when a party of men go forth to face hardships, dangers, and difficulties by their own unaided efforts.”

Later, Shackleton and another party of five men reached 88º 23’ S. on January 9, 1909, a point a mere 97-miles from the pole.  “The successful experimental use of hardy Manchurian ponies, and the pioneering of a route up the great Beardmore Glacier to the polar plateau by Shackleton, paved the way for the epic trip of Scott in 1911-12 to the South Pole.”

The second participant in the epic race was Roald Amundsen (1872-1928).  Amundsen was the Norwegian explorer that ultimately discovered the South Pole, but just as with Peary on the other side of the world, his triumph came with a price.

Amundsen began his history-making journey by first studying medicine.  In 1897, he joined a Belgian Antarctica expedition as a mate, and was assigned to the “Belgica”.  The “Belgica”, under the command of Captain Adrien de Gerlache, became trapped in the pack ice in March of 1898.  The ship drifted with the ice of the Bellingshausen Sea until the following March; proving conclusively that one could winter the Antarctic.

It is noteworthy to mention that Amundsen was accompanied to Antarctica by the American physician-explorer F.A. Cook. Amundsen and Cook were largely responsible for bringing the “Belgica’s” crew through severe attacks of scurvy.

A few years later Amundsen made plans to conquer the Northwest Passage.  With a crew of only six he sailed secretly on the “Gjöa”, a forty seven-ton sloop, in order to avoid creditors.  He was the first man to take a ship through the fabled passage.  He then began to focus his attention on accomplishing spectacular polar achievements.

Amundsen planned to drift across the North Pole in a ship called the “Fram”.  This plan was secretly altered when the news that Robert E. Peary had reached the North Pole assaulted the wires.  He continued his preparations and in June of 1910 Amundsen left Norway; no one save his brother knew that he sailed for the South Pole instead of the already conquered North Pole.  Amundsen sailed to the Ross Sea and set up a base camp some sixty-miles closer to the pole than his adversary Captain Scott.  As a matter of personal, and nationalistic pride it was vital to him that he reach the pole first.

Unlike Scott’s party who chose to rely primarily on horses and the Beardmore Glacier route, Amundsen and his party chose to travel with sledges pulled by dogs and to take the Axel Heiberg Glacier route.  He reached the South Pole on December 14, 1911, beating Captain Scott by thirty-four days.  Appley Cherry-Garrard was a member of Scott’s previous excursions, he described the vast differences between the canines’ and ponies’ ability to adapt to the polar environment in the following account:

“The animals suffer the most, and during the this first blizzard all our ponies were weakened, and two of them became practically useless…Nothing was left undone for them which we could manage, but necessarily the Antarctic is a grim place for ponies.  I think Scott felt the sufferings of the ponies more than the animals themselves.  It was different with the dogs.  These fairly warm blizzards were only a rest for them.  Snugly curled up in [a] hole in the snow they allowed themselves to be drifted over.  Bieleglas and Vaida, two half-brothers who pulled side by side, always insisted upon sharing one hole, and for greater warmth one would lie on top of the other.  At intervals of two hours or so they fraternally changed places.”

Amundsen’s team arrived safely back at Franheim Station at the Bay of Whales with very little difficulty.  On January 17, 1912, seventy-eight days after leaving camp, Captain Scott’s final assault team achieved the South Pole.  The despair of coming so far just to find the Norwegian flag must have been nearly overwhelming.  Their return trek was aggravatingly slow as men succumbed to the environment.  Scott’s party was caught in a blizzard on the Ross Ice Shelf.  There they pitched their tents, and their food and fuel dwindled, then finally ran out.  Only eleven-miles from their One Ton Camp, Scott and his companions perished.


Dr. Robert Forto is the Dog Sledding Examiner, a musher training for his first Iditarod under the Team Ineka banner and the host of the popular, Mush! You Huskies radio show.

Voyages to the Ends of the Earth

Voyages to the Ends of the Earth

An explorer’s work is vastly routine, and at times mundane. Raymond Coppinger stated it as an “unglamorous collecting of data, and charting of land and water.”  But every once and a while a mission comes along that captivates the imagination of man; explorers and the public alike.  Man’s insatiable quest for the North and South Poles were such missions, they produced both triumphs and disasters.

Quest for the North Pole

From the beginning the men who braved the Polar Regions have depended on dog teams.  In the 1870’s and 1880’s Nares and Greely used dog teams in their attempts to reach the North Pole.  In 1895, Nansen was to become the white man that had reached the furthest north, he accomplished this feat with the aide of native Eskimo dogs.  Nansen’s record was broken by a mere twenty-two miles in 1901 by Italian Naval officer, Lt. Cagni.

Robert Edwin Peary (1856-1920) is widely credited with reaching the North Pole first, a feat that he accomplished in April of 1909.  For Peary this victory was only achieved after a hard fought battle that began in 1886 with a trip that started at Disco Bay, and proceeded one-hundred miles over the Greenland Ice Sheet.

Peary returned to the Arctic in 1891 with seven companions that included his wife, and F.A. Cook.  Leaving from Hvalsund in the spring, Peary and his party sledged an impressive twelve hundred miles to the northeast of Greenland, and discovered Independence Fjord in the process.  It is important to note Peary’s befriending of an isolated tribe of Eskimo referred to as the “Arctic Highlanders”.  These natives, according to Peary, were of the “greatest assistance” on his later expeditions.  Peary made additional excursions into the arctic regions in 1893, 1894, 1896, and 1897.

In 1898, Peary announced his intentions of reaching the North Pole. Because of his single-mindedness, over the next four years Peary relentlessly reconnoitered possible routes from bases at Etah in Inglefield Land and Fort Conger on Ellesmere Island.  He adopted Eskimo techniques of travel, shelter and clothing.  The “Arctic Highlanders” were his drivers, and his igloo builders.  Following the prescribed methods of McClintock, food and supplies were cached, and a trail was laid.

In 1905, Peary made a valiant attempt at reaching the North Pole.  His group traveled with over two hundred sled dogs and reached latitude 87º 6’ N. eclipsing Lt. Cagni’s closet approach.  Severe ice conditions conspired with a run of bad weather, and forced the party to make a premature return.

In February of 1909, Peary departed Cape Columbia, Ellesmere Island with twenty-four men, nineteen sleds, and one hundred and thirty-three Eskimo sled dogs.  In the final leg of the trip Matthew Henson, and four Eskimos accompanied Peary.  The men with their courageous dogs “covered the last 133-miles in five forced marches, arriving at that magic spot where there is no North, East, or West on April 6, 1909.”

The group then made the 485-mile return trip in a nearly unbelievable sixteen days.  His once friend, F.A. Cook, claimed to have superseded Peary’s accomplishment by reaching the North Pole during the previous season.  Cook’s claims have been widely discredited, yet they continued to mar the enjoyment of Peary’s triumph.  That the dispute was even taken seriously at all was owed to the fact that Peary’s return trip was so astonishingly quick.  However, most experienced mushers agree that one’s return trip on a marked trail is generally almost twice as fast.  Peary died on February 20, 1920 in Washington D.C. His contributions to the sled dog and scientific communities however live on.


Dr. Robert Forto is the Dog Sledding Examiner, a musher training for his first Iditarod under the Team Ineka banner and the host of the popular, Mush! You Huskies radio show.

Charlie Belford on Mush! You Huskies Radio Show

Dog Sledding Legends-Charlie Belford on Mush! You Huskies

On the radio program, Mush! You Huskies we are continuing our summer series on the Dog Sledding Legends that made this sport what it is. This week we talk about Charlie Belford.

Listen to Mush! You Huskies Radio Show: Charlie Belford

Doc Belford was one of the most influential of Siberian breeders and racers. He was a close friend of that OTHER racing vet, Doc Lombard. With Dick Moulton making a threesome, these men undertook to found SEPP– a move within the ranks of SHCA to retain the racing qualities of the Siberian Husky. Doc Belford lived much of the important racing history that we read about in books. He was a World Champion and raced Alaska shortly after Lombard initially went there from New England and came back with many tales of the tough trails, tough drivers, and tougher dogs. He started in Siberians when his father bought dogs from Seppala. He was a member of the newly formed NESDC Juniors. And he loved the sport. Dr. Belford was recognized for his authoritative knowledge of the racing Siberian and was asked abroad to speak and lecture in the Scandinavian countries.



Dr. Robert Forto is the Dog Sledding Examiner, a musher training for his first Iditarod under the Team Ineka banner, and the host of the popular, Mush! You Huskies radio show.

Learn from a Dog


This article was originally published on my blog in September of 2009.

The following story is widely circulated on the Internet. I have no idea who wrote it and I hope the author does not mind if I take the liberty to use it here in this post.

A Dog’s Purpose, from a 4-year-old…Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish Wolfhound named Belker. The dog’s owners, Ron, his wife, Lisa, and their little boy, Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle.

I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family we couldn’t do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home.

As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for four-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience.

The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker’s family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away. The little boy seemed to accept Belker’s transition without any difficulty or confusion.

We sat together for a while after Belker’s death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives. Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, “I know why.”

Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I’d never heard a more comforting explanation.

He said, “People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life, like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?”

The four-year-old continued, “Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.”

Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly.

(Robert Forto) I received this story from a colleague the other day and thought I had to share it. While I will always give credit where credit is due, I do not know who wrote this article so I am posting it anonymously. If you do know who wrote it please have them contact me directly at

I struggle with this the context of the story every day. My old dog and my best friend is a 12 year old Siberian Husky named Ineka. It is supposed to mean “rescued friend” in a Northern Canadian language. Anyhow, Ineka has been through thick and thin with not only me, but my family, since we adopted him from a Washington shelter in 2000. They told us he was four at the time but I checked the wear patterns on his teeth and he was closer to two.

I have talked about Ineka a lot over the years in my articles, in my blog posts, and in my canine trainers classes at Denver Dog Works. I even dedicated my doctorate dissertation to him- Chasing the Dream: The History of Human-Canine Communication in the Sport of Dog Sledding (Forto 2005).

I will be sad when his time comes to pass over the rainbow bridge. Who am I kidding, it will devastate me for a long while. But I will pull through and his legacy and what he taught me will live on. As the young boy says in the story, dogs already know how to live the good life, like loving everybody all the time so they don’t have to stay long.

Ineka, well all dogs for that matter, share a special place in most people’s hearts don’t they? They are just the right fix when something is wrong, just the right size to hug when you are feeling blue, listen just long enough when you have a secret, have just enough energy to finish that hike, just enough strength to pull you through the day, just enough courage to keep you motivated, just enough tail wags to make you smile, just enough wisdom to teach the new pup the rules, and just enough love to keep you sane in the worst of time.

So I encourage all of you to get out and do something with your dog today, everyday for the matter. Dogs were put on this earth to teach us something about ourselves. Is that a way to learn or what?

Update: As many of you know our dear friend, Ineka, passed over the Rainbow Bridge on July 13, 2010. I re-read this story from my blog and thought I should re-post it. I don’t know how most of you feel about the passing of a beloved pet, but it is one of the hardest things I have ever went through. It just seems different when a pet passes compared to a person. I do’nt know why. Maybe its because pets show us such unconditional love. Maybe its because we are allowed to make the decision when it is time for them to go. Maybe it is because they can not tell us its time or they hurt or they simply can not continue.

I have had many pets over the years. They were all special. But none quite like Ineka. He was my inspiration for everything I do with dogs and in the worst of times he was my strength. Some say, he was just a dog. Hardly, my friends, hardly–Ineka was my Dreamchaser.


Dr. Robert Forto is the training director of Denver Dog Works and the host of a weekly radio program, The Dog Doctor Radio Show. Dr. Forto can be reached through his website at

Are Alaskan Huskies a True Breed? By Al Magaw

Are Alaskan Huskies a True Breed?

By Al Magaw

A recent study led by graduate student Heather Huson on the genetic makeup of sled dogs has revealed some surprising answers to the question, “Are alaskan huskies a true breed? ” A news write up can be found at the “Fairbanks Daily Miner” (“Read more: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner – entry Sled dogs are a breed apart study finds”) and the complete study at

In brief, Heather Huson says that the alaskan husky, no matter the heritage, has developed genetic markers that define it as a unique breed of it’s own,   “essentially a breed of their own, as unique as poodles or corgis”. “Alaskan sled dogs are selected to be fast, tough, and hard working. That’s been enough to make them a distinct breed, according to a new genetic study” This surprising, to many, result has developed not because of common ancestry, but by breeding for purpose. The genetic markers are more consistent than those found in siberians or malemutes, which often show identical markers. The markers in alaskan huskies do show their genetic makeup, be it german shorthair pointers or siberians or malemutes, eskimos or elkhounds, but the markers that make it an alaskan husky are the same. The study also showed whether the alaskan type was better for distance or sprint and it showed the ancestry that was best for “speed, endurance, or work ethic”. (I find that grouping of ratings amazingly coincidental as that is the same groupings I used when rating the dogs in my kennel as I started the attempt to establish my own bloodlines over 30 years ago and still use today).

“Alaskan sled dogs seem like they shouldn’t have much in common genetically. They look different—they can be long-haired or short-haired, floppy-eared or perky-eared, 13 or 30 kilograms. And though breeders of distance dogs tend to stick to other Alaskan sled dogs, sprint-dog breeders mix in other breeds, like English pointers, shorthaired pointers, and even greyhounds. But Huson found much more commonality than she anticipated”

I have to compare this emergence of a unique breed brought about through breeding for usage to Darwin’s brilliant study of evolutionary development. Darwin showed that how species developed was caused by environmental pressures, as well as mutations, over millions of years. Man has shortened this time frame dramatically in the development of different breeds of dogs to just a few hundred years and the Alaskan Husky may be the latest in this process. So now, all you alaskan husky fans, you can claim that you really are running a true breed of husky, and perhaps, due to this remarkable study, the use of alaskans in some previously prohibiting countries will now be allowed. Please excuse me as I’m on the way out the door now to give my purebred alaskans a big hug!


Al Magaw is a musher from Salmo, BC. Al keeps a medium sized kennel of 20 – 45 alaskan huskies as well as several pet dogs of various breeds. Al has been training and racing for the last 33 years. Before becoming involved with sled dogs, Al, along with his family, kept and competed with horses for many years. Al can be reached through his website at Al is a guest blogger for Denver Dog Works and can be reached through our website at

The Future of Iditarod Dreams: Team Ineka-Part 3

The Future of Iditarod Dreams- Team Ineka Part 3

“Congratulations!! You own a home in Alaska! The Deed was just recorded”

Text from Dave S. realtor and friend  on July 20, 2010

So now the journey begins. Only just one week after the passing of our dear friend, our dog Ineka, and the inspiration for Team Ineka and the future of our Iditarod dreams, Michele and I are now officially the proud owners of a home (or is it just a musher’s cabin?) in the great state of Alaska.

I have thought about this day almost every day since I was about 19 years old, almost 20 years to the day. That was when I drove from Oregon to the Georgia mountains to look at a couple Siberian Huskies. It was a 72 hour drive in my 1975 Datsun 280z and I thought I owned the world. When I arrived in Georgia, I didn’t know the first thing about sled dogs or the sport of dog sledding but I did knew about Siberians, having owned one since 1987, his name was Axl (yes, after Guns and Roses lead singer Axl Rose, who was my favorite band at the time).

When I arrived at the breeder’s home, strung out from the road (wait… isn’t that a lyric from  a Bob Seger/Metallica cover song?) I was just expecting to take a look a a couple dogs. As a matter of fact I had no real intentions of purchasing them. I was heading to Florida to bask in the sun, not be a teenager held down by a couple sled dogs.

I  drove up and looked the pack of dogs over and one caught my eye. He was a red and white male with what I would call yellow eyes and then I saw his brother, a typical black and white Siberian Husky with a brown eye and a blue eye. I had money in my pocket but still not ready to buy until the lady said, “Do you want to go for a ride?”

“Sure,” I said and she and her son began hooking up a team of Siberians to a cart. After the dogs where hooked up and banging at the harnesses the lady could barely contain the feisty dogs that I thought were possessed! She jumped in the seat and told me to jump on the back and her son let go of the quick release. Away we went down a steep curve and almost toppling over (funny that same thing happened just about a month ago when I was visiting April Wood of Jaraw Siberians in California when we took her dogs out for a run).

After a couple miles the dogs settled into their gait and were pulling in sync and the lady asked if I would like to give it a try. I said of course and to my dismay (and soon to be pleasure) she jumped off the cart and we took off again. I had listened to her commands and as soon as I started barking out orders to the team they quickly responded. I have no idea how long I spent driving those dogs through the mountains of Georgia but something changed in me that day. Something primal, something connecting. Some call it the Musher’s Bug. It is true once it is in your veins it is hard to shake.

I picked up the breeder a short distance from her dog yard and she guided the team into the kennel with expert grace and we all chipped in on un-harnessing the team, watering them and just spending time with them in the yard.

I left that day with two pups, that I would soon call Rutgrr (the red one) and Ryche. Their full AKC names would soon be Rutgrr the Grreat (like the old Tony the Tiger cereal commercials) and King Ryche (named after another big rock band of the time, Queensryche). I soon bought a bicycle designed for the elderly and began training my pups. Very soon two dogs became four and four became eight. If you are a musher you know just how quickly they multiply, something like they taught us in high school biology class…

In the mid 1990’s I moved to Minnesota and began mushing with a team of thirty five Siberians with hopes of one day running the Iditarod. I ran on the snowmobile trails in the middle of the night so I wouldn’t get run over by the snow machines” running up to 45 miles most nights. During the day I was dabbling in the stock market as a day trader. The Internet was becoming really hot and just about anyone could make money in the market. What a perfect life, right?

Then I met Michele who lived in Denver and I had to “grow up” fast. I ended up moving to Colorado and put my sled dog dreams on hold for what I like to call, “life getting in the way”.

Fast forward to 2010. Michele and I are now married for almost a decade, we have a successful business and the kids are getting older. I got a chance to go to Alaska for a conference and the ceremonial start of the Iditarod and that changed our lives forever. Soon, we were talking to realtors and making plans to head to Alaska to look at a property that used to be an Iditarod kennel. We signed the purchase agreement sight unseen with the provision that we would approve after we looked at the place.

On July 4th weekend, my daughter and I (she had never been on a plane) flew to Alaska and looked at the place. I needed Nicole there because she was the lone hold-out in committing to move up North. She approved of the place and the cool high  school she will be attending and we sent word by text message to mom that we were buying the place.

Within sixteen days, the purchase was finalized and I was making plans of heading up at the end of the month to start work on the place (it needs remodeling really bad!) while Michele and the kids stay in Denver for a year to make sure that our business will have a successful transition when all all move to Alaska part-time (six months in Alaska and six months in Denver) in 2011.

During the next year I will be attempting something I am not good at all, construction, and begin to build our dog team. My goal is to qualify in 2012 for the 2013 Iditarod and run the race under the Team Ineka banner, named after our dear friend. I don’t know if I will have my own team by then or will lease a team from a friend of mine, but either way I am on track for something I have thought about since I was 19 years old. Some may call this my mid-life crisis. I don’t think so. and I don’t care if I ever have a corvette. I am chasing my dream and I will see where the trail leads. Hopefully to Nome…

Never Forget Your Dreams!

Next segment: Way Up North to Alaska


Dr. Robert Forto is the Dog Sledding Examiner, a musher training for his first Iditarod under the Team Ineka banner and the host of the popular radio program, Mush! You Huskies.


July 2010
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