Often, those in front have spent all year preparing their dogs for the race, spending $50,000 or more to maintain a kennel of well-fed, carefully-trained champions.http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/episodes/sled-dogs-an-alaskan-epic/interactive-dogsledding-101/4355/

Sled Dogs: An Alaskan Epic Sledding into the Wilderness

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Getting dog teams to pull together, however, takes months of training. In the off-season, for instance, some mushers rope their teams to wheeled carts or four-wheeled all-terrain vehicles, and let the dogs pull the chariots along snowless dirt roads. The dogs are so strong and possess such an inherent drive to pull, that according to Runyan, even brakes have difficulty holding them back.
Dogs running the Iditarod have special abilities — and special requirements, like food. Along with their power comes a huge appetite. While a normal mutt might get by on 1,500 calories a day, sled dogs can easily consume up to 10,000 calories per day. And while they’re tough, huskies can have sensitive feet. To safeguard them, mushers tie on polar-fleece booties that keep paws warm and protected. In the Iditarod, a single musher will use about 2,000 booties. Each usually lasts several hours and up to 100 miles.

How the Huskies are Prepared for the Iditarod

The International Sled Dog Veterinary Medical Association Board of Directors has adopted a definition of sled dog which includes that it must demonstrate a willingness to be harnessed and a desire to participate in the activity for which it is harnessed, be adequately trained and conditioned for the activity, and be capable of withstanding environmental extremes.

Care of Dogs During the Race

Mushers must keep a written diary of each dog during the race which serves as its medical records. These diaries are presented to the veterinarians at each checkpoint. Dogs that the veterinarian deems unable to go on with the race are left at the checkpoint to receive appropriate care and be flown home. Some of the reasons for these dropped dogs include injury, illness, or fatigue. If a dog becomes unable to pull between checkpoints, it is unharnessed and allowed to ride on the sled to the next checkpoint.

Read more at Suite101: **Iditarod Sled Dog Race: Preparation, Training and Care of Iditarod Sled Dogs** **http://www.suite101.com/content/iditarod-2009-a90321#ixzz1HQqlLWR3**