Physics of Dog Mushing

Physics of Dog Mushing

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Acceleration and velocity are mostly dependent on the number of dogs, the quality of the dogs, and how well the dogs have been trained, but it also can depend on friction and inertia. The lager mass an object has the the more weight it has and the more inertia it has.

Weight effects acceleration by increasing friction. Friction is f = µN where µ is the coefficient of friction, N is the normal force, and f is friction. The normal force is equal to mass times gravity assuming no other downward forces are applied. Therefore the more weight in both sled gear and musher the dogs have to haul the lower the velocity and the slower the acceleration will be due to friction between the runners and the ground.

Inertia effects acceleration because inertia is the tendency of objects to ether stay at rest or stay in motion. In this case since the point is to move we are more concerned about staying at rest. When starting the dogs have to pull harder to get the sled moving then they do to keep it moving to both overcome the effects of inertia and to change the fiction from static friction to kinetic friction.


Force is necessary to start all motion, and in the presence of friction force is needed to maintain a constant velocity. In mushing a vast majority of the force comes from the dogs, and depending on the musher as a small amount to no force comes from the musher (assuming flat terrain).
Mathematically F = ma where "F" is force, "m" is mass, and "a" is acceleration. this tells us that if the velocity is constant then the sum of the forces equals 0(F = 0). this doesn't mean the dogs aren't applying any force it just means that they are only applying enough force to over come any friction that might be resting the forward motion.
The dogs apply this force by pulling on the tug lines which leads to a gangline which is attached to the sled. some mushers place a shock absorber between the sled and the gangline to both ease jolts from the dogs accelerating from a stop and to reduce the jolt on the dogs from large bumps in the trails.


The dogs are only doing work when they are accelerating because W = Fd where W is work, F is force, and d is distance.

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When the velocity is constant all the forces added up equal 0, so since any number times 0 equals 0, Fd = 0. therefore, no work is done. so even though the dogs have to be applying force constantly the work is equal to 0.


Friction in dog sledding is both good and bad. It allows you to turn and slow down when you want to but it also slow you down and makes the dogs and the musher work harder.

Friction as a good thing

however this you need a lot of friction to take corners without sliding sideways and crashing. The way dog mushers get a round this is by building the sled so that it will flex when the musher leans.

This flexing turns the edge of the runner downward so it can dig into the snow creating lots of friction in the sideways direction, but because the front has no weight the friction in the front of the sled is still small. This allows the force of the dogs pulling to pull it around the corner. This turns the runners perpendicular to the momentum of the sled and preventing sliding.

Another good thing about friction is the ability to both start and stop. The dogs require friction to pull, so if you put you and your team out on a frozen pond that is near frictionless because of the glare ice. you can't expect to go any where very quickly because the dogs will slip every time they try to pull. Thankfully dogs have toe nails to help prevent this from ever happening.

Stopping is usually considered a good ability to have and even though the dogs are supposed to stop on command you still don't want to have a sled with a person and gear slamming into all you dogs. So of coarse the way to prevent this is to put a brake on the sled. Brakes are usually just sharp medal spikes with a flat bar across to step on. When weight is applied to the brake the spikes or teeth dig into the snow and greatly increase the friction. This slows the sled by countering the force that is applied by the dogs.

Mushers also use a snow hook to stop If there is ether something wrong or they just want to stop for a while.

The Idea of this is to make the frictional resistance so height that the dogs can't reasonably pull the sled.

Friction as a bad thing

Reducing friction between the runners the and the snow has been a major concern for mushers for many years.

Before plastic musher would ether split a spruce log in half and peal it to make a smooth surface. However, the runners would dry out and loose some of their smoothness and they would also sink deeper then flat runners. They also used steel or iron runners. These floated better but didn't work well on exposed ground and tundra, and in addition to this the dog excrement would freeze to the medal runners and drastically increase the friction.

Today mushers have a wide variety of plastic runners to choose from that can be picked to mach the conditions that are he or she is facing that particular day. This has shown to reduce friction by many times that of the medal or wooden runners. Competitive mushers to day have to decide what density plastic they need before starting a race. If conditions are more favorable they might choose a softer plastic that will not give much resistance, but if conditions are harsh then they will try a harder plastic so that it doesn't gauge and scrape quite as easily.

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