If you are planning a visit to Finnish Lapland, riding a dog sled is probably on your bucket list. Seeing the dogs in their element is almost magical and feeling the speed of the sled will give you a rush! Still, you may be wondering whether dog sledding is ethical. That’s why we have compiled this post about dog sledding in Finland addressing ethical concerns and practical issues. We have also included testimonies from fellow travel bloggers in case you are still looking for the perfect dog sledding excursion!
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What is Dog Sledding?
Dog Sledding has been an integral mode of transport in arctic and sub-arctic regions of the world for thousands of years. Essentially, it means a sled being drawn by a dog, usually a Siberian Husky or Alaskan Malamute, although Alaskan Huskies are also becoming more common. Historically, these kinds of sleds were used for transporting goods or people between settlements which were otherwise not reachable, either because no roads existed, or because they were covered by snow. Occasionally, dog sled races were also held. Today, dog sledding is primarily a touristic activity as motorized modes of transport have widely replaced the traditional dog sled.
Is Dog Sledding Ethical?
As responsible travelers, we should always be aware of the effects our visit has on a region or its inhabitants. This is particularly true for any kind of animal tourism. Today, animal tourism such as the swimming with dolphins or the riding of elephants is widely considered cruel (and rightfully so). So you may find yourself wondering: is dog sledding ethical?
There is no easy way to answer this question as everything depends on the treatment of the dogs. Sledding dogs are bred to run which means genetically they are well suited for the kind of work they do. However, some companies may take advantage of their dogs to an extent that actually hurts the animals.
How to Identify an Ethical Dog Sledding Company
Sled dogs are protected by two layers: national animal welfare laws as well as industry standards. While law regarding the treatment of animals can vary from country to country, industry standards are the same anywhere. A notable stakeholder in dogsledding is Mush with P.R.I.D.E.
Mush with P.R.I.D.E. was established in 1991 by a group of mushers (dog sled drivers) who were concerned with the welfare of the animals in the industry. Through the years, they have developed dog care and equipment guidelines. P.R.I.D.E stands for ‘Providing Responsible Information on a Dog’s Environment’. Most reputable dog sledding companies in the world follow these guidelines and may even subject themselves to voluntary kennel inspections.
If you are unsure about booking with a certain company, it may be worth to check out their website for the P.R.I.D.E. principles. You can ask how the dogs are kept, what they do in the off-season (summer) and what happens to ‘retired’ sled dogs. Many companies do have a no-kill policy, but not all follow this principle which some may find objectionable.
What to Expect during a Husky Safari in Finland
A husky safari in Finland can mean a number of things. Generally, it means an excursion on a husky sled for a set number of hours. The duration of the tour or things included can vary depending on which company you book with and which package you book. Speaking of booking, you will have to book ahead as some tours can be sold out on the day you wish to take the tour. There may also be a minimum number of participants required before the tour takes place.
Most companies offer tours which last around 2-3 hours which is usually also the cheapest package you can book. In some places, such as Rovaniemi, companies also offer short rides through the forest of about 30 minutes. These are nice if you are short on time, but would still like to meet the huskies. There are also overnight tours where you will stay in a hut or camp outside overnight and get to spend plenty of time with the dogs. In my experience, these tend to be rather expensive.
There’s usually a discount for children, although children are not allowed to ride alone and many companies require 2 full-price bookings. Below are some tentative prices of husky safaris in Finland:
- < 1 hour: 40-50€ per person
- 1-3 hours: 130-180€ per person
- 3-6 hours: 160-260€ per person
- 6-8 hours: 280-360€ per person
- > 8 hours: 700-900€ per person
What to Consider during Booking
When it comes to husky safaris in Finland it is well worth shopping around a bit as prices and packages can vary drastically. Firstly you should note that all times given on websites usually include time for pick-up, safety instructions, and breaks as well as the actual husky sled ride. That means, a 2h excursion probably translates to around 45 minutes on the sled.
Also, when you are browsing for excursion packages, the base price shown is usually for a sled with several people on it (usually two). If you want to be alone on the sled, you often have to pay a higher price. On some tours, you may not even get to drive the sled yourself, but only ride it (not that it isn’t exhilarating!). The point is that you should be sure of what exactly you are booking.
What to Expect on the Day of the Safari
Depending on where you are located and on which package you have booked, you will probably be picked up at your hotel or at a prearranged meeting point. From there you will be driven to the actual site. Here, you will receive an introduction to dog sledding, receive appropriate winter gear, as well as driving instructions.
The gear they have available usually comes in all sorts of sizes so you needn’t be concerned about that. If you are bigger and/or taller, you may, however, want to buy a few basics yourself (scroll down for some gear recommendations). In any case, you don’t need to overly prepare for your husky safari in Finland as everything will be provided for you.
After you have received all instructions you will get on the sled and ride for a while before taking a break along the way. During the break, you may be served cookies, hot tea, or something similar. There may also not be a break and you will get to warm up upon your return instead (usually for shorter tours). If you are riding with a partner on the sled, you will probably be changing halfway through.
During your break or after you get back, you will also get to socialize with the huskies and learn something about the mushers and the dogs. Finally, you return all your gear and say goodbye.
What do I Need to Pack for a Husky Safari in Finland?
Husky safaris usually take place in the winter. The winter weather in Finnish Lapland tends to be freezing cold and temperatures can easily drop to below -20 C. Because you will be out in the cold for several hours and also experience a gentle headwind, you need to pack a few more things than for your average holiday. Having lived through several Finnish winters, I have compiled a short list of things you shouldn’t forget to pack for your husky safari in Finland.
This ski mask will keep your face protected from the cold wind. You can wear it on cold days under your scarf and hat. It’s hypoallergenic and will make breathing in the cold a lot easier.
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Thermal socks will keep your feet warm during inactivity (but also while you’re walking in the snow). Personally, I prefer one good pair of thermal socks over layering socks.
A fact is that your skin will suffer when you are out in the cold for a long time. I swear by this moisturizer as it is very rich and perfect for these conditions. Bonus points if it has an SPF of at least 30!
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Dog Sledding in Finland: Where to Book
Animal protection laws are fairly strict in Finland and as they have been part of the traditional way of life for so long, are often even considered family. Personally, I have not come across any dog sledding company in Finland which I didn’t deem ethical and all the dogs have always looked well cared for. It’s simply a joy to see them running and having fun in the snow! Below we have gathered some impressions by other travel bloggers, recommending their favorite companies for dog sledding in Finland.
Husky Safari in Rovaniemi
Recommended by Natalie from Love and Road.
Rovaniemi is a winter wonderland and when there, you must go on a dog sledding tour. Among all the cool things to do in Rovaniemi, the husky sled was one of the best experiences ever, only not as magical as the Northern lights. We did a day safari tour with Wild Nordic and one of the activities was a visit to Husky Farm. There we learned about how the dogs are bred, raised, trained and how important are the conditions they live during their working life. After learning all that I was ready to experience it, as I understood I wouldn’t be hurting them during the tour. The dogs are amazing, beautiful, vivid and they run fast. We went for a quick ride and oh boy, that was fun. We were in three on the sled, me, my husband and the driver, and it was hard to keep the camera still for photos. See them running, feel the wind blowing on your face, and all that stunning winter landscape around is an experience like no other.
Husky Safari in Saariselkä
Recommended by Sara from Our Kind of Crazy.
We went on an hour-long dog sledding tour with Northern Lights Village. It was a dream place to stay, and they had so many awesome activities. Dog sledding was definitely one of my favorites. We headed out, and the dogs were all very excited to see us. The tour was an hour long, so we got to switch drivers in the middle. It was so fun to be able to experience “driving” and riding in the sled as well. We had a couple questions about how the dogs were treated and were told that they pick from a team of 100 dogs, and no dog does more than 2 tours a day. Our tour had about 30 dogs out that day, which meant 70 of their dogs had the day off. They also allow their dogs to tell them if they want to run or not. In Finland, these dogs are made for running, and they really seemed to love it. My favorite part of the tour was that we got to play with the dogs after. They were so lovable and playful with us. We definitely recommend heading to Northern Lights Village in Saariselka for your Lapland vacation.
Husky Safari in Kittilä
Levi Husky Park
Recommended by Ridima from Little Joys and More.
One of the highlights of my trip to Finland was the husky ride in the Finnish Lapland. Experiencing the authenticity and simplicity of the Sami people, the husky ride had its own share of adventure and charm. Levi Husky Park in Köngäs offered us an unforgettable run through the natural forests, frozen lakes and snow-laden picturesque beauty of Finnish Lapland. The view was enduring as every moment would unfold a new panoramic scenery of this beautiful country.
The owner of the park warmly welcomed us and shared with us the history of their culture and the legacy of the husky ride in Finland. He introduced us to the huskies in the park, reindeers and the other local bred animals of that region. After an illustrious ride, he offered us hot tea and coffee with a savory snack, leaving with us a memory of a lifetime.
Recommended by Aimee from Real Travel Mate.
You can’t travel to Lapland and not go dog sledding. The beautiful huskies howl with excitement before you get taken off into the amazing Lapland scenery. The scenery is something that I never expected to be as beautiful as it was and is truly magical. I was lucky to have a clear day for my experience with orange, pinks, and blues dancing above me in the sky as the huskies raced around the snow. When the night sky was above the moon and stars glistened over the sparkling snow. You can choose to sit back and relax or take to the driver’s seat and be a musher…the choice is yours!
My top tips would be to wrap up warm (especially feet, hands, ears, and face) and if you want to get pictures (who wouldn’t?) take either a digital camera or thermal sock for phones as the sub-zero temperatures drain phone batteries instantly. My experience was in the picture postcard town of Levi with a great company called Lapland Safaris. The company are very helpful and have lots of different experiences and tours and are true experts when it comes to making the best of Lapland.
Now, what do you think? Is dog sledding in Finland on your bucket list? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!