I recently came across a question on Quora: “Is dog sledding cruel?“. I decided to answer it, and here it is as a repost, slightly edited for better readibility.
This is a question asked quite often, and although Xander Cesari has already written a great reply, I thought I would chip in.
Let’s start by figuring out exactly what is the question here. Is dog sledding cruel? It depends on what you mean by cruel. I will use this definition:
Cruelty: wilfully causing pain or suffering to others, or feeling no concern about it.
The latter part of the definition is something that cannot be universally answered for. I would say from my experience that every musher is concerned about their dogs’ welfare.
I will thus focus more on the first part of the definition. Dog sledding is a willful act, and there are practically no people for whom dogsled is the only form of transportation available. Thus, it is voluntary on behalf of the musher.
Pain and suffering inherent in any action
Then the question remains whether there is pain or suffering involved. This cannot be, in my opinion, answered as such, without putting it into a context. Pretty much every action anyone, human or otherwise, carries out will result in some level of pain and/or suffering. If I work a long day at the office, away from my family and my dogs, there is some suffering involved. In comparison to the rewards, the levels of it seem appropriate to me.
When I begin to harness up my dogs, their reaction would suggest that if there is pain or suffering involved, it is greatly surpassed by the amount of joy, for a lack of better word, they derive from it.
There are a few controls in place. I do not feed my dogs right after they have been working, so I do not think they are running for the reward of food. In fact, I cannot think of any reward they immediately get for working with me, other than the work itself.
I will reiterate an abbreviated version of the definition:
Cruelty: causing pain or suffering
It seems to me there is some pain involved, probabilistically, but the dogs seem to think it is at an acceptable level. If that is inherently involved in the working, what then would be the result of completely removing it?
The dogs I work with have access to free running, but they will not do that for more than a short while before they stop. If left to their own, they would not get a lot of exercise, unless we made them do their own hunting, which would result in, I argue, more overall suffering. It could even be more painful for the dogs themselves.
So the exercise involved in dogsledding is resulting in better condition, better fit, and more wellbeing, as long as there is sufficient recovery and high-quality food available.
Pain and suffering as a result of inaction
Many family pets who do not have the chance to enjoy proper exercise, or other aforementioned factors. They tend to be out of shape, ill, and live shorter lives than our working dogs.
Going for a long run, towing a sledge may cause some physical pain as an inherent part of an exercise. So does lying on the sofa, obese and ill, without access to the activities that by breeding and training result in a positive sensation.
Conclusion: I do not think that dogsledding is cruel.
P.S: If you think my reply was a good one, please upvote my reply in Quora!