Dog days

Locals Sheila and Glen Laughton raise Siberian Huskies for mushing

Sheila and Glen Laughton really love their Siberian Huskies—it’s evident even from the outside of their Reno home, which features a Siberian welcome mat and a holiday-decorated statue of two Siberians pulling a sled. The walls inside their home are also adorned with paintings and posters of Siberians.

But make sure you refer to the dogs by the right nickname—Siberians, not Huskies.

“People make that mistake all the time,” Sheila says. “The term ‘Huskies’ refers to different breeds.”

The Laughtons have been breeding and raising Siberian Huskies for 26 years. Glen began sledding with the dogs two years after that, and has spent the last 24 years traveling around the country participating in sled dog races. Sheila says she fell in love with Siberians because of their sweet natures but adventurous spirits.

“They’re very mild-mannered,” she says. “But they’re born to run, and they’ll let you know when they want to get outside.”

Sheila also sleds on occasion, but it’s primarily Glen’s activity. He prefers mushing over skijoring. While both sports involve dogs pulling a sled, skijoring generally requires just one dog. Mushing often takes place on “unplowed forest roads,” according to the U.S. Forest Service, whereas skijoring is generally done on well-maintained trails.

Glen prefers a six-dog team when he sleds, but four-dog and eight-dog teams are also common. With a six-dog team, a race will last about six miles, and the dogs will run at around 20 miles an hour.

“It’s a fun and efficient run,” he says. Klamath, Ore., is Glen’s favorite race location, but he also races in Northern California.

The Laughton’s Siberian Huskies, including lead dogs Ranger (gray) and Sky (black), and wheel dogs Windy (gray) and Zin (black).

allison young

It’s important the snow is just right for the dogs to run well.

“The dogs need to run on compacted trails,” says Glen.

He also notes that it’s good practice to “train where you don’t run into snowmobiles.” Because mushing takes place off trail, mushers must be cautious and share the space with snowmobile drivers.

“The dogs get a bit skiddish,” he says. “But sled dogs are smarter than snowmobiles.”

Currently, the Laughtons have seven Siberians. They’ve had as many as 17 at one time, and Sheila says breeding and raising more is a definite possibility. Sheila also trains the dogs for shows.

“From March to October, they’re mine to show,” she says, laughing. “They’re on the road doing something all the time. They like it that way.”

Training the dogs is a simple process since the dogs are natural runners and can withstand harsh winter environments. Because they are also show dogs, they’re on a grain-free diet throughout the year, and are often fed salmon. After a race, they’re fed raw frozen steak, which “puts the moisture and protein back into their bodies,” Sheila says.

Sometimes, Glen says, it’s the humans who need more training than the dogs. A dog driver should be in good cardiac shape and be prepared to face the cold.

“The dogs will run in all kinds of weather,” he says. “It’s you who has to stand the weather.”

But besides the thrill and competition of sledding, what the Laughtons love most is being out in the wilderness with their Siberians.

“When you're out there, and you hear the crackle of snow and the whisper of wind, it’s very peaceful,” Sheila says.