Sled dogs show their pace

More than a hundred of the country's best sled dogs have been wagging their way through a series of races at the Snow Farm on the Pisa Range near Cardrona over the past few days.

With warm temperatures prevailing, races have been run at dawn or just on dusk to avoid the dogs being affected by heat stress.

Siberian huskies in particular prefer very cold temperatures.

That is one of the reasons why Julian Johnston, of North Canterbury, decided to change breeds.

He has a team of six German pointers which he finds more suitable for New Zealand where much racing is done in mild winter temperatures on gravel roads.

The Snow Farm at Cardrona is the only venue available in New Zealand for racing on snow and the Wanaka Dog Sled Festival is the high point for sled dog owners nearing the end of their season.

Some travelled from Australia to take part - borrowing dogs from New Zealand owners.

Jess Winther and brother Josh have been sled-dogging in Australia since they were old enough to walk.

They won their trip to Cardrona to race a team of New Zealand dogs - a mix of Siberian husky, pointer, Dalmatian and German shepherd.

And Merv Turner, from Melbourne, left his team of six malamutes at home and borrowed a New Zealand team of Alaskan huskies.

Australia has two races on snow each year attracting more than 70 teams.

Twenty-eight teams have been competing at this year's Snow Farm series of races - ranging from one dog pulling a cross-country skier to teams of six dogs pulling a sled on an 8km course.

Trail boss Tony Turner, of Queenstown, runs a team of Alaskan huskies and says the breed is considered the fastest land animal after 16km.

Mr Turner says Alaskan huskies have completed 1600km events on snow in eight and a-half days.

Asked if the dogs enjoy racing, Mr Turner said: ''Absolutely love it.

''This is a breed of dog that just loves to run.''

Jake Faulkner, of Christchurch, was in control of two of his family's ''Black Paw'' team of Siberian huskies in one class of races.

The full team of six dogs includes five rescued from poor living conditions.

Jake's father, Justin Faulkner, said two dogs had spent their early years living in a dog motel for 23 hours every day.

Another had been ''badly abused and beaten''.

The family is part of a Christchurch group called ''Husky Rescue'' which deals with problems arising from ''people who think huskies are cute and fluffy and then realise there's more to them than that''.

''They realise they just can't handle the dogs.

''They are not a status symbol.

''They are a working dog.''

Mr Faulkner said there was satisfaction in training the dogs to pull sleds.

''You know it's come from such a bad home and then you see them doing what they were born to do, and absolutely loving it.''

mark.price@odt.co.nz