Sled dogs are run in many different arrangements, depending on terrain and the type of trip.
In the high Arctic and Siberia, for example, mushers run their dogs in a fan shape with each dog on a separate line. Elsewhere, dogs are run in pairs on a single gangline. Teams can range from 4 to 20 dogs in size. There is an awful lot of power in a twenty-dog team and the musher must be able to deal with a very long gangline.
Sometimes dogs are run in single file on a gangline. And these days dogs are also hooked up to skiers, bicycles, four-wheelers, and carts. Who knows what dogs will be pulling next?
For the Yukon Quest and wilderness tours, we run our dogs in pairs on a single gangline. We use 14 dogs for the Quest, which is the maximum allowed. For touring, we use 6 to 10 dogs.
As in any sports team, each dog has a particular job. Dogs are placed in positions that suit their individual strengths. We also try to place each dog next to their best buddy.
The dogs at the front of the team are the LEAD dogs and they are the ones who set the pace for the rest of the team. The run the fastest, follow commands really well, read trail markers and know the trails in general.
Dogs positioned immediately behind the leaders are SWING dogs. They usually also run in the lead position and back up the leaders providing plenty of forward momentum.
The dogs immediately in front of the sled are WHEEL dogs. Their position is more physically demanding so they are almost always the biggest, strongest dogs in the team.
The rest of the dogs take turns in lead, swing or wheel positions, although dogs that run in lead seldom run in wheel.