Sledge dogs were inclined to fight and roam, so to keep them safe they were often chained up. This also prevented them from getting into food storage areas and eating precious supplies. Hungry dogs were known to eat many other things including leather and rope.
Dog health was an important concern, especially during the early expeditions that relied on them for transportation. During the Discovery expedition, William Isaac Weller cared for the dogs with this dog medicine chest made by the Spratt’s pet food company. He drew a humourous cartoon of himself giving an odd-looking dog some medicine. The tag on the bottle reads, “Dog medicine. To be well shaken before taken. (Not the dog)”
Whips were used in Antarctica for training dogs, not disciplining them. The whip was cracked on the ice, and the sound kept the dogs in line and helped steer them. They were rarely needed when driving a well-trained dog team. In his diary from the 1950s, expedition surveyor Roy Carlyon noted:
“The dog whip is used mainly for turning the dogs rather than a weapon of punishment. The leather whips are 55ft long and practically unmanageable, so the dogs are pretty safe.”
Sledges were essential equipment for exploring Antarctica with dogs. A team of nine could pull 500 kg of supplies over long distances.
Harnesses were important equipment for sledging. The harness pictured above was used by the Norwegian-British-Swedish Antarctic Expedition (1949–1952). It belonged to Truls, whose name is carved into the main strap. Later harnesses were made from durable webbing.
Dog bootees were used during sledging to protect feet from abrasive ice and snow that could cut the foot pad and to prevent balls of ice from forming uncomfortably between the toes.
This wind-eroded sign was recovered from Douglas Mawson's huts at Cape Denison near the site of the dog lines. Mawson ordered 50 Greenland dogs for the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (1911–1914). These were supplemented by 21 of Roald Amundsen’s dogs and dozens of puppies that were born on the ice. Only a small number survived.
Nutrition was an important aspect of dog care in Antarctica. An active dog hauling sledges needed about 5,000 calories a day, more than double the amount an average person needs today. Some foods were better than others in supplying the essential components. However, their diet depended upon what was available to feed them from the coastal wildlife and expedition ships. In the Antarctic interior, all their food had to be transported in.