Equipment for the Pack

To work in Antarctica, dogs needed equipment ranging from harnesses to booties.

Panky, a dog from Byrd’s second Antarctic expedition (1933–1935). Canterbury Museum 2017.85.16. No known copyright restrictions

Dog chain from Byrd’s third Antarctic expedition (1939–1941). On loan from Cromwell Museum

Chain used to tie up dogs in Antarctica

Safe and Secure

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 medicine chest from the Discovery expedition

Spratt’s Patent Kennel Medicine Chest from the Discovery expedition. Canterbury Museum 1967.128.23

Cartoon from The Blizzard Journal, 1902. Canterbury Museum 2003.14.1. No known copyright restrictions

Cartoon by William Isaac Weller showing administering medicine to dog on Discovery expedition

Doctoring to Dogs

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)”

Dog whip used by Dimitri Geroff on the Terra Nova expedition.

Dog whip used by Dimitri Geroff on the Terra Nova expedition. Canterbury Museum, 1980.220.2

Crack that Whip

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.”
Dog sledge from the Terra Nova expedition

Sledge from the Terra Nova expedition (1910–1913). Canterbury Museum 2005.184.1

Essential Equipment

Sledges were essential equipment for exploring Antarctica with dogs. A team of nine could pull 500 kg of supplies over long distances.

Husky dog harness used on the Norwegian-British-Swedish Antarctic Expedition

Dog harness from the Norwegian-British-Swedish Antarctic Expedition (1949–1952). Canterbury Museum 1976.222.2

A husky in harness. Canterbury Museum 1981.110.222

Husky dog in sledging harness

Huskies in Harness

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.

Bootee for protecting dog feet on early Antarctic expeditions

Dog bootee recovered from outside the Discovery Hut at Hut Point, Antarctica. Canterbury Museum 1977.71.3

Unexpected Protection

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.

"Beware of the Dog" sign from Douglas Mawson's huts at Cape Denison, Antarctica

Canterbury Museum 1980.23.9


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.

Spratts dog biscuit used on Antarctic expeditions

Spratt’s biscuits were a commercially-manufactured dog food taken on several early British Antarctic expeditions. The manufacturer claimed they contained cod liver oil and beetroot, but they were mostly flour. Canterbury Museum 1982.147.2

Dogs in Antarctica were fed biscuits, a high-energy mix of fat and protein called pemmican, and seal meat. Sometimes, they also ate other dogs.


The Dog Diet

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.