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Join us for coverage of the 2023 John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon.

Beargrease Primer: Meet the Mushers! Just Don’t Hug Anybody!

Lisa Johnson, 2014

One of the best parts of the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon is the Meet the Mushers event before the start of the race.

You can get your program signed, see the sled dogs up close, and it’s a great chance to ask questions about the race and the dogs.  Here’s a quick guide to enjoying the Beargrease, up close and personal.


Ask First
Ask before you pet the dogs.  Most dogs are fine around people (that’s why they’re taking party in the Meet the Mushers event), but just as with any dog, ask before you touch.  The dogs – and the mushers and handlers – will thank you for it. 

Credit Lisa Johnson, 2014

Learn to speak a little “dog”
Some dogs don’t mind an ear scratch; some dogs would rather be patted on their necks or shoulders.  Watch a dog’s body language.  A dog who wants to approach you, nudges under your hand for pets, or is even standing with an open, relaxed mouth, alert ears and a wagging tail will probably welcome your attention.  But a dog who tries to avoid people, is licking their lips or whose ears are flattened against their head may be anxious or frightened. Give those dogs the courtesy of space – there are plenty of dogs who can’t wait to have you pet them.  

Credit Lisa Johnson, 2017

No hugs
But no hugs and no kisses.  For many dogs, having a stranger hold them tight is frightening, and putting your face up to that of a strange dog is always a bad idea. Sled dogs are not house pets: they’re big, they’re strong, they’re happy, and they love to jump.  That being said, there is no guarantee that a sled dog will not hug – or kiss – YOU.   Sled dogs have a lot of training, but “don’t jump up on people” or “no slurping people in the face” is rarely part of the curriculum. Watch a few of the dogs interact with other people and then choose a dog to approach who is – or isn’t – given to big sloppy displays of affection.

Credit Lisa Johnson, 2016

Watch the little folk
Toddlers are little bundles of herky-jerky energy, right at a dog’s eye level.  And these dogs are not only enthusiastic, they’re athletes with rock-hard muscles who could jump up on a child or knock her over.  Hold your child or hang back a little until you’ve determined if you can get close without getting knocked over by an exuberant husky, or if the dog seems nervous or uncertain around little people.

Credit Lisa Johnson, 2018

They’re getting ready for the big race
Even though the human and non-human racers enjoy getting to meet fans and answer questions – and who doesn’t love to show off their dogs? – remember, they’re all getting ready for the big race.  If the musher starts putting the dogs back into the dog truck, chances are the team needs some quiet time to conserve their energy or reduce their anxiety.  Aim for quiet, calm petting instead of good-natured roughhousing – these canine athletes need to save their energy and keep their heads in the game. And never approach the dogs with food.  In addition to being on special diets, dogs aren’t dummies; they’ll find a way to help themselves.  In fact it’s best not to wander around with food at all if you want to visit with the teams.

Credit Lisa Johnson, 2018

The more you learn about the sport of dogsled racing, the more fun it is.  Ask questions, check out our primers online, and introduce yourself to your favorite team and wish them good luck!

Credit Lisa Johnson, 2018


Lisa Johnson started her broadcast career anchoring the television news at her high school and spinning country music at KWWK/KOLM Radio in Rochester, Minnesota. She was a reporter and news anchor at KTHI in Fargo, ND (not to mention the host of a children's program called "Lisa's Lane") and a radio reporter and anchor in Moorhead, Bismarck, Wahpeton and Fergus Falls.Since 1991, she has hosted Northland Morning on KUMD. One of the best parts of her job includes "paying it forward" by mentoring upcoming journalists and broadcasters on the student news team that helps produce Northland Morning. She also loves introducing the different people she meets in her job to one another, helping to forge new "community connections" and partnerships.Lisa has amassed a book collection weighing over two tons, and she enjoys reading, photography, volunteering with Animal Allies Humane Society and fantasizing about farmland. She goes to bed at 8pm, long before her daughter, two cats, or three dogs.
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