Dog-powered vehicles might not be the most efficient way to travel, but it’s probably the cutest. For dog-lovers, an Icelandic dog-sledding tour is a dream come true. And if you’re not into dogs, it’s still a thrill (at least until they invent cat-sledding). But what do you do when there’s no snow? You slap a couple wheels on that sled, call it a ‘dog trolley’, and hit the road.
I got picked up at my hostel around 11:00. The drive from Reykjavík took an hour, and before long we were heading out among the Icelandic farmlands. We arrived at a farm near the town of Selfoss to find two dog trolleys waiting, with teams of eight and ten dogs already strapped in. They were big, beautiful Greenlandic dogs, some a flawless snow white, others totally black, and most were mix of brown and grey.
Some were on their feet tugging at the ropes, bursting with excitement to meet us, while others slept soundly, completely apathetic to our arrival. One particularly huge dog seemed to be growling at the world, like a hormonal teenager who just rolled out of bed. Sigurður and his family welcomed us warmly, and told us to feel free to pet the dogs. “It’s the best way to tip them,” he said.
Before we hopped on the trolley, I walked over to the dogs left in their cages (both clean and spacious, for any worry-warts out there). They barked and stuck their paws through the cages as if beckoning me over, so of course I couldn’t resist letting the pups give my cheek a sniff and a lick. Sigurður explained that all the dogs are taken out and trained daily, and when not working, sled dogs sleep most of the time to conserve their energy. They don’t bother with frivolous dog-pursuits like chasing cars or digging up the yard.
A dog day afternoon
The last members of our tour group arrived, and we climbed onto the trolleys, which were little more than a metal frame with wheels and some seats, and in front a steering wheel and a handbrake. As we got on the trolleys, the dogs sprang to life. They barked and jumped in their harnesses. Sigurður gave a loud “Yah!” and pulled the handbrake, and the trolley immediately took off.
We left the farm and headed down a flat stretch of gravel road. The dogs quickly found their pace, and before long they were performing like a well-oiled machine, their breaths puffing steam and sounding like a train engine. As we travelled, Sigurður shared some of his knowledge, and let me tell you, this man knows his dogs! He knew each one by name, and knew their distinctive personalities. Sigurður explained, “these dogs are all very different. And just like people, sometimes they just wake up in a bad mood and don’t feel like doing anything.”
Getting some light exercise
Lucky for any dog trolley operators, though, the dogs will run even when they don’t feel like it. They’ll just be grumpy and growl a lot, as was the case for Apollo, the huge dog that was growling when we met. We travelled for about thirty minutes down the road. Even though that is a very light exercise for these dogs, they still vigorously lapped up water from a nearby ditch and panted with their long pink tongues dangling. They made a wide circle with the trolleys, and soon we were heading back toward the farm.
“Anybody want to drive?” Sigurður asked. I didn’t need to think twice. Soon I was at the wheel, yelling “Yah!” and feeling pretty pleased with myself. We made it back to the farm, the trip taking about an hour. Everyone was smiling and cuddling the dogs on a job well done. Even grumpy old Apollo gave me a nudge with his nose.
After we said our goodbyes to Sigurður and his dogs, we piled back into the van and headed over to the public pool at Hveragerði. After a day of driving and getting towed around by dogs, swimming a few laps and hanging out in the hot tub was the perfect way to relax and unwind, and reflect on the day. Through it all, I came to one conclusion: I really miss my dog back home!
This trip lasts 5 to 6 hours – three hours driving, two hours with the dogs, an hour at the pool. The tour is provided by Dogsledding Iceland and costs 14.900 ISK, half price for children under 12. The trip provides transport and thermal gear. Lunch not provided, but you can always get something to eat on the way.