Beauty of Life

Dog Sled

Beauty of Life

In a letter to his younger brothers, sent from Rykovsk on 19 February 1888, Bronisław Piłsudski wrote:

“Dear Janek and Kacperek,

(…) Today I will describe (…) how the Gilyaks ride. They live in forests where, unlike in our country, there are no roads, only narrow paths. This leads to the conclusion that they cannot keep large cattle. Indeed, the only domesticated animal that serves them is a dog. They even have a special dog breed. It is a medium-sized animal, similar to our common dogs, with a sharp muzzle and small protruding ears. In the summer, these dogs serve as the sole guardians of their owners’ homes. All of them are always attached, except for bitches with small puppies which live inside the yurt, that is the Gilyaks’ home. In the winter they are harnessed to long and narrow sleds. They do not have any harness, but dogs are tied by the neck with ropes to one long rope, so that they go in single line, one behind the other. The first dog in the front is very important and highly valued (10 rubles). During a sleigh ride, the dogs are very aggressive and you have to get out of the way if you approach a Gilyak riding a sled. There have been several incidents where dogs tore apart walking cattle and even a man.

They feed them fish. In the summer, they give them dead fish and for the winter they stockpile a supply of sun-dried fish, which they call yukola. When a Gilyak arrives in a village, he ties up the dogs somewhere and gives them fish. The dogs have terrible teeth; they growl and howl constantly; our dogs are afraid of them.

You can ride a dog sled at a high speed, they run 20 versts (a little more than about 20 km) per hour. If they are going on a long journey, or pulling loads, 12 or more dogs are tied to the sled. On the roads here, and with the snow, a dog is essential and very useful. In winter, all the mail from Siberia comes on “skis” – that is on a dog sled. The driver brakes and directs the dogs not with reins, but with his tongue and a brake (i.e. a sharpened baton); he is called kayur (or masher – a dog sled driver – ed.).
Let that suffice for today, and I will write more about these people on another occasion.”

Dog sled
Photo from the collection of the Druskininkai City Museum (

For those interested in dog sleds:

These are the contemporary terms and the international commands.

Photo taken from website
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