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Dog Training-The Amazing Story of Balto

on April 2, 2012

When it comes to dog training, there is a non-stop controversy over what is  the best way to train a dog?

Should a dog work for treats or should we train a dog using force? Should  punishment be inflicted on the dog or should we simply try to ignore bad  behavior and then reward good behavior?

People should form their opinions and methods through a lot of experimentation and observation.


By also becoming a student of dogs. Dogs really are incredible animals and  truly are man’s best friend. One perfect example is the story of a dog named Balto. In 1925 at a time when the world was turning to machines for all of its  answers, a team of huskies were the solution to saving a small town in Nome, Alaska from diphtheria out-break. Diphtheria is a highly contagious disease that would quickly spread to all of  the people in Nome. Without the anti-toxin to combat it, there was no telling  how many people would die in Nome. Nome is about 1000 miles away from Anchorage, and trains at the time could  get to a town Nenana that was about 700 miles from Nome, still a considerable  distance away. The one plane in Nome was taken out of storage and the citizens tried to start it. The engine was frozen. The other plane in the area had been taken apart and stored for the winter. Shipping channels were frozen solid. The only way to cover the 700 miles was to use a relay of dog teams. Twenty sled dog teams came together to cover the distance and bring the  anti-toxin to Nome. It was estimated that it would take the sled dog teams about 13 days to traverse the terrain from Nenana to Nome. The sled dog teams fought fierce winds, strong enough to knock over both the dogs and the sleds. They battled freezing temperatures, sometimes as cold as 40 below. On February 1, 1925, the anti-toxin was handed off for the last time to a  team led by Gunnar Kassen in the village of Bluff, Alaska.

Kassen’s sled dog team set off to cover the final leg to Nome.

The lead dog…


Balto was a two-year old Siberian husky born in Nome. Balto spent the early  part of his life as part of a dog team that transported supplies to miners in  the surrounding area. The funny thing about Balto is that he was considered a “scrub dog,” meaning an inferior or slow-working dog. Balto was far from being a “scrub dog” as you’ll soon discover. You see, on the last leg of the trip to Nome, a blinding blizzard began, temperatures  dropped to -50 degrees and generating wind gusts in excess of 50 mph. Kassen  found himself unable to navigate, and almost gave up all hope of making it to  Nome in time. But Balto knew the trail well, and, following his instincts, led the team  through the cold and snow. Over the next 20 hours, Balto slowly led his sled  dog team over the final 53 miles.

On February 2 at 5.30 AM, the team finally arrived in Nome. The dogs were  too tired to even bark, Kassen went to the front of the sled team and fell to  his knees petting Balto saying: “Damn fine dog, damn fine dog.”

The serum had successfully been delivered – only seven days after leaving  Anchorage, and just 127 1/2 hours after leaving Nenana.

The Balto MemorialBalto went on to become a big celebrity and even has a life-size statue in  New York City’s Central Park. The bronze sculpture is New York’s City’s only  statue commemorating a dog. The statue includes a plaque with an inscription  that reads:

“Dedicated to the indomitable spirit of the sled dogs that relayed anti-toxin 600 miles over treacherous waters, through arctic blizzards, from Nenana to  the relief of stricken Nome in the winter of 1925 – Endurance, Fidelity,  Intelligence.”

I share that story because it really helps put things into perspective when  we think about training dogs. How can you read a story like Balto’s and not  realize what incredible animals dogs are and how closely linked we are to  dogs.

When you think about it, there are thousands of Baltos walking around right now. Dogs leading blind people, dogs assisting deaf people, dogs helping people  with disabilities, dogs finding lost people, dog sniffing out bombs, illegal  drugs, protecting their owners, guarding, herding, hunting, and police dogs are  just a few examples.

Dogs are now being trained to sniff out cancer, to detect when an epileptic  person is about to have a seizure, the list goes on and on. It’s one of the  reasons why I am always preaching the benefits of positive reinforcement. How  and WHY would we want to inflict pain on an animal that gives us so  much?

Eric Letendre the author of The Amazing Dog Training Man invites you to visit for leading edge dog  training tips, instructional video clips and articles that will help you train  and understand your dog. You can also get free dog training updates with a free  Smart Dog Newsletter subscription, available at


8 responses to “Dog Training-The Amazing Story of Balto

  1. If you keep a dog either for sporting, competing, or simply for leisure, you probably know how significant it is to have him go through dog obedience training. A pet dog that is well behaved is always pleasurable to take along because he is less likely to go wild and cause troubles to other people. […] Read more

  2. Qho Sumantri says:

    Do you have a pet dog? Have you thought about getting him into dog training behavior training? You are wrong if you think it is a daunting task to get on with because contrary to what most people would say, the training itself is no rocket science and easy to administer. You can even do it by yourself. Doing so will heighten your bonding moments with your pet. All that it takes is an ample amount of time and effort on your part.

    • I have quite a few dogs actually, and all of them extremely well trained. All I was saying in this post is that for some people training can be a daunting task, especially when one has no experience at all in dog training. I agree with your comment completely.

  3. It is important that you set your mind on the task. Dog training behavior training requires too much patience so it is best to have that frame of mind. Never ever proceed with the training sessions when you are drugged, drunk, or in a bad mood.

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