Dusty, the smallest dog with the biggest energy

a dog leaps into the air, on a dog team
Tiny Dusty leaps into the air while leading her teammates. (Jennifer LaBar)

Dusty is part of our Iditarod “Dog of the Day” series. Look out for more dog profiles during the race, which kicks off Saturday.

Jennifer LaBar’s smallest dog is leading her team as they begin their first Iditarod. Six-year-old Dusty — who LaBar says weighs around 35 pounds — has an outsize effect on the whole team of dogs.

“She’s just full of energy,” said LaBar. “Both physical energy, but also just good mental energy.”

She’s eager to make new friends every chance she gets.

“I think maybe her biggest flaw is that she loves people so much,” said LaBar. “So when she sees them on the trail she wants to just run up to them.”

For most of her career, Dusty has been a swing dog, located right behind the leaders. But she knows all the commands and runs without hesitation. The transition to lead the team is helped along by her sister, Mavis, who keeps her sibling focused on the trail ahead.

“Mavis is pretty good about [communicating] you know, ‘No, we’re going to keep doing our job and run down the trail,’” said LaBar. 

The leadership job includes some big assignments. Dusty helped lead the team over the challenging Rosebud and Eagle summits during the Yukon Quest recently. And as Dusty begins her first Iditarod alongside LaBar, she’s helping to fill in gaps on the team.  

“She has just really taken on a big leadership role this winter since my other two leaders have kind of not been running with us for a while,” said LaBar. “She’s just doing a fantastic job up there.”

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Ben Matheson is covering the 2023 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at mathesonben@gmail.com.

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