Safety instructions for dog sled services


Description: These instructions apply to guided dog sledding rides and related additional services (e.g. participation of customers in dog feeding and harnessing). In these instructions, the term “dog sledding” means programme services in which customers are seated as passengers in a sled or cart pulled by sled dogs, and self-services in which customers drive the dog sled or cart. 
Target groups: These instructions are intended for providers of the dog sled services outlined above. The term “service provider” is used later in the text.
Notes: These instructions do not apply to recreational activities by private individuals or to activities provided internally by associations for their members.
Legislation: These instructions concern the requirements set out in the consumer safety act (920/2011). The Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency (Tukes) monitors compliance with the consumer safety act. The act is available in the Tukes Edilex service. The providers of dog sled services must also identify other relevant provisions and comply with their requirements.
Date: 22.5.2023
Record number: Tukes 1482/06.00.01/2023

Purpose of the instructions

These instructions aim to help service providers to plan and implement their dog sled services and other related services so that they meet the requirements of the consumer safety act. These instructions are Tukes’ interpretation of how the consumer safety act should be applied. It is not obligatory to follow these instructions by law. In these instructions, Tukes provides service providers with guidelines and examples of how to meet the legal requirements. Service providers are responsible for ensuring that their activities comply with law. Obligatory provisions are indicated by references to sections of the act. 

Responsibilities of service providers and customers for ensuring safety

Providers of dog sled services are responsible for ensuring that their activities meet legal requirements. Services must be safe for all customers (consumer safety act, section 5). Furthermore, the activities cannot pose a hazard to property or other people. More information about service providers’ obligations is available on the Tukes website

Service providers must provide sufficient safety-related information and instructions to their dog sled services customers that everyone knows how to act safely (consumer safety act, section 9). Customers must comply with the instructions given by the service provider. 

Service providers are responsible for defining how customers can participate in their services and in what role. If a customer wants to drive a dog sled, they should have sufficient physical ability to control the dog sled, and they cannot have any physical attribute or injury that prevents their participation in the service. Service providers have the right to limit customers’ participation in their services or prevent their participation altogether if safety cannot be guaranteed.

Service providers must ask customers for any factors that may have an impact on their safe participation in services, including any illnesses or physical attributes that reduce a customer’s functional capacity. Customers must notify the service provider of any factors that may affect the safety of services. Customers must also notify the service provider of any hazards or safety defects identified in services. 

Customers are responsible for their behaviour and actions in accordance with the instructions given by the service provider. Furthermore, customers must act in a way that does not pose any hazards to themselves or others. However, responsibility for service safety cannot be fully transferred to customers through disclaimers, for example.

Service providers must address each customer group’s special characteristics in planning and providing services. If required, the provision of services must be changed or the participating group limited so that services are safe for all participants (e.g. selecting the routes used, reducing the duration of services or limiting riding by customers). Any unsafe behaviour must be dealt with promptly.

Safety document

Service providers must prepare a safety document for dog sled services (consumer safety act, section 7). The safety document is the service provider’s written declaration of how customer safety has been ensured in the planning and provision of services. You can prepare the safety document using the template available on the Tukes website. The safety aspects included in these instructions should be notified in preparing the safety document.

Service providers do not need to submit the safety document to Tukes for pre-approval, but it must be available before the service provision begins and it must be presented to the authorities on request.

Hazard identification

Service providers must identify hazards posed by their services to customers and take action to eliminate these hazards or reduce their consequences (consumer safety act, section 5). The safety document must describe how hazards have been prevented and what will be done if a hazard occurs in a service despite all precautions.

The following points need to be considered when identifying hazards in dog sled services:


Service providers need to identify matters related to land use before preparing routes. The routes used, hazards on the routes and the safety practices must be described in the safety document.

Safe routes are wide enough in relation to the terrain, have sufficient visibility, collision risks are minimized, and the sleds can safely fit in a row on the route. The surface of a safe route bears the weight of the sled but is nevertheless soft enough for the dogs to run and for the driver to use the brake effectively. The bottom of the route should be as level as possible, and big stones or stumps that may cause a hazard when a sled or brake hits them – eg, when there is only little snow – must be removed. 

The routes must be checked and, if necessary, maintained before the start of the service and when conditions change. The routes must be maintained at sufficient frequencies, using appropriate equipment. Special attention must be paid to runnels that are formed when braking on downhills. If the runnels within a track are too deep, they may reduce the effectiveness of the brake. Hazardous points on the route and any areas requiring special attention should be marked with high-visibility signs, and the guide must also ensure safety in such locations. Such areas include e.g. steep descents, road crossings and tight curves. 

Any crossings in which sled dogs tend to or can go the wrong way must especially be identified, and special attention must be paid to safety in these areas. If crossings are closed using fences, they must be sufficiently wide and strong to close the route completely. It is recommended that a guide ensures in all crossings that no customer selects an incorrect route. 

If a route crosses another traffic route (e.g. road, railway, snowmobile route or reindeer trail), the crossing must always be supervised by a guide. Before starting a service, customers must be notified of any crossings along the route so that they can prepare for the situation and act correctly. 

If any route travels on ice, the load-bearing capacity of the ice sheet must be ensured through documented measurements. More information on safety of services on ice can be found on the Tukes website (in Finnish).

If route or weather conditions dictate, service providers must be prepared to potentially change or reschedule services, to find alternative routes or even to cancel services. 

Starting area 

A clear starting area must be defined for the departure and arrival of dog sleds. The starting area must include appropriate fixtures for tying up dog sleighs. The starting area must be sufficiently wide and level that it reduces direct collision hazard. Connecting sections of trail between the starting area and the routes themselves should be as level as possible. Riding directly into a descent or curve may pose increased risks to inexperienced riders.

Customers must be provided with safe access to the sleds and carts. The starting area should be monitored by sufficient staff to ensure that the release of the dog sleds and the securing of the dog sleds post safari, can take place safely. Special attention should be paid to keeping large customer groups together and ensuring that customers do not obstruct dog sled routes.

The starting area must be sufficiently illuminated to ensure occupational and customer safety.

Sleds, carts and other equipment

In the safety document, service providers must describe the sleds and carts used in their dog sled services, as well as the steps required to ensure the condition and safe use of sleds and other equipment (e.g. regular checks of sleds and lines, preventive maintenance, factors to be noted in loading).

The sleds and carts used in dog sled services must be intact and suitable for the service in question and the routes used. The size of sleds and carts must be selected according to the purpose of use: larger sleds can only be used to carry passengers when driven by a guide. Customers can drive smaller sleds designed to carry one or two passengers.

The service provider must ensure that the runners of the sled are wide enough and in good condition and that the brake of the sled is fine, especially if the customers are driving the sled. If a spiked anchor is used, the hazards it poses must be identified, and the safe use of the anchor must be instructed to customers and described in the safety document. 

The sled or cart must be loaded so that its centre of mass is sufficiently low for optimal stability. The passenger must always remain seated in the sled or cart and keep their hands and feet inside the sled or cart.

The service provider must ensure that the customers have sufficient equipment and clothing suitable for the weather conditions. If necessary, the service provider should provide the customer with the necessary equipment. The use of a helmet is not mandatory, but it is recommended especially when driving at high speed in the forest.


The dogs used in dog sled services must be of a suitable breed and trained for the purpose. The dogs must be accustomed to people. The dogs must be in such physical condition that they can carry out the work required.

The service provider should know their dogs and plan customer-dog encounters to be safe. If necessary, customers' access to dogs must be prevented. The safety procedures must be described in the security document.

Special attention must be paid to the selection of dogs in situations where customers can freely interact with dogs (e.g. dogs intended for photography and hugging), and their suitability and behaviour must be monitored. If customers have free access to dog fences, a sufficiently small-sized mesh (e.g. 5 cm) must be used so that not even children can place their hand inside the fence. 

Attention must be paid to the number of dogs pulling the sled relative to the current weather and route conditions and size and capabilities of the customers in the sled. You need to ensure that the combined weights of the customers are not too much for the dogs to pull and that the dogs are not too strong for the driving customer to be able to brake. The more familiar the dogs are with the routes, the more reliably they will behave. Special attention must be paid to safety when dog sleds are driven by customers in an environment with which the dogs are unfamiliar. 

More information about animal safety can be obtained from regional and municipal veterinarians, health inspectors and police officers.

Additional activities

If customers can participate in other services in addition to dog sled services, related hazards and safety measures must be described separately in the safety document.

Safety instructions to the customers

Service providers must provide relevant safety information and codes of conduct to customers (consumer safety act, section 9). Before the provision of services, customers must have sufficient safety information to be able to decide for themselves whether to participate in the services. In the dog sled services, relevant safety information includes:

  • Driver and passenger training (e.g. how to drive a sleigh safely, the position the passengers should assume on the sled or cart to stay safe, keeping hands and feet inside the sled at all times, using the brake, hand signals, information about the route and specific hazards) 
  • Safe behaviour in a group (e.g. keeping an eye on children, maintaining distances between sleds, keeping the group together, prohibiting overtaking and racing)
  • Safe behaviour with dogs
  • Operations in emergencies 

Service providers must ensure that everyone understands the instructions and can act correctly, either as drivers or passengers. If the instructions are given in a language the customers do not understand, special attention should be paid to the fact that the customer knows how to act correctly in the service and especially in exceptional and emergency situations. Sufficient time should be used, and it is advisable to use e.g. pictorial signs or interpreters to help the customers to understand.

The driver training must be provided in a location in which all customers can see and hear, and the instructor must ensure that all customers focus on listening. It is advisable to arrange the training away from the dogs to keep customer focus in the instructions. If required, additional instructions must also be provided on tour. 

Service providers must describe the content and provision of customer training in the safety document.

Number of guides and their skills

In the safety document, the service provider must describe the number of guides used in the service and the experience and skills required of the guides. In addition, a record must be kept of additional and continuing training for guides.

An understanding of safety in consumer services including a solution-centred handling of situations, an understanding of hazards, their related risks, and how to effectively minimize or eliminate them, should be a basic skill of guides working in dog sled services. Guides must also be skilled in customer service and dog welfare. For example, degrees in nature, tourism or animal care offer good basic skills. Guides must also complete the first aid training and other trainings required by the scope and type of services. 

Each dog sled service must include a sufficient number of guides to safely manage the number of dog sleds, the routes used and the special characteristics of the customer group (e.g. linguistic skills, the number of children). All guides must be at least 18 years of age. In addition to guides who drive the dog sleds with customers, personnel are required at the starting point and also in crossings. If only one guide rides with customers, it must be ensured that the customers know what to do if the guide is not able to operate (e.g. due to an accident).

A good policy is that service providers systematically maintain records of which guides have trained and instructed which group. 

Areas requiring special attention

Moving around in nature reserves and in areas managed by Metsähallitus is always subject to the permission of Metsähallitus. If the routes travel through such areas, the local office of Metsähallitus must be contacted to obtain prior access permission. 

In reindeer husbandry areas, dog sleds must stay on pre-defined and agreed routes. Service providers must provide prior notification to local reindeer owners about the routes they intend to use. The dogs must be kept far enough away from the reindeer not to cause disturbance.

When crossing the national border, service providers should contact the local supervisory veterinarian beforehand for up-to-date instructions for crossing the border with dogs.

Accident records

Service providers must maintain records of near-miss incidents and accidents that have occurred during the provision of services (customer safety act, section 5). Providers of dog sled services can maintain accident records in the manner they deem best. The information collected must be used to improve service safety (e.g. by planning measures to prevent similar or repeated near-miss incidents in certain locations). For service providers to obtain comprehensive information about hazards that have occurred in their services and they should collect feedback on safety from customers afterwards. More information and an Excel form, which can be used as a template for accident records, are available on the Tukes website.

Reporting serious accidents to Tukes

Service providers must report all serious near-miss incidents and accidents that have occurred during the provision of services to Tukes (customer safety act, section 8). You can use the form available on the Tukes website or email the Tukes registry office ([email protected]).

Further information

Contact information of Tukes specialists by service type is available on the Tukes website.