French dog musher Nicolas Petit started off on Monday (March 11) with a commanding five-hour lead in the Iditarod, the famous 1,000-mile dog sled race across Alaska. Petit placed second in last year’s competition and has finished in the race’s top 10 five times in the last six years. Victory seemed to be his.
Then Joey—one of 14 huskies pulling Petit’s sled—started fighting with another dog on the team. A frustrated Petit yelled at the dog. And then none of the dogs would race any further.
“I yelled at Joey, and everybody heard the yelling, and that doesn’t happen,” Petit told the Iditarod Insider website, according to the Associated Press. “And then they wouldn’t go anymore. Anywhere. So we camped here.”
Petit was forced to sit beside the trail as challenger after challenger passed. The dog strike happened en route to the Koyuk checkpoint, 827 miles into the race. The race, which started March 2, usually takes between eight to 15 days. The winner is expected to cross the finish line in the middle of this week.
While likening the dogs to a team that rebels after a boss’s outburst could be an unhelpful bit of anthropomorphizing, research on animal cognition shows that human emotions bear a lot of resemblance to the mental processes of other mammals. As Quartz’s Ephrat Livni has reported, brain scans reveal that a similar part of the brain activates both in dogs awaiting treats and corporate workers promised monetary bonuses.
Petit said the team had no known injuries, and the dogs’ refusal to continue the race was “a head thing.” His experience would indicate that mindset is as essential to the success of an animal team as it is to a human one.