A FEW WORDS OF INTRODUCTION
Sledding/Carting Training Division
Welcome to the Mush Larose Association, Sledding/Carting Training Division. You are about to join the ranks of what we think are the luckiest dog owners in the area, those that run sled dogs.
Our training sessions differ greatly from the familiar obedience class as you will quickly recognize. The dogs and trainers are working as a team in close ranks, as opposed to one dog, one handler, and no sniffing. A much more relaxed fun attitude exists. Recognizing this dictates the degree of participation you will have to take. In addition, the amount of socialization your dog has had will determine how readily your pet will be accepted by the pack, where a pecking order exists.
New members are encouraged to ask questions, and please do, you will find there are a number of informed members on the sidelines that enjoy explaining the finer points of sledding and dogs. To this end, it is best to leave your dog at home for the first class, although this is not mandatory. This gives you a chance to get familiarized without the concern of minding your own animal, which, in all probability, will react with uncontrollable excitement or extreme shyness as it confronts the other dogs.
One ritual that is often difficult for the new member to understand is the correction that is used with aggressive dogs. On occasion new dogs will fight out of fear or challenge the alpha male or female. This is normal behaviour and must be modified. Dogs do not fight by the “Queensbury Rules of Boxing”. As a matter of fact, it is often difficult to determine which dog is the aggressor, nor is it relevant because both dogs have to be firmly corrected using the Woodhouse method. This is often done by the closest club member, as you may not be available. The correction is done in a firm manner without hurting the dog, but must be performed, as continued aggression will not be tolerated. A word to the wise, remove your gloves before correcting a dog. In general, we find that a male-female combination of running mates minimizes the risk of fighting on the trail.
The size of the beginners training team is dictated by the number of mobile trainers available, that being one trainer for every two dogs. Hence, a six dog gig team requires a driver, passenger and a cyclist. It is to your advantage if you are in good physical condition.
As mushers will tell you, we often work as hard, or harder, than the dogs. There is no such thing as a free ride on the back of the sled. Short runs are used for training sessions. So the driver and team changes are frequent. This is where you start, by helping. Extra hands are appreciated, especially in the cold weather.
Ideally, training starts at three months of age. Now, at this stage, we’re not training for the Iditarod but talking socialization, puppy kindergarten, a puppy harness with a block of wood and lots of fun. At four to five months your dog can join a team, but don’t overdo it. The dogs, as much as they want to run, are still developing and the last thing you want to do is hurt an animal, one or two runs a session are plenty until your dog reaches the age of eight months. If you own an older dog, not to worry – the success rate in our class is very high because basically all dogs want to run, we’ve just got to convince Rover to do it our way.
The day to day running of the class is done by the members of the Club, bound by the rules of the International Sled Dog Racing Association. Your input and ideas are always welcome through one of the club members who will table them at one of our regular meetings. Or, better still, after your feet and paws have landed on the ground, join the club.
Children are an important part of our training adventure, for they serve as lightweight passengers on the sled or gig and assist the driver with dog tangles. In addition, they serve as the watering crew, a most important job that is easily overlooked by the adults in our excitement, but not by the kids. Three things to remember – if your older child participates, they must closely follow the instructions of the driver and, secondly, be aware that the wheel dogs (the two closest to the sled) will kick up snow. Hence, face protection of some sort makes a lot of sense on the sled and a bicycle helmet on the gig. We do not recommend taking young children on gigs as it could be dangerous.
Getting a proper fitting running harness is of the utmost importance. They are available through the club, and priced at $20.00 for regular sizes and $30.00 for special sizes. It is also important to have a good collar. We have found that the collars with plastic clips have a tendency to break in cold weather. Choke chains are totally forbidden, we do not want to choke a dog when running. We do have sledding collars for sale at $7.00 each.
The last thing you should know is how to control your dog when the harness comes out, because once you and your dog have caught the bug, you will both become hyper at the sight of a dog sled.
Come on out and share in the fun!
See You on the Trail
Kent and Cindy Merkley
P.S. For more information call Cindy and Kent at 613-448-4345 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
web page www.snowymountainsleddogs.ca