To mush, one must possess two basic loves: the dogs and the outdoors. The more time that is spent practicing, the more successful one will become at mushing.
Simple training starts everything. A dog must begin training by 6 months of age. Puppy training is to give the dog confidence and spirit. This is begun by putting the puppy in a harness and allowing him to run along free beside the sled. Basically, like humans, they learn from adult dogs that have the experience. The next step is to attach a short rope to the harness and at the other end tie a small piece of firewood. This is so the puppy will gain familiarity with pulling weight.
The musher must also decide on which positions to place each of his/her dogs. This is achieved by knowing their abilities and consistencies. For instance, a lead dog should be: intelligent, loyal to the musher, a fast learner, intuitive, and bolder than the rest. Wheel dogs are the strongest and must be able to work not only well with the musher, but the rest of the dog team. Point dogs are similar to the leader's characteristics: strong, fast-paced, and turn the team well. All dogs must run approximately the same velocity and be about the same size as the dog to their lateral position.
The musher must be in good physical condition and be able to assist the dogs by running behind the sled or peddling to the side. These actions are usually performed while climbing hills. Stopping the sled is the most difficult command to teach. Sled dogs are born to pull and run, therefore, are hard to stop. However, like all creatures, they will stop for rewards. Mushers must always remember to carry snacks and treats with them on the trail.
When the snow has melted away, training still continues. As athletes must be in fit shape for their season, sled dogs should not take the summer off. Training with Dog Carts and Four-Wheelers are common ways of doing this. As dogs will train in all weather, mushing in extremely warm conditions can be detrimental to their health. This is an enjoyable sport for all ages and many types of dogs, but requires year round patience and effort.
SIMPLE MUSHING COMMANDS:
Fun to know and learn!!
"Mush!" -- Let's Go
"Gee!" -- Turn Right
"Haw!" -- Turn Left
"Whao!" -- Slow or Stop
"On by!" -- Straight Ahead
"Come Gee!" or "Come Haw!" -- Turn towards the musher
"Pick it up!" -- Speed up
"Line out!" -- Tells the dogs to keep the team straight and the lines tight, usually when waiting still.
"Hold up!" -- Stay still
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Copyright © 2003 artwork and photographs to D. Smith and C. Whitlock