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Dryland Mushing
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As your dog becomes comfortable with pulling weight, start positioning yourself behind him while he’s pulling to get him used to the idea that you will be behind rather than next to him. Now, you can introduce some commands. Traditionally, “gee” means turn right, “haw” means turn left, “whoa” means stop, and a cheerful “hike” means “Let’s go.” However, you can use any set of terms you wish as long as you use them consistently and they are distinct enough to not be confusing for your dog.

Always say the turn commands as you are making the turn. If your dog starts down the wrong direction, stop, give a verbal correction (I use “Ah!”) and repeat the turn command. The moment your dog looks down the correct trail, give a happy “Good dog!” and start moving. Be patient and make sure you don’t give an incorrect direction. A dog will naturally learn that the correct direction means the walk continues.

Another important command is “on by,” which means “Continue straight through that intersection or past that distraction” (squirrels, other dogs, kids). While your dog is working, you want him to continue down the trail and not stop to visit along the way. Be sure to give him lots of praise at the end of each session.

Once you and your dog are working as a team, start increasing your speed and distance. Try new trails. Add some challenge by going to an area with lots of turn choices; when it comes to team-building experience, mental workouts are just as important as physical.

If you’re lucky enough to live where there’s snow on the ground, a pair of cross-country skis (no metal edges) will allow you and your dog to try the Scandinavian sport of skijoring, gliding along snowy trails together. As you get more proficient, check out local mushing clubs to see if there are any events in which the two of you might participate. Before you know it, you and your dog will be working as a unit, enjoying the cool days and staying fit through the winter.

 

 

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 68: Jan/Feb 2012

TC Wait is a writer and geologist who explores the backcountry of Colorado and Alaska with her team of 20 rescued sled dogs. She volunteers for sled-dog organizations and animal-rescue groups.

Photo by Todd Leeds

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