In today’s civilized world, the practice of dog sledding is no longer a necessity for the survival of the population. Considered a leisure activity and a sport, it also stands as a cultural emblem for those who want to revive this ancestral tradition.
One can easily compare a dogsledding team to the members of a sports team with everyone working towards the same goal and destination.
It is a demanding sport, both physically and mentally, as well as financially! It requires a plethora of knowledge in many domains: knowledge of sled dog breeds, nutrition, training, canine education, mechanics to maintain equipment … in short, enough for a lifetime of study! The curious will be satisfied.
Just like a “coach”, the musher must know the personality of each individual. He must look out for the needs of his athletes, and identify optimal conditions that will allow his athletes to grow and flourish. These canine athletes have the physical and mental qualities of marathon runners, and need to run and train regularly in all seasons. Misinformation is rampant in public opinion, such as when we hear that the dogs could be cold running in the snow like that. It is important to remember that there are differences between an Alaskan and a Chihuahua; they do not share similar, winter survival traits. Genetics, among other things, means that certain breeds of dog can adapt to such cold conditions. Just as some humans adapt to running ultra-trails. It is all about adaptation.
Different training methods are required:
Chase games and free training: it is one of my favorite training methods. The dog can discover how to run on different surfaces, without the restriction of a harness or leash. It also allows him to learn how to return to his human and to play with his canine friends.
Canicross: walking or running harnessed to a dog. A discipline that allows us a deeper “one on one” connection with
each of our dogs, as well as coaching directions to the dog, and to make decisions. A great way to train as a musher!
Bikejoering: a bicycle pulled by one or more harnessed dogs. When the dog likes a little bit more speed, it is exhilarating!
The cani-scooter: similar to bikejoering, the musher stands on the platform of the scooter. A very interesting challenge for your balance abilities!
Cani-kart or harnessing on an all-terrain vehicle: Any successful preparation for winter requires training on land before the snow arrives. Winter only lasts a few months, so the dogs cannot wait until there is enough snow to start learning to pull as a team. Therefore, it is necessary to do some “cross training” and get ready on land. The cani-kart is like a sled with wheels: a little more rock-n-roll and muddy than the sled, but it is an experience to be lived!
Dogsledding: when the snow finally arrives, dogs and humans return to the basics with a smile on their faces (or muzzles!).
Dogsledding, and the management of its canine athletes, is an extraordinary way to move in the great outdoors. Mushers need to be active and in good physical shape, because it takes daily training to respond to the hyperactivity of these canine breeds.
When people have their own dog, they can practice the full range of canine-harnessed sports. When this leisure activity is offered by a dog-sledding company, the company must have the financial means to ensure that the dogs have optimal conditions.
From my point of view, it is our duty towards our dogs to have access to a large territory and safe and adequate facilities.
We must have qualified personnel not only on the knowledge of the dogs, but also on the principles of canine and human training. It is an absolute necessity to work closely with veterinarians. A business must meet high standards in quality of care, for the well-being of its animals, as well as to counter the bad press generated by less ethical mushers of this beautiful sport. Abuse and mistreatment are often denounced towards dog sledding companies that are oriented more towards the lure of financial gain, rather than their ethical responsibility towards the living beings involved.
In yesteryear, dog-sledding was an activity necessary for survival. Today, there are a few people who may choose to live a minimalist life in the forest with their sled dogs, but above all, it is an activity (or a way of life) that honors the collaboration between dogs and humans, making both parties benefit from the well-being of being active in the great outdoors.