Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Map of our training trails (inside the gate)... beginner loop is A to B to C with an unmarked cutover at C on a flat trail and back to F, B and A.
Photo: Skinny on small sled. He does not go out with beginners. He just goes for his own fun/exercise.
Sometimes we have beginners (humans) who have never been on a sled. Each time we have a beginner, our primary concern is safety of the human and safety of the dogs.
(Of course, we feel the same about experienced mushers).
One of the best ways to learn about driving dogs, in my opinion, is to take one experienced dog for a sled 'walk'. We hook up a leader (for instance, Ruthie, Buffy,
Eos, Zeus) to a small, light sled with a brake (possibly with a drag) and we essentially 'walk' the dog and the sled around a half mile loop. In this short experience, the driver learns how to stay on the sled (balance, staying on the runners, touching the brake or the drag on small downhills)and how to not hit the dog with the sled (very important). There is little speed involved in this walk so it's mostly about sled control, balance and getting to know the feel of just being on a sled with a pulling dog. (We accompany this run either on foot, on another sled, or on a machine).
There are a few other things you learn in this short walk, such as, am I in shape to do this? do my boots get stuck in the brake? where exactly do I stand on the sled? what is the brake? do I understand how to give a command to a dog and does s/he listen to me?
Driving dogs is a fitness sport. By the end of walking this short (half mile) loop,
a driver knows (and we know) if they are ready for a longer, hillier trail, which will involve some running uphill (to help the dogs) and some downhill curves (sled control, dragging, staying on the runners,etc). Sometimes this short loop is all someone wants, just the opportunity to be on a sled. Often times they want more dogs for more power. Of course with more power, comes the need to understand how to have more control.
There are some basic things we tell all drivers who come here. These dogs are racing dogs, even though most are retired. They can and will go fast. It is up to the driver, once leaving the takeoff, to be in control of the sled. Sometimes I'll also say , 'best to leave your ego at the gate'... when you're out there, one quickly learns that the dogs are doing it and they are graciously taking you along for the experience. It is the driver's job to keep them safe. And, of course, we also note that you don't have to shout at dogs, they can hear so much better than we can. The exhilaration of going out on a team of dogs is huge, so along the way, just hang on (or let go if unsafe) and enjoy the ride.