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Training The Musher
Dog driving is not merely riding on the back of the scooter, rig or sled issuing commands to steer the dogs. It is work!
If you start doing it in earnest, you will pull muscles, fall off and have to get back on, run yourself ragged chasing after the team (because you fell off), run into trees (because your dog saw a squirrel!), and so on.
It is strongly advised to wear adequate protective equipment and clothing when out with your dogs.
In addition to these things, a musher must work (peddle) and help. This too can be tiring since it is repetitive. Peddling is pushing the scooter, rig, or sled forward with one foot while riding. This is helpful to the dogs, particularly when tired. You may also frequently get off to run alongside when the dogs are tired or when you come to a hill. Therefore, to successfully drive sled dogs, the musher must train his or her body as well.
Lee Wooliscroft working hard off the start with his team at Yateley '09, picture used with kind permission from Samnooshka Designs
Conditioning of the musher is to a small extent a function of the type of mushing to be done. The key is endurance and flexibility over muscle bulk. Running, biking, cross country skiing and downhill skiing are all good ways to build strength. You must remember that at all times, you are alpha. If you are tired, hesitant, and uncertain, your team will pick this up and become confused and unresponsive.
It should be clear from this that dogs in a sled dog team must be very well bonded to the driver. Not only does it make training much easier, but well socialized, well bonded dogs make a very good sled dog team. The dogs are looking to you as their undisputed leader, and you and they work together as a *team*. If you are careful to bond to each of your dogs as individuals, and socialize them very well with each other, other dogs, and other humans, your dogs will be willing to do virtually anything for you.
Finally, a dog should always be rewarded and praised at the end of a run. Even if you feel it was the best, you must make the dog feel good!
Enjoy working together!!!