Beginning Mushing 101

Part 1
All it took was SnoWeekend '98 to decide I want to run away and be a dog musher! Now, the fact that I've just driven my dogs at 3 NCSHC SnowDays and 3 NCSHC Cart Days doesn't mean that I can't dream. Ric Wee gave me some important advice. "No matter what happens, don't let go of the sled." And on this trip to the Little Truckee Summit, I found out he was right. I was going along in fairly deep snow with my three dog team, and gave Tosh, my leader, a "gee" command. Tosh went right, and so did the sled, but we hit a mogul and over we went. I yelled "whoa!" at Tosh, and it registered, but we must have been dragged for 10 feet or so, me on the ground and the sled on its right side, before she stopped. Now I know why Ric said not to let go of the sled!

Another good reason to not let go of the sled. Judy Tamagni hooked up her 4 and 5 month old puppies to her brand new sled, and started off up the hill, no weight on it, no stress. She had her hand on the sled, but got distracted just as Matika and Laika spotted Selina Topete and Chance running up the hill and took off like the fine Siberian sled dogs they are. So here's Judy at 6500 feet hauling up the hill chasing her sled and puppies before they disappear into the great beyond! The good news is she caught them. Boy, it helps to be in shape!

Training is another issue. Teaching the trail commands -- gee, right; haw, left; whoa!, stop; come gee, turn right and come back; come haw, turn left and come back; hike, pull; hike up there, pull harder/faster -- can be done on walks. Gee makes particular sense when the dog has no choice but to turn right (as when a trail turns). But obedience training can complicate the issue. On the same run where we went over, I gave Tosh a "come gee." She turned right, then remembered she is an obedience dog, too. She came to me, right down the middle of the gangline, creating a tangle equaled only the the cartoon of the dogs up a tree. Then she sat. Thankfully, she didn't finish. Oh well, that's what snow hooks are for.

A lot of us have gotten bitten by the mushers' bug recently, and there are a bunch of new sleds among our members. So next SnoWeekend, look out, Iditarod, the NCSHC is mushing on!
take me back up

Part 2
So, you've read what it was like for Callie, Lara, and Tosh, and you think it would be fun for your Siberian to do it, too. What does it take to get started? One good way is to come to one of our Events --a SnoWeekend or a Cart Day. Our members provide harnesses, ganglines, neck lines, and either sleds or carts. You'll be able to tell quickly whether or not your dog has the aptitude and desire for pulling jobs. Most of them do, some don't. Some get worried about the connection to the harness until they feel the first tug across their shoulders, then they take it to like seasoned racing dogs. The other neat thing about our working events is that they're fun! We always have wonderful potluck food, and good company of other people whose dogs are their first focus and love. There are also people with more experience to help when you can't figure out how to get that silly X-back harness on your dog without hanging it up in her/his ears, or having both legs on one side of the chest piece.(Suggestion: put your own arm through it, then gather like a stocking and slide it over your dog's head).

The harness is on your dog -- what next? We usually hook compatible dogs (age, sex, size, experience) together. Your dog will usually start at wheel or swing (closest to the cart/sled or between the leaders and the wheel). S/he is hooked up at the collar (a racing or buckle collar, never a choke) and at the harness (over the hips). Then, one of us takes the leader by the harness while another runs ahead, you step on the runners, and get ready to kick, if needed. We tell you no matter what, don't let go of the cart/sled, and you're off -- joining the legions of mushers who have gone before you. Your dog is pulling like a veteran, working with his/her teammates, and you're hooked!

What next? To start, begin teaching the trail commands. Gee for right, haw for left, whoa! (stop you fool Siberian!), come gee (turn to the right and turn 180 degrees), come haw (turn to the left and turn 180 degrees), line out (a command to your leader, when hooked up, to take the line out taut, and hold). I taught trail commands on leash on long walks. Gee is obvious when the only way the trail is going is to the right. Then you start researching getting your own equipment. Most of us started with our own harnesses. There are any number of suppliers of mushing equipment, some are listed at the end of this article. You can usually also buy a harness at a Siberian Specialty Show. Sometimes the vendors also have ganglines and racing collars. Carts and sleds can sometimes be found second hand; the Internet is a good source for vendors. Also consult the list that follows. Please note that we are not endorsing or recommending anyone.

Sledding Suppliers:
Nordkyn Outfitters, (253) 847-4128, www.nordkyn.com
Adanac Sleds & Equipment, (406) 752-2929
Arctic Star Dog Sledding Company, (814) 684-3594
Alyeska Sled Dog Products, (218) 475-2649
Risdon Rigs, (517) 651-6960
Black Ice Dog Sledding Equipment, (320) 485-4825
Rae's Harness Shop, (907) 563-3411, (800) 770-1177
Resha Sled Dog Equipment, (814) 362-3048
take me back up

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This page last updated: 01/2002