Training begins when sled dogs are
puppies. Puppy training must be fun. The puppy must be given tasks he/she can
accomplish with ease. The first training occurs at birth when the puppies are
handled and socialized so they become comfortable with their human companions.
When the puppies are old enough to mix with other dogs, they learn to be
comfortable with other dogs and to come when they are called.
Puppies do not perform like
adults, but they learn to associate the harness and the team with fun.
Mushers will often put a puppy
in a harness to pull a small object. At six or more months, the puppy joins a
small team of older dogs. It is critical that this first effort at running be a
positive experience. The musher's goal is to let the dog enjoy its instinctive
behavior in a safe environment.
Training begins in earnest when
the dogs are yearlings. Most mushers start training in the fall as soon as it is
cool enough for the dogs to run comfortably. Fall training is usually cart or 4
wheeler training. The dogs run on dirt or sand trails to avoid injuries.
The goals of fall training are
several. Dogs must build up their aerobic condition and muscle strength and
learn to run as a team. Young dogs learn how to ignore distractions, respond to
commands, and handle different trail conditions.
Fall training begins with short,
brief runs. As the dogs build strength and stamina they can run farther. The
dogs rest between and within workouts to ensure fitness.
As the training progresses and
the months turn cooler, the dog become stronger, better conditioned and able to
run further and faster. The experienced driver shuffles dogs around in different
positions on the team seeking to find the position that best matches the dog's
unique abilities. Sometimes dogs are paired with partners whom they will run
beside for their entire careers, bonding to that dog as much as to the driver.
The driver studies his team,
learning each dogs individual traits and habits. Most importantly, the driver
builds each dog’s confidence in their athletic ability until the whole team of
canine competitors is convinced there is not another dog team in the world that
can run as fast or as far as they can!
That confidence and excitement
explodes when the dogs finally get to run in the snow. A light sprint sled
(about 25 pounds) almost flies over the snow. The dogs will run faster and
further. The snow cushions their feet allowing for longer runs and the colder
temperatures are more comfortable for athletes who exercise in fur coats. In the
end, the training pays off when a strong and healthy team of dogs blast out of
the starting chute, and win, lose or draw, runs the course with ultimate canine
grace, strength and beauty!