Being manufacturer's of Dog sport equipment and training our own pack of dogs; we often get asked how we got into doing dog sledding. For some it's like a distance dream, but with some patience and hours of dedication, you can become a musher and have your own sled team. Some people recreationally run their dogs for fun and to exercise them; others also run them to compete. Mushing, like many other sports; opens you up to a whole new social world of passionate people.
Some common things we hear are:
"Mushing is cruel; it's mean to make them pull all that weight" - This has to be one of the most offensive things a musher can hear, but most of us accept that it's lack of education that gives this response. It's true, some dogs do not want to run - and those dogs that don't want to run, won't be made to run. Why? Because if the dog has no drive, or no sense of enjoyment in sledding - then they won't make a good member of the team and you cannot force dogs to run - they either do it out of enjoyment or they simply won't run.
Most people picture mushers in the blistering snow - whipping their dogs to run - in every day mushing and especially in the UK; this just doesn't happen. We love our dogs, and we work with them to get them to have an enjoyable run.
"How do they know which way to go?" - Training. For some dogs, direction is just ingrained into them and they take very little effort to get them to understand where to go; and for others it can take years to get them to fully understand. A dog with good sense of directions and that you can trust with your commands is what will make a great lead dog to the team.
"How do you teach them the directions?" - Often one of the best ways to teach directions is to start using it on walks. Every left turn, say "Haw"; every right turn say "Gee". Over time, the dog will begin to understand what these words mean. However, when it comes to your first attempt with running dogs; it probably won't seem as easy if you go alone. The best way to learn, in our opinion, is to hook up with other mushers and either get your dog running in their team, or follow them with your own dogs. Eventually you'll understand which dogs are suited where in your team, but always remember to swap them around every now and again so as each dog can adjust to being in different positions.
"Isn't the climate in the UK too hot?" - Most Huskies in the UK are now British bred and British born and have adapted to our climate, but we have basic rules to stop overheating or risking any of the dogs health. For us, we follow the rule of only running if the temperature is below 12 Degrees and below 70% Humidity. Some mushers will run at different temperatures, but we find that the lower you can go - the better.
So where do I start?!
If by this point, you're as mad as us and you want to get into mushing, you'll be all excited and want to start getting harnesses and things. As tempting as that might be at this stage; it's worth building up your knowledge a lot further first.
Here at White Forest, we welcome new members to the sport and offer our support either over the telephone or via email with enquiries, but the best way to learn is to read many resources and get out there meeting people.
Below are some links to some different resources you might find useful:
- Training Lead Dogs by Lee Fishback
- The Speed Mushing Manual by Jim Welch
- MUSH! A beginners Manual of Sled Dog Training edited by Charlene G. LaBelle
- Dog Scooter - The Sport for dogs who love to run by Daphne Lewis
UK Mushing Organizations/Clubs
- Wyedean Mushing
- The Siberian Husky Club of Great Britain
- Cani-X Midlands
- British Sled Dog Sports Federation