Most of us tend to think of the term "mush" as a command used by sled team drivers way up north where sled dogs are often the only form of transportation. There are two myths in this sentence, first sled dogs are no longer the main form of transportation in many such places, "mushing" is more of a sport than a necessary form of transportation. Second, perhaps the only person to ever actually use this term to urge his team on was Yukon Cornelius in the movie, 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer'.
If you have a dog that is bred to pull such as a Siberian husky, Alaskan Malamute, Canadian Eskimo dog, Samoyed, or Chinook, you already have a head start. But, many other breeds can be taught to mush, it's a great way for your pup to burn off all that extra energy. You can teach your pup to mush, all it takes is hard work and time. One quick word, your pup should weigh at least 30 pounds and a medium-sized breed or larger.
Recreational mushing or dog sledding is just as safe any virtually any other dog sport. This is providing you take your time to train your pup properly. It is the perfect time to let your pup take the lead while you get to celebrate his athletic ability and be encouraging in a very positive way. You start out by teaching your pup to wear his harness and to pull alone. You can always work on putting a pulling team together at a later date.
You should be aware before you start, that buying a complete pulling harness and sled rig can be quite expensive to buy new. If you have one, check with your local dog sled pulling club and you may find that someone has some used gear you can buy or borrow. You will also find the members are full of sage advice to help you get started.
Before you can start training your pup to mush, he needs to get used to wearing his new harness. Be sure to adjust it to fit him properly from day one. Let him wear it around the house and yard, starting with short time periods and moving up to where he is comfortable in it for long periods of time. Your pup needs to have mastered the four basic commands of 'come', 'sit', 'stay', and 'down'. You will also be teaching him a number of new commands including;
There are also a few things you will need to complete the training:
The most important thing to remember is that even with pulling breeds, training your pup to successfully pull a sled is going to take time and patience. But, imagine the fun the two of you can have as your pup pulls you, the groceries, or the kids around with a big happy smile on his face.
What age do you recommend starting to train your dog? I’m think about getting another husky but for my current husky, how much pulling/training time do you think would be healthy? How many times a day or week? We currently have started mushing but she has only been three times and she’s doing great but she gets tied after a mile.
Hello Ashley, You can start training as early as ten weeks but with dogs younger than one year I suggest only working on the turns and commands, using something light weight and easy for them to pull, and not adding any extra weights to it until after a year. Puppies growth plates are still closing and bones forming during the first year so you don't want to over exert their bodies, but their minds can start learning basic training concepts like turns very, very young. For your current dog you have to consider her mental edurance and physical endurance. The more you practice overtime, the better both types of endurance should get. There is not a set amount of time. It's best to guage her own endurance and quite when she seems to be loosing focus or to be getting tired. It sounds like a mile is her limit right now. Some days it may be less and some days more. As she gets better and seems less tired toward the end, you can slowly increase the distance overtime. Base it off of her and how she seems to be doing though. I suggest practicing every other day. You can practice just a couple of times a week and probably still maintain the muscle she's building, but giving her a day off between training should give her muscles a chance to build and heal after being worked out. You can practice less frequently too to simply work on teaching her the turns but if you want to increase her physical endurance, two to four times a week should help her with that. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden
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We recently adopted Thor, who has come from a rather abusive background. He loves running and playing and gets bored pretty easily and so I have been thinking about starting to train him to pull as a way to get all of his energy out and to have some fun. We are not entirely sure of his age, other than he is under 2 years old; is this too old to try teaching him to pull? My other question is, due to his abusive past, is it even a good idea?
Hello Alannah, It is not too late to teach Thor to pull. In fact, physically it is better that he is over a year old because his joints and bone growth plates will be more set and together now and make him less prone to injury. As far as his past goes, that will depend a lot on his response to things. Go slow with him and watch his reactions. Use a lot of praise and rewards. If he acts nervous, then slow down what you are doing and spend time getting him used to the previous step for longer. For example, if he is afraid of having something behind him, then start with something like a scarf just to get him used to having something following him and you be the one to hold onto the harness reigns and get him used to the feeling of having counter pressure. When he is comfortable having something following him, then add something with just a bit more weight, like a stuffed animal or toy. Essentially go really slow and break things down into smaller steps for him. This might be a good bonding and confidence building exercise for you and him, but at any point if it seems to be having a negative impact on him or putting anyone in danger, stop. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden
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