Keywords: greta mahowald
Description: Welcome to a new website venture. The intention is to tell stories, answer questions, and fill you in on what's going on right now around here. We like our website, but maybe this will put some
Welcome to a new website venture. The intention is to tell stories, answer questions, and fill you in on what's going on right now around here. We like our website, but maybe this will put some breath into it. And, maybe this will make me “write some of this stuff down!” Dogs below are Blackie, Dixon and Seppala.
The 2002/2003 Season seems about to get under way. We are experiencing snow flurries almost everyday and we have already seen accumulation in the mid-Gunflint Trail area. My 24 year old son, Odin, is about to join us again for a second season of guiding after graduating from Carleton College in the spring of 2001. Joining him will be fellow Menogyn guides, Greta Mahowald, University of Vermont; Mike Martin, St. John's University, and Betsy Moss, St. Catherine's University. (Camp Menogyn is a YMCA canoe tripping camp based on the mid-Gunflint Trail). All four of these guides are advanced guides for Menogyn. Odin and Betsy led 21 day trips last summer, Mike will lead a 21 day trip next summer, and Greta led a 45 day trip last summer. These young people are quite at home in the Wilderness. Also joining us will be Josh Onion, Odin’s good friend who recently graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont. Josh and Odin met on a S.I.T. college program in Nepal two years ago, and hiked into the Himalayas together. Josh interned with us last January and is back now for the real thing. I am really looking forward to working with all of these outstanding young people. They represent the best of their generation and will be among its leaders in the years to come. Right now, we know our dogs are going to have a great year under their care and our clients will be able to experience the best of what we have to offer. Watch for their pictures and profiles in a few weeks.
I received this question from a young musher a few weeks ago: “How can I get my pet husky to enjoy running in harness more? She will go down the trail and pulls alright, but there isn't any enthusiasm.”
My answer: I have a training philosophy which I call “Nurturing their instincts”. Almost every training answer I give will build on this philosophy. Your dog does not need to learn how to pull. She may need to find out how it feels to pull, but she will pull because she has a natural instinct to pull. She was bred to pull. Think about this: What if all of your ancestors chose their spouses based upon a talent and love of singing. Let's just imagine this. They did not choose each other because they loved each other, but purely in order to find a mate with whom they could produce children with a love and talent for singing. Now let's imagine that this went on for many, many generations. Now, finally, you are born. How hard would it be to teach you to sing? Imagine a little inbreeding along the way to stack up the genes, not just accidentally, but scientifically. The point is this, the only thing you can really do with your little husky is take the fun out of it for her by putting too much pressure on her. Relax, enjoy your pet. Love her, play with her.
Your first, and only goal, should be to make sure she has fun running in harness. Think of this as play. Forget about how you would like this to go. Do not worry a bit about how well she pulls. It is absolutely and completely unimportant. That will come all in its own time. Again, make sure that her harness always signals fun, fun, and more fun. Keep the length of your training sessions shorter than she would like them to be. Make sure that when you take the harness off and put it away, she is still having fun and would likely continue for a while yet. For a puppy under a year old, that might be 5 or 10 minutes at the most. For a dog over a year, 20 minutes may be plenty. This is for you as the trainer to judge, but the session cannot be too short, it can only be too long.
What to do with your training session? Make it easy. Make it a game. Tie the harness to a block of wood, or a small little tire, or something. Introduce pulling. I always think of a tractor going down the road when I think of a husky. Unless there is something being pulled it looks kind of silly. Huskies’ bodies are made for pulling and only when they ARE pulling do we really get to see how truly beautiful they are. And, I think, only when they ARE pulling does a husky get to FEEL how good it feels for him or her to pull. Pulling feels great to a husky, so put something back there for her to pull.
If you can find some sort of a trail to run down, that would be great, but if not, you can still have a good session. Run ahead of her. Get her to chase after you. Laugh at her, play with her. Make her know that you are not uptight about this at all. If she looks back with some apprehension about whatever it is that is following, laugh at her, pet her quickly, and encourage her to come join the fun. If she wants to jump up on you, let her. Your goal is very simply, and only this, that she has fun. Whether or not she pulls or runs down the trail is NOT important. When your time is up, be done. Enjoy your dog. Let her know that you are enjoying her, let her know that this is play. Play turns into work for sled dogs, just as it often does with people.
The play you should be encouraging is her running out ahead of you. But, don't press it. A trail will help you. It can be a sidewalk, anything, but a trail, sooner or later will invite her to run down it. All she has to do is get past her apprehension about what is behind her and get past her apprehension about what it is you expect. When that happens, believe me, she will go. Soon you will not be able to keep up. It is time for a bicycle if there is no snow around, or rollerblades, if you are courageous. Skis or a small sled will work in the winter. Make sure you continue to follow these rules: always go shorter than your dog would like to go, and always go slower than your dog would like to go. Avoid frightening your dog with speed, and avoid pressuring your dog with expectations. These are the only two things that will prevent a husky from discovering the joy of running in harness.
In only two short weeks I heard back from my young musher friend. She was now concerned about finding some knee pads to protect herself from the spills she felt sure she was going to take since her dog was now running so fast in front of her bicycle!
Sometimes it is OUR expectations that get between a sensitive young husky and his or her opportunity to simply enjoy being a husky. “Nurture their instincts.”
Next week - I'll tell you the story of how I taught Mohawk to lead in open country. Or maybe I should say, “How Mohawk taught me to help him decide where to go when there was no trail to follow!” I'll tell you, that Mohawk scares me sometimes. Right now he is watching everything I do on the sled. I know he is planning on replacing me on the runners.