Guest Author - Carol Viau
Summer training for sled dogs? Is this possible? Believe it or not, it is! Whether people have sled dogs for fun, for racing, or for commercial tours in the winter, the dogs still need to exercise and prepare for their winter sport, just like humans.
Depending on the location, the sled dogs often get a break in the summer and not much exercise. If this is the case, the handlers (dog trainers) will usually start training them in the late summer. As they are out of shape this time of year, the handlers have to be careful to not let them run too hard or they may injury themselves. It is similar to a person getting off the couch to exercise after several months off, one needs to take it easy at first to avoid pulling or straining muscles or ligaments.
To the untrained eye, this is more difficult than it sounds. It is because of the time off that the dogs are fired up and eager to run. Sled dogs returning to training are similar to kids returning to school, in that the discipline after summer break is somewhat lacking.
The handlers start by hooking up the dogs in small groups. This helps with discipline training, as it is easier for the handler keep control over them. Another reason for hooking up small groups at a time (as opposed to winter when they hook up large groups) is that more dogs get experience with being the lead dog, and the handlers can rotate them around to see in what position the dogs perform best.
Often handlers will hook the dogs up to four wheelers, also known as ATV�s (all terrain vehicles). They will let the dogs pull the ATV while they sit on it. This way they can start working on the commands for the dogs, in conjunction with their exercise. Another method of exercising dogs is to take them out one at a time hooked up to a bicycle, with someone on it. This works well for a person that has a small group of dogs.
To avoid overtraining, handlers will start with small distances, a mile or less for adult dogs, less than half a mile for puppies. They won�t run them everyday, so they have plenty of time off to rest those doggy muscles. As the sled dogs start to get in shape, they will increase the distances they train. All throughout this process, the handlers will stop frequently to give the dogs a break and to train them that stopping is also part of the process and that they are expected to do this quietly. This is a challenge in itself as sled dogs are easily excited and like to bark. Without this part of the training no person could be expected to control the dog team on snow.
The temperature is another important factor in the training schedule. If it is over 60 Farenheit, training shouldn�t happen. The dogs could easily overheat and get dehydrated, especially if it�s humid. With daytime temperatures this high, handlers may chose to train at dawn or sundown, as the dogs shouldn�t be in direct sunshine either.
It is a careful process to train sled dogs and even the training surface must be taken into consideration. Soft earth is best, pavement a definite no! Sled dogs and their handlers deserve a lot of respect for their time spent training together to become a well honed team.