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Sled dogs begin their training as puppies, when they are put in a harness and allowed to run loose with the adult team dogs. The puppies emulate the adult dogs’ behavior, and through their example acquire the same desire to pull and run. The next point in training is when a short rope is attached to the puppy’s harness and a lightweight object is tied onto it to get him used to the weight.
All dogs on a mushing team are taught basic obedience and socialization and mushing commands. Once they have mastered the basics and are used to being in the harness, the young dogs can be put into the lines to practice starting and stopping as a team, as well as standing still and lying down while harnessed together. The next step is to attach a very light sled and gradually get them used to the equipment. Dogs should be taught with consistency and patience, and they should be given lavish amounts of praise during the course of training -- and for that matter, after training. Dogs always work best when they have a goal, and for most dogs, the simple joy of running and the praise of their human master for a job well done (not to mention good food and a warm place to lay their heads) is all the reward they need.
If you’re just starting out, your local mushing club can help you find the right equipment for your dogs, and can offer the best training tips for leading a successful team. Many of these groups offer clinics for beginners, and some individual mushers may even be available to mentor new mushers.
A little research on the Internet and at your local library and bookstore will also help you to learn as much as you need to know, so that you can decide if this is the ideal sport for you and your dogs, and which type of mushing is ideal for you and your dogs.
Good luck -- and don’t forget to have fun!
Image: Frank Kovalchek / via Flickr