How to start your dog mushing


This document will detail the curriculum  for an introduction to mushing class, first given 2 August 2008. It assumes you are familiar with training lexicon: Cathy Toft does an excellent job of explaining what the words mean, please familiarize yourself with them. It should take about 10 minutes or less.

Mushing is a generic term that encompasses all of the following pulling sports: bladejoring, bikejoring, skijoring, sledding, scootering. Since much of the year is not snow covered I generally train on a wheeled vehicle, usually a 2 wheeled scooter. My two 50 lb dogs (one samoyed, one collie) have been clocked pulling me (I'm 173 lbs) at a max rate of 19.6 mph. That is really, really fast.

Although I am an R+/P- trainer I do not rely much on the clicker for training scootering. This is because when my dogs are pulling me at tremendous speeds I am too busy grabbing on to my handlebars ready to activate the brakes to be working anything else with my hands. I'm just not that dexterous. Nevertheless, nearly everything you will read in any articles about clicker apply to the way I train for scootering. I use no aversives whatsoever. No choke chains, no prong collars, no shock boxes. I'm not saying you can't effectively train using aversives, and I am not saying that aversives are inherently abusive. I am saying that aversives are not required, and that you can effectively train without them.

Please bring the following materials to class. Astrisks mark things we can share:
I will be bringing the following:
Please check with your vet that the following are true:
We will not be pulling any substantial weight, so underage dogs are welcome BUT please check with your vet prior to pulling any substantial weight. An under-age dog will probably greatly enjoy pulling but will end up arthritic a few years from now.

The Class
  1. The first few  minutes I'd like to just get to know you and watch your dog playing. Huskies like to bare teeth during play; don't worry about it. I'm really just looking to see if they get along with other dogs.
  2. I'll tie two (empty) milk jugs to your dog. Most dogs don't seem to get too upset with the noise they generate; some dogs (a few) are really freaked out. My late Harley was really spooked by it, but  most dogs can be trained to not worry about it.
  3. I want to then hook your dog on my flexi and see if they will run out ahead of you. I'll have a long PVC pole which can be attached to your dog's collar; if they aren't sure what you are asking them to do sometimes a little nudge to push their collar will help.The nudge should be very gentle, you are not punishing your dog, nor are you trying to force them to move. You are trying to explain that you want them to run in front of you. You'll need lots of verbal praise when they do the right thing. If they remain clueless a confederate (me) will use a treat to lure them, but treats need to be faded very fast.
  4. Here is the list of basic commands your dog will eventually need to know, in order of importance. I'll show you how to train 1,2, and 3. 
    1. HIKE: move out, go forward
    2. HAW: turn left and GEE, turn right
    3. WHOA, stop
    4. ON BY: Ignore that really interesting distraction and keep going
    5. LINE OUT: Tighten the line but don't start the sled/scooter moving
  5. I'd like to put a flexi on your dog and see if I can convince them to run a short (very short) distance.