My pick for Book of the Month (still going with the whole snow sport theme!) is “Mush! A Beginner’s Manual of Sled Dog Training” by Charlene G. LaBelle. This is probably the go-to book that I would absolutely recommend for those not only wanting to get involved in dog powered sports, but those who would like to go beyond the individual dog and do team sports. It’s not terribly complex when you’re running just a dog or two. It takes some getting used to when you’re first starting out, but you’re pretty directly connected (literally and figuratively) to the dogs you’re running at that point. Once you switch to running a team, a lot of things change.
LaBelle also goes into more specifics about the various details of owning, running, and caring for a team. The first few chapters involve background on the basics of dog powered sports. The history behind it as well as the dog breeds and how they came about. The topic of how to go about acquiring a member(s) for your team is also discussed.
After that, it’s all about the equipment. From the type of housing that you will need for multiple dogs right down to the types of collars that are recommended.
Once you’ve got your team picked out, you’ve got your housing figured out, and you’ve got all the equipment you need, it’s time to train. Depending on what your goals are, you’ll need to think about things like what kind of trails you should be training on. The types of races that you will be running will help to determine the types of trails and length of trails that you should be training on. If you’re doing this for recreational purposes, then the types of trails that you would LIKE to run on and your own personal goals will determine what trails you should be training on.
LaBelle has chapters on the weather. That all important determining factor that seems to make or break a run. In our case more recently, it cancelled an entire racing weekend because of the lack of snow. Along with weather comes temperature considerations. Depending on what breed of dog you’re running and the time of year, temperature is incredibly important.
There are chapters on the different training areas. How to go about training a puppy. How to go about training an adult. And most importantly, how the heck do you get the handler trained??:) It may seem like you just hook the dogs up and they just go, but that’s not really the case. Certain animals are suited to specific positions along the line. Some dogs are really best as wheel dogs. They’re good and being the steady powerhouses closest to the sled who are great at absorbing the shock in the line that gets slowly diluted as it moves to the front of the team. Training a lead dog(s) is incredibly important. There is a lot of stress and pressure placed on the leaders shoulders. Not only that, but you sure better have a dog in the lead who can follow commands or else you’re bound to be in a whole lot of trouble if you’ve got a fresh string of twelve dogs who want nothing more than to just RUN!
The many nuances of racing are also discussed. How to go about preparing for a race. Where to find the race rules. How do you register for a race? What are the governing bodies and how do they differ? She also gives some advice on being a spectator. I think it’s much easier to be a spectator once you’ve been in a race because you know how to stay out of the way (hopefully!)!
Overall, it’s just a great book with a ton of great information in it. I think that it’s a great idea for anyone who wants to get serious about a dog powered sport to read this book. She really touches on every aspect of owning a dog through competing with them.