Thursday, February 28, 2008

Iditarod Dog Handling Training - February 16

Doug and I attended a training session for those who would like to help hold the dog teams and bring them up to the starting line. Dog handlers are also needed along the trail to help with dogs who have been dropped from the teams by the mushers. These dogs may be injured to just too tired to continue the race. Most of the time, the dogs do NOT want to be left behind. They are bred and trained to run. It is important that a handler keep a firm grip on the dogs at all times, until they are handed to someone else or loaded into a kennel or an airplane. If a dog escapes a handler's grip, he may just take off running.

As you can see in the first picture, there were a lot of volunteers in attendance. Musher Shawn Sidelinger conducted the training with his dog Sitka. Most sled dogs are very socialized and Sitka was no exception. She was a beautiful dog and was very well mannered throughout the entire training. Shawn mentioned that, unlike most other sled dogs, if Shawn's 4 year old son falls off the sled that Sitka is pulling, she will not continue to run. She will stop and wait for him to get back on the sled.

Shawn talked about the names of the ropes and harness and the safest ways to handle the dogs.

After our indoor session, we bundled up and walked to a park about a block away. Shawn had a team of three dogs harnessed to his sled. We each got a turn to jog along side the team, as if we were bringing them to the start line. When the dogs get in harness, they are ready to run. Running along side them in knee deep snow and keeping tension on the lines is no small task. (Doug missed the shot of me where I fell down beside the sled.) Believe it or not, they did teach us what to do if we fall too. The point is to get out of the way and not trip up all the handlers who are in line behind you. I just wanted to make sure that I had practiced EVERYTHING they taught us!!!

This video shows Doug practicing bringing the team around. He is the first handler in the video (with the orange hat). The point where the dogs try to veer off the path is the place where I fell during my round. The snow was plenty deep to run through that day.