I have now 2 months and 400 miles of dog sledding under my non-existing belt. Does that make me a musher? I don’t think so.
Every day is a new day with challenges and surprises. My main lead dog Clumber has been loosing weight and I needed to give him a break to see what’s bothering him. That meant other dogs had to fill in the key position as lead. None of my other dogs have the same leader qualities and attitude as Clumber, unfortunately.
I realized there are two qualities that make a great leader. First, never turn the team around. A wandering or turning lead dog can cause tangled gang lines resulting in injury, dog fights and a confused and insecure team. Today I had to deal with this issues several times and it was not easy to overcome. At one point I was sitting in a pile of tangled dogs, in the midst of one tail-biting snapper, and a bunch of scared pups. Not a pretty sight. In the end we made it and everybody had a good day, realizing that dogs and mushers are not machines but living creatures.
The second quality in a lead dog like Clumber that I appreciate very much is his confidence and trust in me. This trust goes both ways. When I say „Gee“ or „Haw“ he reacts to that command immediately. He will turn, even there is no trail. He will turn, even we have gone 99 times straight before. I hope Clumber is back leading my team, soon.
Running 20 miles every day for 21 days, a few nights with temperatures below -30F has changed the attitude and motivation of some dogs. I am beginning to „see“ their daily mood when I enter the yard with the harnesses. Most dogs are still happy to see me, a few of them prefer to stay inside their houses until I convince them to come out and run with me.
Learning the broad strokes of running a healthy, motivated dog team was easy. Dealing with fatigue, injury, and motivation is a bit more challenging, but hey, that’s what I signed up for.
Gee, haw, never let go.