It's important to remember that though sled dogs love what they do and can generally be thoroughly insulted if they do not get to run on the teams, they are not machines. They cannot run constant, all the time, non stop in any condition, just because you've paid to go out on tour. There are conditions that will limit their abilities, create stressful situations, cause them to not want to run at all, or cause them to run so fast you'll never catch them if you let go!
Of course, many of these conditions have been engrained into our lives at M.U.S.H.E.R.S. and we rarely think anything of them, except recognizing the condition and acting accordingly. It has become second nature for us; as a result, we've forgotten that many of our participants are not aware or expect anything to influence the dogs' behaviour and willingness to work. So we're hoping the following information will clear up some of the questions.
In general, the following conditions will cause a tougher run for the dogs, and subsequently for you, the musher:
- temperatures above -10 C (typical of late winter/early spring temperatures)
- heavy snow fall/rain
- sticky snow conditions
- musher/passenger emotion
These conditions will cause the dogs to pace them selves, run slower, pull harder, and over heat faster. Teams will require more frequent rest stops, snacks, and hydration; as well as assistance from the musher. If you manage to understand the driving techniques well, you can assist the dogs easily with very little physical effort on your end for the most part; by driving your sled in a way we refer to as evasive. But since most of you will be beginners, you will not be familiar with the concepts around being an evasive driver, you will not know how to counter act the weather/situational conditions to assist your dog team. Therefore, more physical effort will be required on your end to help the dogs when necessary. This means pushing hard on the up hills, and possibly having your passenger out of the sled; it means leaning hard to the outsides of sharp corners to avoid getting your sled stuck; it could also mean you do get stuck a lot and have to pull your sled out of deep and heavy snow; and it may even mean running on flat surfaces, or 'pumping' with one foot on the ground and the other on your sled ski. You are expected to assist the dogs when necessary!
Your mood will greatly influence how your team responds to you. Dogs can smell a number of adverse emotions, and your initial (and subsequent) emotions can set the foundation for your entire tour. If you are angry or frustrated when you start interacting with the dogs, they will sense it, and it will feed into their own emotions. This can cause them to become equally frustrated with the musher and with each other; causing them to be more likely to pick fights amongst each other, to not listen, or to stop working entirely. If you feel your emotions running high, try to take a deep breath and relax, you will notice your team will do the same!
Luckily, there are conditions that will have the total opposite effect on the dogs:
- temperatures lower than -10 C
- crisp air and no falling snow
- having an upbeat attitude
Our best and easiest runs happen first thing in the morning and late at night after the sun has gone down. Why? Because the temperatures are low and the air is crisp (or has little humidity). These conditions create an easy run for the dogs by allowing them to run faster, pull less, and enjoy themselves. The sleds will glide easily, the dogs will not over heat, and the musher doesn't have to put in as much physical effort. The dogs have lower frustration levels amongst themselves and their sled driver; and they are more likely to listen better and have less distractions.
Just as your adverse emotions will play a role in how your team performs, positive emotions such as happiness, joy, euphoria, and excitement will have an equal reflection in your team. The emotions are infectious (like laughter)! Your team will be upbeat, excited, happy, and willing to work hard for you. Each member of your team will be excited and determined, they will show little frustration with you and amongst themselves, and will listen well. These are the days you have to make sure to never let go of our team! These are the days the dogs want to run with or without you!
So remember the following key points:
- This is a sport entirely dependent upon weather. If we could control the weather (and believe me, we wish it often), it would be winter year round and close to -20 every day, constant snow cover on the ground, and sunny skies! But this is obviously not the case, and weather can be totally unpredictable, so we've learned it's just best to go with the flow, and take it as it comes. So your best bet is to enjoy what ever gets thrown at you.
- Even on a day with tough weather conditions, it is you and your passenger that will ultimately influence how your dogs will perform. The physical performance will always be there, but what makes the difference between an 'okay' run and a 'great' run, is the mental performance of the team (driver and passenger included)!
- Your team of dogs are working (whether that be super hard, really well, or not so much) because they WANT to, not because you purchased a 'dog sledding tour'! So be courteous, work with them, it's a team sport requiring team efforts!