Dog Sledding: Stress Control
By Robert Forto, PhD
As a musher training for his first Iditarod and being out of the sport for several years, I have had time to explore how other mushers train their teams and how we communicate with our dogs on and off the trail. In my opinion, two-way communication between the dog team and the driver is the most important aspect of training a successful team. In the coming weeks I am going to discuss this concept and this week I want to talk about stress control.
Stress is defined as the body’s response to a stimulus. All animals handle stress in different ways and depending on the type of stressor: positive which results an increase in activity and negative which results in a decreased activity, how we deal with stress will result in proper management.
A sled dog team in under constant stress on the trail. The stimuli surrounding them are great and how the dogs deal with stress can make or break a successful team.
Leaders are under considerable stress when they are in front of a big team, when they are challenged by unusual situations, when they are travelling at high speed or when they are asked to do something that they do not understand or cannot quite hear. Putting two dogs in front as leaders relives some stress. In demanding situations the musher should trade leaders frequently to avoid burnout. A burned out leader might turn deaf, may jump off the trail, or may just act depressed. Harsh discipline is more likely to hurt than help. These dogs should just be moved out of the lead, or left home for a few days.
Dogs change with age. Some get burned out as the years pass while others get better. Leadership training and how these dogs influence the team, and the musher, is discussed further in the coming weeks.
Dr. Robert Forto is the training director for Dog Works Training Centers and a professional musher racing with Team Ineka. Dr. Forto hosts a weekly radio shows on Dog Training and Mushing. Dr. Forto can be reached through his website at http://www.denverdogworks.com