Pacing the Team
By Robert Forto, PhD
It takes hard training to get a team in top physical and mental condition before race season. By the time the dogs are hardened, they have lost their eagerness and might even be in a slump. Depending on how tired the dogs are, the musher should stop the serious training before race season. The dogs should be allowed to rest. After resting, a few dogs can be taken out on some very short runs. They should be left on the picket line longer then they want to rest, and the musher should not run them as far as the dogs want to go. This will restore the dog’s attitude and they will be eager to run again. If a musher can manipulate the dogs so that they are crazy to go while still in top form and still controllable, then the team will reach it’s peak performance. With skill and sound judgment a musher can “peak out” the team just in time for the biggest event of the season.
The musher need not be a behavioral scientist or a learning theorist to accomplish this peak. They need not know the nuances of Skinnerian conditioning, Ivan Pavlov, Karen Pryor or Conrad Most. They just need to be able to read their dogs and communicate with them in a way that allows for synchronicity in order to win races and make the sport fun.
Mushing has been termed a blue-collar sport, not a white-coated, scientific endeavor. The idea is to have fun and become one of the team—the musher is the boss/leader, the quarterback if you will, and the dogs are his teammates.