Thursday, February 23, 2017

Canadian Challenge: Dogs on the Trail

Time to dis-spell a myth in regards to the dogs health at a race.

I received a message today.  This concerned non-dog sledding person was worried that the dogs of this years race were being pushed too hard.
It was suggested that all the dogs being dropped this year was because they were all hurt and how could a musher 'really' care about his dogs if they were pushing them so hard.

I need to address this and what better time than at this moment sitting with the tracker open on my screen waiting for Aaron Peck to reach the finish line.

The trail was hard and fast, there is no denying that.  If you look at the statistics from the first part of the race you will see that the teams were running at incredible speeds.
Because all the teams had the same top speeds at the beginning I can only assume that most mushers were running their dogs with both feet on the brake or drag mat, or both! (if only they had 4 feet).  Most mushers I know like to start their race slow and steady, so they don't burn out their dogs or create any early injuries.

Due to the fast hard trail there were dogs that were dropped early due to sore wrists and shoulders.
Usually the dogs just need a bit longer of a rest and lots of massages with oils.  Most of these dogs are ready to return to the trail not long after the musher has left without them.  However once a dog is dropped they cannot re enter the team.

A musher will determine if a dog is not having fun anymore.  A sore shoulder will make it hard for anyone to have fun.   This is when a dog is dropped, or bagged on the sled.  Sometimes a ride for a distance is enough of a break and they come back on the team ready to continue without any issues.

Yes it can happen, dogs can be pushed too hard which then leaves a musher with many issues to deal with, However the seasoned mushers, such as Aaron, know their dogs and what they are capable of.
Aaron would have not dropped down to 7 dogs for the last leg of the race because they are all injured. Most likely he dropped down to 7 in order to pick the best of this team and avoid further injury.

Aaron is running for the win.  He is not being chased, so he has no worry of being over taken by competition.  There is no reason to create a smaller team other than the fact that he cares for the dogs enough to leave those behind who are slower and maybe are not strong finishers.  The team he has left with is faster and why worry about creating unnecessary injury by taking dogs who might have to ride in the bag, even for a short distance, slowing the team down.

And you can replace Aarons name above with any good musher.

Then there are those that scratch.  It has nothing to do with bad mushers or bad dogs, it has everything to do with conditions and bad timing.
As I have already mentioned, the trail was hard and fast and having a team of power house dogs up front that love to run, and love to run fast, it can be difficult to slow them down.  This is when you end up with injuries.
The trail can have many hazards for the musher as well, hitting some conditions on crazy fast trails is like playing Russian roulette, some make it, some don't.

Steve, Chris and Gerry all have incredible dogs.  They are amazing athletes that love doing what they do. They just happened to hit those conditions with bad timing.
All three have winning teams, they will be back.

The mushers that I know personally, and many are mushers here this week, love their dogs.  They know each dog so well, from the slightest movement of the head, to how they hold their tail.  Each dog is watched for hours as they run the trails making sure each one is happy, healthy and willing to run.
The dogs LOVE to run at night
Photo Credit: Kandis Riese

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