How to Find the Right Urban Mushing Instructor
There is no doubt about it – the popularity of “Urban Mushing” is at an all-time high. Whether it’s a team of huskies pulling a scooter, a skijoring team sliding down the trail, or a one-dog canicross team, people across North America are fascinated with this dog sport.
If you’re the owner of a high-energy dog, and you are looking for an activity for you both to enjoy, urban mushing might just be your style. To get started on the right foot… or ski… or sled runner… you’re going to need some instruction. The good news is that with the popularity of Urban Mushing, clubs and groups are popping up all over the place – and there’s a good chance you’ll find one in your neighborhood. I’ve been teaching a variety of urban mushing styles for years, so I’ve put together some tips on finding the right class and instructor for you.
Location, Location, Location
Geography will play a major role in your decision. While there are online courses and tutorials for new Urban Mushers, the best learning is most often hands on. Not only can an in-person instructor help correct an error before it becomes a bad, or even dangerous, habit, they’re also a wealth of knowledgeable when it comes to local recourses. These pros have the insider scoop on the best trails, outfitters and vets. They might even know where the closest emergency room is, you know… just in case.
Urban Mushing Specialty
Ask any potential instructor what type Urban Mushing they have experience with. Subtle differences come into play for dogs being asked to pull a skier opposed to working with a jogger. If you are interested in a particular sport with your dog, ensure that the instructor has first-hand experience with it. Canicross, scootering, bikejoring, skijoring, and sledding are the most recognized sports in mushing, with international governing bodies overseeing races and events. An instructor will be up to date with the qualifications regarding the rules and regulations of the governing bodies. Even if you don’t intend to race, many of the rules are for safety precautions, and your instructor will be familiar with them.
A red flag is any potential Urban Mushing Instructor who throws around the word “joring.” Joring refers to the Scandinavian word for “driving,” as in driving a team of dogs or horses. Skijoring and Bikejoring are both recognized sports. An instructor who says they “jore” or adding “joring” to the end of any activity is most likely a newbie, a poser or just wants to look cool. You expect your doctor and your mechanic to know the vocabulary of their trade; so too should an urban mushing instructor.
Not Just For Huskies
Urban mushing is certainly popular among husky owners. But these northern breed dogs aren’t the only ones who can enjoy pulling sports.
Nearly any healthy dog over 30 pounds can safely partake in pulling sports. Thirty pounds is about the average industry standard for dogs with a solid enough frame to safely pull. There may be exceptions for dogs under 30 pounds, but typically smaller dogs don’t have the proper build to be involved in pulling sports. Avoid instructors who brag about having trained tiny dogs, like Chihuahuas. A responsible instructor would rather turn away a potential client than risk doing damage to a dog.
Herding and working breed dogs take to pulling sports well. Be sure to ask the instructor what experience they have had working with dogs of your specific breed. Training a Husky to pull is an entirely different matter than getting a Border Collie to run in harness. Both breeds make great pulling dogs, but in the case of the Husky, you’re tapping into thousands of generations of dogs bred to pull. I’m not saying it’s harder to teach one to pull than the other, but it certainly is different. A competent instructor will have experience with more than one certain dog breed.
In most countries, dog training isn’t regulated. That means that Tom, Dick or Cesar can hang up a sign, print out some cards and be in business of dog training. Some of them even get on TV and become famous – but it doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing.
If an Urban Mushing Instructor wants to train you and your dog, he/she better have some experience to back it up. Have they attended races in the discipline they offer instruction in? Do they have any dog training certification, or are members of any professional dog training groups? These are important questions to ask to ensure you get quality instruction.
Urban mushing is an inherently dangerous activity. You’re moving at high speeds, and you will fall. I repeat, you will fall. Often.
There’s the potential danger of coming into contact with other teams, other trail users or trees. Your instructor needs to know the dangers of this sport and will have equipment in place to support you. The use of helmets should be highly recommended, if not, mandatory. Urban mushing instruction should take place on designated trails, away from the obstacles of off-leash dogs and vehicles.
And any Urban Mushing instructor of merit will have a few “close-call” stories to share with students. A good instructor will let you know about the risks involved so you’ll be about to make an informed decision about participating in the sport.
The majority of Urban Mushing Instructors maintain an online presence. Use these platforms as a tool to judge them, partially, by the company they keep. If their pages are “liked” by other members of the mushing community, such as outfitters, mushing clubs or race organizations, then this goes to show their good standing and expertise in the mushing community.
You can also gain valuable insight by reading through their responses to questions or updates. If the tone if helpful and encouraging, this person might be a great instructor for you!
The best mushers know they don’t know it all. Taking a one-off, one-hour workshop is going to be enough to get you hooked up with a harness and a basic idea of what you are getting into, but it certainly won’t equip you with the skills to be self-sufficient out on the trail.
Different instructors have different formats to support their students. Some hold weekly meetings, while others pair you up with a more experienced mentor to work one-on-one with. A good program is designed to help students succeed. Of course, there will be pitfalls and problems along the way, but a great instructor will be there to guide you.
Mushers love to talk about their dogs, so ask about their own personal dogs. Who was the dog that first started them in this sport? How did they know they were hooked on mushing? Where do they acquire their dogs from? When you see their eyes light up, you know you are on the right track of someone who not only loves the sport, but loves their dogs!
Kevin Roberts lives for adventure. Together with his pack of rescue dogs and his husband, he spends as much time outdoors as possible. Kevin lives by the motto: "Get outside and play with your dogs!
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