The Gee-Haw Problem

The Gee—Haw Problem

Lead Dog RevengeSome mushers expect a leader to turn instantly on command; others give the command some yards ahead of the turn so that the dog can absorb the situation. This explains why some mushers have trouble missing turns. A dog trained to turn instantly will jump straight into deep snow even if he sees a fork ahead. Serious training is required to make a dog leave the trail. The dog must respond automatically, without thinking. A dog less strictly trained often will miss the fork if the musher waits until the team is right on it.

The musher must learn to read his dogs and watch for the communication signals given by them when the dog approaches a fork in the trail. The lead dog will lift his head when he realizes that a decision must be made. The ears will go forward (which way?) or turn backward (what does the boss think)? He might even glance backward. The leader is most receptive to the musher’s commands at this instant. He will not have sized up the situation any earlier than this exact point. A split-second later he will have already decided which way to turn. He might not be able to collect himself and the team in time to change direction.

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Dr. Robert Forto is the Dog Sledding Examiner, a musher training for his first Iditarod under the Team Ineka banner, and the host of the Mush! You Huskies Radio Show

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