Learn About Mushing
A great way to enjoy the winter woods
Dogs bound through the woods on the snowy trail. Their commander behind them barks orders. The sled eases under the canopy of trees, the obedient and athletic dogs making turns, avoiding objects and, when told to do so, stop, though perhaps begrudgingly as they’re wired to run.
Mushing conjures up images of the wild, of men and women doing battle with the frigid wintry elements and themselves always aided by loyal and tireless dogs. Every year the world is transfixed by Alaska’s Iditarod while here in New Hampshire dogsledding holds firmly to its roots and outdoor culture.
Dog breeder and racer Arthur Walden formed the New England Sled Dog Club at his Wonalancet Farm in 1924. He found success with his dog Chinook, the canine gaining widespread fame for participating in Richard E. Byrd’s first Antarctic expedition.
Mushing is a way of life.
“I eat, sleep and breathe sled dogs, carry the fur on my clothes, roll in mud with them happily and make every life decision with them in mind first,” says Muddy Paw Sled Dog Kennel owner Neil Beaulieu of Jefferson. “When you choose this lifestyle, you choose to forgo vacations, accept that your paycheck might as well be forwarded directly to the vet and dog food company, and that you’ll experience more unconditional love in return than you could expect.”
Mushing is also a way for people to enjoy the winter woods, whether as a passenger on a sled or being master. But sled dogs are often used for other sports too like cani-cross, in essence running with your dog(s) while on a leash. There’s also skijoring, bikejoring and scootering.
“Any healthy working breed would love to work with their pet owners to pull,” he says. “The best gift you can ever give your pet is to keep healthy and fit, developing a bond with them.”
The Laconia World Championships Sled Dog Derby is a celebrated race held in the Lake City for more than 80 years.
Traditional sleds are still made of wood with modern sleds comprised of lightweight aluminum and other durable metals. Tamworth’s Karen Jones of Nerak Kennels designed Nerak’s Sport sled with beginners in mind ($699). Dogs’ feet have to stay warm while on the trails and Maine’s Mountain Ridge standard green booties can last more than 100 miles ($1.50 per bootie). Let’s not forget the musher, staying warm with layers including multipurpose fleece neckwarmers ($14.99).
Expert Advice From Neil Beaulieu
Neil Beaulieu got hooked on sled dogs living in Alaska’s interior and volunteering at the famed Iditarod race. A high school teacher and registered Maine Guide, he owns Muddy Paw Sled Dog Kennel in Jefferson with more than 100 dogs. Beaulieu takes in rescue and second chance sled dogs, utilizing tours to support their care and placing dogs in families around the state through the nonprofit organization he launched with other mushers.
What’s the appeal of sled dogs?
Dog sledding allows you to get back to the basics, our roots in non-motorized transportation. Exploring nature from the back of a dog team is something I’ve never been able to top. Every run with a team of dogs is an adventure.
What kind of dogs do you run?
My kennel has Alaskan Huskies, Siberians and Malamutes. An Alaskan Husky is a type of dog that encompasses a huge range of characteristics and colors. They have been bred over the years for the characteristics sought by mushers such as speed and endurance.
How do you train them?
The dogs have an inherent genetic need to run and pull. We support the training of commands and trail manners using positive encouragement and discourage habits that don’t work on the team. The most amazing training tool is an experienced dog set next to a pup or inexperienced adult on the team. They can train the rookie faster than we can. Dogs learn from watching one another and see how the experienced adults respond to my commands.
What are the basic commands?
Hike, hike — to release the team and begin a run. Gee, gee — to turn right. Haw, haw—to turn left. On by — go past that distraction/other team/squirrel, gee over or haw over — move to the right or left of the trail. Whoaaaaa — to stop.
Any advice for people going on a sled dog ride where they command the team?
Take a deep breath and slow down. I find that many people get so anxious and animated on their first run. Be slow and intentional, confident and focused, and the dogs will respond in turn.
What’s New Hampshire’s mushing community like?
New Hampshire has a large, active mushing community. The mushers are all so passionate about great dog care and devote their lives to the teams. I’ve been impressed at how mushers here tirelessly work to educate the public on sled dogs and sharing the trails in summer and winter.
What does a musher carry in his sled?
First aid equipment for musher and dogs, extra food for two-leggers and four-leggers, a fire starter, multi-tool, extra winter gear and the sled bag itself to hold everything or transport a dog that needs a lift. We have to pack for anything and everything that could happen or need to be addressed on the trail like injury, weather, downed tree, etc.