Sledding, Skijoring, Scootering
The three main types of Samoyed racing events are:
- Skijoring, in which the rider is pulled along on skis rather than a sled
- Scootering, dryland racing (sometimes called “gig racing”) in which the rider is pulled along on a wheeled scooter
There is a wealth of information that can be found on the internet, magazines dedicated to the sport, seminars, books on the subject, and clubs putting on race events are all options to learn more. Attend races and talk to the handlers and mushers at the events to learn more. Most racers do not think of the Samoyed as a competitive racing breed but do not let that stop you from asking questions and learning as much as possible from the competitors at the racing events. Samoyeds may not be as fast as the fastest Alaskan Huskies teams but they can be competitive! With background knowledge on the different racing events, this will help you decide which event(s) fits you and your Samoyed(s).
Dryland events (gig racing) offer sprint and mid-distance classes and are becoming more popular throughout the United States. Snow events offer 1 to 3 dog skijor races, sprint classes of variety of number of dogs allowed in the team, and distance races (mid and long) ranging in total miles of 10 miles to over 1,000 miles.
You and your Samoyed(s) will need to train for your racing season. Start early and do not be a “week-end warrior! This will only cause physical injury to the team and yourself. Do not expect your dog to run a 4 mile sprint race, for 2 days, if they have never run 8 miles! Even if you plan to race occasionally during the racing season, you must teach your team what is expected of them and what is expected of yourself. You must become a team together. Training for sprint races is different than getting ready for a mid or long distance race. Keep in mind that a well conditioned sprint team can race every week-end but the same is not true for long races. The recovery time for the dog and musher is greater after doing a distance race than for a sprint race, so distance racers will do fewer races in a season compared to sprint racers.
Some of the basic commands your team will need to know for any type of racing are:
- Stop command: Whoa or Stop
- Go command: Hike, Let’s Go, or Hup
- Turn commands: Gee (right) and Haw (left)
- Continue on command: On By (to continue on and ignore another team, to pass another team, to ignore a trail crossing, etc.)
- Stay command: Stay or Wait
- Command to go faster: Pick It Up
- Command to slow down: Easy
Command training can be taught in the off season with the dog wearing its harness and connecting a double snapped lead and going for walks using the commands. The lead is snapped to the collar and to the tug on the harness, so you can control the head of the dog, stay slightly behind the dog putting resistance on the harnesses so the dog learns to pull and any commands.
Thoughts from Some Samoyed Racers
Three factors make up the foundation of any sled dog team: good dogs, good nutrition and good training. These consistently coupled with a positive, supportive environment maximize the athletic ability of dogs.
My experience has been that if a Sam comes close to the standard, the dog has the physical ability to perform as a sled dog. Attitude separates the adequate from the outstanding running dog. Attitude comes from the environment provided the dog. Structural soundness backed up with attitude is the first requirement for a good sled dog.
Recently a great deal has been written on canine nutrition, much of it very helpful. Premium dog food is vital for superior performance from the four-legged athlete. Supplements may be appropriate. If a dog’s weight starts to drop too much I increase the quantity of food or supplement with a high calorie product. Increasing kibble increases the bulk of food given and a high calorie supplement may be better for your dogs. Proper hydration is critical to your dog’s health and performance. Water an hour or so before the dog runs followed by water after a run. You may need to bait the water with a small canned food or some other product that will entice your dog to drink, warm water is also a good idea. I also supplement with chondroitin and glucosamine. The chondroitin and glucosamine help lubricate the joints enhancing the dog’s comfort and prolonging a running career.
A puppy transitioning to a permanent home needs reasonable boundaries and training to reinforce the expected behavior in the new home. The training to meet these expectations is the initial step in sled dog training. Nearly any type of training is appropriate: puppy “kindergarten”, conformation, obedience, and agility. Almost any reasonable method works well. My favorite is clicker training.
The training given as a puppy pays big dividends later. When I have a dog that can do better on the team we go back to basic obedience with a clicker. I am always amazed at how much can be accomplished with ten minutes on the driveway or the road in the morning. A few recalls, sit and down stays and the dog wants to listen up on the team again. A consistent and supportive environment is mandatory in any approach used to prepare a dog for sledding.
Our sled dog training starts in the fall as soon as the temperature drops enough to be sure the dogs are not overheated during a run. I find making this an enjoyable and rewarding activity for the team is my most effective training technique. Keeping it fun for the dogs is vital. If happy dogs are not performing it is because they are not prepared for what they are being asked to do or there is a physical ailment preventing them from meeting the anticipated goals. An examination of the dog will identify any physical ailment. Effective intellectual training and physical conditioning provide the preparation.
The intellectual comes most easily and effectively from an experienced dog on the team; dogs teach each other more than humans can ever hope to teach their canine companions. This training will include: passing other teams, turning on command, slowing down (necessary for some hills and conditions), speeding up (passing other teams and finishing a race), ignoring other animals encountered on the trail and returning to the truck at the end of a run.
The team should be physically conditioned to run the distance they are expected to run, i.e. a four dog sprint team should train three to five miles two to four times a week. If a team is run beyond that distance they will anticipate that distance in the future and adjust their speed. If the team is run for fewer miles they may lack the stamina to complete a race successfully. Human Olympic sprinters train very differently than ultra distance runners. Conditioning and training although separate activities generally accomplished at the same time.
There are a number of books in print on mushing. The Speed Mushing Manual by Tim Welsh is my favorite; it is available through many sled dog equipment websites. The best source for individualized advice is a proven musher active in the sport. The musher need not be an expert with Samoyeds. There are far more Alaskan and Siberian Husky teams than Sammie teams.
Think about what George Attla said in Everything I Know About Training and Racing Sled Dogs so many years ago: ”…the dog never makes a mistake. He is just a dog and he does what he does because he is a dog and thinks like a dog. It is you that makes the mistake because you haven’t trained him to do what you want him to do when you want him to do it. Or you have misjudged what he is able to do, physically or mentally. So if a mistake is made in the team, it is you that has made it, not the dog.” This still fits today.
A very experienced musher gave me these three rules to always follow in my sledding endeavors: First, take good care of your dogs; second, don’t forget a thermos of hot coffee for when you get off the trail and finally, have fun.
-By Bill Stewart
Few things in life compare with an excursion deep into the wilderness with a team of Samoyeds.
Imagine a crisp starry night, all about are snow crystals sparkling like diamonds in the ambient light. As you pass through a drifting fog generated by the gentle huffing of the dog’s breath, snow-laden trees present a gauntlet of menacing forms resembling extraterrestrial beings. Throughout the night you run and the breaking dawn announces itself with pink illumination in the distant east. This is the spiritual side of running dogs. You and the dogs, dependent upon each other become a team and the bond that is forged cannot be explained; only experienced.
From over 25 years of mushing with Samoyeds, I believe their versatility expresses itself ideally as a traveling dog. Their structure is more suitable to long endurance runs than short swift sprints. I refer to a traveling dog as one that, depending on the conditions, can sustain a steady 5 to 7 mile per hour trot for up to twelve hours with only 5 to 10 minute snack stops every two to three hours. Their heavy coats make them exceptional dogs for camping on frigid nights with no need of jackets or extra protection from extreme elements. Because of their ability to stay warm, their caloric needs can be 30% less than the typical mixed breed sled dog. This makes a huge difference in the amount of food that needs to be packed for a distance run.
Distance races, expeditions and other non-competitive events are prime venues for making extended journeys. Trails are marked, veterinarians are at checkpoints, and often handlers are allowed to help. The stigma that Samoyeds and slower teams are not welcome at distance races is false. As long as we are proceeding at a rate that will enable our finishing within the time parameters set forth by the race giving organization, we are entitled to run. I’ve had Officials at Race to the Sky and Cascade Quest confirm this and assure me that checkpoints will be manned until we pass through.
Jerry Scdoris (Atta Boy 300), and Pat Campbell (Arrowhead 135), both organizers for their respective events, have personally invited me to race with Samoyed teams. In the years that we had been unable to participate in The Oregon Dune Mushers Mail Run, it was to the disappointment of organizers and many of the spectators that specifically came to see the Samoyeds.
At school presentations I am often asked how many races we have won. I tell the kids that crossing the finish line first is not the only way to win. Every time we go to a race we win because we change someone’s attitude about the working ability of the Samoyed.
“Dream big and dare to fail,” explorer Norman Vaughan proclaimed when he, on his 89th birthday, summited Antarctic’s Mt. Vaughan. Those words inspire me when I think about the upcoming seasons and to anyone who is considering distance races or extreme challenges with their dogs, in the incomparable words of Norman Vaughan, I encourage you to “dream big and dare to fail.”
-Don Duncan, Seaview Samoyeds
Books on Sledding, Skijoring and Scootering
Collins, Mike and Julie, “Dog Driver: A guide for the serious musher”, Alpine Publications, Loveland, CO 1991
Fishback, Lee, “Training Lead Dogs”, published by Tun-Dra Nunica, MI, 1978
Flanders, Noel K., “The Joy of Running Sled Dogs”, Alpine Blue Ribbon Books, Loveland, CO, 1989
Zink, M. Christine DVM, “Peak Performance: Coaching the Canine Athlete”, 2nd Edition, Canine Sports Productions, Lutherville, MD, 1997