Mushing has enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in recent years, especially through such annual races as the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest attracting more and more interest, and as mushers lobby for sled dog racing to become an Olympic sport. However, one does not have to commit to marathon races to enjoy the recreation.
Malamutes, as dogs well suited for freighting heavy loads in small teams of one or two, are more than capable of hauling a sled alone, or with a companion. It does require preparation, training, and proper equipment, however.
(Siino 1997)Ideally, you would need some snow to make the most of the exercise, but harnessing dogs to a wheeled cart is not only just as effective, but highly recommended for getting a dog into shape between mushing seasons. Not everyone lives where there is regular snowfall.
Hands-on encounters with an expert is best, for yourself and for your Malamute, as you will learn from the experience and your dog will learn the ropes from seasoned mushing dogs, catching their enthusiasm for the activity rather than being intimidated by the equipment and unnerved by your inexperience.
A dog team is strong and powerful, and can be dangerous in untrained hands. Most new initiates to the sport, however, are astounded at the joy and commitment to their role emanating from the dogs, and the teams as a whole, as they respond to driver commands (Siino 1997)..
Most of all, mushing is just great fun!
(Siino 1997)Malamutes are the quintessential weight-pulling breed, having been bred for it for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Though weight-pulling may appear cruel, it has a long-standing reputation as a very civilised activity, and the dogs relish their opportunity to perform and make their owners proud.
It's not just for Malamutes, however. The International Weight Pull Association sponsors pulls in many weight categories for various breeds of dogs, all pulling either a sled or wheeled cart across a specified distance within a prescribed time frame.
It requires commitment from the owner to conditioning and training their dog, starting small and gradually working up to a heavier load. When a load is too heavy the dog usually sits or stands still to signify the end of the day of training. But some dogs will hurt themselves in their efforts to please a master, so it is their master's responsibility to ensure safety for their Malamute.
Be sure to have your Malamute thoroughly checked by a veterinarian before embarking in this activity, as any minor joint, bone, or muscular problems may become exaggerated under the physical stress of weight-pulling (Siino 1997).
Skijoring with skates.
Illustrated by Tana HakansonIf mushing seems a bit too complicated, with more equipment than you are prepared to manage, or not quite fast-paced enough for your liking, there is an alternative.
Skijoring shirks the sled for a pair of skis, or, for the more daring, a snowboard. Skijoring takes the exercise off the beaten track, so though it's simpler than mushing it can be far more dangerous without the protection of a sled between you, and your next fall.
As with mushing, training your Malamute to understand the basic commands for left, right, and most importantly, stop, should be undertaken long before you don skis. It's in your best interest to be confident in your dogs' ability to understand you out on the trail where your life may depend on it (Siino 1997).
Skijoring is not restricted to snowy climates, however, nor to pulling dogs. Hardy souls with skates may try this exciting activity, but only after sufficient training, and with enough padding to ensure no broken bones from the inevitable spills and stumbles.
Another off-season alternative is 'scootering', which is similar to off-season mushing with a wheeled-cart instead of a sled, but uses a kick scooter, and has the added benefit of brakes that skates and skis do not.