Armchair Musher: Strategy around dogs

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Well the race is on the move again, after a long break, some truck time and *and this is important* the addition of new dogs, teams are headed back out. What do fresh dogs mean to a team, well new enthusiasm and more energy. Mushers have had to factor this into their overall race plans. Smart mushers have strategically saved dogs in ways that they think will benefit them in the long run.

Let me be clear I am not speaking for the mushers here, only offering suggestions as to the different reasons dogs might not start with the team, and to give examples and help fans understand the thought process that went into planning for this race.  First you need to know that the trail on the Canadian side is usually a better set trail then on the American side, the Canadian Rangers do a real bang up job putting that trail in. You can also see by the course profile on the Trackleaders site that there are no major summits in the first sections. So knowing the trail and having heard the current trail report at the mushers meeting and knowing your team you put all that into consideration and come up with your plan. You might leave your best leader or a few of your strongest dogs to conserve their power for the more difficult sections of trail. If you had an older or younger dog that you think would perform better with less miles that is a good one to save for later. Or if you have any timid dogs who might not enjoy the crowd chaos of the first day they might also be saved for later. Again; this is all a very personal choice being made by mushers, and trust me they agonized over it and thought long and hard to make choices they felt were in the best interest of their team.*

Now is a great time to remind everyone that adding dogs to a team is specific to this year’s race, but dogs can always be removed from a team at any checkpoint, this is called dropping a dog. Dropping a dog is also a strategic move. Dogs may be dropped for a wide variety of reasons, usually for very simple issues like a dog is not eating well, or a musher notices a slight tick in the dog’s gait. Dropping dogs is actually largely preventative. No one wants to have a less than healthy happy dog slowing them down, so it is far wiser to drop any dog who is not running up to the teams capacity. Dropped dogs are handed off to vets for an exam and any care that is needed and then spend the rest of the race in the care of the team’s handlers. And as a handler I can tell you, it is great to have a dropped dog for company and cuddles while you drive around cleaning up after your musher at every checkpoint.

And since I used that infamous and overused phrase “for the best interest of their team/dogs” let’s just talk about it. What does it really mean when you see that in a press release. Usually it means exactly what it says, the musher did the right thing. But that is probably the most oversimplified way to put it. The problem is there are so many important considerations and aspects to any decision the mushers are making out there that a full explanation would be longer than my post, not to mention that the race is a very emotional and challenging experience for the mushers and they are dealing with situations that are hard for people who have not been in that situation to really understand. I know it feels like y’all are being left out, and on some level that is true. But as a musher I really wish folks would understand and respect that this is a race for the fans, but a very personal journey for the mushers. The race is being honest when they explain choices are made in the best interest of the dogs, but also respecting the mushers by not explaining that personal choice for them. Many mushers will later share with fans their reasoning on social media or in their blogs. And it is their story to tell if they choose to tell it. Please join me in understanding that the race announcements are doing the best they can to be both honest and respectful at the same time. And as I mentioned in an earlier post, check out the mushers personal pages and blogs to see the information they are sharing for a better understanding.

Alright, time for this armchair musher to pull herself away from the laptop leave the chair and go play with puppies!

Mush Love


Jodi Bailey