Like getting wet? How about getting wet at -50?

To recap how dog’s perceive water obstacles:

1 deep pool of water, about forty feet across.

August 15th  50 degrees-the dogs don’t think of this as an obstacle (unless you do, in which case all bets are off). It actually looks quite inviting because they’re probably overheating, so if you have even a mediocre leader the whole team is going to be inclined to jump in to get a drink at the very least.

November 15th zero degrees- this is now an obstacle for the simple reason that your dogs don’t want to dive head first into a potentially life threatening situation anymore then you do.

So, there are two different kinds of water. Warm water which everyone likes the best, and cold water which nobody likes, and there is almost no relationship whatsoever between the two.

The only thing swimming your dogs in the summer will do (besides get them in terrific shape), is teach them the physical skillset of swimming, which is obviously a good thing for them to know, but it will not give them the mental tools to cope with that same swimming hole once the temp plunges below zero.

What do ‘you’ do, you are now asking? But by now, you must know the answer already, or at least part of it.

Simple. I make them get in the water when it’s really cold, and teach them that they can deal with it, no matter how “unattractive” it seems.

That’s the short answer.

The longer answer is that I, as the team leader & ultimate authority, don’t look at water in the trail, a group of snowmachiners off to the side, a dog team tangled and in the way,etc,etc, as an obstacle.

I train my leaders to take the path of least resistance, so they are always looking for the best ‘line’, and when you tie that in with the fact that if I don’t say whoa, then there is no reason for them to stop at anything that lays in their path.

In other words, it’s no different then say, passing another team–if I come around the corner in the scenario I described yesterday, my dogs make the crossing because:

A-I taught them to deal with scary frigid water during the fall and early winter when the weather was really nasty.

B-I did not tell them to stop!!!

I’m running out of space here, but I promise to devote a little more time to this topic for next week, going into some specifics on how I teach them that ‘all hell is going to break loose’ if they balk, but I think I’ve given everyone something to chew on for this week…which is don’t expect your dogs to deal effectively with nasty overflow on some race just because you did some creek training back in the summer.

Thanks for tuning in–more to follow….

Image courtesy of H. Barron


10 Responses to “Like getting wet? How about getting wet at -50?”

  1. Ohhh fore sure we can make our dogs go trough cold water in COLD weather…But is it good dog care??? and how to do it in a safe way? Not safe fore the musher…he/she can think fore him/her self…but fore the dogs…Yeah it’s been done fore 100’eds of years. But dogs has been kicked and beaten as well it does’nt make it any better, or legitimate.

    • If done correctly by a professional dog musher, such as myself, then the answer is yes–it certainly can be done safely. Equating teaching dogs to cross cold water with “kicking & beating” them, thereby automatically making the process “abusive”, is about 10 miles out of the bounds and demonstrative of a gross misunderstanding of the process in general. My dog care record, accumulated over 30+ years of mushing, AUTOMATICALLY ASSUMES A CONTROLLED ENVIRONMENT AS WELL AS A SAFE SITUATION FOR THE DOGS BEING TRAINED. Another point–an Iditarod musher (for instance) can/will encounter “extremely cold” overflow in his/her career, probably in extremely unfavorable circumstances, and if they have not properly prepared their dogs to cope during “training” situations, they are virtually guaranteed of a disaster.


    • Additionally, my post/title heading, which used the phrase (getting wet at -50) was meant to refer to the possibility of getting into water at those temperatures during a “race”–certainly not that I’m recommending running the dogs through water/temps that extreme during training. I believe you can prepare a team to cope with extreme cold water by showing them water in considerably warmer temps then that.

  2. Beautiful photo Harm…

    • Harmony Barron Reply April 6, 2011 at 10:53

      Thanks Margie! That was during the 2005 Kuskokwim 300. It was so cold & windy, I’m surprised the camera didn’t balk!

  3. We take our double coated elkhounds sailing on Lake Superior. In preparation, we have taken them out to a warmer smaller lake and let them swim there so that they know they can swim in the event that they fall in the big lake. And really for elkhounds it is not about letting them swim, because if given their preference they wouldn’t. Water up to the belly is deep enough. But we carry them out and make them swim to shore. We have had a few incidents of dogs slipping off the dock or jumping to get in the dinghy and missing. Having some swimming skills is a good thing for them. Reduces panic when they unexpectedly have to swim.

    • Thanks for the comment, Snohunter–preparation is key, giving your animals the appropriate mental/physical tools in a controlled environment. What do you do with your Elkhounds?

  4. Marlene Phillips-Daniels Reply April 7, 2011 at 11:05

    I agree on the photo, Harm. It is fantastic. Jason, I’m not a musher, but have always had dogs, been around water and certainly agree with sensible training so that the dogs know what to do, especially if they are water lovers. Your training did not come across as abusive to me, at all.

    • Thanks for saying so, Marlene–my belief is that if you’re going to put dogs/people into tough situations, then you need to prepare them for what they’re likely to encounter.

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