Part Two talked about them learning from their experiences.
In this final post of the series: "How our Dogs learn on Iditarod - Part Three" we look a dog's most obvious educator: their musher.
Nacho and Aliy try to keep it calm at the Race Start; Olivia looks back for guidance; Chemo gets a pep talk.
Of course, a pack or a team must have a leader. In the world of dog mushing, that alpha is the musher. He or she is the pack leader. The musher makes all of the decisions for the team. The dogs expect this. No leader would ever put the decisions of the pack in the hands (or paws) of the team. That's how indecision, turmoil and arguments come about. The leader also needs to make smart decisions.
Aliy talks to Bruce Lee about her race strategy during a rest stop; The musher must take care of the dogs and they will take care of the musher.
Overall, there needs to be a complete and thorough understanding between leader and team. The biggest failure a leader could make is an unwise decision which causes the pack to loose confidence. That would be catastrophic.
This blurb is from Aliy's 2012 Trail Notes:
"This understanding consists of respect and love. It might sound cheesy but, to me, dog mushing is a fine balance between respect and love. I know what my dogs need, I know what they want, and I know what they will do for me. That’s where the respect and love come into play. I must respect their limits and abilities and only then will they continue to love me and do whatever they can to please me. I need to know exactly what I can ask from each individual dog. They are my teammates, my buddies, and the bottom line is this: their love and respect is my only mode of transportation through 1,000 miles of Alaskan wilderness."
At SP Kennel we have some musher guidelines:
- Have fun. (This might sound silly and some dog mushers will surely scoff at this statement. But fun, to us, means: you stay positive, you smile and you always encourage your team. This creates an upward competitive cycle. SP Kennel is not a military Boot Camp. Our dogs were raised and trained in a positive, happy environment. Don't change this just because you are racing.)
- Have high expectations. (Yes. We actually do want to win.)
- Play no favoritism. (Every dog on the team can effect your race's outcome. Keep that in mind.)
- Enforce Team rules. (During training there were rules that the team understood and expected. These need to be upheld during the race. The dogs know and respect these rules. A musher must never change the rules half way thru the race regardless of whether he or she is tired, cold or miserable. A musher must stay true to their team.)
- Deal with problems quickly. (Bad things happen in life and certainly on the Iditarod. When there is a problem, fix it. Don't dwell on negatives. The best example of this is dropping a dog. It is never easy to leave a dog at a checkpoint, but sometimes it must be done. Out of respect for the team, make the decision and carry on. The team will be together again at SP Kennel after the race.)
All in all, there is a lot of pressure on a musher. As there should be. For goodness sake… everything comes down to the choices that he or she makes.
I was watching the Iditarod Insider videos from the 2015 race. I saw quite a few mushers mentally coming to terms with the decisions that they had made for their teams… good or bad… or wrestling with decisions that they were trying to make. I'm sure that with my true insider's perspective to the race, I had a different interpretation of some musher's strategies and race plans. But, overall it was great to watch the mental mindset of a musher during the thick of the 2015 Iditarod competition. And I will admit that I laughed outloud at a few videos, sadly some of them featuring yours truly!