The Heavy Sports To Do With Your Alaskan Malamutes
Weight Pulling and Packing ang skijoring
Weight Pulling

Weight pulling competition traces its origin to the heavy freight type dog that was in demand in the early days of gold mining and prospecting in Alaska. A weight pull tests one dog's ability to move a heavy load over a short distance, and he is allowed plenty of time to do it in. Weight pulling is not demanding in stamina and endurance, but is rather a test of coordination, obedience, skill and confidence.

It must be remembered that a young dog (one under 2 years of age) should never be asked to pull heavy loads, as this may cause strain and damage to his developing bones and muscles. Up until this time, a weight pull dog should be exercised gently in harness and accustomed to pulling small weights (and old tire works well) only.

A weight pulling dog should be sound in mind and body, with strong, correctly conformed shoulders, back, hips, paws, legs and hocks. Strong, heavy bones and a short cobby back are also assets.

A well trained dog is the biggest aid to a keen competitor, and weight pull training techniques are very specialized and individual. If you would like to train you new Malamute for this fun sport, the following book (which is in paperback) may be a real asset:

Weight Pulling for Sled Dogs, by Vic and Beth Rowell. Write, care of, Raymond Thompson Company, Lynwood, Washington, 98036.

3. Packing

Packing your Malamute can be an excellent activity for both of you, and is ideally suited for the dog owner who does not have the time or facilities to sled his dog. It is easy to train the Malamute to pack equipment, it is inexpensive, and if packing trails are abundant, most Mals love to do it.

The dog should be obedience trained in the basics of heeling beside you, both on and off leash. It is also useful to be able to command him in front or behind you, should the need arise on narrow or congested trails.

Make sure that the pack goes over the dog's head easily, and test if fully loaded to be sure the dog moves freely and the pack does not chafe or rub anywhere. Usually the leash is attached to the D ring on the back of the pack, and a quick release snap is an advantage in a lot of conditions.

Dogs can be lightly packed at about 9 months of age, but should not carry more than 1/8 of their own weight. Pad the pack with newspaper and use sand for weight so the dog will be used to the bulky pack. By the time your dog is 2 years old, he can gradually be worked up to to carrying 1/3 of his own weight. Make sure both halves of the pack are weighted equally, or it will be very uncomfortable work for your companion.

Before you head off on the trail, make sure your Mal's feet are strong and hard, and make sure he is well conditioned. He cannot lay around your yard all week and be expected to haul 35 pounds of your gear all weekend.

Once you and the dog are ready, make sure all perishable gear is wrapped in plastic if the dog is carrying it. Mals just love to swim those streams. Take top quality, high energy dog food, and haul water for your Mal where it may be unavailable on the trail. Also, haul a chain to tie up the dog overnight, and remember to clean up after him at campsites as well as keeping him from disturbing other hikers.

4. Skijoring

Skijoring defined is the art of being propelled on skis by some sort of mechanical pull. Horses originally supplied the power, but in Alaska, as well as several other areas, sled dogs provide the most ideal substitute.

The ideal hitch is considered to be one well trained lead dog ahead of two dogs hitched abreast, using a racing type harness (pull off the dog's back) and a fairly long tow line with a good handle for the person on skis to hang on to. It is, however, quite possible to do this with a single dog that is also well trained. At the start, it is advisable for beginners to follow another experienced Skijoring person or behind a sled pulled by the dog or dogs.

One should be fairly well adapted to skis before tackling this fascinating sport. Ability in making quick and short turns, and to reverse direction in case of the dogs swinging back, are added hints from those skilled in this past time. The sudden jerk on take off, tending to upset the skiers balance, is only overcome with much practice. If the dogs are not well trained, a snubbing post or a friend to hold them is a valuable asset.

The ideal combination is, of course, the person who is skilled on skis, plus a well trained dog or trio of dogs who will 'whoa' when you say 'whoa', as well as hit a fast clip when commanded to hike or move out.

At the start, let the dog set his own pace. After he has got his second wind he will cover the miles, towing you with ease.