Sierra’s Latest Adventure: Dog Mushing So. Cal. Style

May 29, 2010

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know I’ve been on an ongoing mission to provide Sierra with enriching activities. We’ve tried herding (okay, not so much our thing), investigated several different interactive puzzle-solving games, and, as of today, we can add another fun adventure to the list—urban mushing.

Since Sierra is part husky, pulling—or urban mushing, as it’s called in these snow-free parts—should come naturally. Kathy, a nice woman I’d met at the local dog park, has a handsome male husky named Niko. (That’s Niko in the foreground of the photo, with Sierra’s crazy-fluffy tail sticking up behind him.) She and her husband Gary practice mushing with him on the weekends, and they invited us along. We met at 6:30 a.m. so we could get in a few runs before the weather turned hot. The couple had brought along all of the necessary harnesses and equipment, including a bicycle that Gary would ride in front of the dogs to encourage them to run, and a bicycle-like scooter that I would ride in back of the dogs. Oh, did I mention the dogs would be pulling the scooter? Sounds easy enough, right?

As Gary handed me the safety helmet and gloves, I had a moment to reflect on just how long it had been since I’d done anything remotely athletic. But he and Kathy were encouraging and offered excellent instructions, including to stay to the side of the dogs so that if they slowed or stopped I wouldn’t run into them, and how to stop the scooter properly so I wouldn’t go flying. Gliding good, cartwheeling bad. Check. They also mentioned that the dogs would likely begin to run much faster when the dirt path began to slope gently downward. With a combination of excitement and apprehension, I set off.

Now, Sierra had never done this before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. She was tethered to Niko by a short nylon rope that ran between their collars; would the dogs become overly aroused and get snarky with each other? They’d played once in Niko’s back yard and seemed to do just fine, so maybe that early introduction would help. But would Sierra actually want to run, or would she just stand there with a thought bubble over her head that said, “Mom, why am I wearing this weird thing, and when can I go chase squirrels?”

Gary pedaled away on the bike, encouraging the dogs to chase him. Niko, who has plenty of mushing experience, immediately ran after him. Sierra, who has zero mushing experience as far as I know, ran right alongside him! She looked as though she’d been born for this, and being a mostly-husky-keeshond-malamute mix, I suppose she had. The two did well together, running along gracefully, shoulder to shoulder. It was beautiful to watch two young, athletic dogs enjoying doing what they were bred to do. As promised, they began to break into a gleeful husky dash when we reached the downhill slope. It was scary and exhilarating all at the same time. At one point Gary called to me, “Relax your body!” I hadn’t realized until then that I’d had every muscle in my body clenched, hoping not to wipe out. Once I relaxed, it became much easier, and a lot of fun.

Go check out the videos of our adventure—our first run, and the last, when they were a bit more tired…then come on back…

The dogs stayed on the wide dirt path during the run, and it was enjoyable for all of us. Afterwards, we gave them some water and a few treats, then let them run and play in the park for a bit. Soon we set out for the final run on the dirt path that led back to the parking lot. As we approached the parking area the dirt turned to asphalt, and the dogs decided to jump up onto a grassy island for a quick sniff. Fortunately, I was able to maneuver the scooter around it, thereby avoiding ending the day with an up-close examination of our local species of plant life.

All in all, it was a great, fun adventure, and one I hope we’ll be repeating again soon. Thanks, Kathy, Gary, and Niko! For more information on urban mushing, visit this website and watch this video clip of urban mushing on network news. It’s not just for huskies, either–any social, appropriately sized dog who likes to pull and is good physical condition can take part. Check it out! You might just discover a fun new activity for you and your dog.


What Wobbles and is a Big Hit at My House?

May 12, 2010

There’s a new toy in town, and it’s called the Kong Wobbler. It’s not actually brand new, and I’d been thinking for a while that it looked like a promising, fun way to keep Sierra occupied. Then someone sent me one as a gift! After Sierra and I finished holding paws, dancing around, and singing, “It’s Christmas for Dogs!” we got down to trying it out.

The Wobbler is made of hard red plastic and is ingeniously designed. It’s weighted on the bottom, which causes it to wobble, much like those plastic air-filled clown punching bags when we were kids. Or, for those of you as old as me—sing along, now—“Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down.” Well, neither does the Kong Wobbler. And it’s easy to prepare, which is a must in this house. You simply unscrew the bottom, place the treats on the little inner platform, and then screw the top back on. We used cut up baby carrots and some small freeze-dried salmon treats.

Naturally, I took some video footage of Sierra trying it out. She did have a moment right at the start where she wasn’t sure what to do, but after I tipped the toy over and food fell out, the bone-shaped light bulb went on over her head. I have to admit that when I first saw the toy I thought maybe it was too big for her, but as it turns out, it’s perfect. Sierra tried a few times to get the entire top of the Wobbler into her mouth, which didn’t work out very well, so she went back to using her nose and paws to maneuver it. This would be an especially wonderful toy for dogs who are paw-oriented, but I think most dogs would enjoy it regardless.

I love the Kong Wobbler, and I can tell Sierra does too. This is one toy we’ll be playing with for a long time to come.

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